In reply to Collective Creativity by Wouter Groeneveld

Interestingly this came up yesterday at the FOSS4G-NL conference I visited, where Amélie A Gagnon talked about scenius as communal genius, a scene that jams together and creates results no single genius could. She also mentioned Austin Kleon’s quote ‘don’t be a genius, create a scenius’ (see his post on scenius, and about mapping a scenius, something I’ve elsewhere seen done based on LinkedIn profiles to see what is missing in terms of capabilities, roles and skills, to make a scene somewhere ‘explode’)

…and call it collective creativity: without a collective, the creativity of each genius partaking in the above meetings would never have reached that far.

Wouter Groeneveld

Today left me wondering if conference backchannels are still a thing and whether organisers need to start organising/designing backchannels to make it useful (again).

I was at the FOSS4GNL conference today, the first large scale event I went to since the Dutch start of the Situation mid March 2020. Or largish event, because there were about 60% of the usual amount of people, with some staying away because they felt uncomfortable in groups, or because of not wanting to submit themselves to QR code scans to verify vaccination or testing status, and a presenter testing positive the day before.

In the run-up I added the conference # to my Tweetdeck columns and mobile Twitter app. Yesterday was a workshop day, and today a conference day, and the 101 participants posted all of 45 tweets during the event. That works out to about .4 tweets per participant and 2 to 3 tweets per tweeting participant. Back in the day ™, aka 2006, I remember how Twitter started replacing IRC as a conference backchannel of the more geeky conferences I went to. A decade later, when visiting the global conference of the Dutch local one I visited today, FOSS4G global in 2016, I was happily surprised to see IRC even used as backchannel.

This time around there’s wasn’t much of a backchannel, not publicly on Twitter, but also not in some other channel. The conference organisers had used a Telegram group for their preparatory work, and beforehand suggested participants to use that as well. That didn’t pan out I think. I don’t use Telegram and wouldn’t install it for a conference either. The organising membership organisations OSGEO.nl and the QGIS-NL user group themselves use a Matrix channel, which I think would have been a much better suggestion as at least community members are familiar with it, and it allows a variety of clients to tap into it.

To me backchannels, and I’m spoilt ’cause Reboot (again: back in the day ™), allow one to be in one track of the conference and follow along with the sessions in other tracks to get the salient bits or know when something out of the ordinary happens because one of the rooms ‘explodes’. This works very well, up to the point where I may well think I remember noteworthy conference sessions, while in reality I wasn’t in the room where myths originated but followed along from the next conference room on IRC.

I dislike conferences where members in the audience are just that, and don’t behave like participants. Backchannels allow you to build connections with others based on content or wit during sessions, not relegating it only to random encounters over coffee or lunch (which is also useful). In events like today where it is primarily a community meeting, that is even more true despite everyone being in a more known environment: I’m a lurker/boundary spanner in the Dutch FOSS4G community, have visited/spoken at their events, have organised related events, but am nowhere near the core of community members, yet I knew some 1 in 10 today and a similar number of ‘colleagues of’, including the international participants.

Twitter definitely isn’t the ‘great equalizer’ of backchannels as it has been for a decade or so any more. In the past few years I saw how the use of Twitter as backchannel diminished already, now at the first event I visit after All This it stands out once more. I don’t see something else naturally taking its place either.

In short I miss well-functioning backchannels. Do others miss them, or never knew to miss them?
If you (like I am at times) are an event organiser, is it necessary to plan ahead for a ‘back-channel experience‘ taking into account accessibility, avoiding silo’s and tracking, with which to add to what it is like to attend your event? Or will the idea of a back-channel be let go entirely, reducing all of us to more singular members of an audience?

Yesterday I had a conversation with Andy Sylvester about the tools I use for my personal process for taking in information, learning and working. He posted our conversation today, as episode 8 in his ‘thinking about tools for thought‘ podcast series. In the ‘show notes’ he links to my series on how I use Obsidian that I wrote a year ago. This is still a good overview of how I use mark down files for pkm and work, even if some details have changed in the year since I wrote it. I also mentioned Respec, which is how I directly publish a client website on a series of EU laws from my notes through GitHub. And not in Andy’s show notes but definitely worth a mention is Eastgate’s Tinderbox.

Ever since I was a child in primary school, my mental image of a year has been that of a circle, with January and December at the bottom, and July and August at the top (you’ll notice that this means the months aren’t evenly spaced around the circle in my mental image, spring takes up less of the circle than the fall. It’s a mental image, not a precise graph, likely influenced by my childhood sense of the endlessness of summers, and the long period of darkening days of fall and winter).


My mental image of a year ever since childhood

This Monday I completed a full circle around that image: I’ve been reading my own blog posts from previous years on each day, to see which of those I can take an idea or notion from to convert into a note in my digital garden (named ‘Garden of the Forking Paths‘). Peter has been going around the circle with me I read today (which in turn prompted me to write this), starting from my posting about it last year. He’s been reading his old blogposts every day, not just to reread but also to repair links, bring home images to self-host, clean up lay-out etc. I’m sure I am and have been my own blog’s most avid reader ever since I started writing in this space 19 years ago, and like Peter had been using my ‘on this day’ widget to repair old blog posts since I added the widget in early 2019.

Now I’ve come full circle on reading those blogposts for a year to mine them for their ideas and notions. The next cycle until the summer of 2022 I am adding a layer.

I will of course be making another round through my own blogposts like I did before. Because sometimes I missed a day, I haven’t repaired all of them each day, and I may take new meaning from them the next time I read them.
The layer I’m adding is also reviewing the personal notes I made on this day last year. This concerns the daily notes I make (a habit I started in April 2020), the other notes I’ve created on a certain date (work notes, ideas, travel etc), and indeed the blog posts I converted to notes dated on this day last year.

I see Frank has also picked up on Peter’s posting, and is embarking on a year of reading his own daily postings as well. Like Frank, I have never blogged on this day of the year since this blog started. And like for his blog, that has now changed.

Going in circles… I suspect life is circles, not turtles, all the way down. At least when you get a bit older that is.

Is there a way to commit stuff from a local folder using GitHub Desktop to a GitHub repository that is not under my account but that I do have admin privileges for? If I try it now, it pushes to a repository under my own account. (The use case here is that a client publishes documentation on github pages using Respec, which in turn uses markdown files. I am the editor for part of this documentation and would like to maintain the relevant markdown files in a folder in my Obsidian vault as a local repo)

This week our team is staying in a vacation park in the south of the Netherlands. All have their own cabin, except me. Family logistics mean I am spending most time at home, and commute to the holiday park.

This afternoon we discussed our office. What to do with it, how to make it more useful to us.

We opened an office exactly 2 years ago, and more than half of that time we didn’t use it much because of the pandemic. We opened the office because some of us need a place away from home to work. I am used to working either at home, en route, or at a client’s, and have been doing so for 17 years. Having an office, especially a centrally located one as we have in Utrecht, within a building with other facilities available to us (meeting rooms, restaurant/catering services, event spaces, roof terrace), to me is however very useful as a meeting place, and to be able to host groups. During the pandemic some of our team used it to escape the four walls of their limited living spaces in the inner city of Utrecht or Amsterdam. I handed my office keys to a new hire early on in the pandemic.

The central question today was, moving forward, given our pandemic experiences, and the likelihood of at least some measures being in place on and off, how do we want to use our office? And given that use, how do we want it to look / feel?

We split in three groups of three. That in itself was already an important first realisation for me: we can actually split in three groups of three. And the office should work well for all 9 of us, as well as for a handful of frequent collaborators.
In our little groups we discussed our ideal office, and shaped it with the material at hand. One group got to paint the office, another group to build with Lego (serious play is the applicable term I think), and the group I was in used clay.


Patterns in the results were that, while it is still needed to have a few desks, most of them can be removed, that we want to make the office much greener with plants and more colourful in general, that shaping it as a social place is important, as well as a place where things can be created. A few immediate actions (such as removing two thirds of the desks, doing some painting, and adding plants) were decided upon for the summer. Another conclusion was that we simply cannot already know how office use post-pandemic will really be, meaning having plenty flexibility is key. Think furniture, devices, or dividers that can be very easily rearranged at will by those present. Think not investing in a ‘perfect’ design, but doing it as we go along.