This past week I attended two events that stretched and twisted by my idea of what makes a "conference" beyond any previous imagining. First, I was a featured speaker on Social Media at The BD Event, a storage industry gathering in Palo Alto. The name of the event was cause for snickering in some circles--the letters didn't stand, as some suggested, for "bondage and domination" but rather "business development." So get your minds out of the dungeon.
The second event, She's Geeky, was an "unconference" for women in tech and other geeky pursuits. I recorded two podcasts for my weekly women in tech series, TechnoGirlTalk while on site at the event and got to know a whole lot of really interesting women. The podcast was also a proud "community sponsor" of the event.
Both events were a departure from the traditional. The BD Event was, as my copanelist Stephen Foskett put it, a deconstruction of the trade show concept. It kept all of the good stuff, which involves meeting and talking with others with whom one might do business, while dispensing with the clutter--booths, vendors hawking new products, and so on. There's a nice video of Stephen explaining this on analyst David Vellante's Wikibon blog.
Here is the video:
As Stephen says in this video clip, this is what the future of what we're currently calling "social media." It's about "democratizing and personalizing communication." And as I learned later this past week, She's Geeky is part of a larger "unconference" movement, in which folks are thinking about how to tap into human ways of relating that yield new and energizing results. This is related to the way that neurons are interconnected in the brain, and all kinds of other exciting research areas. Man, is this my kind of thinking!
At She's Geeky, there were no preplanned panels or talks--the participants themselves determined this at the start of each day. The organizer, Kaliya, who is known across the interwebs as IdentityWoman described the structure to me as "more organized than a cocktail party but less than a panel of talking heads."
What struck me about this was how similar this "offline" event was to the way that my online life now functions. I went to a meeting or panel, and then if I met someone with whom I clicked in some way, we took our conversation over to a table, sat down and chatted further. Then we stood up and joined the larger stream. It worked beautifully, and it made me wonder if our culture's obsession with structure, leadership, and climbing the ladder may be crumbling in the face of these more natural and creative ways of connecting with others.
So, with all this in mind, I have to admit that I was less impressed by another gathering that took place this past week. This was one in which a charismatic leader stood up and pronounced from on high that there would be a new product sent down to the masses, and that it would be good. And speaking of snickering, this one had a name that caused much mirth among the female population. According to Gizmodo, the #2 trending topic on Twitter is not the actual "iPad," but the parody word "iTampon" -- ahead of "Apple," "Steve Jobs" and other relevant words.
Perhaps even the famously social-media-paranoid Apple might want to consider some sort of crowdsourcing before making another mega high profile gaffe like this one. Or, barring that, they could at least remember to include a woman or two on their product naming committee.