I attended my very first unconference yesterday. It was organised by WePublish, and proved to be an excellent introduction to unconferencing, and well worth a Saturday.
I very nearly didn’t go; I had diarised it under some cryptic reference to self-publishing, and had completely forgotten how I’d found out about it, who was organizing it, and why I’d wanted to attend in the first place. I thought it would be an interesting challenge, pretending to fellow participants I knew why I was there, but luckily the introductory session put me in the picture and I was happy to spend the rest of the day discussing all aspects of blogging and online publishing.
So what, then, is an ‘unconference?’ It was (informally) defined as an informal conference, with an informal agenda, and a large informally drawn wall-chart with blank spaces for participants to complete with proposals for any break-out sessions they would like to lead. I would be lying if I didn’t admit to a degree of scepticism about the set-up. But how wrong can you be? It was wonderful. In a nutshell, it was like real-world face-to-face Twitter.
I found it fascinating to see how social media culture has permeated actual non-digital reality. The egalitarian openness and free sharing of information of Twitter translates remarkably well into a conference situation, with most of the sessions consisting of questions, answers and sharing of information and experience. I loved the fact I was told I could go and wander off whenever I wanted to; obviously, once I knew I was at liberty to disappear, I was very happy to stay and take my coffee breaks at appropriately polite intervals. I loved too that mixing and circulating happened much more naturally than at other types of conference where most people are strangers.
My only quibble was that every male seemed to be called John. Or Jon. Or names syllablically similar which could have been Jon. And the informality of the day meant we didn’t bother with surnames. So I’m going to do a generic “Jon” thank you, and to WePublish and everyone who contributed so much useful and interesting information. Great stuff!