We need a TAG: a manifesto for a new kind of conference?

There has been a lot of talk about web design conferences this week. I don’t want to get involved in some of the debates that have taken place about speakers or certain events but wanted to look back at some of my own conference experiences from my days before web design …

As some of you might know, before I moved to the web in 2006 I was an archaeologist. During my time in archaeology (from 1995-2006) I was a regular conference goer – usually attending two or three a year but the highlight of my calendar was always an annual conference called TAG: the Theoretical Archaeology Group.

TAG always took place just before Christmas and was hosted at a different university each year with two simple premises: to think about the archaeological record in new and different ways; and to be open to contributions from all.

TAG had a number of features that differentiated it from other archaeology conferences and whilst it did not have a manifesto per se this could perhaps be summarised as follows:

  1. Low cost, accessible to all (especially students)
  2. No fixed location: hosted at a different university each year
  3. Multi-day, usually 2½ days
  4. Multi-track, usually 4-6 sessions at any time
  5. Anyone can propose a session
  6. Anyone can propose a talk

The format and concept is somewhat similar to ‘unconferences’ like as Barcamp but is ultimately more structured in that the sessions and talks for TAG are confirmed in advance.

I went to my first TAG in 1996 and was immediately excited to see such a diverse, interesting and challenging range of talks. Two years later – in 1998 – I gave my first talk and organised my first session, and for most of the subsequent years I attended I ended up contributing one or sometimes two talks. It was a great opportunity as a young student to get experience of public speaking and throwing your ideas into a crowded throng of like-minded individuals.

The thing that always impressed me about TAG was that it felt like it was a conference organised from the ground up, primarily by students and for students but featuring a potent and healthy mix of established academics, professional archaeologists and those – like me – just starting out.

The web community

I’m not criticising anything that has gone before and having helped out (in some capacity, at least) in the delivery of two conferences in Edinburgh I have massive respect for those that that have the courage and passion to organise events for our community.

However, I feel amidst the conversations that we have been having recently about web design conferences that we are crying out for something similar to TAG; straddled between the small, local meet-ups that occur across the UK (such as the phenomenally successfully Milton Keynes and Oxford Geek Nights) and the larger, more commercial conferences (such as Build and dConstruct).


I’ve felt for a while that I struggle to find value in larger conferences. I wrote a post back along on how unconferences/hackdays seem to (for me) be a better overall experience.

I have been to several WordCamp UK conferences, now called WPUK. It is, as you might have guessed a WordPress focused conference. But it pretty much hits all the key points of your “manifesto”.

Which is why I keep going back.