Monday, July 5, 2004

BlogTalk Day 1

by Suw on July 5, 2004

It's gone midnight, so not much time for anything other than impressions of BlogTalk, and first impressions are that there are a whole bunch of interesting people here with cool stuff to say, and not all of them get to stand behind the podium.
I can't help but be egocentric and say that some of the more academic stuff was hard for me to follow. I'm not stupid but I am out of practice when it comes to extracting core messages in an oral-aural situation. I suppose I live too much online in the written word, so the spoken word is causing me a little culture shock. It's nice, though, that the majority of accents I hear around me are not English or American. It's great to get a perspective on blogging that is new, compared to those I usually hear.
As usual, though, I'm almost more interested in the audience and the way that they interact and behave than the actual talks themselves. Not having a laptop myself divorced me from the backchannel – some thing I really felt the lack of at first. Instead I am restricted to analogue note-taking methods: ye olde pen and paper. Advantages are that I get to doodle and draw diagrams, something that those transcribing miss out on.
OK, so maybe that's not so much of an advantage, but I've got to make mysel feel a bit better somehow.
What was cool, though, was watching how the backchannel developed. Obviously there was an IRC channel, but to be honest most of the interesting stuff was being done by the mac users on SubEthaEdit and Rendevouz (links to come when I'm not on a strange-to-me laptop). Being a PC user this was all new to me – Rendevouz allows you to find out who's around in your vicinity and to strike up conversations. SubEthaEdit allows for collaborative real-time note taking. Unlike wikis, SubEthaEdit documents can be edited simultaneously by a number of people.
Initially, it struck me that multitasking whilst at a conference is really bad for your concentration. You simply cannot IRC, Rendevouz, check links, edit a wiki and SubEthaEdit whilst also listening to what were some very information-dense presentations. You cannot simultanously process so many conflicting streams of data.
What's clear from watching Steph and the others, particulary prodigious note-taker Lee, is that that doesn't matter. By collaborating in a SubEthaEdit note-taking session you become part of the hivemind, so if you miss something, someone else will fill in the gap before you even realise that you have missed something. The groups becomes self-correcting. If you're not sure if the speaker said 'sidewalk' or 'cyborg' just type whatever you think it was and someone else will have heard more clearly and will correct you.
From SubEthaEdit, the documents were transferred to a wiki to enable wider amendment, additions and reformatting. By the end of the week, if not before, I expect that the wiki will be home to a comprehensive set of notes.
This ad hoc collaboration is a boon. I found it very hard to focus continually on talks which were often very dense, and if I had to rely on my own notes I know that I would miss many of the most interesting points when it came to reviewing the day. Now, however, I can go and annotate what others have written and add my contribution to a growing body of knowledge and experience.
Another way of facillitating this cohesion is the use of TopicExchange to collate the various blog posts made about the conference. As usual, I felt too shy to get my camera out and take photos but so many other people did and hopefully they will ping TopicExchange and I will get to see them then. I was brave, though, and I did ask a question. Aren't you proud?
The bits inbetween the talks were, as expected, very cool – lots of interesting conversations with lots of intersting people, notably Lilia Efimova, Stephan Schmidt, Phil Wolff, Mark Brady, Sebastian Fielder, Riccardo Cambiassi, Horst, Steph and Lee. (Again, links to come.)
Right, time to crash out. Another full day of talks and talking tomorrow.

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