Our good friend Alistair from Six Apart organised an event called Blogs in Action last week at the Polish Club (as in Polska, not Pledge) in London. It was a welcome get-together for many of us working in this area, but reactions to the event have prompted some reflection on what sort of blog- or social software-related events are needed as this space starts to develop further.
Suw-the-demon-typist provided a detailed account of the evening, which roughly went as follows:
* Tom Coates gave a typically self-deprecating introductory talk about the evolution of personal blogging, which made a good point:
If you want to use blogs for what they’re most naturally useful for, if you’re trying to exploit what makes them brilliant, keep the individual at the heart of it. Knowledge management, or community building, or publishing Wonkette style, keep the individual at the core, be conversational.
* Neil McIntosh contributed some intelligent thoughts about the development of blogs at the Guardian, and some thoughts on the relationship between their blogs and the main ‘paper:
Blogging’s had a big impact on journalism, which is only going to grow: it gives us lots of ideas, it’s helped us with research, as we can reach out to the community to ask them, and helped us correct things before they are published, and it helps us recruit writers – if someone comments eloquently, why not use them in the paper?
* Dominique Busso of Vnunet Europe gave us his perspective on how a technology publisher has used a variety of subject-specific blogs to complement their existing magazine titles.
* John Dale from the University of Warwick talked about the Warwick Blogs project, which gives anybody at the University a blog using a custom-built platform, and encourages the use of blogging as both a social and an academic sharing practice. This was undoubtedly the star turn of the evening, and the project showed commendable attention to detail. There are lots of similarities with what we are doing in healthcare, and so I plan to follow up and share what we have learned by doing something similar over the past two years.
* David Carr, lawyer, contributor to the right-wing blog Samizdata.net and director of the Big Blog Company, talked about some of the legal dangers of blogging. It would have been interesting to hear his views on how organisations should handle the potential employment and other legal issues arising from offensive content published by its principals, for example in the event of a discrimination or unfair dismissal case brought by an employee.
All in all, there was some good stuff here, and for somebody attending their first event of this kind I am sure it was very informative. Big thanks due to Alistair and Loic for their hospitality and charm.
However, reactions to the format of the event were not uniformly positive. Adriana from the Big Blog Company generally liked it, but suggests that more specific follow up meetings might be a good idea. Johnnie Moore found the format frustrating, and was not alone judging from comments to his piece. He thinks the organisers missed a trick in failing to involve a diverse and knowledgeable audience beyond questions at the end:
And let’s not kid ourselves that a Q and A session is a satisfactory nod towards interaction. I hate Q and A sessions. Here we have a room of maybe 100 smart people and the only way we can interact is to ask a question.
How bizarre to assemble a group of bloggers and use the meeting equivalent of a blog with no RSS, no comments and no trackbacks.
We have been contemplating the idea of one or more UK-based conferences or meetings to capitalise on the growing interest in social software among organisations and companies, and I know other potential collaborators who are doing so too.
So, how to approach thinking through the format and structure of future events in this area?
First, let’s consider who might benefit:
- Tool makers (Six Apart, Socialtext, Atlassian, etc.)
- Market makers (Corante, AlwaysOn, investors, etc.)
- Implementors (Headshift, Big Blog Company, larger consultancies)
- Individual practitioners (David Wilcox, Johnnie Moore, et al)
- Customer organisations (who want to make this stuff work)
- Professional bloggers (MinkMedia, Treonaut, etc.)
- Personal bloggers (who want to promote themselves)
- Academics / journalists (who are researching the area)
In each case, what are the objectives of the conference? For example…
- share ideas
- discuss the future
- learn about practice
- make innovation accessible
- collaborate on development
Who is the audience? Are we aiming for…
- users and practitioners
- professional users/customers
- geeks and innovators
What formats best achieve the objectives, given the intended audience?
- panel discussion
- small seminar
- open space session
- show and tell session
Finally, what is the business case and how do the numbers work? For example…
- sponsors pay to reach customers / opinion formers
- tool makers pay to reach customers
- practitioners buy tickets to engage in networking
- customers buy tickets to stay abreast of developments
Clearly, there is space for a range of events that solve these equations in different ways, including but not
- [cheap/free] large broad appeal conference for geeks and bloggers
- [cheap] small-to-medium blogger networking events
- [cheaper] small sector-focused ‘how to’ events and seminars
- [commercial] large broad appeal conference for companies
- [commercial] large broad appeal conference for government, public sector and social movements
- [high-value] small-scale seminars for organisational social software users
In terms of the subject matter, this depends partly on the mix between commercial or how-to elements and the geeky/blogger get-together component, but we always make too much of the commercial/non-commercial distinction in the UK compared to the United States, where it is less of an issue. Doing something that can bring together commercial users, implementors, innovating geeks and personal bloggers in a spirit of mutual learning would be just great, but the logistics are harder than for a series of smaller, more focused events. The key, though, is that it has a purpose that extends beyond self-promotion for all concerned.
Also, given that much of the action recently has been around social software and social networking, rather than just blogging, it seems oddly conservative now to just look at (how great is) blogging. What is really going on is a revolution in the way we control our own communication and representation, and this is where our all of our ideas and experiments have an amazing opportunity to transform organisations and their relationships with people. Personal blogging is an important part of that, but …. [throws head back; evil laugh] …. it is just the beginning! Conversations are taking place in companies, NGOs, publishing, government and many other sectors about what this all means and how to do it, and we should be influencing them.
The market for tools, services and support among organisational customers is growing rapidly. Movable Type is surely a proto-enterprise product, as Jeremy Zawodny argues, and so are Socialtext, Confluence and other tools we use. Customers are also interested in integrating open source / open services code to evolve solutions, as well as purely bespoke development. It would be great to see some of the best ideas from the wild influencing the way that organisations relate to people, and I think we need to learn more about the needs of companies and organisations in order to give them better alternatives.
That’s why I’m for a truly hybrid approach, with a format that can keep people from feeling uncomfortable in their seats for a whole day. I’ll just add that to my Amazon conference wish list…
Anybody have a similar wish list of things they would like to see happen at social software events to be held in London? They are going to happen anyway, and I think that if we work together, however, loosely, we can all benefit from a degree of coordination and sharing of ideas. The UK and London have some really clever people, as evidenced by the fact that ETCON is now the official summer outing for a veritable charabang of BBC developers; but in some respects we are lagging behind, and conferences is one of them.