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Weblogs in Meatspace

2002-12-11 17:55:13+00 by Dan Lyke 11 comments

Dave Winer proposes Weblogs in Meatspace a conference for webloggers. Putting aside for the moment the "what more do webloggers have to say to each other?" question, I'm interested in finding some conferences that allow for real interaction. Going with Todd and Eric to the O'Reilly[Wiki] Open Source conference back in 2000 lead to a few interesting things, and I've been thinking about next spring's Emerging Technologies Conference, but I think I'd get more out of something structured less like a traditional conference.

[ related topics: Free Software Weblogs Dave Winer Todd Gemmell Coyote Grits ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment made: 2002-12-11 18:07:04+00 by: mkelley

How do conferences like SXSW and their weblog section rate? More of the "known" bloggers are there and they're heavily weblog oriented. I even think Dave is scheduled to be at the one in '03.

#Comment made: 2002-12-11 19:12:14+00 by: Dan Lyke

Hmmm... I've always thought of SXSW as too mainstream and big to be what I'm looking for, but with things like the blogger kickball game maybe it is going the right direction.

And Burning Bird is in.

#Comment made: 2002-12-11 19:37:29+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger

On the wrong coast for you and not Weblog related, but the YAPC conference I went to this past year allowed for "real interaction". Small, no overwhelming amount of BS and a great way to meet people.

#Comment made: 2002-12-11 21:34:53+00 by: ebradway

Dan and I also went to a smaller Media/Content event in downtown 'Frisco that we almost got more out of than the Open Source conference. And I imagine alot of the value of the Open Source conference came more from its relative place in time. 2000 was a very interesting year for Open Source - and there were still a limited number of people interested in it (or at least - interested enough to shell out about $2K to attend).

Based on my experience, a formula for the quality of a conference looks kind of like this:

Q = (F * P + S) / (NA ^ 2)

The Quality of the Conference (Q) equals the Focus of the topics (F) multipied by the quality of the Presenters (P), plus the location and social ascpects (S) all divided by the Number of Attendees squared. In other words, the quality drops off rapidly as the Number of Attendees increases. The focus is very important - and pertains to both the actual application of the focus (i.e., is it primarily a social event or is there some real exchange of ideas going on). The Social aspects are factored in because even the highest quality conference isn't going to be as well attended in, say Minot, North Dakota in February. Social aspects, of course, are 'added' and easily overwhelmed by F and P. If it is the only conference on a very specific subject and is being presented by THE dudes themselves, then Minot in Febuary really doesn't even factor in.

Of course, the same formula would show that a conference in Minot with mediocre presenters and mediocre focus would be incredible if you were the only attendee - but then you'd get lots of time with the presenters and probably get some valid insight into your own interests because F would change to your specific application.

And if NA reaches zero - that solution doesn't exist - and I guess a conference with zero attendees isn't really a conference...

#Comment made: 2002-12-12 15:49:48+00 by: meuon [edit history]

Eric, what drugs are you taking? Have you been dealing with Frank Cowen (and Ayn Rand Objectivism) again and your reality is all skewed?

#Comment made: 2002-12-12 17:34:54+00 by: other_todd

I'd like to throw in some skew from an opposite direction: For several years now a medium-to-large group of online journallers has been having a yearly con. I attended the first one some years ago, will probably attend next year's if Austin gets the bid, and have been watching the returns closely in between.

I mention this because, though I know you Serious Weblog Types don't like any association with that community, this IS your model ... a reasonably small con run by people who don't typically know the first thing about running a con, a group of people who want to meet other people they know only electronically in person and compare notes on how and why they do the peculiar thing they have in common.

And the cons? Well, they've made every mistake in the book so far, and have brought out some of the worst and pettiest of the politics possible in the online world ... but each and every one has apparently been great fun and a success (proven insomuch as people keep wanting to have another one the next year ....) There is a recurring discussion, though, which Eric reminded me about.

Basically, every year there is an argument between the "I paid to be here, I want tons of programming" camp and the "I didn't come to attend panels, I just want to schmooze with my friends and socialize" camp. Some people want all the programming they can stand, others think it's a waste of time. The correct answer, if you can muster enough dedicated people, is to have all the programming and just assume that a lot of your socializers will not attend the panels, discussions, etc. Right now the problem is that the cons are still small enough that if enough people choose to punt, you could have a panel with no audience, which is really humiliating for everyone involved.

And of course there are money and headcount issues. Con finances are always a nasty business (even the World SF Cons, which have most of the standard con issues down to an art form by now, have trouble with at-the-door admissions and their policy gets a little more Draconian against these every year). You can't really have any sort of large gathering without a few worries of this sort. Even the ones which are strictly pay-as-you-go for the attendees. After all, you still need some rooms for everyone to congregate in, and that means you need to have a reasonable idea who's coming so you can book those properly.

#Comment made: 2002-12-12 19:05:33+00 by: Dan Lyke

Bunch of rough thoughts, no coherence implied:

Thanks for reminding me about the journaler get-togethers, I'd had the nagging feeling that there were some relevant experiences I'd read about that I was missing.

After many years of being disappointed, I try to skip out on the presentation section of almost any gathering, yet people generally go because the presentation defines what the topics will be. And the first Phrontisterion[Wiki] was fun because it was one big moderated dialog between the 20 or so attendees , and yet the discussions I came away from most excited about were the break-outs from even that small circle. What I really want is the feeling we used to have at the Chia (not the pet, no tm) gatherings at Chaco and Eddie's Coffee Shop that we used to have in Chattanooga. We had a large number of disciplines, we were self-moderating, pretty damned inclusive, but that came together because of a really special set of social circumstances.

I think that the gathering Eric was referring to above was one of the Fray Day gatherings, maybe Fray Day 4, and CELLspace is really good because all of those nooks make for good impromptu breakout sessions.

I wonder if this is part of the reason that the Geek Cruises apparently work so well, there's no sneaking off to the cheap hotel out in the suburbs afterwards, you've gotta socialize with the folks who came, and there's plenty of breakout time and non-topic space to take the conversation into new places.

#Comment made: 2002-12-12 22:40:09+00 by: Diane Reese

Re: Geek Cruises -- I wonder what sort of viruses one could pick up on those?

#Comment made: 2002-12-14 18:31:56+00 by: meuon

they have WiFi (802.11b) networks.. probably all kinds of viruses.

Duh.. Oh. You mean the biological kind. :)

#Comment made: 2002-12-15 15:46:21+00 by: Anita Rowland

other todd is right about journalcon (though I don't know if fifty or sixty people could be called medium-to-large). The first time they kept wanting to use the professional conference model ("What corporation can we get to sponsor this?") which seemed wrongheaded to me. The recent one in the bay area had notable sf fans with conrunning experience on the committee, so I knew they'd be all right.

the need for models for smaller gatherings (hundreds of folks, not thousands) with the emphasis on schmoozing, to make a good weblog gather, is why I kept pointing to the Eric Raymond piece and talking about Potlatch (happening in San Francisco this February!) in my comments on this story various places.

#Comment made: 2002-12-16 16:46:55+00 by: other_todd

Sorry, Anita, was unclear: Medium to large in terms of JOURNALLER population and the difficulty of getting them to agree on anything. Not medium to large in general convention terms. To people in the con business, fifty to sixty isn't even a large dinner crowd. But given the difficulty getting even four journallers to meet for dinner and drinks, fifty to sixty is quite impressive. There were about twice as many people in Pittsburgh for the first con as I expected there to be.