horsehead_kpno_1366For the past two years, Ben Kepes and I have helped the team at VentureBeat assemble the programme for their annual Cloud Computing event, CloudBeat. It looks as though we may end up doing something similar with them this year, as CloudBeat moves from Redwood City to downtown San Francisco, and from November to September. But that’s for a subsequent post.

This year, VentureBeat — and I — are trying something new; a conference all about data. The name, unsurprisingly, is DataBeat. The venue, Redwood City’s Sofitel. The date, 4-5 December 2013. I’m doing this one without Ben, and I’m also taking more of a strategic role this time around; less about content advising and much more about content deciding. It should be fun, and we’ve just opened the call for participation. So if you have a story to tell, get that form filled in to let us know!

So, in a world where there seems to be some Big Data event or another every single day, why bother? I’m certainly not interested in putting on yet another me-too event, riding on the back of Big Data’s cacophonous hype and near-bottomless marketing budgets. Talking all of this through with VentureBeat Founder and Editor in Chief Matt Marshall before we signed anything, I’m confident he shares that sentiment.

As the conference blurb describes it,

“At DataBeat, we move past the current obsession with ‘big’ data and away from an emphasis on any single tool or technology. Instead, we focus upon the ways in which data is being used to change real businesses and real lives. We will hear from those on the front line who are seeing measurable change driven by their use of data. More profitable products, faster decisions, cheaper processes, stronger communities, better outcomes. All of these are measurable, and all of these offer lessons from which others can learn.

We will prioritise real customer experiences, bringing those with compelling stories to tell on stage in a series of fireside conversations that get to the heart of what worked… and what didn’t. We’ll dig behind the hype, to understand the ways in which a range of new tools and technologies are transforming the data landscape. We’ll peel back the covers to examine the benefits that more data brings to individuals, and consider this alongside the very real concerns regarding erosion of privacy… and the threat of over-reaching government regulation.”

There are some truly great events in the data space already. GigaOM’s Structure:Data and O’Reilly’s Strata series leap prominently to mind. There are also strong community events focused around particular technologies and products. With DataBeat I hope (and believe) that we can draw upon some of the best aspects of these events, and weave in some of VentureBeat’s (and my own) particular perspectives to offer something that’s differentiated, valuable, and informative.

With CloudBeat, Ben and I always pushed hard to ensure that the customer voice got heard. Stories of customer success, told by the customers themselves, are so much more informative than bland vendor pitches powered by safe PowerPoint decks that had any insight focus-grouped out of them long ago. So DataBeat needs to have more of that customer voice. In fact, I’m wondering if Matt will let me ban PowerPoint altogether this year… We’ll also be building most of the programme around a series of fireside chats. Instead of getting twenty minutes to stand up on stage and say more or less what you like, you’ll be engaged in a conversation with one of our moderators. This can work really well, as the moderator typically asks the questions that the audience is thinking; clarifying points you thought were clear, gently probing presumptions and statements that might need further exploration, and working with you before and during your session to make sure your key points come across loud and clear.

There will, of course, also be plenty of opportunity for audience questions. And we’ll keep the event small enough, and provide plenty of breaks, to ensure that you have ample opportunity to follow up with colleagues, speakers and new-found friends in informal discussions.

Sessions will (broadly) fall into one of our four themes, which span uses of data in the online and offline worlds. I’m keen to ensure that we delve into all of these during the event, as the issues are closely connected but subtly different in each case.

So. I’m now starting to ramp up my efforts in finding and securing the very best speakers. I’m casting the net wide, looking in the Valley but also across the United States, in Europe, and around the world. I want to ensure that our audience hears the stories that will resonate, regardless of where they’re from. Who is building the products that really matter, and where are they being used to do interesting, surprising, or remarkable things? I’m out looking, but if you know of a story I might have missed then do let me know. The best way is via the DataBeat speaker submission form, but you can also get in touch directly if you just want a preliminary chat.

Image of the Horsehead Nebula, where stars (and great data conferences?) are born. Image from NASA Astronomy Picture Of the Day (APOD), © Nigel Sharp (NOAO), KPNOAURANSF.