I wanted to provide a quick update regarding the Online Community Unconference that we are putting together in Mountain View on May 21. It has been an amazing experience to reconvene the “community of community managers” that were first brought together during the period Forum One hosted these events, and inspiring to see the new members of the community: both practitioners and organizations that are embracing the art and science of building and sustaining online communities.
We are currently just shy of 100 registrants, with a target of 200. We have an amazing group of organizations and industry experts registered, including leaders from:
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
George Lucas Education Foundation
and many more.
We will also be joined by independent practitioners, industry analysts and authors that are deeply invested in and knowledgable about the community space, including:
My theory on Unconferences (and other participant-driven events) is pretty simple: put smart and passionate people in a room to talk about a common cause with some light facilitation and good things generally happen. Along with all the great knowledge-sharing and network-building that typically happens, an Unconference can be one of the key catalysts for the culture change needed to evolve to a more social business: a day of suspended organizational hierarchy, authentic communication (no PPTs), collaboration, learning and relationship development.
I’ve been a huge believer in participant-driven events since I started hosting Online Community Roundtables in the summer of 1995, and I was first introduced to the concept of an Unconference by Jim Cashel of Forum One a couple of years later. I went on to work for Jim and host a series of Unconferences about Social Media and Online Community. When I came to work at Dell, I saw an opportunity to do an Unconference series as a compliment to our social media training and strategy development efforts.
At Dell, we’ve hosted 5 SMaC Talk Unconference events globally, with locations including Dell HQ in Round Rock, TX, Bangalore, Xiamen and London over the last 18 months, with thousands of Dell employees representing most departments and all levels in the organization participating. Michael Dell even came to close our very first Unconference event – we are clearly invested in the format as an organization.
When I facilitate the events, I promise participants two key things:
1. They will leave the event with a long list of new ideas to put into practice immediatly, and
2. They will leave the event with an extended network of practitioners to collaborate with, learn from and gain support from in their day to day efforts.
So, what is an Unconference? An Unconference is a participant-driven event, where the attendees actually create the agenda. The methodology to create and facilitate an Unconference is drawn from Open Space Technology – a methodology first developed by Harrison Owen and subsequently shaped by the global community of facilitators.
An Unconference (or Open Space event) differs radically from a traditional conference in a number of different ways, including:
Attendees are responsible for creating the agenda
Speakers and sessions are not pre-programmed (although they do relate to the Unconferences theme)
The agenda is malleable – sessions can be suggested or changed throughout the day
After the agenda is set, the day is self guided – attendees are personally responsibility for getting the most out of the day
So, how does this Unconference thing work? The intention of the Open Space format is to remove the constraints and restrictions of “normal” conferences and to allow maximum creative thinking.
One of the most amazing parts of the day is the topic selection process. At the start of the morning, any attendee who wishes can come forward, announce a topic, and claim one of the ~50+ open slots on the grid.
Attendees announce session topics
The agenda begins to form
Within about 35-40 minutes the grid fills up with topics
Once all the topics are announced, we begin the Unconference sessions. The agenda grid plays the role of gathering place and ideamarketplace throughout the day, as attendees come back to the agenda to check for any updates, changes, or new sessions.
How can Unconference be used in the Enterprise? Unconferences tend to be very effective when there is a large group of knowledgeable people struggling with a complex problem set. Although we’ve primarily used Unconferences for discussions of social media and social business, other likely topics in a large enterprise could be Sustainability, Change Management, Product Development or Brand re-engineering / relaunch.
The Net: An Unconference (using Open Space Technology) can be a great tool for your organization, bringing together diverse groups of people to collaborate and network around common organisational goals. Participants will leave the event with new ideas, new energy, new connections and shared vision and purpose.
I’m planning on participating in the Community Leadership Summit West on January 15th in Daly City, CA. The CLS West is an Unconference that aims to connect online community practitioners in person to discuss, share and learn.
The Unconference is being organized y Van Ripper and will be facilitated by Kaliya Hamlin.
ps: The topic, format and facilitators may look familiar to those who participated in Forum One unconferences – just wanted to underscore the fact that I am not helping organize this, only participaitng. With that said, i think it will be a very productive and fun event.
Online Communiteers – Breaking news: we have finalized our event series for 2008. I wanted to give the OC Report readers a sneak peek, as well as to let you know that we have opened registration and have a special “super early bird” rate for our OCU East and Mobile Communities Unconferences.
Our events series for 2008 includes:
Online Community Unconference East 2008 (Registration Open Now!) http://www.forumone.com/ocue2008
February 21, 2008 in New York
The Online Community Unconference East is the east coast of location of our Unconference series. The event is an Open Space gathering of online community practitioners – managers, developers, business people, tool providers, investors – to discuss experience and strategies in the development and growth of online communities.
Mobile Communities Unconference (Registration Open Now!) http://www.forumone.com/mcu2008
March 20, 2008 in Palo Alto
The Mobile Communities Unconference focuses on social experiences on the brings together strategists, community hosts, device manufacturers, service providers, and content developers to discuss the emerging opportunities and challenges that mobile communities present.
Online Community Business Forum 2008 http://www.forumone.com/ocfb2008
April 14 – 15, 2008 in Santa Fe, New Mexico
The Online Community Business Forum is an invitation-based event for online executives to gather and discuss the intersection of business strategy and online community, in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Online Community Unconference 2008 http://www.forumone.com/ocu2008
June 18, 2008 in Mountain View, CA
The Online Community Unconference is our west coast gathering of online community practitioners – managers, developers, business people, tool providers, investors – to discuss experience and strategies in the development and growth of online communities.
Online Community Summit 2008 http://www.forumone.com/ocs2008
October 9 – 10, 2008 in Sonoma, CA
The Online Community Summit, in it’s 8th year, is the exclusive gathering for thought leaders in online collaboration gather to discuss best ideas for the future, in Sonoma, California.
Marketing & Online Communities 2008
November 3-4, NYC (dates and details to be confirmed in January 08)
The Marketing & Online Communities conference will explore current practice and innovative case studies that focus on the intersection of marketing and online communities.
If you have any questions about any of the events, or are interested in sponsorship opportunities, please let me know.
The Online Community Business Forum is coming together nicely. We are hosting the invitation-based event May 3 – 4 in Sonoma.
Sorry, but I have to drop a few names here: we have attendees from Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, IBM, eBay, Sun, Autodesk, Cisco, TV Guide, and Consumer Reports.
The draft agenda is set, and Jim and I are working on refining it based on the attendees. The cool thing about doing a relatively small and invitation-based conference like this is that we can really tailor the content to the attendees.
The working agenda, as it stands:
Thursday May 3rd
1:00 – 1:30: Registration at Saddles
1:30 – 2:30: Session 1 / Introductions and Welcome
2:30 – 3:15: Session 2 / The State of Online Community
3:30 – 4:00: Break
4:00 – 5:00: Session 3 / Business Models
5:00 – 5:30: Wine Tasting
7:00 – 8:30: Wine, Hors Doeuvres – El Dorado Kitchen
Friday May 4th
8:30 – 9:30: Registration / Breakfast
8:30 – 9:30: Community and Good Ideas Demos (open podium)
9:30 – 10:00: Introductions
10:00 – 11:00: Session 4 / Subscriber Income
11:00 – 11:30: Break
11:30 – 12:30: Advertising & Marketing Panel
12:30 – 1:30: Lunch
1:30 – 2:30: Break Out Sessions – Community ROI, Support Communities, Developer Communities
2:30 – 3:00: Break
3:00 – 4:00: Session 6: On the Horizon: Future Online Community Business Models
4:00 – 5:00: Wine and Snack
Evening: No host dinners at Café LaHaye, Saddles, elsewhere (optional)
The other really cool think about hosting an event in Sonoma is that we have ready access to the world’s best wines
I’ve had a few days to let all the threads running through my brain since the end of the conference settle. Here are the things that rise to the surface.
Mobile Communities: Thanks to Anders from Nokia, I am now convinced that the mobile web in general, and mobile communities in particular will play a large role in shaping “what’s next”. For mobile communities to take off in any meaningful way in the US, the carriers will have to agree and services and standards. Companies like Loopt are already making inroads with the major carriers. How significant a shift will this be? It seems reasonable to think that any social application (think next gen myspace or linked in) that doesn’t require the form factor of a large lcd display to interact with it will make it’s way on to a mobile.
3D / Avatar-based Communities: In general, folks at teh conference seemed to think that these destinations are interesting, but not really meaningful. Kaneva just entered the space that Second Life, and to a certain extent There, have been dominating. I think there is lot’s of opportunity for innovation with this type of experience, especially given the wild success of World of Warcraft and other MMOGs that are essentially the older brothers of these more hangout-oriented sims. Unfortunately in their current state, the experiential investment required to participate Second Life is not worth the overhead. I look forward to changing my position on this.
Marketing in Online Communities is bad / evil / wrong: There was lot’s of discussion about the intersection of online community and marketing. The Edelman / Wal Mart fiasco came up in a couple of presentations, and in conversation. There was also an interesting exchange at the breakfast sponsored by WebEx. The main points of the marketing vs. community debate seemed to be:
– A marketeer has as much of a license to market in the community as the community gives, and this license can be revoked at any time.
– A marketer should be transparent about their intentions for participating in or sponsoring a community.
– The pre-Cluetrain models of marketing no longer work nor are appropriate
Obviously this is a topic ripe for further discussion.
Some Companies Too Risk / Transparency Averse: I was a little surprised at the volume of questions about the pros and cons of engaging in community building activities. I’ll just make a few blanket statements here Yes, your company needs to be blogging. It won’t be as hard, take as much time or come with as much liability as you think it might. Further, you should think about making the electronic brochure that is your current web site a little more participatory (forums, content sharing?). For those of you who actually have online community offerings, how about not burying them 2 and 3 layers down on your web site?
ROI: Matthew Lees from the Patricia Seybold Group led a really interesting panel on the ROI (return on information) of online communities. He has a really great model, and I know he intends to post some of his slides so I won’t try to paraphrase them. I will say that one of the points of value I forgot to mention in the discussion was that of comparative value. For instance, how much does it cost to blog vs. conducting a print advertising campaign? How much does it cost to host a discussion forum on a topic related to your business vs buying a tv spot?
Attention Saturation: Every day, more and more online experiences are vying for attention. From a supply and demand perspective, Joe or Jane Websurfer’s attention seems to be getting to the point of being fully saturated, while new online social experiences are popping up every day. Something has to give, and it will likely result in destination site closures and/or consolidations.