The community that was fostered at AO2003 is now providing more pensive analysis. This is a great time to reflect on how social software is changing the events business and the "trades" in general.
An excerpt from Conferenza, which provides a tad more traditional paid research coverage of trade shows, contains this golden nugget of controversy:
Still, there were interesting insights, some intended and some not...
· As a demonstration of the power of interconnection, a panel on Web services featuring Salesforce.com CEO Mark Benioff provoked the most talked-about moment of the conference – at Benioff’s expense. Asserting that the largest e-commerce software supplier is Amazon.com, Benioff pointed toward co-panelists from IBM and Sun Microsystems and said, “None of these companies has any position in [that] market at all. Even Apple’s iTunes music store was built on Amazon,” and asserted that Amazon has 300 people working on its proprietary software.
We thought this was news, until Ross Mayfield, CEO of one of the Web’s leading blogging software providers, Socialtext, led an online chat charge showing that most of this was apparently untrue: Amazon uses standard XML out-of-the-box stuff, and Apple’s iTunes doesn’t use Amazon’s software at all, the chatters charged. As Benioff continued, the audience watched as a group of online contributors disputed fact after fact, input Benioff apparently did not see. “It was sort of like a ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit,” said one attendee. “As Mark spoke, we could see his nose growing longer, like Pinocchio.”
How it played out in the Chat (Archive) was Kevin Marks did the fact checking, which was simultaneously projected on to the big screen:
[11:51] KevinMarks: no he didn't
[11:51] adina: bthey /are/ mentioning public web serivces
[11:51] KevinMarks: he licensed the patent
[11:51] KevinMarks: iTunes backend is not Amazon
[11:51] toughcrowd: this panel is showing lots of promise - but I love that cynical suspicion "lovefest"
[11:51] Ross: Amazon's real smart move was an API for developers
[11:52] adina: tross
[11:52] Ross: but they dont get decentralization. witness http://www.allconsuming.com
[11:52] adina: ross again
[11:52] Ross: Kevin, did he say it was?
[11:52] KevinMarks: Apple had ahuge online store already selling Macs
[11:52] KevinMarks: they built on that for iTunes
[11:53] Ross: real-time fact checking Kevin, I love it
[11:54] DariusD: Do you know that the Apple onnline store was not built on Amazon technology?
[11:54] KevinMarks: It is built on Webobjects
Here's Apple's story of how iTunes was built and how they licensed the one-click form from Amazon. Before we get carried away with the event of a fact check, rather than dynamic itself, its important to understand the context. I doubt Marc had negative intent, he had little to gain if so, and he was just plain conversing.
This parallel channel, a second superpower on a finite scale, first emerged at PC Forum 2002 when Dan Gillmor blogged a fact check on Joe Nacchio. Clay fostered the first experiments with social software as an in-room chat tool. Supernova I was the first to formalize a group weblog. PC Forum 2003 was the first to incorporate a conference wiki. The O'Rielly Emerging Technology conference renewed interest in IRC and Hydra in parallel to the wiki. Supernova II was the first to incorporate chat and wiki. AlwaysOn was the first to add video streaming (Archive), creating a richer remote participation experience.
For some, the choice of modes is overwhelming at first, something we are tuning. But Social Software and its practices for events has a reached a level of maturity where it is solving fundamental tensions of event structure.
Take Bob Frankston's experience with remote participation after in-person attendance the first day:
While it's not the same as being their in person, I was surprised how well the combination of the video and Wiki worked. Over my standard home Internet connection I had very good audio and video quality in looking at the panel.
I don't know how to capture the screen picture that included the video so I simply used my digital camera to take a picture. That's Tony Perkins summing up the conference discussion log is in the lower left. There was a lively discussion with people in the room and others outside such as Joi Itcho in Japan and me at home. Joi mentioned that he was attending in his underwear and people wanted to get a video of him. He obliged though only above the waist...
...I judge events by the attendees more than by the panelists and, by that measure, the event has gotten off to a good start. The concept of being always-on or always connected is a good one though, in my opinion, it is important to distinguish between the transport issues that enable connectivity and the question of what one does with connectivity and the implications. This confusion is reflected in some of the panels.
As I write this I'm still attending remotely. I can view the conference over the Internet with very good audio and video quality. Socialtext is provided a live commenting facility using their Wiki software. This is wonderful for those like me who want to jump up and say "that's stupid" or maybe even be positive. There were problems with 802.11 connectivity the first day so I had only a few opportunities for such commentary though I did make good use of it. Today, from home, it appears to be working better and I've been able to add my own comments on the side.
Participating from afar is interesting. The audio/video works very well but I miss the ability to kibitz with others. A side-chat facility would help. Still, this is my first time trying such remote participation. Having been there for the first day I have some sense of the context and it works very well. Of course this is early stage and I can think of a lot of improvements but it is mundanely useful rather than being a novelty.
David Weinberger recently wrote a great piece in Darwin on the Death of Panels:
...Panelists and audiences do not share the same goals. Audiences want to learn and be entertained. Panelists want to impress and sometimes want to sell. Conversations work against the panelists' natural inclination to manage their speech; conversations develop their own gravitational fields that fling panelists together in ways they can't control.
If you're organizing a conference, as an audience member I implore you to cast aside the spurious safety of panels. If you're a moderator, you'll do everyone a favor if you rearrange the chairs, eliminate the opening statements, confiscate the bulb in the projector and get your participants to just talk. Don't "leave time" for audience participation; open it up from the beginning. Hell, screw the bulb back in and project the online chat where the real life of the conference is probably happening anyway...
Mike from Techdirt yearns for conferences with semi-structured small group interaction.
...An ideal conference, then, would be more like a day full of these lunches - that forced people to think in different ways. Thus, I'd love to see a conference where people are either randomly (or carefully planned by the organizers) split into small groups, and given a task or a challenge. Let them do some scenario planning that forces them to think creatively. Get people thinking, get them involved with the ideas, get them interacting with others and force them to think outside of their own viewpoint. Maybe challenge them. Have different groups "competing" in some way to get people to really pay attention, and really try to get their minds around very difficult issues. ..
Social Software and Social Networking Models provide the greatest threat and opportunity for the trade industry (trade magazines & shows) -- because they change the notion of audience into participants. The rise of weblogs and participatory media allow domain experts to contribute without making contribution their full time job. Networking models allow people to connect regardless of space or time as is the case with LinkedIn, or in space and time with Meetup. Because these tools work so well in virtuality, it is natural for them to be extended to reality (whatever that means).
Trade shows will fundamentally change their structure to become more participatory -- and the result is more connective, constructive and conversational. Remote and in-room participants will moderate panels, there will be greater use of working groups and communities will persist between events. We used to come to trade shows for the people in the place. As Dr. Weinberger says in Small Pieces Loosely Joined, the web is a set of places itself. Now we have places upon places, where the network is the conversation.
This isn't the place for me to talk about commercial value for event organizers, but let me say this. There is no such thing as a closed system. Bloggers are coming to your conference. You can't throw up Walls. The energy can dissipate or enjoin with the event. Do what Tony did and give out blogger passes. Augment experiences. Create a greater and more open context for your event and the wind will blow at your back.