Friday, July 23, 2004

Lets Reinvent Conferences

Frankly I felt that BlogOn was a waste of time and money. While I was sitting in the afternoon session (Track B luckily, as from all reports Track A was just a series of advertisements from sponsors) and blogging, reading RSS feeds, and watching the IRC channel stream by I recalled a post from Supernova by Martin Tobias -- Supernova Thoughts in which he writes
Unfortunately, many of the sessions had an erie unproductive quality to them. The Gillmor Gang noted this as well. These days most conferences provide a wifi network and much of the audience is on their laptops during the sessions. But SuperNova, true to it's name, was OVER THE TOP in this regard. Nearly EVERYBODY was frantically typing away in e-mail, IM, or their blogs during all the sessions. Leaving the poor people on stage to wonder if anyone was listening! The CEO of Skype called in on a POTS line. It was erie to be in the audience looking up on stage at powerpoint slides being driven by an assistant with the dis-embodied voice coming over the PA. And of course he couldn't hear questions and the mikes didn't work well, so the Q&A was a disaster.
I think that there are two challenges to the modern conference. Let me call these problems (1) Revenue Vs. Content and (2) Polyphonic Channels.

Revenue Vs. Content
Every conference organizer struggles with a balance between (a) providing content that attracts interesting paying attendees and (b) the value that this interesting paying attendee audience offers to potential sponsors. There are four ways that conference managers leverage the interesting paying audience in order to extract money from sponsors -- advertising (such as a logo on the conference bag); demonstration areas where sponsors have tables or booths to promote their company or product; special presentations in which companies have the opportunity to draw an audience to a demonstration of their product and talk by their representative; and (most insidiously) content participation, either in the form of keynote presentations or panel participation.

A particularly bad trend has been to present conferences, such as BlogOn, in which all of the sessions are panels. While this is a boon to conference organizers (more speaking slots to curry favor with sponsors) it is a disaster for attendees. Most panels are run as general investigations of a topic -- the moderator asks softball questions of each panelist, the conversation leaps from issue to issue, the result is a conversation that is a mile wide and an inch thick. This might work at a conference where the audience knows little about the topic. But at a conference like BlogOn the audience often knows MORE about the topics under discussion than the panelists.

Solution -- focused presentations by individuals that are in-depth and offer the opportunity for Q&A with a specific individual. Where a panel is scheduled, the topic should be specific (ideally divisive), panelists should represent opposing views (or at least a range of views), and the moderator's job should be to keep the conversation on topic, not dominate the conversation with his or her own questions.

Polyphonic Channels
At the modern conference we have wi-fi access allowing side bar conversations via IRC, wiki, blogs, IM, and email. Half the people in each session are typing away furiously on their laptops, more engaged in the blogosphere than in the meatspace. The challenge for conference organizers is how to bring these separate threads of conversation together, instead of allowing them to splinter. Can IRC, blogs, and wiki add value to the ongoing sessions in real time?

The suggestion was made at one point in the BlogOn general session to display the IRC channel on the main screen behind the panelists. Let everyone see the conversation amongst the attendees that was happening simultaneously with the panel discussion. For a variety of reasons this didn't happen, but the idea pointed in the right direction. For example, why should audience members go up to a microphone to introduce themselves and ask a question (which most often devolved into a statement... you know what I mean if you have been at one of these...) Why not have questions asked on the IRC channel and allow the moderator to sort out which of these really consitituted an on topic question?

Solution: This will require experimentation, but conferences such as BlogOn is the perfect place. Use technology to make these conferences a conversation amongst all attendees, not just a presentation by a minority.

Business of Blogging

Steve Boyd, Jason Calcanis, and Henry Copeland are talking about the business of blogging -- still this major problem in the format. By having a "moderator" who knows less about the business than most of the audience we end up with a discussion that is a mile wide and an inch thick.

More BlogOn Transcripts

Here is one on Business Transparancy and on The Transformation of Corporate Communications. The panel on blogging local media has not been posted yet as a transcript but was one of the more interesting. What I took from it was that local print media is dead -- wiped out by venues like Craig's List (Craig was on the panel to talk about this). But blogging offers a new mechanism for the content of local media to reach the local audience.

First Interesting Presentation at BlogOn

Shel Israel, a self-described recovering publicist, is running a panel on how social media is transforming corporate communications. A number of interesting items -- the business of "public relations" is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. The press release was invented 98 years ago. Shel points out that 72,000 journalists have lost their jobs since 2000 and that as a result, the press release, once intended for the press, is now a primary news source in itself. The Internet allows companies to bypass news coverage, and provide information directly to its customers.

Shel is providing some case studies that show how effective press releases have been for his clients in driving business. I wonder of Shel has heard of Cluetrain -- he is making the case that the Internet allows markets to become conversations.

BlogOn Transcripts...

Amazingly, there are already transcripts for this morning's sessions online. Thanks to Mike Rowehl for these links: Defining Social Media and The Dark Side of Social Media

Initial impressions of BlogOn

BlogOn has attracted a set of very interesting attendees. In many cases the attendees know as much or more as the panelists. So why create panels in which a set of people blather on about topics in which the attendees all already agree? In other words, the conference is low value add, at least so far. Hopefully it will improve...

BlogOn 2004

Blogging from Chris Shipley's BlogOn conference. Fortunately for me the conference is being held at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley - about a 20 minute walk from my house. All conferences that I want to attend should be held here :-)

The first panel is underway and is entitled "Defining Social Media." Interesting group of speakers including James Currier (Tickle Inc), Dan Gillmor (San Jose Mercury News), Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn), Michael Sikillian (Lycos), and Jim Spoher (IBM). The panel is moderated by Ross Mayfield of Socialtext. I just got here (and was a little late) so I need to start listening instead of typing :-)

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Microsoft Mole?

Colly Myers almost destroyed Symbian when he was its CEO. He continues to say some of the same things (in this recent interview with The Feature) now that he leads IssueBits. According to The Feature Colly "...believes that OS-level applications have their place -- namely in extending the system level functions of a handset, but that Java applications make more sense for everything else" and he "....believes that the true mobile economy lies in services, and small Java applications are more akin to services, and more appropriate for cellular hardware / bandwidth than OS-level applications."

These are the same things that Colly, then CEO of Symbian, was saying to me two years ago, when I was the chief strategy officer for Borland trying to convince Symbian that they needed a development tools partner. Two years later, the world looks the same to me (and I guess to Colly) -- why doesn't Colly recognize that:
  • High-speed, reliable bandwidth is necessary for handset service-based applications to work and we don't have that now and won't have it for 10 years;
  • there will always be a set of applications, or at least pieces of applications, that need to be on the device, not the network, and they need to be high performance -- think Doom as an obvious example and extend from there;
  • 80% of all Java developers use the language as a SERVER development environment, not a client development environment. There are numerous problems with the quality of Java as a client side development tool, starting with standards;
  • and then there is the problem with the size of the development communities. There are something like 2 million Java developers in the world (that is, professional developers, paid full time to write code). 20% of them use Java for real client side applications -- so we'll be generous -- 500,000 developers. There are 5 million developers using Microsoft tools, and 80% of them use MS for client side applications. That's roughly 4 million developers.

Is Colly trying to help out Microsoft? Convincing the non-MS world to ignore the need for a native device-side application development environment is tantamount to handing the market for handheld computing devices to Redmond.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Strange advice from T-Mobile

I have recently been having some problems with one of the GSM phone on my T-Mobile family plan -- it stopped receiving SMS messages. It could make and receive calls, send SMS messages but never received messages. So I called T-Mobile customer support.

I was quickly passed the dummy script of solutions and was passed on to technical support. The technical support person asked me to shut off the phone and wait while he "adjusted some settings." In a minute he asked me to restart the phone. Sure enough messages started coming through. That was strange enough in itself but the next part was stranger.

The tech support person asked me how often in a 24 hour period did I power cycle the phone. I told him that I never turn the power off. He then recommended to me that I shut off the phone at least twice per day! He assured me that he did this himself, and that this would give me much better service. He explained that when you turn your phone on, it registers with a particular cell tower. Throughout the day you may roam around and connect to multiple towers, but the first tower remains your registration point and the way the network finds you. However, as the day goes by, more and more people register at a given tower. The most recently registered devices get the best service...

Is this making sense to anyone out there?