October 15, 2007 at 5:51 pm (conference notes) ()

InfoCamp was my first BarCamp style conference (or un-conference), and it got me thinking about a lot of things.  My guess would be that some of these things have occurred to people before, which is why unconferences exist, but it didn’t really hit home with me until i was experiencing it.So:  Here we are in this technological environment, where social software is allowing unprecedented levels of collaboration amongst people of all experience and knowledge levels.  Awesome.  RSS feeds and wikis are great tools that also help explain the main concepts of social software.  There’s lots of other social software out there that  does lots of other things, but the concept is similar wherever you go – that by participating in the process, you add to it, change it, refine it, and potentially make it better.  Users and creators are indistinguishable from each other and all that.  There are still administrators of systems, but the systems are designed to facilitate collaboration. 

So.  Unconferences.  Same thing, but with people gathered together in the same room/building. Yeah, that was my big epiphany.  Well, there was actually a second part to it, which was an instant fear of SPAM.  In the 5 minute madness at the end of InfoCamp, one of the participants mentioned paying to go to a conference and discovering that it was a product demo, and there was no food.  Spammers have the ability to make social software experiences miserable, and i think the potential is there for them to make unconferences miserable in the same way.  They come out, they “Participate” and they try and sell you a product. This is different than bringing something you’re working on and asking for input – input means that there is collaboration and respect of ideas.  SPAM would be if someone came out to present an inflexible pitch and wasn’t interested in feedback unless it was along the lines of “wow, I’d like to buy your product, and I’ll be sure to tell everyone i know about it.” I didn’t attend any sessions at the InfoCamp that were like that, and that’s part of the reason why i had such an awesome time.  Were there sessions like that?  I don’t think so, and it didn’t look like it from the sign-ups.  However, if unconferences in general become a popular method of bringing professionals together, then the spammers will be there to sell their products.  At regular conferences, there tends to be controls on who can present, partly to avoid sales pitches in the guise of a presentation, but also because of the way conferences are organized.  The one-way model that conferences tend to follow leaves a lot of people cold, so unconferences fill a real need.  Also at regular conferences, there are places for the Spammers to set up shop – that’s the big room where all the displays are, where you can wander around and pick up free stuff.  I love that part of conferences!So, I think that part of the organizational strategy of an unconference would be to encourage people who want to promote a finished (or beta) product or service to set up in a presentation area, and have a time where participants can browse that area.InfoCamp was great, and i highly encourage people to look for it next year, and also to look at other unconferences that are happening.My library had an all-staff day recently, and it was mostly a conference-style event.  There were classes set beforehand, and speakers lined up.  I wonder if an unconference style event would be better for our staff – people tend to get more involved if they feel like they’re a part of the process, right?  I’ll have to examine that…

Anyway – thoughts about the spam issue?  Has this happened at other unconferences?  Does it seem like there’s a potential for abuse?  And if so, what are some ways to keep unconferences awesome?


1 Comment

  1. InfoCamp Seattle 2008 « Library Professional Development said,

    […] it next year, and also to look at other unconferences that are happening.” –Sam Wallin ( – Used with author’s […]

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