Macs, Twitter, Social Networks, and more at Defrag

I am always a little skeptical about new conferences. Until you arrive, you really don’t quite know what you will find. I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the recent Defrag Conference. In general, there seemed to be a high percentage of really smart people who “get it” in attendance, and I have had some very interesting discussions.

While getting ready for the keynote to start, I noticed that mac users made up almost all of the audience (90%??). I also noticed quite a few screens displaying Twitter and Facebook throughout the conference. I sat next to a group of people from NC State who told me about a Facebook Scrabulous tournament they were participating in that had been organized entirely over Twitter. This was definitely a web 2.0 / social networking savvy crowd. I also saw at least one Facebook group started as a result of the conference.

I was on a panel about Social Networking in the Enterprise along with Charles Armstrong and Aaron Fulkerson. It was very well attended (I’m guessing 100-150 people?), and people seemed to enjoy it. I talked mostly about Social Productivity, which is similar to social networking, but it is framed in a way that is more relevant to the enterprise.

David Weinberger’s talk, The Rise of the Implicit, had some very interesting ideas about how information is taking shape as we web 2.0 technologies evolve. You can read his entire outline of the talk, but a few of his ideas were particularly interesting to me. He talked about how the web transcends the information age by taking what is typically dry, dull information and bringing life to it through the context that eventually surrounds it. Facebook, for example, starts with the creation of a profile with very dry, dull information (name, birth date, location, etc.), but it becomes valuable as the additional context around it builds and takes on a life of its own through participation of friends, applications used, status, groups joined, and more. My take on this idea is that it is another example of how collaboration and community are really one of the defining characteristics of the current web. It isn’t about the basic information; it is about how that information evolves as you collaborate with your community of friends and build context around the information.

The Social Intelligence panel with Jerry Michalski; JB Holston, Newsgator; JP Rangaswami, BT Global Services; and Joshua Schachter, Yahoo! (founded delicious) had some interesting discussions. JP talked about an idea that has been near and dear to my heart lately: the gaming of online systems (like reputation systems). He said that transparency thwarts the gaming of online systems and fosters collaboration, while putting too many measures in place to prevent gaming stifles collaboration. Other community members will gang up on the gamers when they see the behavior helping to self-correct the issues within the community. I have been saying something very similar, so it was great to hear it reinforced. JP also said that his father had 1 job, he’ll have about 7, his son will have about 7 at the same time, which is a really interesting way of looking at employment. I also think that it is absolutely true. I can’t count the number of young people I know who are involved in multiple ventures (jobs) simultaneously. I think the traditional model of a 9-5 “job” is hopelessly out of date, particularly for technology workers, while the freelancer / consultant model is becoming much more prevalent.

We had 2 open spaces sessions at the event. As an organizer of events like BarCamp, I came into it thinking that an hour for a single open spaces session would be a miserable failure. I was right and wrong. The open spaces session on Monday was amazing, and I was absolutely wrong about it not working. More than a dozen sessions were proposed, and people were very engaged in the open spaces breakouts. The ClosedPrivate movement started as one of those sessions. However, by Tuesday when most of us were hopelessly behind on email / blogging / etc., the open spaces sessions did not work particularly well. I think that less than half of the participants were engaged while the rest (me included) used the time to catch up on work. The moral of the story: having open spaces sessions can work as a small part of a traditional conference; however, you have to do them early in the program while people are still fresh.

Dick Hardt gave a really entertaining presentation on Defragging Identity with hundreds of slides in 12 minutes, which makes it really difficult to summarize! One of the key concepts included how predicting future behavior based on past behavior can break down in the digital world as online behavior becomes fragmented. People have multiple logins, many identities, reputations (eBay), etc. that are highly fragmented. We need to defrag this behavior, bind it based on a common identifier (like openid) across sites, and aggregate our identities while still having multiple personas. The key is that we each control those identities so that all the stuff we do across all sites can be aggregated together. I’m a huge advocate of OpenID and would love to see it evolve in a way that allows me to carry more information along with me (profile data, friends, reputations, etc.)

Doc Searls talked mostly about Vendor Relationship Management (see Harvard’s project VRM) with the idea that the market is built for you, the consumers, by the vendors. Here’s one quote (approximate) from Doc, “We are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. We are human beings.” He asked the question, what if managing worked the other way around – we managed our relationships with producers / vendors; what if we were in charge of our preferences across whole markets?

Andrew McAfee presented on the topic of Defrag and Enterprise 2.0 with the idea that the concept of ties provides a foundation for conceptualizing value, tech selection, drawing borders around tools, adoption & exploitation. New tools are not going to make all ties equal, but tools will facilitate tie creation & migration. His blog on the topic of Enterprise 2.0 sums it up better than I ever could.

All in all, I met cool people, had great conversations, and came away with new ideas to ponder. It was well worth the time spent to attend. I would strongly recommend attending next year if you get the chance.

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