Having just returned from ABA TECHSHOW in Chicago I recently got a reminder that there are people out there who just don't understand what conferences are really about. They're about people.
Some folks who don't understand that choose to deride conferences as useless because not every single thing said at them is earthshattering news. Well, guess what, very little in life really is. Most of the information you get at ANY conference is likely to be something you could have found online or in a book if you took the time to research it.
What you get at conferences, that you don't get from Googling, is relationships. It's sharing ideas and scaffolding those ideas into new ideas and inspiration. It's a greater understanding because that information may be presented in a new way or, by discussing that information with others in the field, you may gain a new perspective on it.
Did I reveal some great secret of Microsoft Outlook that nobody outside the hallowed halls of Microsoft knows about? I doubt it. In fact, I suspect most of what I talked about in my "Meet the Author" session could be found in my book. But by discussing it face to face we were able to put it in different contexts and find ways to help the audience use those ideas in new ways (or at least ways that were new to them) to be more effective.
In the Expo hall there was over 100 vendors. Were any of them mysterious sects that don't have websites highlighting their products? Not as far as I know, but the difference is by getting to stop and talk with them face to face for 5 or 10 minutes we started to build relationships that can lead to future projects together. We built those contacts that mean that the next time I have a question about that product I have a specific person I can reach out to to talk about it.
The real value of conferences is the people. Reuniting with colleagues you may not have seen in person for a while, meeting new people and discussing ideas face to face.