We’re busy putting the finishing touches to our plans for The Future of Web Apps in London in February. We’re having some discussion over the merits of providing WiFi to our attendees throughout the day.

There’s no argument that at an event aimed at web designers, developer and entrepreneurs there needs to be a stable, robust connection capable of holding hundreds of simultaneous connections. And with that in mind we have allocated a substantial chunk of our budget to paying a company to provide that. So there will be WiFi.

The debate we are having is whether to have the WiFi ‘on’ throughout the day or to switch it off during the presentations. We had some feedback from our San Francisco event back in September that indicated ‘always on’ WiFi is very distracting. Why? because attendees take their laptops into the auditorium and spend the time IM-ing their friends and answering e-mails instead of listening to the speaker.

You might argue that WiFi is needed for live-blogging. Well, not really because anyone who wants to blog can write their post off-line and post it at the break when the WiFi is back on.

You might say “hey we’re not children, we can make up our own minds whether to use it or not. Who do you think you are, Teach!” – okay maybe that wasn’t exactly what you were saying but you get the drift.

We don’t want to be Web Nazis but in our experience (two major conferences and over 20 workshops worldwide) people don’t regulate themselves. They spend all day performing pointless tasks online that could probably wait until the next day.

If we’re going to put our even-organisers hat on for a moment this presents a problem – because what we absolutely want is for everyone who attends the event to enjoy himself or herself, to learn stuff and to take something away from the day that they can use. We want everyone to feel like they got value for money. But if they’re messaging all day then the likelihood is that they won’t.

You can’t force people to listen but you can remove any distractions. So the question is: Is WiFi a distraction at conferences? Should we turn it off during the slides? What do you think?