Another busy day at the Technology in the Arts conference, one which finally required me to stop in my tracks and take an unscheduled break in the form of a much-needed nap this afternoon. When I emerged back into the fray just before dinner, I noticed that I wasn’t alone in having noticed a few elements that have been mysteriously absent from this otherwise highly enjoyable gathering.
1. If there is an online, real-time gathering place for this conference, then we just don’t know about it. It seems very odd that an arts & technology conference wouldn’t have a live blog, a group blog, a wiki, or some form of online community space. I’ve noticed several if not many attendees live-blogging and live-twittering the workshops, and it’s weird not to have a central place for all that thought, feedback, and commentary.
2. Although it’s clear that at least one ulterior motive for hosting this conference is to show off the Center for Arts Management and Technology, there has been a surprising lack of actual information given to attendees about the program, any research projects that may be going on, the mission, goals, and plans of the organization, or even a pitch for applicants in the graduate program that certainly seems like it would be of interest to this self-selected group. It just seems like a lost opportunity. God knows that if it were my conference, you would walk out of here knowing who we were and what we did and why that was important to the field as a whole — and how you could get involved in our work. Right now all I can say I know about CAMT is that they are based at Carnegie Mellon University, and they put on this swell conference every year.
3. Speaking of if this were my conference, I’ve noticed that they seem to struggle with a challenge that my organization has recently faced as well at our annual regional conference — addressing the different levels of experience and proficiency of their attendees. I sat in one workshop today where I was told at the beginning that if I were live-blogging or live-twittering the workshop, I didn’t really belong there — that I was already too advanced. Not that there shouldn’t be a basic survey of Web 2.0 tools for beginners (as this was), but how about a simultaneous workshop for those of us who are already on every social networking site we’ve heard of — perhaps one dealing with managing mutliple SoNets, crafting a master SoNet plan for your organization, or even (my favorite) pitching the value of SoNets to your board or senior staff. It’s important to realize, as the conference grows and evolves, that if you only offer beginner-level material, you are robbing yourself of return customers, as they head elsewhere to seek intermediate and advanced material. And they’re doing a great job here — there’s no reason they can’t work in parallel tracks for different levels of expertise, and do it well.
4. It would have been really nice to have received a list of attendees and their affiliations prior to arrival on site, as it were, so that we could make the most out of our networking opportunities. Better still would have been a list that included email contacts for all attendants. Of course, this sort of communication could have also been handled very easily if there was a group blog or wiki for the conference. I could have posted on the group site that I wanted to have coffee during the break with other folks interested in open source CMS, for instance, or asked if anyone wanted to go for Indian food for lunch and talk about building artist exchange programs, or share a cab back to the airport in the morning and talk about how much we’d like to work with/for Jake Barton. (Just for example.) It really would have been helpful, of actual practical use, and it just makes sense for a technology conference to be a bit more “hooked up.”
These were the things I heard several people gab about at the VIP reception and the close-out bash tonight, and I had to admit that I had these thoughts as well. Again, I empathise with the coordinators — it’s impossible to do everything, and I can tell that they are a small and dedicated army pulling off a pretty impressive feat (and the quality of the hotel and dedicated shuttle are VERY nice touches that I do not want to minimize!), but they could certainly harvest some of the energy and talent of their attendees next year by asking if anyone is interested in, say, setting up, talking up, and even gardening an online presence for the conference. And yeah, sure, I guess maybe I am volunteering.
Got to put one’s money where one’s mouth is and all that rot, you know.