Not blogging this

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.]

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7 Comments

  1. Posted 9/24/2004 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    I appreciate the value of wifi totally – I would have loved it. I even arranged to stay at the one hotel (in Brighton) that claimed wifi (it didn’t have it!!!). However I’d challenge Alex’s assertion that “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. ”

    Firstly, wifi is actually quite HARD to organise. We’d hoped that by having the conference at a university we would have that possibility but it was not to be. There are usually very strict legal issues (especially outside of the USA where laws concerning defamation etc are much stricter), about who is permitted to access a network. So, there was a wireless net in Sussex and while I don’t why it was inaccessible, I can imagine some of the reasons (having been through them on my on campus). But, let’s be practical: what do we do next time? Well, two things: (a) moving to a hotel (as in Toronto) should help take care of the net access in rooms problem, since we will be able to choose one with inbuilt, if wired, BB. Second, we could probably arrange an access point. but the question is: will members and attendees accept the increased expense? Because, alas, one of the problems with the hype around wifi and ubiquity is that it runs into standard issues concerning economics and politics…. So, in sum, Alex, you are dead right…blogging the conference would be great…I’d strongly support it; but at what cost? PS, I don’t know whether I am old school or new school – not sure it really matters though.

  2. Posted 9/25/2004 at 4:56 am | Permalink

    Love your adjustment of my t-shirt, Alex. I wish I could photoshop my physical t-shirt as easily :)

  3. Posted 9/25/2004 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Matt (& Jill): Thanks for your comments. I don’t mean to imply that blanket WiFi is necessarily easy. Nothing worthwhile is. But I do get the impression, mainly from talking to some of the organizers, that it was not a priority. WWW wouldn’t even consider hosting in a venue that didn’t provide good access. Why would a group like AIR not place the same priority on access? That the beach in Brighton had free WiFi but the campus did not is very odd indeed.

    My complaint may be related to the size and complexity that the conference has attained over the last few years.

    A couple of readers have now contacted me about the possibility of doing something on a smaller (if more wired) scale in Mexico next year. If folks are interested in something that looks at new forms of social organizations, collaboration, creativity, and the tools that support them, do get in touch. There are lots of conferences that look at these issues on the techy side: I’m hoping to focus on the social sciency end.

  4. Posted 9/25/2004 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Absolutely interested — particularly if the “social sciency end” could perhaps be stretched far enough to include the cultural-studies end of the humanities…? I’d love a gathering in which to think more about the effects of such social software on collaborative writing and other new forms of the literary. Particularly if we can persuade Jill come talk more about distributed narrative, too.

  5. Posted 9/25/2004 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    It may be difficult in England, but the network at the college here (which is outside USA) covers all of (admittedly a small) campus and is split in a student and a faculty network. Giving people access to the student network for a conference would be no big deal. The faculty network is the one where you can access the private information, so you would not get access there. But that’s not what you want either.

    And I totally agree on that conference. Not a blogging conference, social texts – or steal the Bergen conference theme: Digital and social.

  6. Posted 9/26/2004 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    “one that looks generally at the social edge experiments and the communication technologies that support them.” — Alex: can you elaborate a bit? what do you mean?

    i’ve been thinking about a conference like this too. instead of papers, people present experiments or PROJECTS.

  7. Posted 9/26/2004 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    A number of people have been emailing me since I posted this. It looks like what I mean :) is a focus on collaborative texts, with “texts” taking as open a definition as possible.

    Yes, I agree: not papers but projects and experiments. BUT, I am thinking that we might put together a set of collectively authored pieces that would document the conference in a way that articulates us with more traditional academic practices. I’ll post a new entry on this shortly, maybe moving us off to a wiki space (?).

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Mathemagenic on 9/28/2004 at 2:42 am

    Time in blogging: catching a moment to write
    There is at least one nice effect of not being able to blog

  2. By Curiouser and curiouser! on 9/28/2004 at 4:22 am

    Helping mayflies on the web
    Time in blogging: catching a moment to write .

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