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February 23, 2009


Your questions are excellent, Mark, because the claims (terrific opportunity, great speakers, better skills for you) are those made by just about any group arranging just about any assemblage -- including unconferences and barcamps.

I think conferences will go away, right after books and personal vehicles do. Yes, they're going to have to change, but that's true most of the time for most social constructs--organizations, workplaces, neighborhood restaurants.

Megaconferences may indeed be fading--I know ISPI's fretting about their annual spring gathering, and I suspect that's true for many other organizations.

Successful conferences (meaning the people who plan and participate in them) will adopt new models and adapt existing ones -- the social media gurus talk about the uselessness of lecture, then record podcasts.

Humans like coming together, especially when they share interests. Meeting face-to-face to share, experiment, learn from someone's experience, solidify a connection that had been only virtual? That started with the first two Neanderthals who returned to different campsites after comparing hunting styles.

Large conferences (those hoping for more than 1,000 folks, say) have real problems because there's a lot of overhead built in. CSTD's planning a symposium in Halifax for 200 or so, which strikes me as a pretty decent number. If you wanted, you could try to meet everyone; you're certainly not going to get stampeded when the keynote breaks out.

Let me put this as gently as I can: Conferences as we have known them are dead meat.

Why? Ghastly carbon footprint. Discretionary item in the midst of economic catastrophe. Still organized as preacher-and-congregation events. Web 2.0 substitute is a cheap, effective alternative.

Did you listen to the voices at Spaces for Interaction? Tame, well-reasoned, compelling prods for us to change our ways. We can use the recession/depression/melt-down as an impetus to fix something that's still playing yesterday's tune.

Something's afoot here, Mark.

Learning Irregulars may turn its spotlight on this issue. Conferences have been vital for professional development in our business. That's how you and I met, along with the hundreds of people we know in common.

Where you planning on hanging out now, buddy?

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Quoth she/he...

  • "The hallmark of revolution is that the goals of the revolutionaries cannot be contained by the institutional structure of the society they live in. As a result, either the revolutionaries are put down, or some of those institutions are transmogrified, replaced, or simply destroyed. We are plainly witnessing a restructuring of the music and newspaper businesses, but their suffering isn’t unique, it’s prophetic." --Clay Shirky

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