BlogHer: Not Just a Conference

Elisa Camahort, Lisa Stone, and Jory Des Jardins, the founders of BlogHer, spoke at last Monday’s Collaboration SIG meeting, and they absolutely blew me away. I’ve got many great female colleagues, and I’d heard great things about BlogHer last year, so I figured it was a good thing. What I didn’t know was how thoughtful these three women were about collaboration and how active a role BlogHer was playing in facilitating this network of women bloggers.    (KRT)

They won me over right from the start when I approached them about format, and they said they preferred to do it Donahue-style. I asked them whether they needed a moderator, and they said the three of them would just play off of each other and go from there. I asked what they thought about shifting the room into a circle, and they said they preferred it.    (KRU)

https://i2.wp.com/static.flickr.com/70/176131867_6e142892ca_m.jpg?w=700    (KS2)

The talk was entitled, “From Hierarchy to Community,” and they spoke both about their relationship with the community-at-large (which they played a big role in bringing together) and with each other, as equal partners of an LLC. Much of what they said about collaboration resonated strongly with me, and I found myself nodding a lot. For example:    (KRV)

  • Lisa said, “Collaboration is not consensus.” Being collaborative does not mean getting everyone to agree on everything.    (KRW)
  • Elisa talked about the transition between conversation and action, and noted that setting boundaries played a big role in making sure that action happened.    (KRX)
  • Jory talked about the importance of attribution — Spotlight On Others. She also called collaboration “laborious” a number of times. There’s overhead when you collaborate, and it can be a frustrating process, but there’s a huge payoff as well. The big ones are Shared Language and trust. Charles Welsh, one of our co-chairs, noted afterwards that the three mentioned “trust” 14 times throughout the evening. (Thanks for counting, Charles!)    (KRY)

There are a lot of organizations right now who are trying to figure out how to facilitate networks sustainably. I think BlogHer is onto something good — their values are on-target, and they’ve got three very smart and competent leaders — although whether or not their model is sustainable is still an open question. I wouldn’t bet against them, though. They’re doing some interesting things with their advertising network, for example.    (KRZ)

There’s also a lot they can learn about even more powerful models of collaboration and transparency. For example, I liked their approach to the BlogHer conference, but I couldn’t help thinking about how they were going through the exact same process that Harrison Owen went through 20 years ago before he invented Open Space. It’s not an indictment of them, but a constant reminder that those of us who are passionate about collaboration are still not close to knowing what everyone else knows, and it’s further reinforcement that Blue Oxen Associates‘ mission is an important one.    (KS0)

In any case, I’m looking forward to following BlogHer‘s progress. Check out the podcast from the meeting, and also Elisa’s comments afterwards. The next conference is July 28-29 at the Hyatt San Jose in San Jose, California, and there are still spots open for the second day, so check it out.    (KS1)

The Price of Openness

By many accounts, Mashup Camp was pretty cool. But there were elements of the event that were most definitely uncool.    (K83)

Ryan King, one of the instigators behind the original Bar Camp, said it best:    (K84)

On news.com.com.com.com today, there’s a pretty silly puff piece about the camp, focusing mainly on David Berlind, one of the organizers (who happens to work for the same company as the publication who published the article).    (K85)

The article talks about the unique nature of Mashup Camp, how it was somewhat free-form, where the attendees created the experience as the event unfolded, rather than having it all planned up front. And the article makes it sound as if David Berlind invented the concepts.    (K86)

That’s bullshit.    (K87)

It most certainly is. Other Bar Camp instigators, such as Chris Messina and Andy Smith, expressed similar sentiments.    (K88)

These folks have every right to feel annoyed. Hell, even I’m annoyed, and all I did was attend the first Bar Camp. But my annoyance is tempered by the following knowledge.    (K89)

First, you pay a price for openness. People often talk about how credit is currency in the Open Source world. That may be true, but there’s no guarantee that anyone gets paid.    (K8A)

For example, given the sudden interest in these so-called unconferences, you would think that Harrison Owen would be a household name. But he’s not. Who is Harrison? He invented Open Space, and rather than trademark it or try to own it in other ways, he gifted it to the world. Most of these gatherings are using some form of Open Space. Has Harrison gotten his due reward for this great gift?    (K8B)

Second, in the end, the cost of openness is worth it, because authenticity always wins.    (K8C)

I stayed away from Mashup Camp, because it didn’t feel authentic to me. That’s not to say that it wasn’t valuable, or that there weren’t great folks involved. Quite the opposite. They did a lot of the things that are critical for throwing great events. And if you examine the Wiki, they credit Bar Camp and Open Space. For all of that, I applaud them. And if other types of gatherings do the same, we will all be better for it.    (K8D)

But what most people fail to get is that you can’t just steal the name and the format, slap together a Wiki, and expect to replicate the spirit of the original event, just as you can’t just slap an Open Source license on a piece of software and expect the hacker community to shower you with love. You need to be authentic.    (K8E)

The original Bar Camp organizers were motivated by the beautiful things that happen when brilliant people gather to share their knowledge and passion, unencumbered by traditional boundaries and hierarchies. Not unexpectedly, some folks saw their success and saw dollar signs. Bully for them. That’s what the market system is all about, and I’m a capitalist through and through.    (K8F)

But retaining the original spirit can be a tricky thing, and it’s impossible if it’s just not in you. And if that spirit is not there, then you lose something critical. Maybe that’s not important to some, and in the short term, it may seem even less so. But in the end, authenticity always wins. For every Mashup Camp, there’s a RecentChangesCamp, gatherings that not only embrace the original spirit, but take it to new heights. If I were a betting man (and I am), I’d bet that the gatherings that capture that original spirit are the ones that will be around five, ten, twenty years from now, in some form or another.    (K8G)