If you've been following my Twitter, you'll know I just spent the last two days at The Future of Web Apps, which was great. I also bought admission for most of the people at Odeo (most didn't stay the whole time, but came and went, since it was in the city).
This is a big time sink, and I don't go to a lot of conferences, because it's hard to justify the time. But one thing I always forget is that it's not just the content, and it's not just the schmoozing (which everyone says is the real reason to go), it's that you come away wanting to do better.
This may be because you're inspired and get good ideas by seeing at what others have done. But I think the biggest reason is because you want to impress your peers. I think that's a constant motivation for a lot of people, but it becomes much more real and visceral when you spend two days hanging out with them doing show and tell. You could say that's a rather primitive motivation, but it is a powerful one. It's what drives a lot of open source and other great creations, to be sure. Why not tap into that?
Now, wanting to impress your peers can also lead you to focus on the wrong thingsthings that don't help your businessin some cases. Especially if you're going to geek conferences and trying to build a mainstream web app. But I guess that depends on who your peers are and how they'll be impressed. Geeks and non-geeks alike in our industry tend to be impressed when you build something that's used by huge numbers of people. So if you keep that in mind, impress away, I say. And go to conferences (and send your people) once in a while (not too often) if it gets you fired up, as it does me.