During dinner on the second BlogTalk day Thomas raised the question whether he should organize a third BlogTalk in 2005.
There are several things that I want to say about this.
BlogTalk is unique
Thomas BurgFirst BlogTalk is the only place in the world where weblogs and more importantly their use and effects are discussed in any depth. North Americans present at this conference as well as Bloggercon found the latter severely lacking in substance and more hype oriented than anything else. At BlogTalk people complained about too much academic depth, whereas I and others would say that BlogTalk is not by far academically enough. (And I’m not an academic, I’m not pursuing a personal agenda in that sense. But real, intense bridges between Academia and practice are badly needed!)
BlogTalk has matured
BlogTalk 2.0 was a different event from last year. Last year was a first get-together of enthousiasts and that geeky atmosphere was somewhat tangible throughout. This time around much more time was spent on exploring how different disciplines can benefit from the use of this tool and how it does and might change our way of going about things. Less discussion on what a blog is, less mention of revolution, more down to earth application, and more fruitful attempts to understand the impact of the tool from different perspectives. But we could still take further steps down that road.
From the rooftop of the venue: the Prater in the distanceAlso the use of tools matured as compared to last year. Where we were all experimenting with backchanneling and WLAN the last time, now this stuff was all prepared in advance. The irc channel was announced beforehand, there were Wiki-pages at hand, WLAN was explicitly provided (and anticipated: we crashed the system by overdemand during the first few hours already). And the experimenting continued: an interactive map of Vienna, annotated by us all
through an MT-blog, collective notetaking with SubEthaEdit as the % of Apple-users was high (When do these cool tools become available platform independent?) and live-streaming from the venue. I bet all of these will be prerequisites for the next time, and I think they should be much more incorporated into the event as well.
BlogTalk should be in a different format
Me chairing a panel with Lee Bryant and Martin Roell as panelistsThere is a lot about BlogTalk that can be improved I think. This is certainly no sign of disrespect to Thomas Burg and his team. I enthusiastically and wholeheartedly applaud them for pulling this event off for the second time and I respect them a lot for doing it. So this certainly is constructive criticism. First of all, two days of listening to presentations back to back is simply too much to get your head around. It also flies in the face of the notion that a lot of the most productive things that happen at a conference take place in the face to face conversations during breaks and in the evenings. So cutting down on breaks because presenters overstretch their time e.g. is a total no-no to me. (I was happy I could keep strictly to scheduled (coffee)breaks during the part I chaired).
We have to find a way around that, without however doing away with the presentations in general. They provide a valuable platform, and a necessary one for some of the more complicated stuff, to be able to present ideas more rigorously so that the ensuing conversations become deeper and richer. Point is that a number of the presentations during the conference could have done without that platform. The same goes for the publication of proceedings afterwards.
Where could BlogTalk go next?
There are several things to consider. Certainly, if you want to be heard and also want to be able to allow attendants to get their expenses (partly) funded, you will have to keep the conference with one leg in the formal academic travelling conference circus. The same applies if we want to see Thomas Burg and his New Media team at the Danube University Krems be able to continue organising BlogTalk, or conferences like it. The conference needs its place in the often intransparent hierarchy of Academia, to be able to offer itself as a
Ben and Mena, the keynote that was not keyBut we can think of variations on the format to improve on the overall effect of the conference. Why not bring the conversational part into the conference? Make the key-notes real key-notes, not merely presentations by speakers of note. Condense the presentations into 1 day, or better two half-days. And then continue with real discussions and conversations as opposed to the ritualised two-and-a-half questions after each panel before we run out of time. For the latter, Open Space formatted sessions could well be a good idea. We could condense the programme by turning part of the presentations into posters for instance.
One could also imagine two or three parallel streams, but only if it does not break down the multidisciplinary character, which is one of the absolute plusses of BlogTalk. Participants who stick to their own seperate discipline in the scientific ecosystem of specialisms is not what this conference should aim for. Knowledge is created in social interaction and especially when systems borders are crossed and different approaches meet. Create ambitions in this sense, and aim for results.
BlogTalk can be an experimental playground
BlogTalk is organised by the New Media team of the Danube University. Why not align the practice of the conference with the subject of their work? Deliberately create experiments with new tools to run alongside the conference, explicitely provide infrastructure and use it actively as integral part of the event. Why not include the IRC backchannel in the reports and proceedings? Why not display live blogged reports on screens in the venue? Invite tool-makers to propose interesting ways of augmenting the conference experience, and let them try it out.
Phil Wollf, Cybercowboy with 5mtrs ethernetcable strapped to his sideStreaming video and audio resulted in a thousand people on-line as extra audience for the conference, part of them participated in the IRC channel, and commented on the live blogged posts thus joining in the conversational space. Can we provide better structures for that?
Blogging isn’t per definition journalism, but journalism can have a blogging format. Have the conference blogged by people specifically invited to do so. Use those reports, display them, interview attendees etc. Also put more effort into pre-conference and post-conference interaction.
The possibilities here are large. Phil Wolff and I, in another context, came up with quite an extensive list of those as related to blogging and new media, and I think it would be rather easy to mobilise a group of people that are willing to help Thomas’s team make use of those possibilities. At least as it is true, as I can imagine, that their energy is already being stretched by putting this conference together as it is.
A third BlogTalk? Yes please, but not in this form.
Getting together over food and beerIn essence it is strange to organise a conference around a tool. There are no congresses around using a hammer, or using the wheel. A conference like this is needed if we haven’t come to grips yet with what a tool is, when it’s use is still emerging, and pro-actively want to think about how we might use it to shape our world, and how in turn it will shape us. We do have conferences about technology development and philosophy of science and technology. In those aspects, that do not have to be abstract at all as they deal with real
impacts on our very real lives, lies the interest and value of BlogTalk for me. That is why I was glad to see this blogging tool we use discussed in knowledge sharing, sociological, liguistical, media and communications contexts last week.
BlogTalk can stay an academically recognized and valuable event if the event is able to evolve in that direction, to create new meaning by changing its shape and form. I am quite willing to help bring that about. But even if it doesn’t I am bound to attend the next one anyway: the people are way to interesting to miss out on.
And of course all I previously wrote about what a good conference is applies as well.
[Addendum] Also see Frank Carver on conference 2.0, and Sebastian Fiedler.

6 reactions on “BlogTalk Impressions III: About the congress format

  1. Blogs, Wikis and Open-Space-Conferences (EN DE)

    Blogging, Wikis and Open Space Conferences are a marriage made in heaven. This was an idea which Gerrit Eicker posted to the BlogWalk Channel some days ago, which – in my opinion – resonates well with Ton Ziljstra’s comments on

  2. Ton, do you and your friends over there know about Open Space ? It was just used in Chicago, with a bunch of bloggers. It might work very well for the next BlogTalk ??

  3. Ton, I agree that listening to 2 full days of endless presentations is too much. Splitting some presentation to smaller workshops and sessions, where less people take part and more interaction between presenters and visitors build ups, would be worthwhile, though this is definitely more work for the organizers.
    On the other hand, besides the academic focus – and some presentations were only pseudo-academic – I?d like to have some economic and technical focus at BT3. Technically, because we are interested in that (or at least many bloggers are from the IT sphere). Economically, as blogs move away just from the home-use / private / academic field and are also used commercially: great would be speakers such as Nick Denton or Jason Calacanis. Or even some forward thinking politians or politic marketeer?

  4. Zur Zukunft der BlogTalk

    Thomas Burg hat angek�ndigt, dass es keine BlogTalk 3.0 geben wird (via Heiko Hebig). Ich ver�ffentliche hier einen Text, den ich am 24. September in Ulm geschrieben und damals nicht…

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