I don't attend business conferences as much as I used to, so I don't know if an open bar is still a conference fixture. I always figured drinking was popular at these events because it created opportunities to meet new people, and even the driest technical discussions seem a little livelier when conducted over a cocktail. Many shows feature a bar in the exhibit hall, so I guess the assumption is people are more receptive to sales pitches after a drink or two. Few people drive, so most can lurch back to their rooms at the event venue after happy hour or grab a cab to their cheaper hotel elsewhere in the city.
But now it looks like tweeting is challenging imbibing as a top conference social activity. I wrote about it a few months ago, citing a study that offered some interesting insights into Twitter use at conferences.
Among them: From an admittedly small sample of 41 conference attendees, 95 percent of them had Twitter accounts, and 67 percent used Twitter to send messages during conferences. Nearly three-quarters of the respondents sent at least 11 messages a day and just over half participated in discussions via @ replies and direct messages. So you still get the lively discussions, with no risk of a hangover.
For more proof, check out the Twitter stream emanating from the Oracle Open World conference taking place in San Francisco. As @mipro tweets, "Amazing the role Twitter has in a show like this." There are invites to enter contests at vendor booths, a complaint that too many sessions are "glorified sales pitches" and a choice quote from the ever-colorful Scott McNealy ("Technology innovations have the shelf life of a banana.") @splunk even manages to combine two popular pursuits, inviting Splunk users to come by the office of the IT management software provider for a beer.
Oracle itself takes seriously the role of social media at its big event. Check out the social media cheat sheet on its wiki, including a long list of folks on Twitter. And how many companies let conference attendees present their own workshops or sessions? Talk about tapping into the community!