Jan 15 2010
Face-to-face conferences aren’t what they used to be and that’s ok with me. How many times have you gone to a face-to-face conference in another city where you rub shoulders with a lot of strangers, listen to a bunch of talking heads with obscure PowerPoint slides in cold dark rooms, make a few acquaintances at the reception, give your talk to a group that may or may not get what you’re talking about, and come home with a printed proceedings that goes on the bookshelf?
My days of passive participation are over and done with:
- For me, the reason to go to a big conference is the small group conversations with people I already know somewhat or with whom I share a common interest
- We have the tools to coordinate and connect before, during and after the event — to keep the conversation going (it starts before the conference and goes afterward as well)
I always want to know who else is attending an event, what they’re thinking about, where people are staying, and where we’re going to eat. During the conference, it’s useful to eavesdrop on parallel sessions that I’m missing by watching the twitter stream. And it’s helpful to be able to look at people’s slides right away, and to find related materials that’s mentioned or written during the conference. And it’s nice to see photos of the event afterward, too.
Tagging before, during and after a conference is a key tool for using a big conference as a kind of host system a smaller group that wants to connect. The economics of face-to-face meetings leads to big conferences. The economics of meaning-making require smaller, but not closed, conversations.
Apart from email, forums, teleconferences, mobile phones, and other technologies, tagging is useful for enabling a small group to use a large conference as a platform for its own purposes. It’s an example of a technology that allows the integration across tools by means of a practice and a protocol (as we discuss in Chapter 4 of Digital Habitats).
Using CPsquare’s “sidecar” participation in the AoIR Conference (which coincided with the EPIC conference) as an example, here are some observations of how tagging can play a role in supporting a subgroup’s participation at a big conference.
- Emergent intention. Early on nobody knows for sure who will be there and therefore whether it’s worth going. Email discussions about who’s going are key to establishing that there will be some kind of quorum which would make a long trip worthwhile. But at a certain point, tagging the resources that emerge is essential. Four months after tagging the AoIR conference, for example, we noticed that the EPIC conference was scheduled the same week. That coincidence turned out to be a key to the dynamics of the conversation.
- Fuzzy social boundaries. Tagging is open in the sense that anybody can use it and it’s visible to everyone. Tagging prospective participants or presentations is a way of encouraging participation. Looking at the tagstream, for example, you can see that Sus Nyrop, who did participate, was hoping that Christina Costa would join us (although she couldn’t make it in the end).
- Identification of relevant resources . Being together at a conference may focus on a particular topic, but you have to identify a lot of other relevant resources like where to stay. We used the lodging page from a previous conference in Copenhagen to figure out where our group might stay.
- Multiple outputs. Active participation generates a lot of different outputs. Tagging is the ideal way to keep track of them. Delicious links are here. Flickr photos are here. Not much video produced at that conference.
- Distributed leadership. Although I used the “cp2oir08” tag more than anybody else, others used it as well. The goal is to coax people to contribute, whether it’s a tag you came up with or not.
- Propose a tag early. Announce it by email or by other means to get the word out.
- Tag should be as intuitive and descriptive as it can be but as short as possible.
- Weave tagging into group practice and tagged resources into the conversation. Mention what’s been tagged by you or what you’ve found in the tagstream that others should know about.
- Think of the tagstream a community-building resource. A tagstream is the accumulation of tagged materials contributed by everyone, which is stored on a tagging platform such as delicious, and which retrieved or monitored via an RSS feed (but which can also be viewed as a web page).
- Identify related or parallel tags (such as “ir9” that was used for the AoIR conference as a whole on Flickr, delicious, and Twitter).
- Think of the tagstream as an ideal research tool, when you’re going back to figure out what happened or when.
Photo by Bev Trayner.
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