Today Lane Becker is celebrating his 46th birthday. To mark the occasion he is organising a conference in Austin, Texas.

Bringing together a cool line-up of speakers, he asked us to do a live video conversation at the start. To explain a bit about the history of how Lane came to doing birthday conferences. A few months ago I described that some the ripples of our birthday unconferences are more birthday conferences, such as Peter’s last June, and that also includes Lane’s events.

We had a live conversation at the start of Lane’s birthday conference, and described the history of how we came to do our first unconference for Elmine’s birthday in 2008, and then the subsequent events. We also tried share some of the main things that stand out to us.

That doing an unconference at home, which started as a fluke, brings a special vibe to it all. Everyone behaves informally, you’re a guest in our home, but still get into deep conversations and do workshops and sessions. How we learned at Reboot that bringing kids makes everything more real, more human. People talk less bs on stage if their kids are around 🙂

That it is quite amazing to bring together people from all our various networks, and see how well they hit it off.
There’s always a moment during an unconference when you look around you and see the energy and how everyone’s engaged, when it hits me how awesome it is to be the hosts to that. And how awesome it is that so many of our friends make the effort to travel to us.

That the 2014 Make Stuff That Matters was probably the best one yet, as it turned us from just doing sessions, to also letting participants learn new skills. And having a 14 meter mobile FabLab parked in front was pretty impressive too 🙂

And we talked about how some participants feel a birthday unconference can be life changing, pivotal. We suspect it has a lot to do with that it’s rare to spend time together and have deep conversations, without pressing needs yet tied to things of importance to your own life.

Happy birthday Lane, we hope you and your friends have a great event!

Peter in his circle of friendsPeter in his circle of friends at the start of Crafting {:} a Life (image by Elmine, CC-BY-NC-SA license

When the first Dutch astronaut Wubbo Ockels, went to space on the D1 mission he had a clear goal. Earlier astronauts upon returning to earth had all responded to the question how it was to see the entire earth from above, our blue ball in the black void, with things like “Great”, “Very moving”, “So very beautiful”. Ockels was determined to find a better description for the experience, by preparing for it, by more consciously observing and reflecting while up there. Yet when he came back he realised all he could say was “So very beautiful” as well. There was no way for him to put the layering, depth and richness of the experience in words that would actually fully convey it.

Experiencing an unconference can be like that. It certainly took me about a week to come back down to earth (and overcome the jet-lag) after spending a handful of days on Prince Edward Island in a somewhat parallel universe, Peter‘s Crafting {:} a Life unconference with around 50 of his friends and connections.

Here too, the description “it was great” “it was beautiful” is true but also empty words. I heard several of the other participants comment it was “life changing” for them, and “the start of something momentous on PEI”. I very well understand that sentiment, but was it really? Can it really be that, life changing?

I have heard the same feedback, ‘life changing’, about our events as well. Particularly the 2014 edition. And I know the ripples of those events have changed the lives of participants in smaller and bigger ways. Business partnerships formed, research undertaken, lasting friendships formed. I recognise the emotions of the natural high a heady mix of deep conversations, minds firing, freedom to explore, all around topics of your own interest can create. I felt very much in flow during an hours long conversation at Crafting {:} a Life for instance.

Reboot had that impact on me in 2005, reinforced by the subsequent editions. Those multiple editions created a journey for me. Bringing students there in 2009, because I was one of the event’s sponsors, was certainly life changing for them. It spoilt them for other types of events, and triggered organising their own events.
In a certain way Crafting {:} a Life brought the Reboot spirit to PEI, was a sort of expression of Reboot as it included half a dozen connections that originated there in 2005. Similarly I feel our own unconferences are attempts at spreading the Reboot spirit forward.

What makes it so? What makes one say ‘life changing’ about an event? Space to freely think, building on each other’s thoughts, accepting the trade-off that if your pet topics get discussed others will do other things you may not be interested in. Meeting patience while you formulate your (half-baked) thoughts. That is something that especially has been important in the experience of teenagers that took part in our events, and I think for Oliver too. That everyone is participating in the same way, that age or background doesn’t somehow disqualify contributions, and being treated as having an equal stake in being there.

How do you get to such a place? I find it’s mixing the informal/human with the depth and content normally associated with formalisation.

What made Peter’s event work for instance was the circle at the start.
The room itself was white and clinical to start in, and people were huddled in the corner seeking the warmth of the coffee served there. The seating arrangement however meant everyone had to walk the circle on the inside to find their seat. Then once seated, after welcoming words, there was music by one of the participants who offered it, first a reflective and then an upbeat song. This in aggregate made the room the group’s room, made it a human room. The post-its on the wall after the intro round led by Elmine increased that sense of it being our room, and the big schedule on the wall we made together completed it. Now it was our own central space for the event.

Splitting the event over two days and marking both days differently (meeting/talking, and doing) worked well too. It meant people weren’t coming back for the same thing as yesterday, but had something new to look forward to with the same measure of anticipating the unknown as the first day. While already having established a shared context, and new connections the day before.

The result was, to paraphrase Ockels, “great”. Clark, one of our fellow participants, found a few more and better words:

Crafting {:} a Life was a breath of fresh air. The unconference dispensed with pretension, titles or faux expertise. Everyone had for the most part a chance to share their story, contribute, and talk. While some asked what I did for a living, it was only after all other avenues of discussion were explored. For the most part one-to-one conversations were much like what I had with Robert Paterson, (“What is Clark’s story” he asked) open ended, personal, and with the ability to discover new things about the other. The activities emphasized small groups and there was no “oh my God my PPT is out of order what will we talk about” that I myself have fallen victim to. There was music, laughter, food and tears. It was genuine, …

I think that goes to the heart of it. It was genuine, the format didn’t deny we are human but embraced it as a key element. And in the space we created there was way more room than usually at events to be heard, to listen. And most of all: space to share the enormous gift of two days worth of your focused attention.

I feel it is that that makes these events stand out. Most other events don’t do that for its participants: Space for focused attention, while embracing your humanity. Reboot did that, it even had a kindergarten on site and people brought their kids e.g. But that approach is very scarce. It needn’t be. It also needn’t be an unconference to create it. A conversation, dinner party, or other occasion might just as well. (I found that video btw on a blog in the rss feeds of one of the participants, which seems apt).

On our way home Elmine suggested doing a second edition of our e-book ‘How to unconference your birthday’ (PDF). I think that is a very good idea, as Peter and us now have experience from both being an organiser and a participant, and we have now several additional events worth of experiences to draw upon. We created the first edition as a gift and memento to all participants of our 2010 edition, the 2nd such event we did and the first we did in our home. A decade on a second edition seems fitting.

Backfeed is an important element in breaking out of silos like Twitter, Facebook, and others. Backfeed means if I post something from my site to e.g. Twitter, that the responses to it (likes, answers) also become visible on my site. So that when those silos inevitably go away and get replaced, my interactions are still available on my own site and available in my own database. Ryan Barrett of the valuable backfeed service Bridgy writes about the difficulties of creating backfeed (with lots of things to figure out for each additional silo), and wonders about making backfeed possible without additional or separate code. Sort of how IFTTT allows you to create your own recipes to let various applications you use talk to each other.

An example of backfeed in action:

I posted this article on ‘slow AI’ on my website, and had Brid.gy automatically post it to my Twitter account.


the tweet, notice the repost and likes.

On Twitter people responded, with a repost and 2 likes.
Which Brid.gy sends back to my site, so I can show it underneath the original article:


the article showing the repost and likes as well

Through this, I can use Twitter to reach people and interact with them, without actually going to Twitter myself. I post on my site, it gets automatically sent to Twitter in the background, where people respond, which I see directly on my own site as incoming reactions. A full conversation on Twitter can be done completely on my own site this way. When Twitter dies, which it will, they will take all their data with them and all conversations will be lost. Yet, my Twitter interactions through my blog will remain available to me. Losing conversations isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I’d rather decide myself which conversations to keep and which to remove, than let some third party or outside event be the judge of that.

Backfeed is an emerging key bit of internet plumbing, much like RSS already is for a long time. Making that plumbing easier will be of tremendous use.

At last week’s Crafting {:} a Life unconference on PEI I participated in three conversations on blogging:

  1. What happened to blogging? Initiated by Steven Garrity
  2. The future of blogging. Initiated by Peter Rukavina
  3. Doing Blogging. Initiated by me

Elmine already blogged some of her impressions from these conversations. I’ll add some of my own.

What happened to blogging?
It started with Steven Garrity who asked “What happened to blogging?” in the morning of the first day. Some 20 people wanted to take part in that so we put together a big circle in the main hall. The group had long time bloggers (over 20 years), those whose blogs fell more or less silent, and those who never blogged but are interested in doing so. What followed was a discussion of why we started blogging, and what happened to those initial conditions. I started to think out loud, but kept going because of the wide peer network that emerged because of our distributed conversations across blogs. We suspected started blogging right in the perfect moment: the number of people blogging in your fields of interest was big enough to feel engaged, and small enough to feel like a town you can keep an overview of. We first welcomed the silos like Facebook and Twitter as it made interacting even easier and brought in more people as the required level of tech savvy dropped. What however at first seemed like a source of agency turned into the erosion of it. Long form writing evaporated, more exchanges turned into ’empty calories’. RSS as an easy way of following what was going on eroded the too. Many sites ‘forgot’ what RSS was, and that accelerated when the most visible reader by Google fell by the wayside. Although we also felt that blaming Google Reader solely isn’t right, it was a development that fit in a larger change already underway.
We also discussed how some of that original blog interaction in the early ’00s has been channeled into other modes of communications, like newsletters. Peter Bihr for instance mentioned how it felt like newsletters are a more direct form of communication, with a clear audience in mind, and responses to it are of much higher quality. We missed the kick of the interaction between blogs, as well as having the time and attention to reflect and write more deeply.

What happened to blogging?What happened to blogging?
Part of the blogging circle

The future of blogging
Having looked back in the morning, some of us felt we wanted to not just be melancholic but also look at what a constructive future of blogging looks like. So Peter suggested to do another conversation in the afternoon. Part of the reason for this was in our immediate circle we saw several people who ‘returned’ to blogging, like myself. Part of it is the appearance of new web standards, the IndieWeb that intends to take the useful traits of social media platforms and apply them to your own websites. Opting to enjoy the weather we had this conversation in Peter’s back yard. We talked about a variety of things connected to blogging. The technology that can assist in getting more interaction between blogs, in helping to make publishing easy. And the behaviours that help to blog more, doing away with expectations of what ‘proper’ blogging is and giving oneself permission to just do what you want.

20190607_161502
The future of blogging taking shape in Peter’s back yard

Doing blogging
The second day of the unconference was positioned as a ‘doing’ day. As the ‘future of blogging’ conversation surfaced a lot of ‘how-to’ questions, I suggested we could do a more practice oriented session. On what is currently technically possible, and how that looks in practice for instance in my blog. The weather was great again, so we opted for the back yard like the day before. Bright sunlight and a scarcity of laptops meant we didn’t ‘do’ much. We did talk about the practical steps one can take, and the purpose and working of the various IndieWeb standards. This developed in a wider ranging conversation on our various information routines and the tools we use. Participants were eagerly taking notes to learn from each other’s tool use. From tools and routines we went to life hacks, and a much wider scope of topics. That was a great experience, although it meant that the original topic of conversation moved out of sight. I felt in flow in this conversation, and it went on literally for hours without effort and without energy levels dropping away.

Garden conversation
The ‘doing blogging’ circle of participants

Direct consequence is that one of the participants launched her own blog, with IndieWeb support from the start. Another that questions about how I read along lines of ‘social distance’ led to me explaining that in detail today. Important to me is that I also could add a number of bloggers to my ‘global village’ of people whose postings I read, adding more voices to the mix I take in. I also plan to write a number of postings starting from the issues raised in the conversations to introduce and explain the IndieWeb standards. The current documentation mostly starts with tech, and that means a too high threshold for adoption for large groups.