Blogger meetups

Little over a week ago, I was part of 2 blogger meetups I wanted to highlight here as well. The first meetup was in Stockholm during SIME and was co-hosted by Microsoft and SIME. We both agreed it would be a great idea to have some small side-event during one of the breaks, a dialogue between the bloggers present at the event, both from the audience and speakers. It was a bit unfortunate the only room available was a small cinema theatre, forcing it a little into an audience vs. stage setup but I enjoyed the meetup nevertheless and only wished we had more time. I was happy Thomas Crampton was willing to moderate the mini-event and that also Joi Ito and Dave Sifry agreed to participate, and of course that so many people turned up for it.

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Click on the image for the video, only part 1 available but will update once that changes.

I like the way Johan Ronnestam described it on his blog:

“Absolutely one of the better takeouts from this years SIME (so far) even though I think it could have been more of a meetup rather than a ‘listenup’.”

I think we had a great set of topics that we wanted to talk about with all the bloggers (personal vs corporate blogging, sponsored content, blogosphere dead or not, …) but we only got halfway through it. Definitely a format I will try to replicate at other events since most of the feedback was really positive. And Joi, thanks for the nice photo!

The day after we had a blogger meetup in London with the purpose to have a discussion around the new version of Windows Live that was announced the night before the meetup. I had organized the event in the Coach & Horses (Soho) which was a nice location for it, although some wifi improvements are in place ;) We had Ryan Gavin and Jeff Kunins over from the Windows Live team and Redmond to give a rundown of the new stuff which sparked quite a bit of discussion so that was quite fun as well.

WLMeetup

The photo above was taken during the dinner after the presentation, but as you can see the discussion is still pretty much ongoing. From left to right you see Scott Lovegrove, Chris Overd, Neville Hobson and Ryan Gavin. Also present were Paul Walsh, Robin Wauters, Pieter Dom and Jamie Tomson. Too bad not everyone who accepted made it to the evening, but we’re definitely going to organize evenings such as this one again on several different topics so hopefully they can join us next time. In case you are interested in joining discussions like this, let me know in the comments or shoot me an email at kris [at] crossthebreeze [dot] com.

The conference post

After I came back from the Web2.0 Expo in Berlin I thought about writing a post on what I like and don’t like about conferences. A recent post from Laurent Haug (who organizes LIFT) reminded me of that idea so here we go. I wanted to start with highlighting Laurent’s presentation as it’s actually a good introduction for the post I wanted to write anyway. Here it is:

If there’s one conference done right than that’s probably LIFT, hence why it’s such a good introduction. I think it’s fair to say that I am a ‘conference regular’ and on many occasions I see things I would like to see done differently… and for a reason. To be complete I’ve never organized a conference myself so my view is purely based on my own experience.

Location

With the increasing availability of real-time video, twitter, etc it has never been so easy as today to follow a conference online. Hence why it matters more than ever where your event takes place, especially in times of recession. How long to travel, where to stay, what about local transportation to the venue,… . Luckily we have some amazing conferences in Europe and don’t necessarily have to go the US for that (on the contrary) and travel within Europe doesn’t have to be expensive. Still it’s a key part of the choice.

Venue

I think too often the choice of the venue is purely based on budget rather than anything else, which is not how it should be. Personally I like venues that are somewhat unique because they give extra flavor to the event. I also prefer to have a limited number of rooms/areas to be used. At an event like LIFT you have the main room and right next to it an open space where you can network, at Web2.0 Expo there where god knows how many areas (although the venue wasn’t that big) which made it sometimes difficult to find people. Also the venue has got to be big enough, it’s never nice to sit on the ground in the plenary room because it lacks capacity (like at Web2.0 Expo). Is it that much to ask for that when you sell 1000 tickets you can actually seat 1000 people?!

Theme

This is something I miss at most conferences: LeWeb this year is themed around ‘Love’, LIFT in February around “Where did the future go?”, etc but most of the times it’s just ‘Web2.0’ or so which you can hardly call a theme. What is the story they want to convey with their conference? What is it that connects all presentations to each other? What was the motivation to go after those speakers to begin with? What’s the take-away attendees should go home with? During the keynotes at Web2.0 Expo in Berlin this lack of a common theme became clear all too quickly. If I remember well there were 5 short presentations in the keynote: 2 about startups and VC’s, a presentation about open source hardware, another one about the Drupal.org redesign, … It doesn’t matter at this point if those were good presentations or not, the questions is what links them to each other. I sure couldn’t tell. It really isn’t good enough to line up a bunch of speakers on a stage to build a great conference.

Audience

We know from traditional mass media that you cannot target everyone, still that’s what a lot of conference organizers seem to want to do. Organizers have to choose whether they want the geeks or the newbies, the digital media strategists or the traditional advertisers, … All for one very simple reason, you’ll always disappoint half the audience if you don’t make a choice. Unless – yes there is a way – there are several tracks, but I think you should think of this as 2 conferences in 1, which means both tracks have to be rock solid for that specific audience which hardly ever is the case. Big conferences like PDC manage to do that but I think it’s a tough task. So whenever a conference sums up pretty much every possible job out there as target audience, beware.

Content

Once the theme is set – and audience defined – it’s time to go after speakers. That’s part of why I liked last year’s LeWeb so much I think. You could clearly tell that the program was built up (by Cathy Brooks) based on theme and audience. Less on ‘friends of’ or ‘same old, same old’ or sponsor contributions. As a sponsor I can regret the latter but I don’t as I want our contributions to fit in like everyone else. Too many times the content being presented is only loosely linked to each other, some of the presentations are old (as in – seen that exact presentation already a year ago) and often only the first and the last slide don’t sound like a product pitch. I know it’s hard work for a speaker to come up with new stuff all the time (and yes you can use your talk more than once) but some revision every now and then is very welcome. Same goes for organizers, follow up with your speakers and what they will present.

Networking

It’s probably half of the value of each conference, meeting with old and new ‘friends’, in many cases meeting online friends in real life for the first time. It’s part of the reason why the venue matters so much for me, make networking easy to do. And organize side events, or make it easy for people to find all ‘unofficial’ side events organized around the conference. And then I don’t only talk about the speaker/sponsor dinner but in many cases also the Barcamps, GGDs, Workshops, … etc When you visit a conference, you want to maximize your time away from work – and a big part of that is in networking.

Hotel & Transport

On many occasions people will visit the city the conference is in for the first time, or definitely not often enough to know their way around. And yes, we’ll all get around, but I always find it a good idea when a conference organizer tries to cut some deals with hotels in the neighborhood of the conference, in several price categories. It eases the search for attendees to find a good place to stay AND since there’s a better chance for networking since more people will stay in the same places. And inform about all transportation means to get there, or set up transport from the main hotels (like at PDC).

Not@Conference

Although it’s on the list for the last 2 years, I again couldn’t make it to Picnic this year. But I didn’t miss the conference really. As they do a good job at offering LIVE coverage – their own video etc combined with tweets, photos, … that people posted using the picnic tag. At SIME they didn’t offer this, but then they had their LIVE wall to which people (both at the conference and those at home) to send questions for the qna’s after each keynote or panel. For PDC there even was a #notatpdc hashtag in use. Think about this, it won’t keep people away from the conference, it just broadens reach.

I probably missed a few things that you think should be on the list (feel free to point it out to me) but these are the key elements for a good conference for me. I know price wasn’t mentioned but that was on purpose. I didn’t want to start a discussion about which price was right for which conference as I believe most are good value for money.

What aspect of a good conference is missing for you? Or what do you think  about the list?

[Update] Just spent another day at a conference today (Creativity World Forum) and it struck me I forgot to talk about 2 other times on my list: WIFI and food. WIFI because it never really works anywhere (although I must say the Microsoft Event guys do a terrific job at that). And food because it’s pretty much never any good… last’ year’s LeWeb being the exception to confirm the rule. The CWF today had foreseen food for like 200 people (unfortunately they sold 1500 tickets) so I guess that’s what must have been what triggered the reminder to add this to the list ;)

Personal/corporate identity

Last week at SIME during the first speaker gathering Ola Ahlvarsson (CEO of SIME) thought it was a good idea to introduce Thomas Crampton and myself to each other… he sure was right :) Thanks for that Ola!

We got talking right away (part of which translated in a little video interview – see below) on several things relating blogging, corporate blogging, identities, transparency, … and how difficult it can be to turn small company learnings to good use at corporations, or how US learnings wouldn’t necessarily work in Europe or Asia (where you don’t have one market / one language).

Interestingly enough, the topic seems to surface at other places as well these days, look at this post on MarketingProfs for instance. The video below is part of the conversation I had with Thomas, focusing on identities. Thomas called it “difficulty of blogging for Microsoft”, I see it more as “challenges in corporate social media” or something but that doesn’t sound half as good… and the chat would have been the same anyway so why bother ;)

The reason for this was the notion that corporate blogging projects that get listed this days only seem to relate to initiatives that are set up centrally and less about the ‘accidental spokesperson’. LionelatDell or ComcastCares (aka Frank) or … are real people, real but corporate identities, transparent and honest (I presume) but set up for the company they work for. What if you (like myself) already have that presence and identity, which is personal, but talks about work stuff as well? What if you set up a corporate initiative next to your own, that you own for a long time already? Again, not really problems, but questions/challenges I like to think about… and so does Thomas.

It’s TIME to change

Yesterday at the SIME conference in Stockholm I was part of a keynote session around the topic: “It’s TIME to change”. The whole theme of SIME is based around change and the DNA of change and in case of our session they had someone from the Telecom, Internet (me), Media and Entertainment sector to talk about this (hence the ‘TIME’). I’ve uploaded my presentation to Slideshare but because it doesn’t really say much on the slides, I’ll outline my talk a bit.

We each had about 15 minutes to talk so I decided not to show videos or anything, but added a slide with a whole bunch of links at the end of the presentation for more info (and credits of course).

There were 2 big elements I wanted to talk about at SIME. I know not everyone thinks about Microsoft right away when thinking about change and innovation so first I wanted to talk a little bit about how I do believe we have changed what we do and how we do that over the last years. Second I wanted to talk about the elements that I think are part of this DNA of change, specifically for digital/online.

I had to start with the Blue Monster on this one (given the topic of change) as an introduction to a few examples of how we are trying to innovate in several areas: WorldWide Telescope, Live Maps 3D, Surface computing, Boku, Photosynth, Deepzoom as used for Hard Rock Memorabilia, SenseWeb, HIV vaccination research, … For Photosynth for instance, looking at Blaise’s talk at TED, it became clear this isn’t just a new way to stitch photo’s but that there are some ideas being researched on how this might change surfing the web in general. Pretty cool stuff, you have to see that video from TED if you haven’t done so already, seriously!

But just like JP replied to Hugh, the world wants Microsoft to change as well (slide 10) and also there I think there are fundamental changes going on the last few years. The latest Silverlight toolkit is open source. I don’t remember exactly where I read this but Microsoft submitted two licenses to the Open Source Initiative in 2004. Now there are 500 and there are at least 80,000 Open Source apps that run on Windows. Another change (slide 12) is a new focus on experience and not just features – or not just about what’s in the box, but also how you take it out of it and use it ;) Think about the Zune, Live Mesh, the new Windows Live, new Xbox Live Dashboard, Office 2007, Windows7, etc.

I often use the analogy of Microsoft being this huge ship on which a whole bunch of people are working hard to make it turn, but as happens with boats of that size it takes time before you see it happen. Therefore Robert Scoble’s quote after the Azure launch was even more interesting to see for me (slide 14).

sime
Photo by http://flickr.com/photos/mathys/

So okay, talk about change in general now. First of all I think it’s important to be aware of what is going on, referring to Patrick McDevitt’s (TeleAtlas) superb talk at Web2.0 in Berlin where he talked about ‘”Detecting change in a changing world” using both research as community input to do so. Check out his talk. This is not only true for maps though. As a business you need to find ways to understand which changes are relevant to you and which aren’t. Using both research and the wisdom of the crowd is valuable for all of us. Trust (slide 16) your consumers. In an age when consumers started to trust strangers, it’s all to bad seeing some companies don’t even trust their own customers.

Another element of change, which I find very important is hackability. Make things hackable (slide 18), give people pieces to copy, to re-create, … and they might change your product, service, marketing campaign, … into something you might not have imagined. In a way the initial IBM PC is a very good example of that. You could by a white label PC, change the parts of it, build your own – and make it look like pretty much anything if you want. Same for advertising – It’s not what advertising does to the consumer, it’s what the consumer does to advertising (sorry for not remembering who said this first).

But while you change, don’t forget to keep focus on the outcome, your end goal (slide 19). Dopplr for instance is extremely good at that, pretty much everything they add to the service, adds value to the service. Not sure if could say the same for Technorati or Bloglines. Focus more on the experience (slide 20), something we might have learned the hard way but it is more important than ever. Why would people care about unboxing if it wasn’t important.

Digital also enables much easier to engage and interact in realtime (slide 21) – thanks Ag8! Take advantage of that, find out in realtime what people think, how they use things, where they are, … whatever adds value for you and your customers. Change the way you talk to your customers, or better talk with your customers. Too bad I couldn’t show the Bring The Love Back video (slide 22), SIME was after all in a movie theatre.

Think about context (slide 23)! And how you have to change the content based on the channel you’re using (rather than for the medium that is used to deliver it). Tom and David at Ag8 are bringing a strong message that is linked to this around metamedia instead of crossmedia. Be sure to check that out as well.

Change is inevitable – except from a vending machine ;) (slide 25). Which aspects about the DNA of change in this digital world do you think I forgot, I’m interested to get your opinion about that. I tried to put in as much as possible within the 15 minutes I got but would love to discuss further.