This is the sequel of my review of this year’s Sunbelt conference, which took place in Hamburg last week and was really cool.
The sessions I enjoyed most dealt with novel topics and had creative datasets at hand. They mapped for example the geographical structure of art worlds with city mentions in newsfeeds or derived determinants of customer satisfaction using huge email datasets. Twitter offers another great data source, for example in the context of special events (London riots, presidential debate in the US, civil rights movement in Russia etc.) but also in terms of more generic questions.
In general, I noticed a very data-driven approach. Participants would stress very strongly what kind of data they had, what made it unique, and how they analyzed it. You would see many fancy graphs, awesome visualizations, and a great deal of applications (especially in the form of programs, statistical packages, or apps). At the same time, you would also see many PowerPoint sins and terrible presentations. I perceived the variance of quality as much larger than at other conferences, where you don’t have outstanding, excellent stuff but neither terrible, lousy one.
The theoretical, conceptual aspects often came off badly, although some exceptions must be mentioned, and some theoretical sessions complemented the generally very empirical program.
What I liked most about Sunbelt, though, and what will definitely make me go there again (be it as a presenter or just a visitor) is its “spirit” of community. Unlike at other conferences people are pretty laid-back and “cool”.
The Sunbelt “spirit” is supported by the organizers who encourage networking in a very natural way (of course, in the end it’s a network conference). Many participants have known each other for years and it’s like a big class reuniion. The hospitality suite fosters this spirit. What’s the hospitality suite? Well, basically, it means free drinks and snacks for all the participants. It means hanging out, meeting new people and chatting about this and that.
I call for such a hospitality suite at every major conference from now on 😉