I'm writing this post from 30,000 feet aboard Virgin America as I fly back to California from a whirlwind week on the East Coast. I started off in Camden, Maine to teach at the PopTech Fellows program, New Jersey Center for the Performing Arts for a session with arts marketers, and finally to Washington, DC to attend a briefing at the White House and to keynote the last BlogPotomac conference.
Geoff Livingston invited me to keynote the conference along with Shel Israel, author of Twitterville. You don't necessarily see women keynote at technology conferences (well accept for women focused technology conferences like blogher), but Geoff was trying hard ensure a gender balanced program and succeeded.
What I loved about this BlogPotomac is that it was a small and intimate event that allowed for a conversation between the speakers and the audience. The format was ten minutes of speaking (no Powerpoint allowed!), followed by 20-30 minutes of discussion with the audience facilitated by the hosts. The audience consisted mostly of social media early adopters who shared terrific insights that come from having a sense of context. We had the time to dig into a topic and come out with a deeper understanding. That's rare in a conference setting.
It reminded more of a saloon than a conference. more like the Berkman Center Thursday evening blogger meetups I used to attend from 2005-2007. The venue, a historic theater with small table seating, made it feel more like a cafe except everyone in the audience had a laptop or hand held device for blogging, taking notes, and tweeting. There were also long breaks so energy and learning from the formal part of the program could infuse the informal networking of the roughly 200 attendees.
The strong community vibe in the room was inspiring and comfortable. I credit that to the organizer, Geoff Livingston. Since this was the last BlogPotomac (read this insightful post about why), the community self-organized a wake after the conference. There was food and drink and then everyone got to say a few words about why the people, conference, and community mattered to them. Rising from the ashes, will be nonprofit2.0 conference in 2010.
While this was my first blogpotomac, I was not new to this community. I knew many of the people in the room face-to-face, some for many years, or I knew them from online, having exchanged tweets or blog comments with them. Here's a few examples:
- Shireen Mitchell who I had never met face-to-face but who generously provided information about people of color and the social web via Twitter while I doing a workshop demo. It helped me write this post - "What Color is the Social Web?"
- Andy Carvin who I known probably for ten years since his early work in educational technology when he lived in Boston and through the years have connected with him in various communities from Global Voices and beyond. I'm very grateful to Andy for teaching about how to podcast without electricity so I could share that with Cambodian bloggers.
- Chris Abraham who I met online in 1992 through MetaNetwork (a site similar to the Well but in DC) and Arts Wire. We've been in and out of touch over the years, but always virtually. This was the first time we met face-to-face!
- Jill Foster who I met online first through her blog in 2006 and presented remotely at an event she was organizing along with Mariam Scoble.
- Jane Quigley who I first met via Chris Brogan and my fundraising campaign to send Leng Soparath to college via the Sharing Foundation's education program.
- OrganicMania or Lynn Miller who I met through Twitter and later interviewed me for this blog post about a year ago.
- Laura White who I first met through the BlogHer community and who did a fantastic job live blogging one of my session on Information Overload at a blogher conference.
- Shonali Burke is one of those people I met through an Twitter introduction by social media metrics guru KDPaine last October when I presented at the e-metrics conference.
- Adam Zand who I first met at Boston Social Media Breakfast event last holiday season where we helped leverage a donation for the local Food Bank.
- Maddie Grant and Lindy Dreyer who I've meet before face-to-face through attending NTEN NTC conferences, although we first encountered each other via leaving comments on each other's blogs.
- George Brett who took some great photos of conference. I had never met George face-to-face, but through Twitter he made a donation that helped me sponsor the Cambodia Bloggers Summit and raise some money for the Sharing Foundation.
- Eric Johnson (El Studio) and Sokunthea Sa Chhabra from the Case Foundation.
This is just a sampling. It reminds of the thread on trust and knowing people that we got into after Andy Carvin's talk. He was talking about Citizen Journalism on Twitter during the Mumbai crisis and how to trust the information you're getting. He mentioned that he picked out the tweets of the people he knew and who they were retweeting. This made think of whether trust is only built from knowing someone offline or not. I think the above example shows it might go both ways.
As an early adopter of social media, in the early days of blogging (circa 2003) it was fairly easy to connect and maintain relationships with people you online and later connected at a blogging conference or meet up offline. It was also easy in the early days of Twitter when it was more like a village and huge city. With our ability to connect to some many people or "looser ties", it gets harder to sustain deeper connections. In conversation, someone used the term "Dunbarred Out" - and I'm still noodling with it but perhaps what Chris Brogan is describing in "How To Be Human A Distance" has some answers.
I'm doing a couple of notes for myself about ideas that some of the discussions raised for me.
- Tools: Jane Quiqley talked about the up and coming applications and where the tools were leading up. One point she made captured by searchengine sage blog.
Google social search was another thing she said to look out for. Google Wave, however, wasn’t highly praised, as it’s confusing, distracting and might not scale well. There are only select people using it now which make it less helpful. However, she said it might work really well for home schooled children and citizen journalism, but in the workplace, Jane said, for her it provides too much interruption.
- Slacktivism: This term came up during the discussion. In a post on Foreign Policy and the term "slacktivism" triggered a flurry of e-mail on Progressive Exchange. Here's a summary of the different viewpoints in the nonprofit sector about it. Slacktivism, if you don't know, is the pejorative term describing, in the words of Barbara Mikkelson,
"...the desire people have to do something good without getting out of
The context at Blogpotomac was the question, "Did turning your Twitter avatar green in support of the Iraniian protests" really mean anything. Debbas who was in Iran at the time, risking his life said, "It helped because I didn't want to die anonymously and we can discredit raising awareness."
- Lethal Generosity: During Shel's time on stage, he was asked if what his next book will be. He said that he was negotiations. He also shared some of the ideas he thinking about, but will not write a book. I got very excited about this one "Lethal Generosity"
Shel defines the concept of lethal generosity as the most generous members of any social media company are the most credible and influential and as such, they can devastate their competition in the marketplace.