Monday, July 12, 2004

Vienna flashback
So how was Blogtalk 2.0?
First of all, I want to say that Thomas Burg has done a tremendous job putting it all together. He made it very easy being in the program comittee, as the members' job mainly consisted in agreeing with him, and occasionally expanding a little. I wish there had been an opportunity to thank him for his efforts publicly, without jumping up and making a spectacle of myself. Contrary to what some people believe, that does not come easily to me, sso it didn't happen. It should have though.

When that is said: even something good can be better. I want to address a few areas which could have enhanced the experience.

The program was too uniform and too tight. This is something I could have influenced if I had thought at the time, so this is self-criticism. I think there should have been greater differentiation between the keynotes and the panels. For the panels to have presentations 20-25 minutes long, while the keynotes were half an hour, created a long series of uniform lectures rather than quick presentations accompanying papers broken up by longer lectures. The panels were not real panels. They were collections of more or less randomly connected speakers, who then took questions not all of them could really answer. The questions directed at all of the panel became awkward, as the case was frequently that only a few of the panel could reply. This could have been avoided by making the keynotes independent of the presentations, letting all the presenters take independent questions, insisting on having full papers ready for the conference and posted on the net or distributed in print at the conference, and by making the option as participating in panels with particular topics rather than having everybody at one panel or another. This would have made the schedule more dynamic, and helped avoid conference overload from sitting through two days of pretty much the same thing.

Since this was a bloggers' conference, and we knew there would be a lot of computers in use with all its potential for an active backchannel, this could perhaps be used more effectively. Others have suggested a designated blogger. I think there should be more than one - a team of bloggers who blogged on a conference blog. And their job should be more than just bringing summaries of the talks, because that is not as interesting as the discussion, comments and disagreement that might arise. This might also bring the backchannel into play. One of the most important things with being at a conference is that you can get face-to-face response from the people present, you don't have to write them or ask somebody else what they meant. By having a designated backchannel blogger bring the discussions and the questions more into the light, it would be possible to create a better dynamic between the different mode. An alternative would be a designated backchannel speaker: Two or three people designated to present the questions of the backchannel or the opinions of the backchannel to the entire audience, and connect the two different discussions.

What I really missed was common meals. There is something about the mingling that happens over a meal, a snack or what ever that just was lost in Vienna. I am aware that this is a financial question. However: the benefit of not having to run in different directions for a meal and the opportunity of meeting and talking to people you would not invite to go to lunch with you is substantial.

Now it may look like I hated the conference. I didn't. I really liked the topic, the collection of people with wide and varying interests. I like the dynamic of a new field opening for academic research and commercial exploration both, and blogs are definitely in that area. I would love to see blogs used as research obbjects as well as tools in other conferences discussing and addressing media, new media and internet culture. The blogtalk conferences take blogs seriously, and gives a chance for crossfertilisation, something which is vital to a new field. I hope it can expand and become something other than a cult conference. There are different ways of achieving that. One is for the Vienna conference to aim at growth, and have really diversified topics from year to year. Another is to move the conference around to different administrators and different locations. And yet another is to have Blogtalk combined with some other conference from time to time, for instance an AOIR blogtalk. But what ever happens, I want to see user-driven publishing as a topic for serious discussion and research in the future.

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