Communication & relationships

An Open Letter To Conference Organizers and Panel Moderators

Howdy,

First of all, I love what you do. Really. You’re terrific, and your efforts make our lives better. Don’t ever change. Well, actually, there is something that needs to change.

There’s a problem that persists across almost every conference I’ve ever been to. The good ones. The bad ones. The Amazing ones and the Meh ones. And we need to address it once and for all so that it can be prevented from happening in the future.

Super private email lists

In thinking about and talking to people about the kind of social network I want, the notion of email lists keeps popping up in conversations. Traditionally I’ve been pretty down on email as a means of conversation, and generally try to discourage it’s use when ever possible. Though I’ve listened to the arguments and as a means for keeping a small group of people connected it may just have it’s merits. What’s been most interesting for me recently is talking to people who run incredibly locked down private lists.

Oddly related, I’ve been reading a lot about outlaw biker gangs. I’ve been devouring both biographies of bikers and undercover agents who infiltrated the clubs. I say it’s related because in both situations we’re talking about a goal of a tight knit group that functions well, and in both cases when it’s been made too easy for people to join those groups, or when the groups have become too public, things have fallen apart. When the clubs stay private, avoid soliciting new members, and require very long “prospecting” periods before potential members can join so that all existing members can feel them out, things generally work better.

On leaving Facebook

For better or worse, I consider myself a fairly principled person. That is, I’ve chosen to live my life in a way that reflects my convictions. From what I eat to how I vote to what I spend money on, I consider how those choices impact me, those around me, and the world as a whole. I consider what my actions and choices say about me as a person, and take great care to ensure I like who that person is. Ethics are important. Convictions mean something.

If you know me in person you know this to be true. It’s not about changing the world, or even changing anyone else’s mind, it’s about being comfortable with my own choices. It doesn’t make life particularly easy, but I sleep really well at night.

When it comes to the internet, I’ve always tried to have my online presence reflect my offline presence. I frequently speak out in favor of things I support, and against those I don’t. But I hadn’t considered that where that online presence was also said something about me.

The Network I Want

Over on the NYT Blogs Jenna Wortham has written a piece about Instagram and the internet’s “secret” places. It’s a great piece and she discusses a number of things really interesting to me, especially given the recent acquisition of Instagram. I’ve written before about how the personal nature of Instagram was very appealing and I think that their focus was on just one thing (they didn’t even have a web UI) really worked well for them. It felt private, even if it wasn’t, and that was attractive. But with Facebook, arguably the least private place on the web, taking over the controls there, it’s no longer even a pretend safe haven. Jenna writes:

“…privacy is an illusion. There is no fail-safe way to publish privately online. Top-secret tweets and conversations can always be captured by screen shot and texted or e-mailed.”

Which is true, and something people need to realize more often. I had high hopes that Path would be a private place but it’s hard to feel private when updates are published to Facebook, and it’s hard to see the value in limiting connections, when in a click of a button you can share with everyone. I desperately want a place that doesn’t share with everyone. I recalled a few notes I made last year, kind of a wish list…

Very initial thoughts on Together Alone

I’ve been a Sherry Turkle fan for quite sometime, so I was pretty excited to see her talk at TED earlier this year. The video of that talk has just been posted, but if you were following me on Twitter during TED you may recall me tweeting out countless quotes from her at the time. Here’s the talk in case you want to watch it, it’s 20 minutes, but it’s damn worth it. Trust me.

The talk covers some of the issues in her recently released book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other which I preordered while she was giving this talk live, but only recently started reading. I have to admit that I’ve really only cracked the cover (though, I’m reading it on my kindle, so does that even work?) and so these initial thoughts could be completely off base once I get further into the book, or maybe she even covers these ideas. I’ll keep reading and let you know what an idiot I sound like after the fact.

So anyway, I started reading and as I was reading I found myself verbalizing thoughts or comments about the text, so I started to write them down and next thing I knew I had several paragraphs, so I’m flushing them out just the slightest bit and posting them here for feedback, as well as later reference once I get further into the book.

Think Tank Thinking

I’ve been thinking about events a lot recently. More specifically about conferences style events that I’ve been to, I’ve gotten something out of, or felt like I was wasting my time being at. I’ve certainly been involved with my fair share of event organization and I know I’ve been involved with my fair share of events that wasted peoples time. I’d like to not do that in the future, and rather I’d very much like to work on creating events that actually mean something to people and they are better off for attending. In this thinking, I’ve been making some mental lists…

Things I’ve seen that make events suck:

  1. Sales pitches from sponsors/speakers
  2. Audience feeling like they are just spectators
  3. Huge audience with little interaction
  4. Boring venue
  5. More attractive location walking distance from the boring venue
  6. Single topic brought up again and again and again
  7. All attendees/speakers from one field

Things I’ve seen that have made events awesome:

  1. Hard to tell difference from speakers and audience
  2. Presentations that are open ended and spawn conversation
  3. Small audience with lots interaction. Under 100 total attendees is ideal.
  4. Inspiring venue
  5. Seclusion. No other location walking distance from the main venue.
  6. No clear connection from one topic to another, forcing the attendees/speakers to talk about the different ideas and how they relate
  7. Speakers and Attendees from diverse fields

I’ve been chewing on this for a while and need to think about it a bit more, but I think I’ll likely end up doing something soon that plays off these lists a lot.

More thoughts on Brands and Social Networking

I know the great Brands Vs Google+ war of 2011 has sort of cooled off so far, but there’s something about it that has been chewing at my brain. I wrote a little about it previously on Google+.

But when I wrote that I was thinking at it more from the connection standpoint. People go to social networks for connections, and an impersonal brand front is going to have trouble fitting in as well as a person from a brand that people can connect to. I still think that’s an important thing to consider, but I think there might be a little more to it now.

A Way To Make Meetings Not Suck?

My friend Michael Pusateri made this fantastic illustration which explains why meetings suck. I find that by and large they are massive wastes of time and generally do more harm than good. Because of this I avoid them at all costs. Sometimes they are unavoidable and if you must go to one, then it’s a good idea to figure out how to make the most of it. The biggest problems with them is that, as illustrated in the graphic above, so much time is wasted waiting for people and chatting about things not relating to the meeting.

I just came across this article called How To Run A Meeting Like Google which dives into Marissa Mayer’s 70+ meeting a week schedule which I found super interesting. Most of the extremely problematic meetings I have been to were of the longer “everyone show up at X time and we’ll talk” variety, where as the shorter “here are the three points we need to cover, we have 15 minutes to do it” ones actually work out OK. (With Crash Space we have a weekly meeting on Tuesday night and we try to keep it under 30 minutes.) The rules laid out in this make a lot of sense, briefly they are:

  1. Set a firm agenda.
  2. Assign a note taker.
  3. Carve out micro meetings.
  4. Hold office hours.
  5. Discourage politics, use data.
  6. Stick to the clock.

Read the article for more details on each of those but I can attest that a firm agenda keeps things on point, and using “office hours” as a place to move “just wanted to chat” kind of things out of meetings can do wonders for shit actually getting done. For me I’d also add into this to defer to shorter meetings rather than longer – when people are presented with an hour or 2 hour meeting they walk in knowing it’s going to drag and usually end up trying to find things to fill the time which wastes everyone elses. If a meeting is 15-30 minutes tops and everyone knows what needs to get done it’s more like a race and people can get back to their own lives quicker.