Monday, January 18, 2010

The future of conferences

A few weeks ago I posted a list of conferences that interest me. This post was picked up all over the place - it was even translated into Spanish. This surprised me, as I was just sharing a list that I keep - not pretending to be a gatekeeper or concierge of any sort.

I've also been following as many of the volunteer/tech/crisis efforts focused on Haiti as I can find. And, as most of you know, I'm a geek about data visualization and mapping.

So today...when I was looking for other patterns this one occurred to me. The future of conferences is self organizing.

TED took the "unconference" thing out of the tech world and launched it into mainstream thinking through its TED x programs. Then the Sunlight Foundation launched hack-a-thons into the mainstream. Then everyone wanted to know how to use data for good. And now we have a conference format that is essentially a hybrid of "conference + unconference + camp."

It seems to go like this: claim a theme. Get some early supporters. Maybe one or two recognizable names to speak or say they are coming. Organize through social networks. Give folks a common focus - maps, hacks for Haiti, government 2.0, cool things you should know about - organize, reach out, curate good ideas and activists and - you have the future of conferences.

Just like on the read/write web, these face-to-face meetings rely on everyone acting as producer and consumer. Everyone puts in. Everyone who is going tells everyone they know that they are going and that is how the conference gets enough people to come.

Here are some of these:

CityCamp Chicago

Gov 2.o Los Angeles

CrisisCamp Haiti
Scroll down for various locations

TEDx [name your location]

Wisdom 2.0

This is an example of how online behaviors have changed our offline behaviors. The tools for spreading the word, getting input, handling registrations make it technically eas(ier) to plan an event this way. More important, the expectations about participating, sharing ideas, and producing and consuming seem to have leapt off the screen and onto the stage. What do you think - is this a trend, a fad, the future, or a hallucination on my part? And do you see other ways that online behaviors and expectations are changing conferences and how we organize ourselves offline? Please let me know.


Unknown said...

I don't agree. I don't think the future of conference is self-organizing/organized. I think the idea of the unconference is a bridge that will force much needed changes and improvements to the overall business (if you will) of conferences. To the extent that gatherings of people with shared interests and a desire for expertise need to be help still, offline, they need to be structured and managed in ways that -- in my experience -- even the best unconferences aren't. I think the future of conferences is about valuable, about unique experiences and critical transfer of information that only comes when you get certain people in the room. They will likely (or hopefully) be smaller, better shared, more open, and more substantively forward looking than current conferences, but they will still have to be managed and structured in ways that my experiences with unconferences have demonstrated won't happen on their own.

Here was a rant I posted about conferences a while back if you are interested:

Lucy Bernholz said...

Thanks for writing in. What I like about your comment - including the fact that you disagree with me - is that you point to another way change happens. 1) something works and everyone does it or 2) something new comes along and forces the old way to modify its behavior - which you suggest in your comment on how conferences may be more open, shared, etc. but still organized.