Thursday, September 15, 2005

Reminded of the value of the un-conference

Last night I attended the inaugural meeting of a new SD Forum SIG about Search. I wrote in detail about the presentations over at the Browster blog here and here.

Dave Winer would be proud, but I had quite a few moments where I found myself thinking, gee, they need more of an unconference format.

Actually Search SIG co-chair Jeff Clavier, Mary Hodder and I have had a blogversation about panels vs. unconferences before.

I come down squarely in the middle :)

My issue with pure unconferences, or at least the one true example that I attended, was that it was way too moderator-dependent. And if the moderator only called on people he or she knew, or responded to every audience question with his or her own perspective before tossing it back out, then it got extremely tedious.

Meanwhile I certainly appreciate Mary's point of view that sometimes the audience is as talented and opinionated and well-versed as the panelists, and a 45 minute PowerPoint lecture can be even more tedious.

At BlogHer we tried to strike a happy medium. We had a moderator and speakers, but the moderator got out in the audience almost immediately and worked the crowd. In fact I have to say I wondered during the opening debate whether speakers Charlene Li and Halley Suitt were wondering what the hell was going on. They each spoke for about three minutes and then it rarely got back to them. The attendees, on the other hand, didn't give them a second thought and were avidly participating.

Back to last night: there were a few instances where the moderator, Doug Kaye, asked the panelists about what people wanted. Sometimes what content producers wanted, sometimes what content consumers wanted.

Gee, I thought, here are about 100-150 "people" right out here. Why don't you ask us? Sure they had Q&A at the end, but it's kind of funny to have a room full of the kinds of tech-savvy people that were in this crowd and be telling us what we want.

It's not that I didn't want to hear what the panelists had to say...they all had good things to say. BUt I also wanted more time to hear what we had to say!

I know Mary will also be proud :)

I too am proud of you :-).

I saw the first part as a "live podcast" amongst our speakers, and the n questions came. It might have been a bit more interactive I agree, but we made sure that all questions were exhausted.

We'll try and be more interactive next time.
Thanks Jeff :)

It actually was a very comprehensive discussion, which I discussed in more detail over at the Browster blog, since that's where I'm now writing specifically about search-related topics:
I loved the format of BlogHer. First time I was part of such dynamic conversations where the 'audience' contributed as much or more to the discussion as did the panelists.

From my view, the success was due to the skills of the moderators and the culture that was created at the conference which contributed to the level of engagement from the participants.

Awesome job Elisa (Jory & Lisa)!
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