When I first arrived at the University of Sussex for the Internet Research conference, I ran into Steve Schneider (SUNY IT), and Randy Kluver (Nanyang). One of the first things Steve said was “You’re going to be disappointed.” This seemed an odd way to start off the conference, but it quickly became clear that the reason was that there was very little connectivity available. There was no wireless, no broadband in the rooms, and even the presentation computers were, by and large, not networked. He was right, that was disappointing, and Steve wanted to make sure that Randy knew this in his official capacity (on the executive committee for the association), as well.
The funny thing is that unlike many research conferences, you just don’t see that many laptops here. So, my guess is that the requirement that you go to a lab to use the computers was not an onerous one for many. For those of us who live our lives online, however, it was very difficult. Being disconnected from the “outside world” might seem like a good thing in some ways, allowing you to concentrate on the material at hand. But our need for access illustrated one of the points made by Sara Kiesler in her keynote. While the net and real world have always been interpenetrated, they are to such a great extent today that it is not possible to consider “the internet” as an object of study. (I’m not sure many people really have done that, but that’s beside the point.) It was really hard to coordinate even local events and keep up conversations without having networking available.
An immediate result of the wireless has been a lack of blogging even from the regular bloggers who were there, and there were many of us. This represented a lost opportunity for collaboration in at least one venue.
During one of the sessions on the last day of the conference, Nancy Baym, president of AIR, suggested that someone was going to set up a web page with postings related to the conference. This followed her request at one of the keynotes that people write up their notes and post them to the AIR-L list. I noted that Lilia had already set up a Topic Exchange channel to collect bloggers’ thoughts. At the end of the conference, I ran into Nancy again at Falmer Station. She noted that most of the posts so far were just complaining about the lack of access. “Don’t worry,” I said, “when people get back to somewhere with access they’ll post.” As I watched her cross over to the other platform, I thought: what a stupid thing to say.
When people get back to wherever they are going, chances are good that their minds will have switched gears and they will have more current things to post about. I am sitting on notes not only about AIR (which I will post since they are required reading for a class I’m teaching), but on notes from a conference on Informatics a week earlier. Blogging, as a practice, tends for many people to be off the cuff, and the values of timeliness that apply to journalists everywhere apply even moreso to bloggers; we operate on a 30 minute news cycle. I think it’s fair to assume that under those conditions, most people won’t post-post the conference.
More importantly, I think that most of the people who attended who were bloggers were looking for sessions that were blogging and social network-related. As a result, the view will be skewed toward those topics. And bloggers only record what they think is interesting which is often other bloggers.
In the end if AIR wants web publicity in Chicago next year, they will need to think about ways to make the conference more blog-friendly. It’s not really that hard: just make sure that there is a surfeit of Wifi and power. I get the feeling, though, that many of the old school researchers consider bloggers and blogging as somehow beneath their dignity. Maybe that is a misperception on my part, but I don’t think it is a difficult thing to read from them.
I think we need another conference. No, not another blogging conference — there is already BlogTalk and Kaye mentioned something was in the works for the Big Easy — but one that looks generally at the social edge experiments and the communication technologies that support them. Only presenters will attend, and there will be no parallel sessions. It will be somewhere sunny, with good food (I’m thinking Mexico here, or maybe somewhere Caribbean), with good Wifi and power, margaritas, and plenty of time to talk. All those in favor?
[With apologies to the fabulous Professor Walker for theft of her likeness.]