Conferencing the Web 2.0 Way

Along with just about everything else, Web 2.0 has changed the way people attend professional conferences. There’s no waiting for a newsletter or the AALL Spectrum to read program reviews. Heck, you don’t even have to wait an hour or so for a blog post about it like you did in the dark ages of 2004! You can log onto Twitter and see what’s happening in the room across the hall or commiserate with a fellow attendee about that annoying person in the back of the hall that didn’t get the memo to TURN OFF YOUR DAMN CELL PHONE WHEN YOU ARE ATTENDING A PRESENTATION! WERE YOU BORN IN A BARN OR SOMETHING? Sorry. That is a MAJOR pet peeve of mine.

Also, in these days of high travel costs and low professional development budgets, one can almost vicariously attend a conference from the comfort of one’s own office. Almost. Personally, I’d rather scrimp and eat peanut butter for month if it means I got to get on a plane and fly somewhere, but I know that there are people out there for whom airport layovers are not a fun adventure or otherwise have reasons that travel is not an available option.

So, anyway, let’s use the recent Special Libraries Association annual conference in Seattle as an example (with some others thrown in as needed) to see how this all shakes out.

  • Blogging – Most conferences now have an “official blog”. SLA used its existing blog to cover conference materials. AALL 2008 has the Daily Rose, that anyone can register to post on. I also like to run Google blog searches when I know there’s a big conference (like SLA or Computers in Libraries) going on. Finding relevant posts can be hit or miss, but since the conferences I’m interested in are attended by librarians, the bloggers are pretty good about tagging posts and using terminology that makes sense. So, for an example, here’s a blog search on “SLA 2008”.
  • Wikis – Personally, I think wikis have a greater use for conference attendees than a group blog would, since it allows for better organization of material. SLA has a wiki that seems to be aimed at more out of town visitors to Seattle and the ALA’s Annual Meeting Wiki is similar in focus. The best conference wiki I’ve seen, from a “what’s in it for me?” standpoint, is the wiki for Computers in Libraries 2007. I especially like the attendees section (under “community” on the main page.” ) It’s a nice way to pre-network before the conference and is helpful if you’re actively stalking (or trying to avoid) certain members of your profession like I am. (Oh, don’t you judge me. You know you do it too.) ALA’s wiki has a similar section, but no one is using it, and as we’ve discovered with Web 2.0, it has to be used by a threshold number of people to be valuable.
  • Twitter – At a conference, Twitter is basically like very public IM. Very public. Which is why I am thinking very hard about whether or not I want Twitter while at AALL because I have a negligible internal censor, a very small profession and about 35 years of career left – not a good combination. It’s good for finding out where someone is, or if there’s a great presentation going on, but since it will be stream of consciousness blogging, it’s long-term value for understanding a presentation is very small. SLA attendees used the tag #SLA2008 to mark their posts about the conference. Somehow (perhaps through Group Tweet, perhaps through hashtags, perhaps through magical gnomes), these posts fed into the SLA2008 Twitter profile that one could add to one’s Twitter Follow list. Another option for this is to use summize and set up a search for that tag.
  • Photos – Oh, Lord, this is another Web 2.0 option that’s a gonna get people in trouble. It’s bad enough that there’s photographic evidence of Librarians Going Wild that appear in publications like AALL Spectrum. Now, thanks to services like Flickr, people are going to have to walk into an early morning round table not knowing if shots of them making a damn fool of themselves at the West Party the night before have been posted to the Internet.   For some possible examples of this, check out Flickr pictures tagged with SLA 2007.
  • YouTube – Again, another application that may be educationally useful (e.g. there appears to be at least one slide presentation from SLA on here) , but will more likely be used to capture the “social” aspects of conference attendance….allow me to present “SLA Librarians Gone Wild.”   Safe for work, possibly not safe for life, especially if the thought of a bunch of middle aged librarians rocking out to the Village People frightens you.  Just remember, some things, once seen, cannot be unseen.
  • Maps – I don’t know why, but I’m surprised at the popularity and usefulness of Google Maps before a conference.   Fellow Kentuckian Cindi Trainor made a map for ALA this year that’s had over 3000 views in a week.   There’s also a map for AALL and a map for the AALL Latino caucus pub crawl.
  • Social Networking – During the conference, I can’t see that Facebook would be much use in meeting people, but it’s a nice pre-conference/post-conference networking tool. Here’s the event page for AALL 2008. (Must be logged in to Facebook to view.)  There’s the option of posting useful pages
  • Slides – You could shell out money to the conference to get the package of presenter materials. But that wastes trees and costs money. Some presenters are starting to put their material up on sites such as the obviously named SlideShare.  There aren’t many up yet, but you can see some SLA 2008 presentations. (Note: may have to re-click search button.)

Some general notes…

With all of these, once you find the “sweet spot” of term searching, you can have the results set to the RSS feed reader of your choice. It also helps if before the conference starts, someone steps up and declares what the “official tag” will be. I’m currently following the CALI conference, and there’s been some problem using cali2008 as a tag on Flickr since people also use that for Californian vacations.

So, did I miss anything? Does anyone have any other ideas?

More Chances to Learn Web 2.0 Technology

Hey Blog Reader!  Have you been wanting to learn how you can join the glamorous world of blogging?   Or do you want to learn the difference between a twitter a wiki and a flickr?  Well, you have a couple of chances.

If you are a law librarian, the AALL CS-SIS is running the Web 2.0 Challenge.  This will run five weeks and starts immediately after AALL.  Registration opens today.

If you’re a UK person (and by that I mean an employee of the University of Kentucky, not a resident of the United Kingdom), the Office of Integrated Academic Services is operating Blue 2.0…2.0, an adaptation of the Blue 2.0 program that the UK Libraries organized in the spring.

If you belong to none of the above groups, you can still learn how to use Web 2.0.  There’s a ton of programs out there, and almost all are on the open web.  You won’t have the interactivity that a full fledged participant has, but the info is still there.

The Problem with Web 2.0

web 2.0 logos

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of Web 2.0 companies.  They all do slightly different things and have varying degrees of usefulness for the library community.  However, there is one thing that they do all have in common: we don’t own them.  As a result, we users are really at the mercy of these companies and their mixed qualities of performance.

At first this didn’t bother me too much.  Coming from a financially strapped institution (which is to say, just about every library in existence), I was so ecstatic that these services were free that I didn’t think too much what the trade off would be.  However, I’ve been getting more and more concerned (read:annoyed) with this issue.  First there was the thing last month with Facebook censoring posted items, then a big story today about privacy issues with Facebook applications.  But you know what has really just about sent me over the edge?

The Twitter Fail Whale.

I’ve briefly mentioned how awesome I think Twitter is.  In case you missed it, here’s a recap: Twitter is a microblogging service that, if you follow and get followed by enough people, becomes a really useful way to share links and ideas and communicate.  It’s awesome.  When it works. Which…isn’t a lot.   I mean, on the whole it’s available over 90% of the time.  It just seems to crash whenever I want to make a post.

Instead of a “404 page not found” error, Twitter posts a cute little picture of something that I have since learned is known as the “Fail Whale.”   I mean, look at it…it’s adorable:

Well, it’s adorable the first hundred or so times you see it.  At visit #101 you begin to see the smug smile of the whale, mocking you and your feeble attempts to post some great insight that your dozens of followers have been waiting with bated breathe to read.

It’s just so amazing to me that people accept this level of functionality with Twitter.  But honestly, acceptance is – in the end – the only real option.  A regular Twitter user almost goes through a modified Kubler-Ross.  There’s anger (it’s down again?!) and denial (keep hitting that refresh button, buddy).  Bargaining doesn’t really happen, although I have noticed that people go through a flirtation with Plurk or Pownce before crawling back to Twitter.  I’m currently somewhere in between depression and acceptance.

And why is acceptance pretty much the only option?  Because we can’t cancel our subscription or change to another service.  Facebook and Twitter are currently the 800 pound gorillas of their Web 2.0 service area.  They won’t lose any money if we cancel and switch to, for example,  Bebo and Pownce and we’ll just lose all the contacts that we’ve made on their sites.   As I’m slowly learning in my librarianship career, we get jerked around by the companies that we do pay money to (like Wexis and ILS vendors), so I can’t see that we have any hope against free ones.

I don’t want to give up using Web 2.0 services, but I think libraries need to start developing our own services and programs that utilize and/or adapt the good things about Web 2.0 (ease of use, collaboration, user generated content, etc) without being at the mercy of some snot-nosed  Sillicon Valley wunderkind OR (ideally) the corporations that are already pillaging our budgets.   I don’t know if this means leaning on more open source resources or finding new vendors or what, but something’s gotta give.