OpenWorld Vs. Dreamforce: A Study in Contrasts


By Tony Kontzer

How does this week's OpenWorld conference contrast with Salesforce.com's Dreamforce event held a month ago, also at San Francisco's Moscone Center? Let me count the ways:

  1. Upon walking up to and into Moscone Center, I couldn't help but notice the toned-down aura. Where there were noisy, bustling throngs lined up to hear Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff's Dreamforce keynote, people filed in much more gradually and quietly for today's OpenWorld keynote, highlighted by Dell CEO Michael Dell. (And for the record, Dell's keynote was a snoozer.)
  2. At Dreamforce, you can't escape Marc Benioff; he's everywhere. Delivering keynotes, interviewing guest executives, moderating customer panels, hosting press lunches. Conversely, where is Larry Ellison? Yes, he's delivering bookend keynotes to open and close the conference, but in between--nada. Ironically, Benioff--in an official appearance--will deliver a secondary keynote AND host a press lunch Wednesday.
  3. Benioff seems to have an innate understanding of the kind of content his customers want. Dreamforce is filled with big-picture, crystal ball-type thinking, entertaining distractions, and simple, compelling explanations. OpenWorld, meanwhile, is a much more traditional technology conference, with lots of under-the-hood descriptions of Oracle technologies and very little in the way of sweeping observations or predictions. Admittedly, Oracle caters to a much more IT-centric audience, where Salesforce.com appeals to IT, marketing, business unit managers and entrepreneurs. But, it still seems that Oracle could do a bit more to keep attendees energized as they learn.
  4. The attendees at Dreamforce were stylish and full of life. Everywhere I went I was surrounded by lively conversation, music blaring, and Salesforce employees happily greeting people. OpenWorld attendees are more conservative, older, and apparently much more desirous of peace and quiet. And while I didn't actually do a head count to verify this, the OpenWorld crowd sure seemed much more male-dominated.
  5. Particularly telling is the way each company handles its big customer-appreciation party. Salesforce.com keeps attendees at Moscone, bringing in acts like Metallica (2011) and Stevie Wonder (2010) to play in one of Moscone's main halls. While Oracle's event at Treasure Island Wednesday, featuring Sting and Tom Petty playing late into the night, is sure to be a memorable scene, it systematically separates the fun from the conference. It also assumes everyone's an out-of-towner, forcing attendees to shuttle back to San Francisco to get back to their homes or hotels, a significant logistical hurdle for people who live in the Bay Area, where BART trains stop running at midnight.
None of this should be interpreted as a value judgment about either company's technology or its future prospects. Clearly, there are a plenty of bluechip customers who find both vendors' technologies compelling and valuable. But in this era of ubiquitous distraction and instant digestion of information, I know which conference I'm more likely to attend going forward.


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