MERGE! 2017 – My thoughts and feedback attending the conference

MERGE! 2017 in Orlando, Florida was the first local domain-related conference I attended, since TRAFFIC in 2008.

Being local, isn’t an advantage, necessarily.

In fact, a fellow domain investor from Orlando, stayed at the venue, as opposed to driving 45-60 minutes to the Disney resort area, as I did.

That being said, the conference started on a Saturday, on a low tone, as many attendees considered it to be an optional day, most likely.

Much like the “cabana networking” of THE Domain Conference and TRAFFIC, Saturday was mostly reserved for socializing and establishing a feel about the conference’s whereabouts.

There was a full agenda, however, and despite low attendance numbers on Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend sessions, without the pressure of rushing around to meet hordes of people.

Sunday was a full day, with the majority of attendees arriving then – or that’s what I assumed.

Ray Dillman, co-founder of MERGE!, mentioned that several more attendees arrived on the coming days – and a handful on the final day – depending on their schedules, and their interest in the particular sessions.

There was an “obligatory” lunch break between 12-2pm daily, that created an artificial vacuum, as attendees wandered off to the hotel’s restaurant facilities. While I had several meetings over lunch that were relaxed and beneficial, regaining the momentum of the conference felt harder to accomplish. Coffee definitely helped!

The sessions themselves were very well-presented.

The introduction of several different types of content, from development, to business, to law, to blockchain and cryptocurrency subjects, made the conference a very interesting mix of education and entrepreneurship. I would estimate attendance at 300, which made business discussions feel more “intimate” and dedicated.

As I’m getting older and my vision isn’t 20/20 anymore, I would have appreciated more ambient light overall.

The session rooms at the Marriott are great for corporate gatherings and empowering large employee crowds, but felt inadequately lit for active short sessions. Inside the session rooms, it was often difficult to take photos without a flash, and I resorted to using my cellphone instead.

I met quite a few people from the domain industry that had not been to a conference before. They were not “fresh off the boat” and they offered valuable feedback, sharing great ideas about their personal angle of domain investing. I enjoyed catching up with some long time contacts as well. There was a lack of “big names” for the most part, and I was disappointed Elliot Silver did not make it.

Senior level executives probably got a lot accomplished by meeting in person at MERGE! and the exhibits area was particularly busy with the crowds.

I would have liked to see a more defined after hours schedule, even if it weren’t lavish or extravagant. Making a comparison to Las Vegas and NamesCon would not be fair, as the structure, agenda and family-oriented location of MERGE! differs a lot. But still, others shared the same sentiment, to have more social activities and encourage bonding past 6pm on a daily basis.

There was no dedicated domain auction, or industry awards. Jothan Frakes mentioned this will change with next year’s MERGE! conference.

On the evening of the last day (Tuesday) the networking event provided the necessary “glue” and showed the real attendance volume of MERGE! as the conference attendees shared food and drinks, and engaged in energetic conversations. Music performed by a guitarist, provided a pleasant, not too loud audio background for the closing event.

Overall, I think that it was a gallant effort by the organizers to sustain the strong legacy of past related conferences, such as TRAFFIC and THE Domain Conference, and wrap it into a new model that embraces a wider audience, and provides access to new technologies, such as blockchain. The presence of ICANN members added an extra dimension to the conference as well.

Co-founder Jothan Frakes, along with Howard Neu and Barbara Dillman-Neu were extremely eager to assist the attendees, and so was the staff hired for the event.

MERGE! 2018 is scheduled to be in Orlando, at the same hotel, and I’m certain that it will be bigger, and better. Once again, I plan to be driving the miles on the GreeneWay and the much-dreaded Interstate 4.

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