To Conference or Unconference?

In our first unconference session at  SLA2009, we talked about a lot of things. But most of the discussion centered around conferences vs unconferences. Meg Smith did a wonderful job of moderating it. She took lots of notes and promised to put them up on the SLA Wiki.

So what is an unconference?  The Wikipedia Unconference page describes it in detail.  Here is another link – OpenSpace and TLTF.

For me, an unconference is simply a very interactive gathering with a larger theme but no detailed agenda. The agenda is collaboratively assembled in a wiki or made up during the conference. It is a collaborative process and blurs the lines between the speakers and audience.

While there may be a few presenters to bootstrap the event, any one can present. You can simply announce your topic, give a one minute pitch and get audience to your little gathering. The first one I did was on “Improving Search” and to my surprise there were three people from Google there.

Unconferences are dynamic, interactive, engaging and fun. There are three reasons I normally go to a conference. To learn, to interact with my peers and network. You can get all these in an unconference.

I see an increasing trend towards incorporating unconferences as part of regular conferences. Here are some options:

  1. Have a parallel unconference track along with the main conference. The advantage of this method is that people who are bored with their sessions or curious about unconferences will walk in. If they find these sessions useful, they will come back and also spread the word.
  2. Devote a whole session (all tracks)  for unconference. This will increae awareness and if people like it, this can be made a regular feature.
  3. Run the whole conference in an unconference style. This is what is done with mashupcamp, several foocamps, barcamps and devcamps. It is so prevalent, pbwiki even has a community for organizing such an event.

I never miss a chance to participate in an unconference in my area of interest. I encourage you to try it out.

Thanks to Meg and Kendra for taking the initiative and starting a few sessions during SLA2009. I hope they will spread. In the one I attended yesterday there were several great ideas, questions and discussions. Looking forward to seeing them on the wiki.

If you are conference organizer of any sort, please make an attempt to experiment with an unconference style event.  You will be amazed at the results.

Here are some links to the various unconference events I blogged about.

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