Thursday night at the Microsoft Technology Summit 08, I ended up telling the very smart and personable Sam Ramji that MTS09 should be less Mix and more Bar.
Many of the presentations — that’s one problem there, but more soon — began, “how many of you were at the Mix conference?” Always the answer was “Err none of us that’s why we were invited here.” Mix if I have this right is a MSFT fanboy conference. MTS is for “folks who might not be so familiar with MSFT’s efforts in Open Source etc.” Overlap here is approximately zero.
The lesser of the presenters then gave us the Mix presentation. The smarter ones decided to abbreviate their presentations and to start an interaction with the attendees. The attendees are not softies nor Softies. Most were from OSS and user groups. Tara Hunt, Chris Messina and Andrew Hyde — even me — are veteran unconference organizers. OSS, StartUp Weekend, BarCamps etc have a less deferring atmosphere than, well, the presenters used to. But then conversations aren’t about how well you or Marketing prepared your slides — some were very pretty — but about a willingness to be open and to lightly manage the conversation.
I understand the MSFT pain here. Our first blogger conference, podcast conference, science bloggers conferences all wrestled with how to navigate between presentation (people need some basis for conversation) and conversation (some management is needed to keep things as a conversation and not chaos). It’s not easy. Any teacher knows that preparing a lecture is easy compared to leading a successful seminar. But all evidence is that learning is stronger in the seminar –even for the teacher herself. Sure enough that’s how our unconferences or almost unconferences turned out.
Further back, John Dewey and Walter Lippmann’s debate on the role of the news (in the form of newspapers and journals in their case) as recounted in the New Yorker by Eric Alterman covered the same territory. Dewey calling for informed citizens engaged in debate and in conversation — one great Dewey quote “The man who wears the shoe knows best that it pinches and where it pinches, even if the expert shoemaker is the best judge of how the trouble is to be remedied.” Lippman was more a fan of the elite presenting to the masses. We see this come at us again and again from the Cluetrain and Eric von Hippel’s Democratizing Innovation.
The good news is that at the closing of the Microsoft Technology Summit, Sam asked the attendees, who weren’t at the airport watching the de-icing of planes as I was, “If we do this event next year as a BarCamp, who would come?” Near-unanimous hands go up. Sweet. #mts08 (from Chris Messina’s tweet).