By Lane R. Ellis
Lead Editor, SearchEngineWorld
Video interview by Brett Tabke
Posted July 27, 2007
George A. Roberts IV is the President and CEO of Interjuncture Corp., a Crystal Lake, Illinois-based technology conference and trade show producer. He is also the founder and Executive Director of HostingCon, the only conference and trade show focusing on the Web's hosted services industry, which this week successfully held its third annual HostingCon show at the Navy Pier in Chicago. The theme of this year's HostingCon was "The Future of Hosted Services," and Brett Tabke, founder and CEO of the popular WebmasterWorld online forums for Web and SEO professionals had the opportunity to speak with Roberts about both the future of hosted services and of the HostingCon conference.
A HostingCon Timeline
1995: In 1995 Roberts co-founded a web consulting company in Chicago which designed and hosted Web sites.
1996-1999: In 1996 he started a new company in Green Bay, Wisconsin. This company provided Web site hosting, both high-speed and dial-up Internet access, and computer systems.
2000: In 2000 Roberts began technical work for McDonald's Corporation, and became the lead developer and system administrator for the company's global support systems.
2002: In 2002 he founded Interjuncture as a small hosting business on the side. Frank Spaulding is the company's Vice President and COO.
2003: In 2003 Roberts met Keith Duncan, the publisher of Ping! Zine web hosting magazine, in Houston at an industry event, and the two lamented the fact that there was not a conference or trade show specifically for the hosting industry. The reflections he had about the lack of such an event at this meeting eventually led to the first HostingCon conference and trade show, which was held a year and a half later in Chicago in 2005.
2005: In 2005 he held the first HostingCon conference, a two-day event in Chicago.
2006: Last year Roberts held the second annual HostingCon conference in July at the Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. The conference doubled the size of the exhibit hall from 2005, along with more than doubling the conference space. The 2006 conference also increased to three full days of events, allowing for a greater number of sessions and for attendees to have more free time for activities such as exploring the exhibit hall vendors.
The Current State of HostingCon
Roberts has said that HostingCon is the largest gathering of hosting professionals and vendors in the world, and has also noted that the conference is a good place for those in the hosting industry to meet with both vendors and peers. He has spoken about the benefits of networking at HostingCon, which happen not only during the conference sessions but during the many events which go along with the trade show. There are numerous parties and after-hours events held during HostingCon according to Roberts, where business deals and networking take place in a more relaxed social environment.
HostingCon is an event that allows hosting professionals to feel connected to the rest of the industry even as they unite as a group at the conference, Roberts has said. In a January, 2006 interview by hosting directory Hostsearch, Roberts was asked why no company has yet dominated the hosting industry the way Microsoft and Google have done in their markets. "There are some bigger players, of course, but no one from the industry has really come along and leapt out in front to become huge," said Roberts. "I think one of the issues that keeps the industry so fragmented is that the barrier to entry is so low and new hosting companies continue to pop up overnight," Roberts concluded.
Roberts's success with HostingCon may come from the fact that he is very open to input and suggestions from potential attendees. "What would help make your HostingCon experience more useful?" Roberts asked the public on the conference blog in February, and also showed his earnest effort to improve and grow HostingCon by letting people know, "We're definitely open to suggestions."
Wide Variety of Sessions
HostingCon offered a huge array of sessions, with examples including:
- Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing
- Customer Service
- Load Balancing
- Hosted Messaging
- Data Centers
- Co-location Trends
- Green Hosting
- Customer Migration
- Domain Name Search
Varied Keynote Events
The keynote speaker at HostingCon on Monday was Richard Rosenblatt from Demand Media, who spoke about user generated content and domain registration, among other things. Last year HostingCon held its first keynote panel, and Roberts decided to expand the practice this year. The keynote panel included Serguei Beloussov from SWSoft, David Wippich from Ensim, Lou Honick from HostMySite.com, Sean Richards from Touch Support, and David Koston from cPanel, who all joined together to discuss the subject of "service enablement." Several keynote presentations were held Wednesday, including Jinesh Varia from Amazon Web Services speaking about his company's S3 and EC2 infrastructure services, and Chris Gladwin from Cleversafe who spoke about distributed storage.
New Additions to 2007 Event
A new feature at this year's show consisted of a series of informational monitors set up throughout the show for keeping attendees updated on the times and locations of current and future show events. Roberts even set up a live Twitter feed for people to see what the up-to-the-minute show buzz was, in addition to a live Flickr feed of pictures taken at the show, both of which were displayed on the show monitors for all to see. Another new and helpful addition this year took the form of discussion topic tabletop signs for Monday's lunch, which allowed attendees to enjoy their lunch with a group speaking on the topic which most interested them. "Find a topic that interests you, sit down, and network!" said Roberts.
HostingCon held a networking reception on Monday in the Lakeview Terrace at Navy Pier, and on Wednesday held a rooftop barbeque complete with live music, food and drink, and topped it off with fireworks over the pier.
When Roberts is not planning HostingCon or Interjuncture events, he enjoys spending time with his family and reading, especially novels, and even with his busy schedule makes time to read several each month.
Video Interview with Brett Tabke
Nearing the end of a very successful 2007 HostingCon, Roberts took time to speak with Tabke.
Tabke: This is Brett Tabke and we are here at HostingCon, and we finally caught up with George Roberts, the founder of HostingCon. First off, congratulations on an awesome conference, from one conference guy to another guy.
Roberts: I appreciate it.
Tabke: All the comments have just been outstanding. Outstanding sessions, outstanding exhibit hall - the parties have even been good.
Roberts: We've heard a lot of positive comments, so we are really happy that everyone is having a good time and doing a lot of good networking.
Tabke: Excellent. We're kind of winding down here actually. You've got just a couple more hours to go, right?
Roberts: Yes, we've got the final barbeque up on the rooftop here, and everybody's going to kick back, relax, and do some final networking with people that they ran into at the show, and hopefully get some business done.
Tabke: A little bit different vibe from the last one I went to out in Vegas last year; it seems like the industry is really starting to mature, right?
Roberts: Yes, I think so, and I guess when we say mature, we don't mean like "getting old," I mean more that it's getting to the point where it's getting more grown up. People are treating it more respectfully and more as a real business opportunity than as just a bunch of start-ups. I think it's really nice to see.
Tabke: Right. How has the conference been for you? What have been the big surprises, or the unexpected?
Roberts: Well you know, our numbers were great this year. We had over 1,200 people here at the show this year. It's our third year doing the show, so we've been growing every year. We had 85 exhibitors this year. You know, I think the nice thing for us was that everybody really seemed to be having a really good time, as far as enjoying themselves, but also the vibe as far as networking has been excellent. We had a networking event on Monday evening, and we had about 800 people in the Lakeview Terrace here. You walked in there and there was just a buzz - I mean it was a hive of activity. Sometimes you go to some networking events and you've got people just sort of standing around, and it's real quiet, and everybody's sipping their glass of wine. Here everybody was working the crowd and really having a good time and getting out there and meeting people.
Tabke: Yeah, you missed a good one last night on the boat too.
Roberts: I did, but I was at the Microsoft event, which was also equally good. Unfortunately I had some work I had to do, and I couldn't be on the boat until ten at night. I had to get back and do some work before the day started today. I was originally scheduled to go on the boat, and I just kind of had to bail at the last minute.
Tabke: What's been the biggest change you've seen in the hosting industry in the last 12 months?
Roberts: You know, I think people are starting to realize that it's not all about technical specifications and bandwidth and how much disk space you're getting. There are a lot of people out there that need hosted services, and sometimes that means that they're very technical people and they really do need to get into that - sitting down and figuring out a really technical configuration - but most people are wanting an easy to use way to accomplish a specific task.
I mean, you look at the YouTube's and the Flickr's of the world, and most people wouldn't think of them as hosting companies, but they really are. They are hosted services companies. Flickr is providing an online image sharing or image hosting service, and YouTube is doing the same thing with video. I think a lot of people who are in the hosted services business are starting to realize that the market is extremely huge for those types of services, where you are providing a place to host content, whether that be blogs, whether that be podcasts, or whether that be pictures or video - anything like that where you make it easy to use, easy to produce, easy to get the content out there, and people don't care "how much bandwidth do I get per month," or "how much space." All they want is to accomplish their goal and pay a certain price point to do it, and the technical specs, if you have a good reputation, then they're going to trust that you're going to take care of that stuff for them.
Tabke: Where is your next conference at, and when?
Roberts: We are back here at Navy Pier again next year, July 28th through 30th . So it's one week later, but we're committed to Navy Pier at least through next year. We also already have our hotel set up for next year, so we're going to be back at the "W" again. In a switch up from this year we're going to move from the Sheraton over to the Hotel Intercontinental.
Tabke: Excellent. Any plans to go on tour more?
Roberts: I don't think so. Not at this point. We are looking at Europe right now, and we're in the very early stages of planning a European show. But it's a really different market, and we want to make sure that we understand that market before we go there. And we want to make sure that from our exhibitor and sponsor standpoint that we understand who is actually going to be able to join us over in Europe, and who do we need to talk to in Europe to bring on as exhibitors and sponsors as well. We want to make sure that if we go over there we don't fall on our face trying to do it.
Tabke: Trust me, "been there, done that," [laughter] Well again, congratulations and thank you for taking the time for being with us. Thank you.
Roberts: Thank you.
Hacking, New Conference Tools and How HostingCon Can Help the SEO Community
When asked how HostingCon has helped in bringing the hosting community together over the past three years, Roberts said, "What we've tried to do over the last three years is provide an opportunity for people involved in the hosted services industry to get together to learn about the latest trends and technologies, network with their peers, and find new ways to grow their business," and he also spoke about the growth of the industry. "This is a vibrant, growing industry that is moving very quickly and our goal is to help our attendees stay on top of it."
Commenting on the amount of time and effort hosting companies have spent combating spam and hacking and whether he sees the situation worsening or leveling off, Roberts said, "I don't know that the situation is really getting worse, but I believe that it will continue to be a tug of war for the foreseeable future."
This year HostingCon tried something new, a set of Web tools for conference attendees called "HostingCon Connect". "HostingCon Connect is the place where all of the content that isn't related to a specific HostingCon show goes," said Roberts, including the conference blog, management features for both show attendees and exhibitors, and the "Connect" functionality he describes as "social networking for the hosted services industry."
HostingCon Connect was created, "to enhance HostingCon participants ability to network and get things done at HostingCon," according to a February, 2007 company blog posting by Roberts. "Some of the feedback we receive from attendees is that they wish it was easier to get in touch with people who are attending the show so they could get together," said Roberts, and to this end HostingCon Connect was set up as "a toolset that will help people take advantage of HostingCon," and for "making networking and arranging meetings with industry peers easier." Another goal of HostingCon Connect is to improve the conference through calendar features. "You'll be able to do things like look at the conference schedule, find the sessions you like and quickly add them to your calendar on the site," said Roberts. "Then you'll be able to expose your calendar to your network so that they can see where you'll be. You'll also be able to set up meetings with people in your network."
After the show concluded this week Roberts said, "I think some of the tools that we provided were helpful, though we are planning to review the whole suite of tools to see where we can improve them. I know that I already have some things in mind that didn't quite work as we expected and that we'll be addressing."
For those wondering how HostingCon differs from an event such as ISPCon, Roberts says "HostingCon is and has always been targeted towards companies and individuals providing hosted services such as website hosting, hosted messaging, software as a service and various other types of hosted services. From everything I've seen, ISPCon is geared more towards Internet access providers."
HostingCon offers something for those in the SEO and SEM industries as well, according to Roberts. "I think that those in the SEO/SEM industry would find that HostingCon might be a good place to find partners in the hosted services industry," he says. "Since the majority of our attendees are providing hosting services to the website owners that SEO/SEM providers target, I think it's a good fit."
Finally, Roberts was asked about the role of data centers over the next few years. "From what we're seeing they can't build datacenter space fast enough. I believe we'll continue to see data center growth for the foreseeable future," he concluded.
2008 HostingCon Will Return to Chicago
With the successful conclusion of the 2007 conference this week many conference attendees, speakers and exhibitors are already looking forward to the 2008 trade show, which will return to Navy Pier in Chicago on July 28th through 30th next year. With his winning ways in the conference world and openness to suggestions, Roberts and the HostingCon show are likely to become top draws in the technology arena.
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