Jun 20 2007

IntroNetworks: A web service to help you get to the conversation

I’ve been thinking about how the use of technology can change events for a long time. Participating in distributed communities like CPsquare has caused me to travel more than ever before, but the design of events such as conferences and dialogs themselves seems resistant to the use of technology.

Especially since the first two International Communities and Technologies conferences have been mostly innocent of technology (apart from PowerPoint and wi-fi access if you’re willing to hike), it’s great that C&T2007 is using an application like IntroNetworks. Provided that wi-fi access is stable and available throughout the conference space, I think this application can change how you meet and interact with people at a conference. It may be because I am prone to shyness attacks at conferences, but helping people visualize who’s going to be there and actually get in touch before and afterwards helps position a conference as one event in a larger conversation (or at least a longer-term one).

So it’s hard to tell the difference between the platform as designed and the service as provided (e.g., by the conference organizers, who I think put lots of work into using the platform) and the experience at my desktop. (That’s one of the things motivated us to keep working on the Technology for Communities book for the last three years.) So my comments may be “about the software” or about its use or about me. The only way out of that conundrum is to keep observing and writing about it. Let’s see.

When I first logged on I was somewhat put off by having to complete yet another profile. Isn’t there a way to bring profile stuff in from somewhere else? And after the conference, is there any way to carry the profile forward? And what about sharing my profile with the rest of the world? I wonder whether the business model for the software company favors captive content and hermetic boundaries where openness may be more useful socially.


Part of creating your profile is to choose from a set of tags that are then used for matching you up with other conference participants. The first two sets are “discipline” and “research interests,” reminding us that this conference is aimed at academic researchers. (It’s an accident of history that I keep going to it, I swear.) The third category of tags is called “Services/Sites”. It’s funny to think that whether someone uses Skype or Flickr not says something about them, rather than whether it’s easy to reach them or not.

Each of the main Instant Messenger types are listed separately (AOL IM is separate from Yahoo IM which is also separate from MSN): what about Trillian users, who can speak to all three?). As I’ve thought about the tag categories it seems to me that push-back and complaints such as this one are an indicator of engagement


So the result of all this is a diagram with clickable pins representing people. You can mark them as contacts, send them a message, and look at their profiles. And it does work. Standing right next to me in the diagram is Aldo de Moor, a fellow I met at the Prato Conference last fall. I wrote him. He wrote back with an invitation to submit a book chapter proposal. The conversation has started already.

Where’s Aldo?

Although it’s conventional to put “me” at the center, I know that in reality it’s not the case. There are others who are at the center of this particular conference, but IntroNetworks lies and tells me that it’s “me” that’s at the center. I wonder whether it would be more productive to find and show some “us” and “them”? I guess that’s what the “Discipline” and “research interests” tags are really trying to do: get at personal history and participation in specific, learned communities.

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “IntroNetworks: A web service to help you get to the conversation”

  1. Stephen Nold says:

    I somewhat enjoyed being defined as the center of my universe. At least it provided a starting point to pursue the fellows in my space.

    I wish I could agree that “conference organizers put lots of work into using the platform” but my experience is that they have been slow to adopt this technology and often dedicate minimal resources to implementation and execution of these tools. I hope this attitude will change in the future as I suspect these applications could provide an additional benefit to the event.

  2. admin says:

    My comment about effort was based on something Charles Steinfield said and I’ll try to follow up with him at the conference. I’d like to look at IntroNetworks through his eyes. It may take a while before conference organizers (especially the organizers of academic conferences whose funding may partly come from grants) realize that serving attendees in this way is an important part of the job.

  3. smithjd says:

    Adopting technology like this for a meeting (e.g., putting the work into making it work) ends up being a chicken or the egg kind of thing. I just noticed in the Forum tab, that there have been almost no postings, aside from those of Charles Steinfield, one of the conference organizers. (There haven’t been many views of what’s there, either.)

    I think that it’s because of this circularity that a community of practice frame is useful: it focuses attention on the COMMUNITIES that adopt technology and use it effectively. And skillful use is the result of agreements in the community.

  4. Nancy White says:

    Great post! I used intronetworks at a conf last year and you really captured a lot of my experience, questions and observations. Terrific. Thanks, John. I hope you blog more from/about the conference as well. You are our eyes and ears. (Which reminds me, I need to blog about the KM4Dev conf! Oi, so many possible blog posts, so little time!)

  5. […] This is all possible with IntroNetworks, see the post at Learning Alliances. […]

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