Having just concluded three days of Macworld SF 2010 after taking part in various user conferences and walking the show floor, I remain somewhat skeptical of Macworld SF 2011.

No user conference I attended was even close to room capacity, with numbers ranging from 17 to 35 attendees in rooms that by my estimate hold around 160. You could’ve shot a cannonball through these things and not hit anyone or anything. (The content was wildly variable as well: My first day conferences were mediocre at best, while the second day’s were quite good and in one case excellent.) While access to the presenter has its benefits for attendees, one has to wonder if the conferences were at all worthwhile financially for the organizers given these numbers.

My experience on the Expo floor was similar, though I will note that several of the vendors I spoke with were ecstatic about the numbers they were seeing. I don’t know if this had to do with managed expectations on the part of show organizers or simply the limited space and number of vendors—less than half of last year’s—making for a constant stream of visitors. The overall attendance figure bandied about for this year was 28,000 which compares poorly with last year’s 90,000. It certainly felt like a much smaller show this year, taking up a section of Moscone North whereas last year’s show took both North and the larger South facility. Still, if the vendors are happy, presumably there will be more of them next year which should bode well despite my experience and my misgivings.

Organizers have optimistically set January 25-29, 2011 as the dates for next year’s show. I’m not going to prejudge anything—although I was sure willing to after the lousy first day this year—and say that I’m not going next or that Macworld won’t survive. But I am taking a wait-and-see attitude. My attendance depends greatly on what the Apple Consultants Network does, because their meetings are the main reason I go. (In fact the ACN business meeting down the street from Moscone was the only official Apple presence in the area.) Other attendees, who lack that specific draw, are likely to be hard-pressed unless Macworld signs up a lot more vendors. I hope that they do.