PubCamp Melbourne: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
So now that the dust has settled somewhat on the Twitter orgy that was PubCamp, heres my take on Melbournes proceedings. And while Im not as damning as David in the forums, its not all back slaps and high fives.
The Rydges venue served the needs of the conference pretty well all in all. During the regular conference sessions the room was large enough to accommodate the crowd but not cavernous, the stage with the presenters was elevated enough to draw focus to all the right areas (the speakers), and during the unconference sessions, the smaller divided rooms provided the sorts of intimate settings that enabled real debate. The beer flowed like … well, wine I guess, and aside from the biscuit shortage, I think most would agree that the venue got most of the stuff right.
I loved the mix between traditional presentations and the unconference sessions later on. Some big ideas were raised in the presentations, and some of those really warranted closer inspection. When the hall was subdivided up later on, some of those interesting debates were picked up on again in a setting more conducive to debate and, god forbid … conversation.
Youll see this one appear lower down on this list too, but there were some real positives to the integration of Twitter at the conference. At its best, the platform allowed an interesting meta-debate to take place parallel to the main event. It was great, for example, to see live feedback about the short presentations, as this part of the event was thoroughly broadcast otherwise. Quick note though: please not so bright the Summize feed behind the speakers on the panel. Drew attention away from the humans (Twitterers are humans too).
Stephen Collins, thank you. Thank you for talking way too fast. Sure, I would have loved to have heard some more syllables, but the dynamism you brought to the whole event was great and its clear youre digging beneath the level of Internet History 101 to ask challenging questions about the very nature of interaction today, and about the kinds of ways we might be trying to get our place in those interactions right. AcidLabs has been added to the Google Reader and I will be following @trib with interest.
Bronwen Clune, thank you. You are clearly right in the middle of this, not just coming to the table and feeding off the scraps. It showed in your depth of thought around the issues here, and while I didnt exactly agree with everything you had to say, your conviction and insight were well worth the trip across town.
Stephen Mayne, thank you. Too often presenters leave the lectern having given little of themselves, so it was great to hear you talk openly and candidly about your experiences with Crikey, The Mayne Report and MSM more broadly. Something to note for all presenters: its ok to be yourself, to talk about your own experiences, to be personal. In fact, its better to be personal.
Old vs New
The whole debate seemed to have learned little from the Sydney event, which by all accounts was mired in the same old vs new media bickering. Lets stop for just a second and consider how ludicrous these terms are anyway, apart from as so many flags planted in quicksand. Having a clan of self-identified new media evangelists in the audience and then filling the panel with apparently old media luminaries was always going to be a recipe for disaster, and the debate topic – whether new media is a dagger in the heart of content producers and distributors – only helped to fuel this futile and ultimately rather boring confrontation.
Come on people: the advent of new technologies does not herald the end of the old technologies (vinyl anyone? radio? So-called old technologies with important and relevant applications today); it does not mean we all have to re-learn all the rules of engagement (yes, some things are different in the blogosphere, but some things arent – like treating your audience/customer/client with respect and wanting to build a long-lasting and fruitful relationship); even if we are in a difficult transitional period for print and new media publishers, no, this doesnt mean one has to win out over the other – both will continue to coexist, and the people who want to sit around and have a bun fight over which is better can do so – the rest of us will be busy spending that time thinking and acting creatively to try and find innovative solutions to meet the challenges posed by our increasingly mediated environment, solutions that are focused on both maximising revenue and consumer engagement across multiple touchpoints and which employ appropriate technology tools capable of meeting the needs of the stakeholders.
Yes, I know this also appears under Good, but thats ok people (see above debate on why one doesnt have to win out over the other). At one point during one of the short presentations I looked around the room and saw lots of hunched over bodies tuned into their phones and laptops. I know that many of us are becoming accomplished multitaskers, but many at the conference seemed to be afflicted by Shiny Object Syndrome (see David Armano for definition of SOS), transfixed more by the small screens in their hands than the speakers in front of them.
The technology is just a platform people, a tool to enable some forms of interaction. Lets not imbue it with the kind of mystic properties that got technological determinists of old into trouble. Without the really inspiring ideas, the incendiary thoughts that drive innovation, the candid asides that remind us all that were just so and so many humans trying to communicate with each other and make a living out of it, without human thought, Twitter would be silent. So lets make sure the content is the focus and the form is just an enabler of new and more exciting conversations that help drive the human part.
With all respect to those who took the plunge and did what most of us loathe – stand up in front of a crowd and expose our ideas to their judgement – some of the speakers dropped the ball, and if I have to be the one to say it, then Im cool with that. Overly long presentations (some of the least judicious button work Ive ever witnessed), ill-thought out analogies and frameworks, occasional epic fail PowerPoint moments (Presentation Zen anyone?), and some just plain bizarre sentiment. Can someone please let me know when the taste internet kicks in, because I want o be in the business of working for Cadburys when it does? I am the paradigm? John and Paul made more sense with I am the Walrus!
Please, if youre going to turn up to a conference to speak about Web 2.0, consider the terminology youre going to use and the tone of the presentation, if only for your own sake. Hell, Im not the one on my own behind the lectern, but if I was (and I have been before) Id at least think about the way the audience speaks when I was planning my talk. We are not The Blog People, were people with something to say, and in case you think Im just being a semantic pedant, consider turning up at a newspaper conference and addressing a room full of journalists as The Newspaper People. Not the same thing? Perhaps, but talking to your audience as though they are in a petri dish and part of an anthropology dissertation isnt likely to endear yourself to the crowd.
For me, there was too much debate about who would win in the war over advertising dollars, and too little genuine insight into new revenue models that might be emerging. Thoughtful practitioners are trying to meet the changing consumption needs of shifting demographics in an increasingly fragmented media landscape, and if that means a micro-payments platform that avoids advertisers entirely, then thats what it means.
As Tamir from FRANk Media kindly pointed out, the media landscape is changing rapidly, so to imagine that the advertising landscape will somehow look identical to the way it does now is tantamount to severe delusion. Some of the revenue models that will lead the way in the future may not even be on our radars yet, but if we spend our time arguing over whether subscription models or eyeballs-to-advertisers-based models will win out, were missing the bigger picture.
Fortunately there was little that was genuinely ugly about PubCamp Melbourne. Perhaps the lack of biscuits? Oh, wait, I know. Missing out on the prize draw because I was chatting to @candysnap kind of sucked, but come on people – an iPod? Seriously, who doesnt already have an iPod? Can we get a door prize that we actually want? (Bitter? Moi? Well, maybe just a little …)
Seriously though, many thanks to iTechnes Jed White and all involved for bringing together the community around this event. I look forward to catching up with as many of you as possible some time soon.
If you want to check out any of the other coverage that the Melbourne events has received, both online and offline, check out the links below.