Ask anyone who was at BloggerCon I and BloggerCon II to explain the format that evolved there, and you're likely to see their eyes light up, as they wave their hands, but until you've experienced it, they'll just be words. I hope to renew the evangelism for this format while I'm at NYU, and have access to the meeting facilities of the university.
The format is not far from the Socratic classroom, a discussion leader who pulls the interesting bits from the minds of the people in the room, with no sense of one person being a speaker and another being audience. Everyone is both a source and destination of thought.
The format solves the problems of the typical professional conference, the problem of droning self-important speakers who bore the audience and force the good stuff out into the hallway. The first goal of the format is to suck the good stuff back into the room. Everything about the format is designed to eliminate the boring, self-serving droning. But to do it respectfully. We're not running the Gong Show.
Fred Wilson wrote a piece this morning on Panels. He went on to say what he doesn't like about conferences. I am so sure that Fred would love the BloggerCon format. It was designed for people like Fred.
The format is outlined on the BloggerCon site. But I'm going to reproduce that outline here, and edit it and bring it up to date.
4. The discussion leader is also the editor, so if he or she feels that a point has been made they must move on to the next point quickly. No droning, no filibusters, no repeating an idea over and over.
6. Think of the conference as if it were a weblog. At the beginning of each session, the leader talks between five and fifteen minutes to introduce the idea and some of the people in the room. Then she'll point to someone else. She may ask a couple of questions to get them going, then she'll point to someone else, then someone else, then make a comment, ask a question, etc. Each person talks for two to three minutes. Long enough to make a point.
7. The attention is focused on the discussion leader. You can ask questions, you don't necessarily have to wait to be called on, use your judgment. But ask the question of the Discussion Leader, and let him find the answer for you in the room. Experience has shown that when others in the room assume the moderation function, the ground rules break down, and droning happens, and people move into the hallway.
8. The leader's job is to keep it moving. Sometimes this means cutting people off. Don't take it personally if it happens to you, any more than you would if a reporter only quoted part of what you said in the article. Life's not perfectly fair. You don't have a right to be heard. Sorry. (But you do have a right to get new ideas, meet new people, have new experiences.)
9. Since every person in a session is considered an equal participant, everyone should prepare at least a little. Think about the subject, read the comments on the conference website. Follow weblogs from other people who are paticipating. Think about what you want to get out of the session, and what questions you wish to raise, and what information or points of view you'd like to get from the session.
11. All conversations, whether to the entire room or one-to-one, unless otherwise stated, clearly and up front, are on the record and for attribution. You do not need to ask permission to quote something you hear at BloggerCon. Of course you may ask for permission to quote, and you may choose not to quote things you hear.
12. Where I come from, the technology world, most conferences are centered around the vendors. This is not like those conferences. Here, vendors are welcome, and we hope they will help by sponsoring a party, dinner or brunch, but they participate mainly by listening.
13. Most of the people who are talking are users. In my opinion, these are the revolutionaries. Vendors make a living by creating tools that these people use to change the world. So much attention is focused on technology, too much imho. At this conference we turn it around and focus on what people are doing with the technology. So if you hear someone say it's about the technology, expect me to challenge if I'm present. If not, stand up and say "That's not correct."
14. If they say the technology is too complicated for a user to understand, ask them why, and if they could simplify it so we can understand. And if not, why should we use it? Perhaps a new user-centered philosophy will emerge.
15. Sometimes conferences bog down in meta-discussions, discussions about what it's okay to discuss. I want to try to head some of that off in advance by stating some assumptions, and asking people who want to discuss these things to either discuss them here on the Web beforehand, or to find another venue to discuss them.
16. Weblogs are journalism. Not all weblogs, and not all the time. People have said weblogs aren't journalism, and that seems foolish, as strange as saying telephones aren't journalism. It's kind of a moot question. Weblogs can be used for journalism, or not. When people say they're not journalism, I think they haven't thought it through well enough.
17. "What is a weblog" is an interesting question. I've heard people say it's not a good question. At BloggerCon if you have an idea that requires you to say or ask what a weblog is, please go ahead. It's totally on-topic. I would consider the conference a success if that's the only thing we figured out. (Chances are we won't, btw.)
18. No commercials. This is a user's conference, it's non-commercial, you may not promote products. If a discussion naturally turns to products, it's okay to talk about them, but it's probably not okay to talk about your product, unless the discussion leader asks you to. No matter what you must ask for permission, and don't be surprised if the answer is no. There are good reasons for this, if one person talks about his or her product, then their competitors will feel they are entitled to, and pretty soon the user's needs are drowned out by the needs of the vendors. The point of this conference is to focus on users.
19. You are welcome to bring your own recording equipment, cameras are allowed, basically the rules allow Grateful Dead/Phish style recording. Bring your microphone or camera and recording device, and record it and broadcast it any way you like. Be innovative, but please don't interfere with the sessions.