As companies start to grapple with how to respond to Covid-19 (aka coronavirus), Facebook has decided to cancel its developer conference, known as F8, which was scheduled for May. The company is instead opting for a series of "local events, videos, and live-streamed content," according to a company statement.
That comes after this month's World Mobile Congress, a major trade show in Barcelona, Spain that attracts 100,000 participants, was canceled after exhibitors began pulling out. In addition, Facebook, Microsoft, and Sony have all pulled out of the Game Developers Conference (GDC), leaving that event without its main gaming platforms.
One of the next major events that developers are keeping an eye on is Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), usually held in June in San Jose, California, the same location as Facebook's scrapped event. WWDC attracts developers from across the globe.
I reached out to Apple but did not immediately receive a response, but so far the company has not given any indication that it plans to cancel WWDC.
Google has said that its I/O conference is scheduled to be held in May as planned. That company also did not respond to my inquiry as to what measures it plans to take to mitigate the risk to participants.
Though it might be tempting to dismiss these cancelations as simply tech companies having to scrap their plans for a big get together, they will likely have far-reaching implications. In the case of Facebook and Apple, these events are traditionally when the companies make announcements about upcoming features and products. They also serve as a venue for developers to connect and learn about building apps for each platform. The cancellation or alteration of these events may negatively impact dozens of smaller companies.
In addition, the cancelations will have a very real economic impact on the host cities. Both F8 and WWDC bring as many as 5,000 people into San Jose, California, each of whom spends money on hotels, transportation, food, and entertainment.
Tech conferences aren't the only events having to reconsider the wisdom of packing large numbers of people into one place for an extended period of time. The Tokyo Olympics has said that it believes it has a few months before its organizers must make a decision, and The New York Times is reporting that the games are expected to occur as planned. The International Olympic Committee is even encouraging athletes to continue training as normal. Still, there are few good options should the situation worsen.
As I wrote earlier this week, companies are already having to make changes to the way they work in anticipation that there could very come a day in the near future where it's in everyone's best interest to stay home for a few days or even weeks. While the current epidemic has not yet reached a pandemic status, many health officials have said they believe it's only a matter of time before the virus spreads here.
Canceling tech conferences is only one of the steps that companies are likely to take. In reality, every company should be making a plan now to protect its people and ensure that they're able to stay productive.