Jul 15 2012

Meaning of “the only thing that could have happened”

In an open space conference like the Community Leadership Summit, according to Harrison Owen’s second principle of Open Space Technology, “Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.”  But when we don’t exactly like what happens, we always want to know, Why did it happen that way?  I tried to organize a session and (almost) nobody came.  I was bummed and felt like a complete outsider.  On reflection, here’s why I think that happened:
  • I had a prior commitment the morning the conference kicked off, so I got a friend to propose a session about the CLS12 hashtag for me in the opening meeting of the conference.  That was not ideal: I looked like I was voting with my 2 feet (thus trying to get away with breaking the open space law).
  • Now that I think of it, CLS12 attendees didn’t seem like Twitter-dwellers to me.  Because so many of them are involved in Open Source Software communities, mostly they seem live and work on other platforms, ranging from IRC and email lists to code repositories.
  • Everyone was having too much fun talking to each other face-to-face about vital topics like recruiting documentation contributors or “combating assholes” to be interested in looking at a social network graph.  Who could blame them?

But even though I was disappointed that the session wasn’t “popular,” learning the following made it worthwhile for me:

  • In the scramble, it was impressive to find that Marc Smith, who was in Italy for a conference, somehow found time to help out behind the scenes.
  • Discovering some useful hashtags, like #CMGRCHAT by looking at the Social Network Graph generated by NodeXL.
  • Messing around with the data and practicing using the NodeXL interface in someone else’s company — stimulated by their questions– is a productive learning strategy.  I think NodeXL is pretty workable as an analytical tool, but it is too sophisticated and (given my skill level so far) too complex to use as a window or mirror for a real-time discussion about a conference or community.
  • I was grateful that Ann Marcus showed up, but she was figuring out what how Twitter might be useful, so the SNA angle was pretty opaque.
  • Sitting with Chuck Kisselburg, peering at a discussion about #ICANN, confirmed that seeing a community or group of known people (to him) is entirely different from looking at strangers.  Chuck recognized many people in the ICANN conversation, but I didn’t know that many people at the CLS conference.

Even though the schedule for Sunday seemed completely relevant and interesting, I decided that I was just too over-committed, so I didn’t make it to the second day.  Maybe I learned that I’m pretty much of an outsider in the open source community world.

Thanks to Stephen Walli for permission to use his photo.

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