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Macworld of the future: Music, pros, schwag

There's definitely a core group of Macworld attendees that want to preserve the show without Apple. But getting consensus on a strategy could be difficult.

Macworld attendees listen to IDG's Paul Kent (standing, left) discuss the future of Macworld.
Tom Krazit/CNET News

A middle-aged man in a faded NeXT T-shirt raised his hand for the microphone. If IDG wanted to save Macworld, he said, it should hold a "schwag-fest," where Macolytes could bond over swapping tchotchke from Macworlds past.

The Mac community had its say Wednesday night, at least for one evening. Whether IDG, the organizer of Macworld, takes up the suggestion is another question.

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IDG World Expo vice president and general manager Paul Kent hosted the discussion, which saw several hundred people pack into a room at San Francisco's Moscone Center to discuss the future of the event.

IDG has a few of its own ideas for next year's show. Kent revealed that next year's Exhibit Hall at Macworld will be free for those attending this year's show; a similar pass cost $25 this year. The New York Times' David Pogue has committed to give "The Anti-Keynote," which presumably will be one of Pogue's trademark song-and-dance satirical routines. And 60 companies have pledged their support, including Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, and Intuit.

But there is no plan right now beyond 2010. Kent confirmed our story that Apple's decision caught IDG totally by surprise, speaking often of the "new business reality" that has been thrust upon the company in a very short period of time.

It sounded like Kent would like Macworld to get younger, capitalizing on the popularity of the Mac with the under-30 set, who were sorely underrepresented during Wednesday's meeting. He suggested future Macworld shows as music or art festivals, showcases for digitally created art.

That suggestion was met with a lukewarm reception by meeting attendees who seemed to want IDG to focus on preserving the existing community. A handful of suggestions included:

• Smaller, more focused meetings held more frequently in multiple locations. New York, Boston, and Texas were mentioned: Kent said IDG was committed to San Francisco for the 2010 show but had no commitments beyond that.

• A return to Macworld as a conference for professional users of Mac technology, such as educators and design professionals. That category used to be the most significant portion of Apple's customer base but has been neglected over the past few years, as the Mac drew more and more consumer attention.

• Developing a way to let exhibitors know that their products were purchased online by someone who saw them at Macworld, giving them a reason to keep coming back.

Despite having to scramble in the aftermath of Apple's decision to leave Macworld, IDG and the Mac community have plenty to time to consider what lies in store for 2011 and beyond.

And although Apple seems to think it can reach the majority of its customers through its growing network of Apple retail stores, several attendees expressed a desire for the type of interaction that they can't get at those stores: deep, meaningful conversations with fellow technology enthusiasts who share similar passions and knowledge of the Mac. That bodes well for the conference because it would seem that those people are willing to travel and pay some sort of fee for the experience.

One interesting thing: not a single attendee or IDG employee at the town hall meeting mentioned the iPhone, even though several attendees checked their e-mail throughout the hour-long discussion on iPhones. Macworld offered a session on the iPhone during this week's conference, but if that segment of Apple's business continues to grow there's an awful lot of territory there to explore that has only been done at local levels, such as the iPhone Dev Camp.

Click here for more Macworld Expo coverage from CNET News.