Monday, January 3, 2011

My Week at Dreamforce 2010

As I noted on the Twitter feed, a couple of weeks ago I was wading through the crowds at the Dreamforce 2010 event. Like crowds and traffic anywhere, struggling against a tide of bodies to get somewhere can be frustrating at times, but as my thoughts wander and I reflect on Dreamforce, I keep finding myself thinking about the crowds. There is a part of me that feels like the crowd is a key message -- or in this case, perhaps it's "Crowd 2".

Let me start by saying, the crowd at Dreamforce is huge. They threw out numbers like 30,000 this year, but I didn't hear a specific official attendance number. It's also hard to visually measure attendance against some of the busier tradeshows at Moscone -- during your average tradeshow, the attendees are distributed throughout the show floor, while at Dreamforce, the crowds come together for many of the events. That being said, completely filling a floor full of seats in Moscone South is a lot of bodies.

If I seem stuck on the crowd, it's because I think that there is an underlying message here. For anyone that's new to, being in the same location with so many Salesforce users and customers can be a powerful, reassuring experience -- and I think one that Salesforce has traditionally used as an effective sales tool. The crowd will also make you laugh about any of those, "but who is really using Salesforce" battles you might have had. But me, I've been to quite a few events over the years; why am I feeling some deeper message from the crowd?

Do you know what the Internet looks like?
When things reach a certain level of complexity, they become difficult to understand and to contextualize. While equivalencies help, learning what the length would be if everything was set side-by-side is still essentially meaningless.

Contrast equivalencies with the time when you went to the coffee shop and all five people there were working on a laptop. Or, being at the electronics store while three people were looking at the same product and all used their iPhones to compare prices. For me, one that always hits home is sitting in a SOMA cafe or a ramen shop in Mountain View listening to people talking about their code or their start-up challenges. It's those moments when reality sets in and you can experience something much larger than your world. Suddenly, like magic, you are struck with that inescapable awareness that you are not sitting in an Applebee's in Kansas. The crowd at Dreamforce is like that.

Imagine yourself, sitting with your mobile phone and your laptop, pressured to deliver on some last minute deadlines or fix something that's broken back at the office. In the row in front of you, there's a guy working his laptop, and a woman sending texts, switching back between a Blackberry and an iPhone. To your right, there are three people with iPads and a guy with a portable device you haven't seen before. And while this whole shared experience might seem no more inspiring that a crowded coach section on a busy flight, here's what makes it so amazingly different.

All of those people sitting around you, busily working away during the keynote -- they are not there because they are in the same industry -- they all use the same software that you do, face the same pressures that you do, the same questions, the same demands. But it's more than just the same software. You share a global platform with them -- your company's data is sitting next to theirs in a data center that you share with everyone around you. You share the same data language.

At the same time, everyone there uses the tools and the platform in different ways. From the company that I listened to in the UK that had moved their accounting processes into to the non-profit group that put on festivals in New York every year, you are surrounded by people who have gone beyond the "but I don't really care about leads" or "I already track my contacts with the address book in Outlook" objections that you once faced.

Here is the Internet. For all of it's global scope and scale, you're all connected with a common purpose of trying to find a few answers to some of the hassles that you face, to find ways that you can configure the tools to make them more useful for you. Whether you're writing code for a global enterprise out of Australia or managing CRM for a small health care business from rural Tennessee, global scale ultimately comes down to what can it do for you -- but what that is is decidedly more vast than you might think.

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