BlogHer 2006: Thoughts from an Observer of Observers

I was bummed that I couldn’t make the BlogHer conference this year. Last year, I had project commitments up the wazoo, but I made some time to meet up with Nancy White at the conference site, whom I had never met face-to-face. We sat at a table outside of the Santa Clara Convention Center and embarked on a fascinating conversation. As we talked, more and more folks — all women — saw us, said hello, and joined us, further enriching the conversation. A few hours later, I had to rip myself away from that table to make it to my next meeting, and I swore that I would attend the following year.    (KVL)

Well, I didn’t. I was in Staunton, Virginia for the 1Society team retreat. I was even more disappointed after having met Elisa Camahort, Lisa Stone, and Jory Des Jardins at the June Collaboration SIG meeting.    (KVM)

Fortunately, as you might expect, folks blogged about the conference. Here are some of my thoughts on their thoughts.    (KVN)

Welcome Neighbors    (KVO)

Nancy White shared this gem from Caterina Fake:    (KVP)

A lot of online community building is like you are the host of the party. If you show up and don’t know anybody and no one takes your coat and shows you around, you are going to leave. The feminine touch there really matters. That is how we greeted people at flickr. Creating a culture in an online community is incredibly important. What’s ok in a fantasy football league is different than what we wanted to cultivate on flickr. Then those become the practices of the flickr. Everyone starts greeting people., Get the ball rolling. You want people engaged, feel strongly enough so they are the community police.    (KVQ)

It’s another instance of the Welcome Neighbors pattern!    (KVR)

Christine Herron    (KVS)

Christine deserves her own category, because I’ve been relying more and more on her blog for her excellent summaries of other gatherings. We haven’t actually met, although she blogged one of my talks way back when.    (KVT)

Christine wrote about community design and evolution and the importance of constant engagement:    (KVU)

Even the most intelligent design will miss the mark, if community members are not involved in setting purpose and norms. This implies that a healthy community will bake in “continuous listening,” and its purpose and norms will evolve over time. It’s noteworthy that many communities develop spontaneously, rather than according to plan.    (KVV)

Listening was an ongoing theme in a lot of the BlogHer summaries.    (KVW)

On communities and continuous learning:    (KVX)

Susannah Gardner, the author of Buzz Marketing with Blogs, has become the center of a blog newbie community. As a case study, this serves as a model for most of the folks in the room. Gardner quirkily revealed that “My community is inherently flawed.” Most people coming to her community come to learn, but once they’ve learned what they need, they leave. This also means that the community is constantly renewing itself and forming new relationships to each other — that over the long term, no longer require Gardner’s bridge for sustained connection.    (KVY)

Finally, Christine blogged about a session on identity that actually had something to do with identity!    (KVZ)

A powerful and relevant final thought on this issue comes from Amartya Sen, a Nobel-nominated economist and the co-author of Identity and Violence — we all have multiple identities, but when we marry ourself to just one, violence happens. When this nugget was shared, the bubbling room fell into a thoughtful, silent pause. Would the world be a better place if more and more of its peoples participated in sharing identity?    (KW0)

Conversations and Conferences    (KW1)

Tom Maddox also wrote about the prevalence of listening at the conference:    (KW2)

Because the usual male-female ratio was inverted at Blogher, male display was almost entirely absent, replaced by friendly, open conversation. The prevailing atmosphere — the oxygen — was friendliness, openness, inclusiveness.    (KW3)

It’s not that Blogher was perfectly organized and run — if you want to see a list of complaints, just look at the Technorati-tagged blog postings. But in the larger picture, really, who measures the conference’s success by whether the wifi was overloaded or that there were too many commercial pitches from the main stage? What the organizers got right was creating a space where people could talk to one another easily and freely and openly, without being defensive or aggressive.    (KW4)

I’m of two minds of this reaction. BlogHer is a traditional, hierarchical gathering, but there’s obviously a strong culture of participation and interaction. Culture goes a long way. If you have good culture and good people, it’s hard to throw a poor gathering (although it’s certainly been done).    (KW5)

However, just because you manage to throw good, even great gatherings, doesn’t mean that you can’t do better. As I wrote last June:    (KW6)

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 HarrisonOwen went through 20 years ago before he invented OpenSpace. 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 BlueOxenAssociates‘ mission is an important one.  T    (KW7)

My not-so-secret plot is to suck Elisa, Lisa, and Jory into the growing Blue Oxen community (probably starting with the next “Tools for Catalyzing Collaboration” workshop), so that we can all learn from each other and leapfrog the great work that many of us are already doing. Be warned, ladies!    (KW8)

On Conversations and Collaboration

Seb Paquet and I were chatting on the phone last Friday, and the conversation turned to Old Boy Networks. In particular, Seb noted that it wasn’t enough to eliminate barriers to conversation or collaboration. You need to catalyze it. The oft-noted Echo Chamber nature of the blogosphere is Exhibit A in this regard. Despite the lack of technical barriers, people tend not to interact with people of different background and views.    (JJM)

This issue became the theme of the day for me. Later that afternoon, I met Nancy White for the first time, who was in town for Blogher. She was ecstatic about the expected turnout, explaining that the conference had attracted all sorts of new faces, traditionally invisible folks — mostly women, of course — on the ground doing great stuff and writing great things. Nancy, Mary Hodder, and others have been vocal about the sameness of attendees and speakers on the conference circuit, and Blogher was in many ways a reaction to that. I’m sorrry I missed it. What began as a casual conversation between Nancy, Beverly Trayner, and myself grew quite large and energetic, as random folks — Mary, Danah Boyd, Elana Centor, and several others — saw us at our table and joined the discussion. It killed me to break up that conversation, but we all had other meetings we had to go to.    (JJN)

I ended my day in Campbell for SocialWave‘s one-year anniversary celebration. Sheldon Chang, SocialWave‘s driving force, has evolved the business in much the same way that I’ve evolved Blue Oxen Associates — learning by doing and refining the strategy over time. What began as a general desire to counter the Bowling Alone effect in regional communities is now focused more on bringing community back to city downtowns. I really like this strategy, and I really like how effective SocialWave has been with its flagship community, Campbell. The party was a manifestation of that. Several local stores sponsored the party, which was held in Campbell‘s beautiful downtown in conjunction with the weekly summer outdoor movie series (which has its own wonderful grassroots origins). Of course, SocialWave members — who span the entire demographic — were out in force, both as volunteers and as party-goers.    (JJO)

I congratulated Sheldon on what he had accomplished so far, and — as it had throughout the day — the discussion turned to catalyzing conversations and collaboration. In a small downtown, the barriers to interaction are low in theory. People are physically near each other, and there seems to be big incentives to collaborate with each other, as all of these stores share goals and concerns. But in reality, it doesn’t always happen on its own. Campbell, like many of the downtowns here in the Bay Area, has had its share of economic troubles, and yet, most people have dealt with those in isolation. Sheldon noted that several store owners weren’t even aware of what stores were around the corner.    (JJP)

In reality, collaboration rarely just happens. Someone has to catalyze it. This can happen from both the top and the bottom, but it almost always happens. This holds triply true when it comes to collaboration between diverse groups. If we truly want to work with people different from ourselves, we have to work proactively to bring those people together. This doesn’t happen often enough. It’s hard, but the benefits are significant.    (JJQ)

Purple Peeper-Eater

I’ve been following Nancy White‘s excellent blog for many moons now. She writes great things about Online Communities and collaboration, and her blog is my most heavily bookmarked on Bloglines. So it seems a bit strange that the first item of hers I’m going to mention here is this very funny reference to Purple Peeper-Eaters. One can never get too much Purple humor.    (ILA)