Sunday, January 28, 2007

harvard comes to san francisco

yesterday, harvard came to san francisco in the form of a mobile identity workshop - an unconference organized by the berkman center and held at CNet headquarters. the workshop's host was doc searls. i attended the morning sessions and the evening reception.

the topic of the workshop was user-centric identity within mobile spaces. in a nutshell, as digitial environments become more common in our everyday lives, we create more and more digital identities - our credit identities, our consumer identities, our civic identities, our alternative identities - to help us navigate through such environments. workshop questions included is it possible to have a single digital identity to save time? is it advantageous? who creates those identities? who manages them and who mines them? who controls the identities? and who controls access to those identities' information trails?

the unique mode of the unconference - or open space technology - allows participants to actually meet other participants. i met stacy bond, of audioluxe, who is also teaching audio production (including podcasting) this semester for media studies. i met leslie rule, of KQED's digital storytelling initiative, who also is involved in a cool sounding digital storytelling undergraduate class at sf state. i remet brad fitzpatrick, creator of livejournal, who also took an independent study with me years ago when he was an undergraduate studying computer science at UW. and best of all i saw beth kolko - professor, colleague, and one of my favorite humans i know - who told me about the mobile indentity workshop in the first place.

the workshop was far from perfect. for me, too often participants referred to users as consumers rather than citizens. was this a business workshop or an activist workshop? the makeup of the participants, like so many other technology-related events i've attended, was embarassingly male and embarassingly white. i can't imagine how it must have felt to be a female in an 80-90% male-filled room - when will this nonsense stop? and, at times, there seemed to be too much talking and not enough listening.

that said, i thoroughly enjoyed the event. doc kepts us on pace, folks shared ideas with respect and curiosity, and there was no shortage of smart minds in the room. i am a convert of the unconference format and believe academic conferences should implement similar modes of interaction immediately. and i think it was smart of the berkman center to take their show on the road and come to the bay area where mobile identities and other forms of digital culture seem to be invented and reinvented on a monthly basis.

i had plans that afternoon so i was unable to attend the later sessions but i gladly returned downtown for the evening reception. free drinks! smart people! free food! more free drinks! ordinarily, these kinds of schmooze and booze things aren't my thing; i usually take my partying elsewhere, away from fancy hotels that serve rich people. but this was different. the berkman center has brought together some really smart people, both as staff and fellows, smart people who also build remarkable things like creative commons, global voices, and the center for citizen media. plus, during the reception i got to meet the insanely smart seth young.

at some point during the unconference, beth introduced me to colin maclay, managing director of the berkman center, who told me about beyond broadcast: from participatory culture to participatory democracy. this. looks. wicked. cool. a collaboration between academic units from MIT, harvard, and yale, the conference will feature a keynote from henry jenkins and panel discussions from media makers and policy commentators. the second half, it appears, follows a more unconference mode and will include working groups that attendees will help organize. beyond broadcast takes place at MIT on feb 24. it costs fifty bucks to register, but that includes lunch and an evening reception. with a little luck i'll be there.


....J.Michael Robertson said...

Is this approach applicable to faculty meetings?

david silver said...

ohmigod - why not? also, maybe the departmental retreat?

Ryan Turner said...

Sounds like a great conference, David--a topic I'm very interested in, for a number of reasons. I advise our clients these days to start thinking specifically about web site identity management as a component of their customer and partner relationships. There's a need for corporations to make a shift away from viewing registered users as CRM datapoints and toward viewing them as people, with meaningful attributes beyond contact information and opt-in advertising status, with whom the company relates over time through the web. Nobody gets this stuff yet, as far as I can tell, so it's exciting to hear that folks are gathering to discuss it. I hope you'll ping me if you hear of anything similar coming to the great grey north.