Sunday, October 22, 2006

Thoughts on Office 2.0

I know I'm a bit late, but I wanted to share some thoughts I walked away with after the Office 2.0 Conference on October 11th:

1. Live blogging is hard work, and that's why I usually don't do it!
I live blogged the Esther Dyson morning keynote/interview in the Office 2.0 chat room. (Amyloo posted it on her blog. Say what you will about how quickly one can type vs. handwriting, and about how one can capture nearly every word spoken if one if fleet-fingered can't retain it. At least I can't.

What I liked about Dyson's responses to the questions was that she clearly isn't a Kool-Aid drinker. She asks questions. She challenges assumptions. She debunks conventional wisdom. It would have been nice if that had set a tone for the entire conference, but let's face it: most people speaking are a part of this Office 2.0 endeavor, and obviously they believe in it or they wouldn't be devoting their working lives to the companies that they are. Having a contrarian in your midst can make you smarter. I think having an Esther Dyson in your midst would definitely make you smarter.

I, for example, have often written and stated that I don't "get" wikis. I'm even anti-wiki, I suppose. I've never been part of one that took off and really worked as a place for group discussion and decision-making...which is how many people seem to try to use them. Having me moderate a panel on blogs and wikis might have seemed like an odd fit (it certainly did to at least one of the wiki entrepreneurs on my panel) but I think it gave the audience the opportunity to hear an alternate view expressed (one that at least some of them must have secretly shared) and it gave the panel a chance to address the challenges head on.

2. Traditional panels have their place, but eight hours of them, even with a substantial lunch break in the middle, is too much.
But here's something we proponents of more interactive formats should remember: not every speaker is going to appreciate having that much less focus on them...they probably took the time for the event for the opportunity to say their piece in that panel after setting expectations with your panel is as important as setting expectations with the attendees. The panel I moderated was from 4-5PM. There had been a panel from 2-3PM and one from 3-4PM, and no break. The panels were mostly 50 minutes of panel discussion and 10 minutes of Q&A at the end. I told the folks with the mics for the audience that I'd be going to the audience right from the start, and so we did...asking questions of my panel, but also of the audience, and letting them both ask questions and answer them. I actually stayed standing (partly because I had become really sleepy in that post-lunch kind of way and wanted to stay on my toes) but also so I could move closer to the audience and appear more open to their input, than if I was sitting back in a director's chair statically.

Afterwards I heard one of my panel joke that one didn't need panels anymore, one could simply let the audience talk. I thought "Well, exactly!", but I know he wasn't saying it in that manner, but more in the manner of "I think I just wasted my time doing this." So, yeah, setting the expectation with your panel that they're going to get less face-time because you're going's important. (It would also help not to have panels of 5 and 6 people for an hour long session. I didn't even let each person do an individual intro, because that would have taken half the session...I just said "here's who they are you can read their bios online.")

3. Four months is a really short time to pull off a conference. Something will suffer.
Four months is about how long we had to pull of BlogHer 2005. We focused on the programming, and some would say that other logistical elements were not as well-executed. They're right I'm sure.

I think the Office 2.0 organizers focused on the infrastructure and logistics. The venue was great; the schwag (a by now infamous iPod Nano) was buzz-worthy; the Internet, although occasionally requiring a log out and log in, was generally consistent; the opportunities for sponsors to show their wares on and off stage were plentiful.

The programming could have used more focus. It's not just the reliance on panels. You know I think, unlike some others, that panels can be well-done. But if you're going to have panels it's best to provide more guidance to your panels. Otherwise the panels all start to sound the same. Even when your panels are populated by a bunch of smart people with intelligent things to say. Most of the panels at Office 2.0 ended up being conversations about how to increase adoption of the services and tools. Some sessions were more focused on how to get end-users to be advocates; some more focused on getting execs or IT departments bought in, but all of it ended up coming down to addressing the question: what will help propagate these tools and services?

I'm just not sure that question is fascinating enough for 2 full days of programming.

And it shows in the blog entries I've read about the conference...they tend to focus on the networking and schwag, but not much on the content. Which, given my bias as a programming person, I think is a shame and a missed opportunity to articulate a vision and opportunity that clearly the organizers are excited about.

4. This conference is a testament to the DIY spirit that is an essential part of Anything 2.0. It is a testament to the fact that one guy could have a vision of a cool conference, and could make that vision a reality. I relate to Ismael and his entire journey in making this a reality...including the painful public failure that he addressed (I think nobly.) He is just one more example of do-ocracy. Make no mistake: he took a risk. Sure, it all probably came out OK. Hopefully the guy even made some money on it. But he had no real way of knowing that when he started. As more and more people in our industry stop talking and start doing their own thing, I find I have less patience for ivory tower commentary about what we all should be and do. Be and do something for us to emulate, how about that?

5. Last thought: Women were in a distinct minority both on and offstage (even though the eleventh hour efforts did pay off with a dozen women added to the roster over the last 4 weeks or so before the conference.) But their presence made a big difference IMHO. The women who were there were avid participators...lively panel participants, making insightful comments and asking probing questions from the audience and doing an impressive job of staying away from shilling for their products. I don't think it was only noticeable to me because of my obvious interest. I think we brought something to the conference that wouldn't have otherwise been there.

Interested to see where Ismael takes it from here. Hope he keeps the great attention to logistical detail and adds even more focus on quality conference content.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?