Can We Bring Back the "Unconference?"
A favorite of the Web 2.0 era deserves another look.
I’m speaking (virtually) at the Global Communications Summit on Dec. 7 about “Communicating in Crypto: A View from The Mad Attic.” 12:10 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time. Great group of speakers, whom I’m proud to join (if Zoom-wise). This is a registration-only event, and it seems that early-bird tickets are still available.
Can We Bring Back the Unconference?
I write this as my introversion heat-shield cools from five days in Las Vegas, spent in preparation for, participation in, and recovery from the Money 20/20 conference.
Money 20/20 was more or less arranged as if the organizers of TED contracted with the CES people to put on an unusually well-produced Burning-Man-for-suits inside The Venetian. (This isn’t a diss. After all, they know their audience well and, because of this, Vesper co-sponsored the Sunday Summit.)
The typical rows and avenues of booths gave way to a more organic-ish feel with an open in-the-round keynote stage that could be sort-of seen and mostly heard throughout the conference hall. There were also “lounges” where scheduled lightning talks would be delivered throughout the day.
These lounges actually surprised me with a mild bit of nostalgia.
It seems to have gone by the wayside but back when Web 2.0 companies and their traveling partners tried to dress themselves in “open source” regalia, the “unconference” format became rather popular. At the most basic level, the unconference’s only structure was 1) a set of empty time slots, and 2) a set of locations within the venue where talks would take place. People showed up for the conference and, if you wanted to speak, you just signed up for one of the slots and showed up to the right room, circle of beanbags, or whatever. Interested folks would stop by, you’d give your talk, and then go on to the next one. Both presenter and audience member rolled-their-own conference experience.
For a lot of reasons, this approach wouldn’t work for Money 20/20, whose lounge-talk schedules were populated more tightly than an opening band’s tour bus. As the pandemic eases, though, it’s a format I’d like to see come back. “PennyCon?” It could happen.
The Mad Attic Mailbag
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What does it take to bring a crypto community from “zero” to “one?”
Well, Mr. SlapTrickHatShot, I could probably write a book on this topic and I’m sure there’s a forgotten file in my hard drive with a related proposal. I’ll instead focus on the bits that aren’t as obvious and could be extended beyond the cryptoverse, which happens to be most of this audience.
To level-set, though, let’s start with this note from Avalanche’s Jay Kurahashi-Sofue:
Now… Some additional thoughts…
Just because a community is angry, it doesn’t necessarily mean you failed. You wanted a passionate community. You got one. Quit’cher bitchin’. In fact, this may be a better indicator of community health than the converse, which is…
Just because a community is happy, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you succeeded. I’m sure you can make a community very happy with free product. And there’s a time and place for that, certainly. But if that’s your only relationship to the community, there’s really nothing to keep them around when the largesse ends. You’re inflating your social currency. If you run a crypto project, you’re probably inflating real currency as well.
Model and conspicuously reward good behavior. Certain participants will inevitably rise to the top. Make sure they and, more importantly, their fellow community members see the attention and access that good behavior receives.
Bend, but don’t break. It’s a long story, but I had recently reached a point where I had to call out the inherent contradictions in many crypto communities.
There’s often a lot of pressure from a community to do certain kinds of marketing that transgress commonly understood ethical norms. Marketing and especially PR people are very service-oriented by nature, so the instinct is to “do something/anything” to make the grumpy messages go away. This is psychic- and career-death.
You work for your company/project, but you stand for your community. Too many times in my career, I’ve been in situations where a client doesn’t actually care about a community beyond their ability to “organically” amplify messages, contemptuously dismissing a counselor’s presentation of a community’s needs as “forgetting whom you work for.” The thing is, both parties do have a point. The problem is a lot of community managers are stuck in a position of trying to figure out for whom they want to be a doormat: a relatively anonymous mob or the party that helps them pay their rent. Guess which one gets picked, particularly if you’re young? Striking this balance is something that a community manager must learn by having their hand in it — it can’t be taught any other way.
FILM: “It’s Time to Bring Back Enemy Mine", Wired (2021) — This piece unnecessarily savages one of my favorite movies, an infamous box-office bomb that re-emerges in the American consciousness every now and again. Nevertheless, maybe these times call for a retelling of this classic story of tolerance, forgiveness, and cooperation. (I own it on DVD and might dust it off tonight.)
FILM: “Show the Monster,” The New Yorker (2011) — With The Atlantic describing the latest Dune adaptation as “The Blockbuster That Hollywood Was Afraid to Make,” I’m reminded of this piece (and its follow-up) about Guillermo del Toro’s forlorn quest to film H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness. (A film that would actually be gutsy for Hollywood to make.)
OPINION: “All Culture. All the Time,” Reason (1999) — Nick Gillespie remains one of my favorite observers of society and culture, possessed as he is with a warehouse-at-the-end-of-Raiders-of-the-Lost-Ark-sized command of music, art, film, and literature. This essay had a very strong impact on me when I read it in 2004, five years after its publication, so I’m moved to share it. Imagine if he updated it for today. “In fact, in a world of $100 VCRs, bargain-basement PCs, CD- rewritable drives, and other technologies that allow users to copy and manipulate images, words, and sound in ever-new and seamless ways, even the sharp distinction between producer and consumer seems increasingly blurred. In economic terms, the opportunity costs of both making and enjoying culture have dropped through the floor; it keeps getting cheaper and cheaper both to produce and to consume culture under increasingly diverse circumstances. One predictable—and positive—result: more and more of everything.”
JOURNALISM: “The Enumerator: Dispatches from a broken census count,” Harper’s (2021) — There are nine questions in the census, which is about eight more than I think ought to be there. This piece takes you through an on-the-ground perspective of a census taker in the East Bay.
As a fan of this author, this is all I have to say about the Facebook/Meta nonsense: