I am back from the We Media conference in Miami, but I am not done reporting on what took place there, and how the conference helped clarify the role of “we media” or citizen media in society. While I spent the last couple blog posts savaging the parts of the conference that got under my skin — most notably an underlying theme of Big Media showing they “got it” — it’s also worth writing about the good parts of the conference. (As a former writer of humorous satire, including a newsletter called “3-Minute Roast” and a CNET column called “Skewer,” I obviously gravitate toward the negative before the positive.)
I’ve already mentioned how much I liked the mix of people at the conference, and enjoyed meeting people face-to-face that I had only known by email or telephone. One other aspect of the conference that I liked was the way the organizers used technology to help bring more people into the conversation, and let participants catch up on panels or breakout workgroups they missed.
The conference organizers, Dale Peskin and Andrew Nachison (a.k.a. the Blues Brothers), have put a big emphasis on continuing their mission between conferences, to mixed success. This year, I liked the pre-conference online application by IntroNetworks, which helped me connect to some conference participants and set up interviews ahead of time.
One of the more interesting parts of the application is a questionnaire you answer to find out more about your personality. It then takes your answers and matches them up with everyone else’s answers and charts you on a “Pin View” as seen below. Each pin represents a person from the conference, with yourself in the center. The other pins are closer to you if their personality is near yours.
I decided to test out the concept by contacting the person nearest to me in the Pin View, who turned out to be Stephanie Kanowitz, the web editor at Federal Computer Week. Right off the bat, there were similarities in our lives, as she lives in suburban Virginia, not far from the PBS headquarters. Her last name, Kanowitz, is very similar to my mother’s maiden name, Kaskowitz. She works at a computer trade publication, and I got my start at the computer trade mag InfoWorld.
So I contacted her through the IntroNetworks application and we traded emails. She even made sure to find me at the conference so we could meet in person, and we had a nice conversation. Kanowitz even has a media criticism blog she writes in her spare time, and we talked about ways she could build on that experience.
Mash-ups and the Conference Blog
Another positive about We Media was the breakout sessions which had smaller, more intimate settings for real conversations. There were sessions on 3-D worlds, innovative journalism and Second Life. While I missed a breakout session on mash-ups, the group created their own mash-up blog in 30 minutes. The idea for media mash-ups is to take two functions (or more) and mash them into one site. For this blog, they combined Flickr photos tagged with “wemedia,” and plugged the RSS feed for We Media into a map. They also created a pet rescue blog during their session to show how quickly you can deploy mash-ups in a quick and dirty way.
The We Media site also includes audio from some of the panel sessions, as well as a comprehensive group blog that has detailed notes from every session. Not only are the notes useful now, after the fact, but the live notes by Brian Reich during sessions helped punch up the major points and “a-ha moments” as they happened. I was impressed with Reich’s fast work during sessions, as he brought up relevant sites that were discussed during panels, and built full PowerPoint presentations based on statistics he found on the web.
I talked to Reich after the first day of the conference, and told him how impressed I was with his rapid-fire work. He told me that was the environment in which he was most comfortable — juggling multiple screens and inputs — and that he could most relate with stock traders, who have a similarly chaotic work environment.
In his blog post about the “Soft Power” panel at We Media, Reich made this poignant observation:
I’m not sure that the third major discussion of the We Media conference was appropriately titled, but it sure was interesting. Yes, the concept of ‘soft power’ implies that there are sources of influence that are not tied explicitly to military or financial might…and that influence is quite regularly demonstrated by the media, and increasingly now the citizen media. But soft power is a political science concept, a theory about how influence carries.
Yes, if you were to rank the most influential people in the country, perhaps the world, based on their ability to drive changes in the world, many of the panelists for this session, and the people participating from the audience, would be near the top of the list. Still, the concept of soft power seems to require that the people who have influence are actively seeking to gain authority, drive their own agenda, or similar. I think the collective brain trust in the room feels like it is part of a greater movement, and while they all have their own individual financial, academic, creative, or other goals that they are seeking to meet, few would ever say they are out for a power grab.
He made a nice open-ended conclusion about media power as well:
There was also quite a bit of discomfort with the concept of power. Power is shifting and distributing in new ways (which of course is going to make people uncomfortable) and the media is going to have to figure out what that means, and what role they want to play.
Again, there was a focus on keeping the conversation going beyond the conference, and we’ll see how well the organizers (and attendees) will do with that follow-through. If you attended the conference, what were some of the positives you saw? Did you use the IntroNetworks application, or follow the conference through audio or the group blog? How helpful (or not) were they for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.