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If I landed from Mars

Page history last edited by Dennis Howlett 11 years, 8 months ago

If I landed from Mars and observed the inaugural meeting of Amplified 08 I would have been confused and frustrated.


While it is great that attendees enjoyed themselves there is little point in such events if they have no obvious direction or purpose. From an outside perspective, that is my abiding impression. Attendees might say: "You can't know because you were not there" which is true but I tried to 'be there' remotely. It didn't come off. As someone who isn't often 'there' but participates remotely in many such events, Amplified08 was a FAIL of Twitter Fail Whale proportions.


The principle difficulty lay in the way the video and sound worked - or didn't. But the event also lacked apparent purpose and meaning beyond a set of like minded people getting together.


Earlier in the day I asked several people who I knew were on Twitter if they could provide me with information about how the event was to be streamed but I didn't receive a coherent reply. Instead I was variously told that BlogTV and Eventca.st would be the hosts but without links to the right place. If I knew nothing about these services I would have found it very difficult to navigate my way to the event streams.


BlogTV was wholly inappropriate. The near constant interruption of adverts, the attendance of unmoderated trolls and the lack of sound (at least in Room 1) was enough for me to switch off. Eventca.st was OK once I'd overcome the day-glo interface. Ustream provided the best service. None of the streaming services are terrific but they are usually bearable once the logistics for making them work are understood.


As I understand it, a single person was trying to keep the whole thing going but that was never going to work. It requires teamwork from people skilled in using these media in this context. Even if the video fails, sound will keep people's attention but in the BlogTV channel, it was poor to non-existent. That is a turn off for anyone. It is no surprise that the person attempting to keep the balls in the air was frustrated. It was unfair and unrealistic to expect that person to be in a position to manage 4 streams across multiple channels.


There was no moderation or attention given in the chat channel on BlogTV where the presence of trolls was plain for anyone to see and significantly detracted from the experience.


It wasn't clear that the Eventca.st channel was being streamed into at least one room until I noticed it and even then no-one in the room was taking any notice. For all intents and purposes, the remote audience didn't exist to the 'meat space' attendees. We were effectively excluded. That represents a lack of attention by those moderating the sessions.


Session information needs including in the video channels. Simply calling them Room 1...4 is not enough. Session information provides me with a level of context rather than requiring me to spend time in a session before I understand what is going on and whether it is of interest. This is particularly important when moving between room and dropping in part way through.


The unconference format as I experienced it didn't work. I had no idea who was talking at any point in time and even if I had then  I had no framework into which I could locate the discussions. That meant I was always struggling to understand what was going on.


As a remote 'attendee' it was a miserable and frustrating experience which I tolerated for about 90 minutes before giving up.


Events cannot just be about having a good time and meeting up with buddies. They must have some wider meaning or they are simply talking shops for 'those in the know.' My experience of Amplified08 falls into that second category. If Amplified08 is to achieve its aim of being a network of networks that demonstrates thought leadership then it must care about its whole audience and not limit itself to those who 'know' the subject matter. In an economy that is in a severe downturn, people will turn to those who demonstrate a clear understanding of the value of business thought leadership that is immediately actionable with tangible returns. In its current format, Amplified08 does not demonstrate that intent to this reomte attendee.


What needs to happen?


The unconference format works very well when the format is framed appropriately. In this regard I draw attention to the Law of Two Feet and the general way Ross Mayfield organizes such proceedings. This is how it works:


  • A person is tasked to explain the format.
  • That same person may be the session moderator.
  • The topic is introduced by named individuals.
  • The moderator keeps order and calls on people to speak.
  • The moderator does not allow any single person to dominate proceedings.
  • Where remote attendees are involved, the moderator ensures they are engaged.
  • The moderator keeps the session strictly to time.


The idea that topics for the event should emerge via the wiki is fine but there needs to be a discussion mechanism linked to those topics. I found myself attempting to 'comment' on the wiki but struggling to navigate my way through to the appropriate session sections. The net effect is one of confusion and clutter.


Having a list of Amplified 'people' in the wiki is not enough. While I may know some of those involved through experience, the vast majority are just names. In order to understand a person's position on a topic, I need to easily locate their work. Right now, that's not easy unless the person has added blog links.


I understand that attendees were encouraged to Tweet their reactions to sessions but in reality I saw very little of that activity. Nielsen's 90/9/1 Law was much in evidence. To state that this is supposed to be an 'audience in the know' that was disappointing. How might anyone connected to others through Twitter get a sense of what happened beyond the gripes of someone like myself? For future events, I suggest consideration is given to using and promoting Eventtrack. This allows users to capture pretty much anything that has a common hashtag associated with it. Alternatively, point people to Twitter Search.


Encourage the use of IRC or chat attached to video while sessions are ongoing rather than Twitter. It is easy to swamp Twitter (as one who is guilty of that) and detract from the event.


Promote the event across multiple channels bothh before and during the event. The only way I knew about it was because a single individual asked me to join in via a private Tweet.


Observe and learn from other types of conference. It seemed to me that little attention had been paid to past experience.


Talk to others who have 'been there' with this conference style. I would suggest:

  • James Governor who organized a session for SAP and Adobe that followed a similar outline pattern to Amplified08
  • Craig Cmehil who runs the FridayMorningReport, is SAP's leading videocast person and who is also learning about different styles of engagement.
  • Ross Mayfield and/or Susan Scrupski who have collectively moderated many such events.
  • Loic LeMeur who tuns the LeWeb conference. He has been through the ups and downs of events and has a huge amount of experience of what works and what doesn't.
  • Tom Raftery who organizes IT@Cork


I am sure there are many others but these are the people I know who have been there, got the scars and can bring huge experience to the table. Check their blogs, search their stuff for much more information.


UPDATE: for those interested in FMR, Craig is livestreaming at 3.15pm CET (today, 28th November, 2008)

Comments (4)

pilchardmusic said

at 12:51 am on Nov 29, 2008

Lots of useful input there. Thanks. This is the kind of feedback that is needed.

Bengardner135 said

at 3:44 pm on Nov 29, 2008

Dennis - I was in the room but would agree with points about direction and purpose. If the aim was to get a diverse group of people together and have conversations then yes the two out of the three breakouts I participated in were though provoking. I enjoyed the meeting and met some interesting people BUT what was the goal, what was the output,where are we going? I don't have any real feel for this. If "Amplified" is a project I would describe this first meeting as a kick-off meeting but would say it failed to achieve the basics. Here are a few things that I feel we need to define before repeating the exercise:

1) What is the purpose of the Amplified project? - This has to be more than working towards a 'big' meeting in 2010
2) Who are we? - Or more accurately who are the communities and what brings them together?
3) How is the governance structured?
4) How do people get involved?
5) What are the communication channels?

If these question sound too much like traditional enterprise 1.0 then I'm sorry but they still need to be addressed.

Dennis Howlett said

at 8:40 pm on Nov 29, 2008

@bengardner: This is not E1.0 at all. Go to any of O'Reilly's gigs and you'll see structure.

"Content without context or purpose is meaningless" has been my mantra ever since I engaged with ESME (http://blog.esme.us) where we're trying to tame the Twitter style firehose in the context of business process. The same should go for organizations like amplified - otherwise it's little more than a non-alcoholic bar meet up. Which anyone can do at any time.

David Wilcox said

at 10:05 am on Nov 30, 2008

I've added my 2p at http://socialreporter.com/?p=454 - thanks Toby for the video interview - also raising the question of whether more is useful without purpose. My interest is social media for social change, and there I think that clear purpose and ways of engaging more widely are essential. Is social change part of the Amplified agenda?

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