Today, I had the pleasure to attend ArbCamp, an Open Spaces event that was held in the Ann Arbor area (at Washtenaw Community College). Over 100 people showed up. This event was incredibly well organized and, as with all of the Open Spaces events I've attended to date, an amazing learning experience. This time, I definitely talked myself into going. I wasn't sure I wanted to go … it was on a Saturday. It's time away from my kids. The topic of the event was "social networks and social media", so this a little outside of my area of interest as a developer, but heck. It was an Open Spaces event. I was confident that it would be cool and my husband encouraged me to go, that he and the kids would have a fun day without me (which they did at a cool indoor playground).
I'm SO glad that I went. As I've experienced in the past, it's hard to go to an open spaces event and NOT participate. Even when the topics are a bit outside of your interest, there's often SOMETHING that you would like to learn or experience or even contribute. This experience was no exception.
SRT is considering providing some space for coworking (allowing people to use our space, toward the idea of building collaborations, camaraderie, and broadening communication in the Ann Arbor area). We're running into a little pushback from our insurance company, who, to be comfortable with the idea, wants some cold hard cash. I had other questions that I wanted to ask so in spite of not having any answers, I convened (*) a session on Coworking: Opportunities and Challenges. It was great. I learned more about the way that people are coworking in Ann Arbor and elsewhere, and I got a lot of useful suggestions. And the other participants learned that there is more interest in coworking in Ann Arbor than they thought. I know about this: we've been getting inquiries.
(* Convening a session means that you add it to the schedule and take responsibility for showing up at the prescribed time and location and get things started, then get out of the way. And it's OK to convene a session about which you know nothing, toward the idea of getting answers!)
I went to several other sessions that others convened, including one on setting up a similar 1-day event for the ArborParent group. That's an interesting idea. I also went to one on B2B networking, where I learned a lot of things and hopefully provided some insight to others about the local community as well. The largest session that I attended was "Social Networking 101", where the topic was nominally LinkedIn, FaceBook, Twitter, etc., but the group moved in several directions, including the cool features of other software, about which I know NOTHING (but will likely learn). Some examples include: Jaiku and Pownce and Yahoo! Mash (which is WAY cool, according to the 20-somethings in attendance). We also talked about privacy online and how we all balance that (there was a separate session about balancing work and personal information while blogging, but I didn't attend that one).
Late in the day,I convened a session on "Dynamics of Online Communities". We talked about our experiences with flame wars, moderating, meeting people in real life (IRL), building trust, acknowledging the "Grand Unseen Audience" (thanks Larry!), hot topics, sock puppets (I didn't know previously that this was the term for people who create a secondary identity for the purposes of criticizing others in an online community without "endangering" their "real" online persona!). Anyhow, it was an absolutely fascinating discussion, I thought.
Joseph Jaffe did a keynote at the end of the day (separate ticket, not necessary to pay for that to attend ArbCamp). I didn't go. The discussion sounded somewhat interesting but not interesting enough to me to miss dinner with my family and to encounter post Michigan football game traffic in Ann Arbor (100,000 people leaving the stadium all at the same time is definitely something to avoid!). There was an after-event gathering at Arbor Brewing Company, which may still be going on as I type this from my kitchen table.
I hope that people continue to organize open spaces events in Ann Arbor. I was warned by Bruce Eckel a few years ago that people often become spoiled by Open Spaces events and don't like to go back to traditional conferences. This definitely happened in my case, and we're adding a more significant open spaces component to CodeMash this year. As a member of the organizing committee, I would prefer to go 100% to open spaces, but we're not there yet (sigh). But today, with the speaker deadline past for CodeMash, I was at least happy to know that many of the very cool and interesting people who I met at ArbCamp will be welcome to speak at CodeMash, in the Open Spaces sessions!
I'll stop writing now in spite of still feeling excited about my day, and encourage everyone to go to Open Spaces events, even when they only seem like they might be marginally relevant to your life. When it comes right down to it, when you put interesting people in a room together and encourage them to TALK to one another, interesting things happen. You, too, may be spoiled for traditional conferences.