David Tebbutt, Teblog

Went to an unconference today. For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s based on the assumption that the folks in the audience often know more than those on the platform. So why not invert the normal process and let the audience join in?

As you might expect, it wasn’t an unqualified success because the usual mix of humanity was there. Shy people, knowledgeable people, egotistical people, idealists, evangelists and sheep. No names, no pack drill. But, given that the day started with a blank sheet, it ended up providing some useful and relevant insights to the attendees.

It cost next to nothing to attend ($50) but, of course, it did cost people’s time. Given that the day included plenty of opportunity for networking and a drinks/nibbles party at the end, you’d have to be really hard-hearted to say it was a waste of time.

The event as a whole is called Office 2.0 and this is the third time it’s run. Judging from peoples’ interests at the unconference, ’Enterprise’ was the highest ranked topic. “Thank goodness,” thought I, because that’s what I’d come for.

I learnt a bit, maybe a lot. One person was on the verge of buying a collaboration system when she was introduced to WordFrame. In fact, the vendor she was about to sign up with sent a review which happened, in passing, to mention this competitor. She made the necessary call and knew within a very short time that WordFrame far outstripped the alternative. And she knew this because she had prepared a massive specification of her requirements. And this is the point. These social software SaaS tools might appear to be low cost, but that’s not a good reason to shirk on specifying what you need.

Another thing that came out of real experiences was that antipathy towards social tools is not a generational or an age thing. It is an attitudinal one. Again, this may seem obvious but, in all the yakking about millennials and generation Y, it’s easy to lose sight of this fundamental truth.

When it comes to participation, the Jakob Nielsen rule applies. one percent of participants are heavy contributors, nine percent are intermittent and the remainder are lurkers. A lot of people try to crank up the contribution levels of the lurkers. But that’s actually the last thing you want to do. Accept that people lurk. They will usually de-lurk when they have something of value to say.

Next week, I’ll give a more complete debrief on the conference as a whole.



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