Category Archives: events

G20: Lessons Learned

IMG_0256The G20 Voice team did a brilliant job. The first I heard about this gig was a phone call from Shane McCracken on the day I’d returned from SXSWi (ie when I’d just finished a 16-hour journey and was trying to stay awake to stave off jet-lag) and then two weeks later I was sitting in the Excel Centre a few yards from President Obama.

Not everything went perfectly, but the problems were not of the obvious kind that could have been predicted and mitigated against. They were mostly things none of us knew about how the day would run, what the content would be and how a group of 50 bloggers would react to being thrown together to report on something so huge. The main feedback I gave to G20Voice was that I was very impressed by their flexibility and willingness to learn with us over the course of the two days we were together.

So there’s a bunch of things I think I learned in the course of the two days we had together that I’d like to work out and share here.

The only events I’ve covered before have been traditional conferences or trade shows. There’s always *something* going on, whether it’s plenary sessions, product demos or just delegates hanging around chatting at lunchtime, and so it’s easy to blog without very much preparation or knowledge of the subject area. You can do the standard in through the ears, out through the fingers liveblogging or get out among the people with a camera, jump in and ask open questions, following up with intelligent probes.

The G20 summit was not like that.

The summit happens in private, away from any reporters at all. They talk all day, perhaps have a little argy-bargy, but then emerge with a summary of what they’ve agreed – the communique.

IMG_0348I felt cut off. Cut off from the action and cut off from my online tribe because I was being boring – I had nothing of interest to say for most of the day, because nothing was really happening except the occasional entrance of a Minister or Celebrity Activist. I blogged during the day (and the day before) that I didn’t know what to do to be useful. I wanted to be like the other guys who seemed to know everything about everything and were, no doubt, writing Pullitzer Prize-worthy copy all day long. I kept thinking that I should be doing something else, but when I went and did something, I thought I should be back at the desk and online.

But just because it’s a news event, doesn’t mean you only have the day to publish stuff in. I’m lucky, I don’t have any deadlines or a target for how much to write or create, except those that I make for myself. And I was forgetting that I do have an eye for interesting stuff and so the behind the scenes content that I’ve shared with you seemed like it was a cop out, too easy, just hanging around behind other people being photographed and filmed. It wasn’t until I got it all out and had a look at it that I realised where the story was and that I had stuff that was unique.

So Learning Point #1 Remember you are unique and have a unique perspective. Be yourself and trust that you will be enough.

my workstation at the G20 summitIt helped me to have plenty of equipment so that i knew that when I did have something to report, I’d be ready. I had two laptops, one mainly for tracking stuff on twitter, flickr and the G20Voice site and the other for getting stuff done, writing, encoding video and uploading photos. I was lent an HG10 by Canon (thanks to Colin & Donna at 1000Heads) so I could shoot anything I wanted to. I was also lent an iPod touch and handsfree set (thanks to Best Before TV, especially Karen & Steve, whose touch it was!) so that I could record Audioboos – I like this a lot. I also had my flip camera in case I needed to just do something simple and quick, my N95 for backup photos, video and Qiks and my Edirol in case I wanted to do longer audio interviews.

The thing I’d forgotten was that I’ve switched to Linux on my two laptops since I last had an HG10 and I could have done without all the faffing needed to start from scratch in order to transcode from AVCHD to MPEG. I’ve now found Handbrake which is actually very good indeed especially once you have time to play around with it.

Learning Point #2 Take more than you need and ask for what you want and need. Make sure you’ve got all your software up to date and test loan kit before you get there.

Yes, I felt cut off. But surely I was on a table full of bloggers, just like me? Well no, I was actually on a table full of specialist journalists (in some cases operating in a tiny niche) who choose to mainly communicate online. They were mostly lovely, but there wasn’t a great deal of playful collaboration. There were few other media hacker types of the sort that frequent the Tuttle Club.

I quickly tired of us being referred to as “The Bloggers”. I think if there’d been a media hacker table or just a few more of the folk I normally play with, we’d have come up with something more creative. It might have got us chucked out or severely reprimanded, but it would have been more fun.

Learning Point #3 is for the G20Voice team (or anyone else doing this sort of work) and comes in two parts: a) All that bloggers might have in common is that they have a blog. and b) Focus the Briefing Day on helping the bloggers get to know each other, trust each other and collaborate and interact online (there’s a whole nother post on this, I think)

IMG_0525I was really pleased with the photos I took of the president at the podium. I know they’re all much the same and that people all around me were taking the same shot too, but I really like that I got them for my very own. I could not have done so if I’d done what I was told. Firstly, I went to the front of the queue when photographers were called. I took advantage of the fact that my pass said “Blogger” while others had, I imagine, “Journalist” or “Photographer”. I used the ambiguity to be a writer when it suited me and a photographer when that’s what I wanted to be. So I then just went up to the front of the hall with the other photographers. It was crowded and the press office guys were going back and forth trying to weed out people who weren’t official photographers. I felt a little inadequate with my little video camera, but I just stood my ground and avoided eye contact with them by looking at my viewfinder.

Learning Point #4 Be confident, use ambiguity to your advantage, go for what you want.

So by the Friday morning, I felt like I was just about ready to get started. I guess the overall point would be it’s OK to learn as you go, keep asking the question of how you can be useful and remember what you learn for next time.

Le Web now with more social richness

09122008681The smallest conversations bring great insight.

I was just talking to Alex (ledretch) about the conference, the sessions, the people etc and he made a remark about all the tools we use to connect.

And it hit me that 3 years ago when I was here at Les Blogs the *only* thing we had that we could connect through was our blogs, and flickr I suppose, but mostly the blogs, and there was this feeling of tension of social unease that we didn’t know each other very well and that that mattered (apart from among the old-timers of course who regularly met at conferences) – and now we have so many other ways of getting together and in fact the communities that have formed around twitter and seesmic and facebook et al *as well as* our blogs are now just way, way richer and when we come together offline, it’s just that we’re operating in a different mode, it’s not so awkward or anything.

And anyway lots of people just come and sit down here and chat and crack open their laptops.

Of course I could just be an old social media tart or something.

LeWeb commences

The Seesmic Clique

This morning at LeWeb:
We are on the western side of this time zone, so it was still dark at 8am.
Early birds include Dean Whitbread who marched past me as I exited the metro & @whitscott & @ledretch etc.
W00t! blogger tables at the front with wired internet and power (but no power)
Heartwarming smoochycoochy welcome from the Le Meurs
Spotted @fred2baro in the crowd.
Steve Gillmor straight into Silly Valley insider gossip fest with some MS dude
More of the same from Google fella
DAVID WEINBERGER!! FUCK YEAH!
MySpace drone drove me downstairs to the comfy sofas, the better wifi
On the way caught JP to muse on internet fame and self-organisation viz Stansted invaders, but more scarily for us all with teenage children, organized crime around facebook parties.
Sophie Cox dropped by, no doubt hoping to try and straighten my badges, but ended up modelling the giveaway beanie from the goodiebag.
Hugh McLeod sauntered in, shared some off the record bits of his evil plan, which had be giggling and ready for anything at which point he pulled out some hot wet pussy.
Out into the hall for lunch – not quite attack of the microlunches, but close run, given that as Stephanie noted there seemed to be lunch for 150 whereas we have about 1500 people.
Realised that Hermione Way really hadn’t thought through the name of her new startup techfluff.tv when I called her techfluffer in chief – seems she didn’t know till recently what a fluffer was. I nearly ended up drenched in red wine.
Nipped out and got some turkey kabanos from the jewish mom & pop store down the road and met Hugh again in the snow, so we had a bitch about London, Paris and the like.
Came in and chatted with David Langer about social media consulting, me, tuttle, self-organising and other interesting stuff about err… me

It’s the people, people. We come for the people. Think I’ll go sample Paulo Coelho in the main hall.

Passing notes in school

Ugh I’ve had a kind of emotional hangover since about lunchtime yesterday. I feel rotten about getting stuck in a cynical snarky frame of mind. To blame twitter would be like blaming my exercise books for having blank sheets at the back that were perfect for writing notes to pass in class. To blame anyone at NESTA would be like blaming Mr Liberal for not being able to control his pupils. And to blame any of my fellow participants would be saying “they made me do it, sir”. Oh bugger, now I’ve got the Grange Hill theme running round in my head.

But anyway that’s what I did yesterday, I regressed into can’t-be-bothered schoolboy (the one who ended up with average O-levels and piss-poor A-levels), a role I reprised at university as smart-arse know-it-all (who had to pull far too many all-nighters to get a 2:1). People found some of my twittering amusing but it wasn’t really a productive use of my time to sit there snarking, steadily becoming more frustrated and in the end getting, well, a bit depressed really. In fact I felt just the same as when we had that backchannel hoo-ha at LesBlogs2.0. Stuck in a room with far too many smart people not able to say anything while some other smart people sat on the stage and weren’t able to say enough. But I have to recognise that that’s just how I see it, it doesn’t mean that everyone else had the same reaction.

The thing I can take responsibility for is that I went into it entirely unconsciously – I didn’t really look at the programme, as was evidenced by my shock on arrival at the scale of the whole thing. If I had thought about it, I would have known that I was likely to rebel against the keynoting and panelling and would have planned to do something entirely different and positive with the opportunity instead of sitting there and trying to disrupt it. The only bit I behaved in was Bob Geldof’s bit – he’s a great performer and I’ve loved him ever since he tore up that picture of John Travolta on Top of the Pops.

So I’m sorry NESTA for poking you with a stick. I’m sorry Jonathan Freedland for calling you names on twitter. And I’m sorry to myself for using up a valuable day so miserably.

Ho hum. On to better things. I’ve sat in similar events and said “We can do better than this” I don’t think that’s true – it was a great event, but the programmed content was not for me. What I will say is “We can do something other than this – in fact we already are” That’s where my effort’s going today rather than in trying to pull somebody else down.

Bonus Link: The bit that Geldof quoted from WH Murray

Cognitive Surplus at Conferences

It struck me that Clay Shirky’s lovely notion of cognitive surplus has another expression in these panel and single speaker conferences. Where sitcoms mask cognitive surplus, occasions like this NESTA Innovation conference amplify and magnify it. We have 3,000 smart people (ok not smart enough to not come, but pretty smart nonetheless) sitting in a room listening to 4 other smart people on stage. The weight of ideas, thoughts, inspiration and excitement is enormous, and for me anyway painful – we all rush out to grab food and talk rapidly before coming back in to listen to the prime minister. Gaaaah! Cue Desperate Housewives.