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Monday, May 15, 2006

mesh conference coverage

Our good friend Mitch Joel has implored us to blog a bit about mesh. Well, I'll tell you a bit of what I saw.

First of all, to reiterate, a tightly organized, thematically consistent two-day conference on emerging Web 2.0 trends, divided into keynotes, practical workshops, and panel discussions, went from conception to reality in only 9 weeks. A flurry of last-minute registrations sold the joint (maRs, a grand new facility at 101 College Street) out. It looked like 350 people were in the keynote, so probably that's close to 400 attendees. I had honestly expected 100-150 when Stuart told us about it. He and the organizers must be ecstatic.

Om Malik led off, interviewed by Mark Evans of The National Post. Both have popular weblogs and both have been a bit consumed by the wireless and VoIP spaces, so their blogs are sort of like bookends in my mental map. Evans is the consummate pro, and like many Canadians, fair-minded and polite. Thankfully, Malik told us what he really thought, and was highly entertaining. On traditional newspapers, etc., he basically said that Darwinist forces will kill the bad ones and fairly soon, and that many news organizations aren't suited to be in that business at all.

Although I didn't catch it, I heard Malik ruffled a few more feathers when he sat on the "Are Bloggers Journalists?" panel.

I spent the afternoon focusing on practical workshops. The first was about wikis. I was a bit surprised the vastly erudite crew of key speakers (there was one presenter, and some "co-talkers" who spoke more than others, though seated around the room) didn't offer any kind of corrective to the assumption that the "to Wiki or not to Wiki" decision would be "will you have a corporate Wiki." There was also a software developer bias to the reasoning. Many talkers (they weren't speakers, so I'll call them talkers) seemed eager to correct people's notions of how to collaborate at a company, with the usual enthusiasm for the notion of changing corporate culture to be more bottom-up (standard Cluetrain stuff at best, right?). By now, the breathless cheerleading should have given way to an admission that there are solid corporate reasons not to treat every project, collaboration, document, etc. as an open-ended, non-hierarchical sandbox that never gets shut down. For one thing, did it ever occur to anyone that the owner of the company (even if that's YOU) should want and encourage closure, a sense of finality, of time management, of moving onto other tasks? I recall in the heady days of grad school, feeling like those 16-hour formless days of following the eddies of my ideas and going on a huge tear on something that wasn't getting me any closer to the BIG goal... was totally normal. So -- there are very practical reasons to have Wikis or other forms of more efficient, distributed decision making and project management -- definitely. And the session gave me ideas I'd like to try. But I definitely felt like the Wiki cheerleading was slanted and a tad preachy. A lawyer contributed a great idea for moving his colleagues towards a better method of collaborating on documents, using a Wiki. To me, that was a solid business case. But one of the main talkers dismissed this step forward as "rather transactional" (whatever that means). So it would seem that the only people allowed to catch on and use the Web 2.0 technology are that narrow sliver of folks who qualify as visionaries rather than two levels down at the level of crossing the chasm to real-world application? Bollocks, if so.

Got some great tips on the nuts & bolts of Podcasting at the next session, hosted by Amber Macarthur. One of her suggestions was to investigate specialized hosting arrangements if you're planning a lot of audio or video broadcasting - hello, if you have a lot of subscribers, your web host will probably charge you about a million bucks for bandwidth. She recommends a service called LibSyn which has amazing pricing and specializes basically in hosting these kinds of files. I had to ask some kind of question after, so I asked where to buy the mike she uses to record, which she demo'd at the front of the room. Actually got an answer -- Carbon Computing! -- which is near where I used to live, in Seaton Village (which real estate agents call Upper Annex). But Amber and her cohort were a bit at sea when it came to recommending any recording platforms other than those for the Mac - they recommended one called Audio Hijack.

At the reception, I drank diet Coke (because I had to play floor hockey later), bumped into new friends, and some old. Got Andy from Yahoo to promise me I can drop by the office sometime to spy on them. :) I hear they've just had a law passed now that makes it legal for them to torture spammers.

One of the folks I met said his startup site was a cross between TripAdvisor and Digg. I was having trouble hearing the word "Digg" and needed it repeated a couple of times. Maybe I'm just not cut out for this brave new world. :) In fact, it's possible I mis-remember this, and it's a mashup of Flickr, Pong, and the security camera at a gas station at Park Lawn and Lakeshore. I think there was something in that Diet Coke.

I missed the party at the Drake - because of floor hockey.

I'll report on what sessions I catch tomorrow. But our office is nearby, and so are some great lunch spots, so I'm sure I'll sneak off for a bit.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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