Announcing Expo ’74: Our First User Conference


I’m pleased to announce that Cycling ’74 will be hosting its first user conference next year, Expo ’74. The conference will run three days from April 22-24, 2009 and will be held at the new (and intensely colored) Mission Bay Conference Center in San Francisco. I’d like to tell you why we decided to put on this event and what you can expect to happen if you attend.

Let me start by saying that I am not a huge fan of meetings, whether big or small. For one thing, I wonder about burning so much fossil fuel to bring people together primarily so they can try to sell things to each other. Another thing that bugs me about academic conferences in particular is that a bunch of people show up, give their presentations, and rarely interact except on an informal basis. I’ve often felt after attending conferences that it would have been better simply to arrange a big dinner.

Our corporate bias against meetings has meant that, up until this point, we’ve avoided taking the path of Adobe (whose user conference is called Max, of all things). But over the past couple of years we’ve come to the conclusion that educated users spread the word about our software better than advertising slogans, so we’ve decided to replace our more traditional marketing activities in favor of what I like to think of as “social and educational” activities. For example, we now post on average one article on Max techniques and applications on our web site every week. Even more in the social domain, we’ve begun conducting workshops in places where it would be difficult for beginning users to obtain Max training. Once we did that, more advanced users began to ask what we were going to do for them.

The inspiration for Expo ’74 actually occurred a few years ago, when a number of us were invited to participate in two Max/MSP/Jitter workshops sponsored by the Forum Neues Musiktheater in Stuttgart. This was the first time that a substantial crew of Cycling ’74 employees had been forced to teach the software together. The experience was delightful and moreover, we were inspired to add a number of cool features to the software based on our interaction in Stuttgart with both beginning and advanced users. Fundamentally, I realized the value in making a real connection with people, beyond e-mail, who were working with the code I was writing. My hardened attitude about conferences was starting to weaken. Unfortunately, the FNM organization no longer exists, so if we are to recreate the experience, we will have to do it ourselves!

We hope this conference will be a chance to strengthen the connections within the Max community — not just between Max objects, but among people. Our community is incredibly generous with both code and techniques, but we think even deeper levels of connection and collaboration can be established if we get the community together in one place.

We’ll be filling in more details over the coming months, but at this point, it’s our intention that the conference will feature the following:

  • An intensive course on Max intended for intermediate users and sessions on specific topics of interest to all users
  • Presentations for developers wishing to extend the Max environment, as well as presentations by developers who have already created powerful extensions
  • Individual project consulting sessions to help you move forward on the work you want to do
  • A “science fair” where you can see demos of cool projects and share techniques and resources
  • Geeky social and cooperative events inspired by the live patching competition we organized in Stuttgart
  • An opportunity to hear what about works and what doesn’t work when teaching the software
  • Feedback sessions, so you can tell us what you like and don’t like about our work

The basic plan is to run the course in parallel to the developer sessions in the mornings, then get everyone together for larger sessions in the afternoons and evenings. Another thing I should mention: we aren’t committing to doing one of these conferences every year (see fossil fuel concern above). So, we hope you’ll mark your calendars for April 22-24 and stay tuned for more details about this fun event. As we prepare the agenda for the conference, if you have any questions, please feel to contact the event coordinator, Lilli Wessling Hart.