The Perl lightning talks have been a staple of the Perl Conference, and, later, the O’Reilly Open Source Convention, for as long as I’ve been attending it. And YAPC, too, although I haven’t been to YAPC in many moons. They were somewhat different this year. Not hugely, but subtly.
MJD observed that, when he started them, the purpose was to get folks who would otherwise not give talks to give brief presentations in a low-stress environment. 5 minutes is enough to get a taste of public presenting, but not long enough to get too terribly intimidated.
Over the years, it became a bit of a sideshow, with elaborate presentations, complete with slides and sound effects. And of course MJD as the MC, complete with funny hat and gong. And so folks who wanted to give a five minute “here’s what I’m working on” or “here’s my cool idea” talk were overshadowed by the brilliant presentations by Audrey Tang and Andy Lester and the like. Also, talks lean towards the comic routine rather than the technical talk. Indeed, technical lightning talks tend to get heckled on IRC, and yawned through, waiting for the *real* lightning talks.
We started doing Lightning Talks at ApacheCon a few years back, and they have become part of our conference culture. We, too, tend to favor the entertainment talks rather than the technical talks. That’s fine, in that it draws a crowd, and folks hear interesting ideas, and it’s a great community event. But we need to remember what the initial purpose of lightning talks really is – to give folks a shot at the mic, if only for a few minutes.
Of course, I don’t run the lightning talks, so feel free to ignore me. 🙂