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.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Catching up: The MIMA Summitt

I meant to say a few words about the time I spent at the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association annual summit at the beginning fo the month.

I cannot recommend highly enough that if you are a social media developer, marketer, consultant or evangelist you get out there and speak at such events. I've been to South Carolina and Minneapolis recently. Soon I'm going to DC and Omaha.

Let me tell you what I learn when I get out of Silicon Valley physically (and the Silicon Valley mentality mentally.)

-There is huge opportunity in our industry because the adoption rate is still quite low. I hate to disagree with many of my esteemed colleagues, but we are not at a tipping point (not if you mean a tipping point to general or mass adoption or spread...which is what Gladwell was talking about.) The vast majority of people in our own marketing business do not blog, are not immediately tasked with starting blogs, do not do much outreach to bloggers etc.

If Pew is correct that nearly 40% of online Americans are reading blogs, then I say either a) they're not business folks or b) they don't know that what they're reading are specifically blogs.

-Curiosity abounds, but fear gnaws away at that curiosity and keeps companies from simply trying different things. Fear and a lack of understanding of the commitments (time, money, human resources) that they'd have to make to give this new world of tools a try. nearly every question I (and other speakers) get asked is fear-based. And it's not just that people are afraid of losing control of their message, which is the assumption of many blogvangelists that I read. They're afraid of real-live negative business outcomes.

And who are we to tell them they shouldn't be? Who do we think we are?

You know, these MIMA folks, and others like them in other parts of the country and world, are doing way cooler things with traditional online programs than I am. They know their stuff in a myriad of ways. They certainly don't deserve to be patronized for asking rational business questions.

Getting out to these events makes me very excited for BlogHer Business '07. Because people are eager to learn. And every time I sit down with any group of curious business folks...I learn too! Get yourselves out there with people who aren't already bought into the value of social media in their everyday business endeavors. It's a great way to figure out why you're so convinced.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

It's only fair to pick on the big dogs too

A couple of months ago, the blogosphere put Ismael Ghalini, organizer of the Office 2.0 Conference, through the wringer for having the biggest gender-diversity blind spot ever, posting an initial speaker list featuring 52 men and 1 woman. The rest is history, as Ismael asked for and received much assistance, including from me, to add more than a dozen more women to his speaking roster.

(If you're really interested, my posts chronicling this saga and pointing to the others in the discussion are here, here, and don't miss this one here, and a link to one white man's thoughts here.)

It was rightly pointed out at the time that this was hardly the only conference out there with an unbalanced roster. And the usual debates roared, including the usual argument that these were "tech" conferences ,and that this was a larger problem in "tech." Now, I would happily argue this point, because half of the participants are not hands-on developers at any of these events, but "business" folks or analysts or other pundits who aren't really tech gods themselves. But I digress.

My point is that if we're going to point out the failings of a guy putting on his first conference in a somewhat niche-y part of the world of web technology, then we should give equal scrutiny to a very prominent organization who is putting on a conference in a broad subject range that I would even submit is highly populated with women: and I'm talking about AlwaysOn's OnMedia Conference, which is focused on Advertising, Marketing, Branding and Media...not an industry that suffers from a dearth of women

Yet you can find OnMedia's speaker list here, and I've spared you the time and done the counting. I may be missing a gender-neutral name or two, but I count 3 out of about 60. If I review their schedule I can't comment on some of the sessions, but I can certainly know female VCs in this space, female analysts in this space, female journalists in this space, female "power bloggers", female marketers who are actually hands-on working in the blog space with bloggers every day, senior females at ad and PR agencies who are trying to extend their brand into the world of blogs and other consumer-generated media sites.

Of course this isn't new. (Read BlogHer partner Lisa Stone's post about the 2005 AlwaysOn conference roster here.)

Some organizers try to expand and improve their offerings year over year. The example of SXSW Interactive is well-known. SXSW doubled their number of women speakers to about 100 last year, which brought the ratio to about 33%. We're even bringing a BlogHer workshop to the Web 2.0 Conference, which should about double the number of women speakers...seriously. A quick look at Web 2.0's speaker roster shows 9 out of 69 women (or 13%), if you count the two out of five BlogHer workshop participants who have yet to be added to the list. [I found this list from last year, which reflected 6.5% women speakers.]

But some organizers think they're doing fine as is. And indeed perhaps this will be a highly successful event, I don't know. If it is, I'm going to bet that the paying attendees will be highly male-dominated too. I know plenty of women, me included, who see a homogenous speaker list, sigh, and simply stay home, saving the money and aggravation of being talked at by the same cast of characters. Not just the same as in same gender or color or whatever, but same as in, oh my God, haven't these people spoken at 4 dozen conferences already this year?!

Given the number of women in PR, advertising, marketing and media, that seems like a lost opportunity, a missed boat. Maybe, however, not a missed boat for revenues...and maybe that's all that really matters.

I guess more men have to realize that they too will gain value from a more diverse speaking roster, and they too can make the economic choice to spend their money on conferences that will deliver that. Then, perhaps, revenues will fall short. And then perhaps some organizers who don't currently care, will start to care.

PS-Completely coincidentally, Deb Roby's latest article over at BlogHer showed up in my RSS reader while writing this post...Where are all the creative women, and why don't they speak?. So, it's not just tech. As I always say: the original BlogHer wasn't born purely out of the "where are the women bloggers?" question. Back in early 2005 there were more far-reaching questions being asked. Like "where are the women on op-ed pages?" and "where are the women on Sunday morning talk shows?" and "where are the women in Fortune 500 boardrooms?" and "where are the women in doctoral programs or tenured professorships." Deb closes with this:
"This sounds like the emotions and call to action occurring just over two years ago that lead to the creation of BlogHer. Do creative women need to take the step of forming CreateHer... or can the public discussions like this one work as a call to action to conference organizers without a formalized organization to push the issue? From Tokien's responses, I do not have confidence."

I guess my response is why Either/Or? I think we have to keep doing both.

Hence this post. You gotta pick on the big dogs too.

Monday, October 09, 2006

BlogHer Meet-up in Seattle on 10/26/06

Jory and I are going to Seattle to speak at the BlogBusiness Summit, and the folks in charge have kindly done 2 things:

1. They've agreed to let any BlogHer into the welcome reception even if they're not attending the Conference, so we can kick off our Meet-up with a hosted bar and hors d'ouevres.

2. They're offering a discount code to BlogHers of $100 off any BBS package, whether one day or all three.

I recorded all the important deets on BlogHer here.

PS-the super-secret password is "BlogHer Meet-up"...always keep 'em guessing, eh?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Wow. First time ever. Left something on a plane. My working notebook.

And I'm devastated.

I know I shouldn't get so upset. And I'm not even upset about the weeks and weeks (and probably months) worth of notes in there, because it's not like I go back and look at it just to marvel at my own brilliant thoughts and organizational skills.

No, the bad part is losing all of my current thoughts, notes, to-do lists, voicemail messages hastily written down while on the road and then deleted.

I have never, in my 40 years of plane travel, left something on a plane before. (Now granted, for the first 15 of those years the worst I could leave would be a crossword puzzle magazine or something equally trivial.)

But over the last two days I was gone from home for only 43 hours...over 21 hours spent in Minneapolis...and over 21 hours spent in the actual door-to-door travel. We're talking cancelled flights at 6AM on Tuesday and delayed flights at 8PM on Wednesday. Somewhere in all that I clearly got a little fuzzy-brained.

So, while I managed to remember by logic puzzle magazine, I managed to leave my notebook. Either in the seat pocket or actually in the seat. (I had an upgrade to First Class, so the seats are actually wide enough where that might go unnoticed.)

I still keep looking around and around, unable to believe I did this.

So many lists.

OK everyone: give me the silver lining, because I'm feeling pretty bummed right now.

PS-I was in Minneapolis speaking at the Minneapolis Interactive Marketing Assn. Annual Summit. More on that was a great event for the short time I was there. They obviously have a large, creative community, there were about 400 attendees! And I have never seen so many cool eyeglasses in one place as at this conference!

This month's Silicon Veggie: A precursor to my first 30 days as a vegan

I admit it, this was kind of a filler article as I gather all of the wonderful suggestions by my readers on how to transition from vegetarian to vegan. And as I start trying their suggestions.

I did however give my very brief take on two vegan restaurants I recently ate at in Berkeley, Cafe Gratitude and Ch Ya. They each have San Francisco branches too.

As with all such reviews, your tastebud mileage may vary :)

Monday, October 02, 2006

Carnival of the Capitalists up at My 1st Million at 33

Yes, that is the name of the blog...My 1st Million at 33.

Anyway, blogger Frugal hosts this week's Carnival of the Capitalists. The format is pretty much listing in the order received, including my own little post about the value of submitting work to online publications over print publications.

A couple of other submissions leapt out at me:

David Maister's post entitled Us and Them. Maister considers himself an individualist before being part of any group. And he thinks that the tendency of the human race to fall into group think (along numerous lines from race to gender to religion to nationality) is what leads to many of the word's problems. I may agree on that last point, but what such individualism always fails to take into account is that whether or not we seek to be identified or think of ourselves as part of whatever group...those looking upon us (and hiring us, and serving us in restaurants, and lending us money, etc. etc. etc.) do see us as part of some of those groups. And this may have positive or negative consequences, depending no the specific dynamics. Someone in his comments called banding together into groups a survival mechanism of our species. Despite the modernity of our culture, I would say this still holds surprisingly true.

A fascinating guest post at Queercents from Tired But Happy about whether even straight couples should pursue the antiquated concept of marriage! Tired But Happy's story sounds similar to ours in one key way: My S.O. used to work at a company that covered health care for domestic partners of any stripe. When he moved to another major high tech company we discovered they only offered domestic partner coverage to same-sex partners, not opposite-sex partners. That has resulted in an additional $4K-$5K per year expense for me. That is non-trivial to me in case you're wondering! So, having just gotten engaged I have to say that when TBH lays out the downside of non-marriage in the financial sense: the impact on health benefits and decisions, inheritance issues and Social Security issues, it reminds me why, after seven years in a relationship, there were many practical reasons for wanting to get married.

So check out the Carnival and see what catches your eye.

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