Posts about conferences

Another conference

Tim O’Reilly announces a new conference: Tools of Change for Publishing. That’s a good idea; publishing needs to better grapple with and embrace these new tools and the new architecture of information and media. But I have two reactions: First, most of the tools that matter are lite and open and easy and the people who create them, use them, and know them best are not the big-iron technocrats of the media industry. How will you get them to share what they know on and off the stage? They’re not going to pay thousands to come to a conference to do that. Second, I was stuck by the West-Coast hubris of the announcement: “We’re the originator of the term Web 2.0.” I think the time has come when I wouldn’t brag about that. And: “San Jose? Why not New York? Because we think that Silicon Valley, not New York, is the epicenter of the changes that are driving publishing.” No, there is no epicenter. The internet obsoletes epicenters.

: LATER: Tim O’Reilly tried to post a comment and my damned spam filter zapped him and then zapped me when I tried to do it in his place. So here is his comment. Sorry for the delay, Tim…

Jeff —

A couple of responses:

1. I completely agree that “most of the tools that matter are lite and open and easy,” but I explicitly noted in my post (and in our thinking about the conference) that many of the things that seem so obvious to those of us in the tech industry are actually NOT obvious and easy to people in publishing. At the Stanford Publishing Course, I had a debate about the Google Library book scanning project with a big name literary agent, and in the course of our debate, as I was trying to explain how a book search index was just like a web search index, I discovered that not only did she not know what an index was, she had never even tried Google! Now that’s an extreme, but in my dealing with people in publishing, I have found that many of them fall into two camps: the *very* clued in (like Brian Murray at Harpers or Timo Hannay at Nature) or “confused and slightly dazed.” Even those in the middle are looking for best practices. In fact, part of the reason I do a conference like this is to learn myself. If you’ve ever heard Mitch Kapor’s talk on what works about Wikipedia, you realize that there’s far more to wikis than you realized. They may be quick and simple, but the reason most wikis don’t work as well as people hope is that people don’t really understand some of the social and architectural factors that make the best wikis work. Ditto blogs. There *are* best practices, and a lot of cool new tools that have been applied on the web but not to more traditional areas of publishing. (For example, I bet even you haven’t thought through all the implications of SEO on book search — that’s still a story in the making, and nobody has figured out a lot of what will be common practice a few years from now.)

I also agree that “the people who create [these tools], use them, and know them best are not the big-iron technocrats of the media industry,” which is why I find it puzzling that your very next point is “Why San Jose and not New York?” You just gave the reason.

And as to “getting [the innovators] to share what they know,” that’s what O’Reilly events are known for. Anyone who’s been to a conference like OSCON or etech knows that we’re darn good at that.

I’m not saying it’s a slam dunk to get established publishers and the new breed of publishing technologists and publishing innovators together and make magic happen, but it’s definitely worth trying, for all the reasons I cite in my original post.

I’m sorry you’re a skeptic, but I’d love to have a chance to convince you. Let’s talk, and I hope to get you involved.

P.S. You say that you wouldn’t brag about being the originator of the term “Web 2.0?” I don’t consider it bragging to mention it in the context that I did. But in any event, why not? In 2003, we set out to reignite enthusiasm in the computer industry, which was still reeling from the dotcom bust, by doing some storytelling about why we were still bullish on technology. It worked. A lot of people have benefited. Yes, there’s been some hype, but I think the good far outweighs the bad. And I’ve heard from a lot of entrepreneurs that the ideas at the heart of my What is Web 2.0? paper have been incredibly useful to them.


Scott Karp liveblogged the heck out Mesh. And boy, are his fingers tired.


I’m at the Syndicate conference in New York. Just did the unkeynote. Have no idea whether it worked. You tell me.

: The meatiest thing that came out of it was a lot of confusion and complaint about the state of tagging. It’s time for taggercon.

: Richard Edelman, who’s becoming known as the most clueful flack, says that they are getting rid of the “message triangle,” the old, accepted wisdom of media training that taught the speaker to keep coming back to three points no matter what the question is. He says the John Kerry failed in his debates because he was too-well trained; he kept coming back to those points. Too much training reduces credibility, he says.

He says that PR people in the future should be “chief listening officers.” Yes, but that should be the job of all execs, no?

: Thinking about it, I’d do the unkeynote differently, modeling it more on the unconference. It needs to start with a goal — a question to answer, a problem to solve, a debate to surface or settle, so people try to pull together to some end and the conversation isn’t random … and so the unkeynoter can bring the conversation back on course when it veers off (as this one did). Lesson learned.

The unkeynote

Here’s my gameplan for my unkeynote at the Syndicate conference on Tuesday. I’m eager for any help and suggestions you can give me.

After getting everyone to agree that conferences, panels, and keynotes suck, I’m going to lay out a few choices for what we should talk about; the choice is the room’s. Then I’ll do a quick intro to the discussion and away we go, with me darting around the room like Oprah (or, considering the color of my hair, Phil) to bring out the ideas, questions, needs, and concerns of the room, who know more than I do. Those topics:

1. Media and syndication.
* This is about the yin and yang, the great mandala of distribution and aggregation in media: You have to be distributed (aka syndicated) and then you have to be aggregated if you want to be found. Big mediA have to learn to both share and promote others’ content.
* Feeds, I think, become the new networks; networks are becoming fluid (more on that later) and so links and feeds from those you trust become the new networks.
* Tagging enables reverse syndication — see Edgeio and the idea of tagging ads or restaurant reviews anywhere on the net and then collecting and organizing and sharing them (see Edgeio).
* TV networks are starting to syndicate (see network shows on iTunes and on the web and see Warner Brothers on Bittorrent); what is the implication for big media (and for P2P)?
* I’ll tell my standard Powerpoint story about Jon Stewart on CNN vs. on the web and what’s bigger — and what networks should do about it.
* We can talk about BBC 2.0, the unnetwork and where that should go.

2. Money and syndication.
* If anyone wants syndication to get ad support so it will (a) be free and (b) get tons of content, then we’ll have to figure out how to collect metrics: views, users, usage, and such via cookies and reporting.
* Is advertising working on feeds? (To my surprise, my Feedburner ads are yielding about $200 a month.)
* Can we put wrappers on feeds and P2P — as Warner Brothers put a wrapper onto Bittorrent — to enable measurement, tracking, and ad serving? Should we?
* What about paid-subscription feeds? Is this the new newsletter, the new magazine, the new cable channel? Good idea or bad?
* I’ll plug my notion of an open-source ad marketplace.
* Insert discussion of digital rights management here.

3. Technology and syndication.
* What’s new and what’s needed? Have we seen much development in syndication lately (and, for that matter, in blogging)?
* I’ll push the notion that feeds should serve as the information architecture of news.
* I wish for flexible RSS that is smarter, killing feeds I don’t use and adding feeds those I trust believe I should have (e.g., editors picking a World Cup feed for me for a month).
* Dave Winer’s Shared OPML as a means of recommending feeds (though I wish for some segmentation — tech feeds, media feeds, etc.).
* Two-way RSS (Ray Ozzie and SSE) and the possible uses.
* Multidevice RSS (feeds to my phone, TV, refrigerator…).
* Bandwidth issues (the problem of constant pings).

4. Conferences suck.
* We could talk about that, too.

5. N.O.T.A.
* None of the above. If they pick this, I just sit down and let anarchy rule.

We’ll see how it goes…

Conferences galore

Paid Content is again updating its list of media conferences. Panels for all!


Gnomedex goes unconference: There are no panels, only conversations. This is what I’ll try to do at Syndicate next week. We’ll see whether it works.

The unkeynote

I got hornswaggled into giving a keynote at Syndicate in New York. But, I protested, I don’t know what I can tell that crowd about syndication. So I decided to try to give the unkeynote, modeled on the unconference. I’ll throw out some questions/goals and have the people in the room decide on the agenda and then enable them to share what they know — which is more than I know — as I do what I do at unconferences: I play Oprah. I mentioned this on the Gillmor Gang last night and various of my fellow callers jumped down my throat. But now I see that others, including Tara Hunt, are planning their own unkeynotes at the Mesh confab in Toronto. This could flame out spectacularly or it could make the room the panel. What do you think I should do?

The unconference

I’m glad to report that the unconference worked and I just told unconference guru Dave Winer that in email.

The point was that the people in the room would set the agenda and they’d accomplish this via conversation, not lecture. I think it worked for a few reasons:
1. Everyone in the room wanted to accomplish the same thing. We had a goal. We all had different ideas about how to get there. But we came in wanting to move the peanut, not just chew on it.
2. There were the right number of people there: enough to give us varied perspectives and experience but not so many that people couldn’t be heard.
3. The organizers set the exact right tone. They made the essential opening points so everyone else didn’t have to. They set a high expectation for work and civility. Then they let the conversation happen.
4. We came in knowing what the unformatted format would be, so everyone knew what to expect: unconference rules. Thanks, Dave.
5. We had stellar leadership. Wendy Warren, an editor at the Daily News, is a star. When people tried to turn her into the teacher with their raised hands and plaintive-call-on-me-please looks, she tried to get people to just have a conversation. She joined in that conversation but never tried to take it over. When things bogged down, she raised the next subject. When things threatened to get a little citric, she lightened things up. Charm helps. These sessions still need leaders, just not lecturers. The unconference isn’t about anarchy but about empowering and that’s what she did. So if you unconference, pick your leaders well.

This makes me all the more exhausted and exasperated looking at programs for other conferences coming up with damnable panels — and I’m on some: 45 minutes of droning down the line followed by 15 minutes of questions from the audience, when the real goal should be answers from everyone. Almost as bad are the sessions where everyone get a “turn” but because they happen in order of hand raised, the discussion turns into a festival of the nonsequitor (well, I want to respond to the person who spoke three turns ago….). The goal should always be conversation.

There’s a meeting coming up about linking and I was quite obnoxious in my response to the invitation, pitching the Winer gospel of the unconference. I told the organizer to blow up the panels and tear down the essentially insulting distinction between panel and audience and get the people in the room to truly link. He should have told me to go blow but, to his credit, he said he’s trying to figure out how to do this. I know it looks daunting, but it’s really not. At the first Bloggercon, when Dave told me minutes before my session was to begin that the entire room was the panel, I turned into Phil Donahue and let it happen.

At the upcoming Syndicate conference, organizer Eric Norlin pushed me to be one of the keynoters. I tried to refuse; I said that I didn’t know as much as the room, accumulated. I finally agreed to do it only if I could turn into Phil and start the session from the end — the “question” period, except I’ll be the one asking the people in the room questions because they’re the ones with the answers. There will be too many people in the room and not enough time and not a clear enough goal to have an unconference like yesterday’s. Will this work in an hour? Will it be of any value? Will it be utter humilation? I have no idea. But it’s worth the risk to blow up the broken format of the conference. I’ll let you know how the unkeynote works: or better yet, you’ll read on the blogs of those there what didn’t work and why.

: OPML camp struggles with how to unconference.