I'm a little late with the posting, but I wanted drop a quick report on the Recent Changes Camp that Mike and I attended this weekend. To get you started, here's an article from the Oregonian about the conference (including funny quotes from Mike).
This conference was unlike any other I've ever attended because it followed the Open Spaces paradigm. Open Spaces is apparently pretty well known in some circles but just beginning to infiltrate the tech community. The basic gist is that a bunch of people show up in a big room with no agenda or plan. Anyone who wants to talk about a particular topic, goes to the front and writes their topic on a big piece of paper. Then they pick a time for the talk and stick the piece of paper on the wall. Do this enough times and you've got an agenda.
Then someone else comes along a puts the papers into chronological order. The rest of the attendees write their names on the topics they plan to attend. At the session, someone takes notes which are later posted on a wiki and then improved and expanded by the other attendees. You can now see the reason that this was an appropriate format for a wiki conference.
The agenda creation went shockingly well. In about an hour, we had a full agenda for the weekend and people were splitting up into groups. There were, for the most part, one or two interesting (to me) sessions in each time slot. It was a little amazing to watch the whole thing coalesce out of nothing. I’ve long believed in the power of self-organizing communities in the context of a wiki, but this proved to me that those principles can work in offline contexts as well.
The conference suffered, to some degree, from the same limitations that wikis face. There were topics on the agenda that no one else was interested in pursuing. There were people in some sessions trying to promote their own pet projects. There were some radically off-topic presentations. There were some religious wars about intractable issues that wasted time. And different participants tried to control the direction of conversation. But overall, the good far out-weighed the bad, and the discussions were usually able to stay on-topic and useful.
The crowd at this conference was very mixed: probably 60% tech/wiki/oss enthusiasts and 40% community-activists, many of whom were not tech savvy at all. There was some friction at the beginning as the activist crowd tried to talk about politics, environmentalism and social change while the tech crowd wanted to talk about wiki technology and usage. But the two groups were able to sort themselves out pretty quickly and find sessions that appealed to their respective interests.
The most useful session I attended was Mike’s discussion about Patterns of Wiki Adoption. (I suppose it’s no coincidence that Mike’s session most closely matched my interests as well). But we came out with some really good ideas that I hope to expand on in the future. The practice of introducing a wiki to people who have never used one before is something we (as an inudstry) are going to have to get very good at. You can see my notes from the session.
But the other great benefit of the conference was getting to meet a bunch of folks whose blogs I have been reading for a while: the founders of CustomerVision (Brian and Cindy), a few of the guys from SocialText and some of the developers behind Schtuff (Brian, Josh). It was great to finally put faces with words.