Friday, December 09, 2005

MindMaps from BrainJams3Dec2005

We are still working on how to best distribute the knowledge and ideas from our last BrainJams event, so please view this as an open experiment. We would appreciate it if you could please post your comments here with any feedback regarding these maps and this process. You can also add some suggestions to the Wiki, where I have posted a page that links to all the maps available for download, or send me additional notes to include in the maps. I need to work through a few more things to get the RSS feed working, but wanted to get this out before the week ended.

We have also published the maps as Web pages. I will not get too deep into analytics here because I don't waste any more time in getting these out, but here is a basic overview of what is available.
  • Rather than publishing 10 maps as I had initially though, it seemed better to create one big map for the afternoon sessions. The reason being the different note taking styles of our volunteers just seemed to dictate this format. we only have them because of the efforts of Nate Koechley, Charles Merriam, Andy Kaufman and Tom Blosson from MindJet. The tag for this map is BrainJams3Dec2005:AfternoonSessions

  • The end of day "surveys" we did were all organized into a separate map and tagged with 'BrainJams3Dec2005:Feedback'. With thanks to Kristie Wells for putting this one together (and learning to use MindManager).
  • A simple web page is located at which will be the location for all maps from all events.

Each map has its own tag created within the BrainJams3Dec2005 'tagspace'. A tagspace is a new concept I have proposed for dealing with tags. I won't get into it in detail, but the idea is pretty simple - create a pattern of words which average people can adopt to whatever it is that you are doing that is also easily searchable by the different search technologies. Another example of a Tagspace is BrainJams:Planning or as we are using with the sessions from the afternoon BrainJams3Dec2005:AfternoonSessions (which follows the eventTag:portionOFday format. At one point I almost dropped the proposal for Tagspaces but Chris Pirillo has encouraged me to move it forward so I am.

That is all for today - more to come over the weekend.

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Rise of Amateur Conferences

For the past couple of years we have talked about the rise of the amateur. I first heard the term at the Internet Everywhere conference back in 1999, but am sure it was talked about before then. The rise of amateur content has been driven by 3 primary factors cheap and easy to use tools, cheaper distribution and frustration with the status quo of few to many media. An underlying element here is that most people long to be involved in genuine conversation, not talked at. Remember what it felt like when your teacher (or some arrogant prick) talked at you, telling you they know better in that arrogant sort of way. This is the frustration that brings about change when coupled with the right socioeconomic factors like we have today.

The same thing is happening in the conference space as evidenced by our successful BrainJams event from last Saturday and the dozens of other similar events that are popping up everywhere. For the sake of clarity, my take on the types of events are:

1. Meetups/BBQ's - usually a night time event where drinks and demos are the central stars

2. BrainJams - a day long unconference focused on participant interaction and conversations, borrowing from the Open Space model (and inspired by BarCamp), but unique in other ways

3. BarCamps - usually weekend events that involve more technically inclined folks, with some sleeping the night away in office spaces where the events are held, also borrowing from the Open Space model

All of these events, regardless of the format, share one common thread. They are organized by participants with support from Patrons/sponsors for the purpose of ad-hoc collaboration and communication. In the case of amateur events, they are also driven by the same factors as amateur content and they are often driven by the additional desire for average people with extraordinary ideas to participate and contribute.

This is especially the case when participating in the primary "confersation" costs more than 3% of your company's budget, or you are self-employed or perhaps even un-employed, between jobs. Unless we are all doomed to judging a book by its cover, I don't believe that one's ability to pay upwards of $2,000 for a conference is directly correlated to one's ability to contribute. It is, however, a convenient way of determining this and ensuring that the people who attend are there with a shared purpose, so I am not knocking regular conferences here, just analyzing the evolution and pointing out the differences. (In fact, the Fast Company Real Time conferences were so invaluable to me that I once took out a loan just so I could attend.)

But when people start getting bored by a conference before even getting there, you know it is time for things to get shaken up a bit. At our recent BrainJams event, many of the people who showed up had no idea what to expect, but invested a Saturday with us anyways. They were excited. They were in charge (ok, not totally, but mostly). Unlike the top down taxonomy of a traditional conference, BrainJams presented them with the chance to develop their own Folksonomy for what their experience would be like. We just provided a framework in which they could move, much like the canvas is a framework upon which one can paint to create art or a small club is for a group of jazz musicians to create music.

I don't want to get much deeper than this today except to say that there has been a lot of talk lately about how to support conferences where people don't pay to attend? Our experience (and the experience of TechCrunch and BarCamp) shows that you can do it - but it is not easy. If Judith from BSTV had not come through at the last, last minute, we would have lost a bit of money. However, when the purpose of the event is not about making money, but is instead about making meaning for people, wallets open and smart, wonderful people come out of the woodworks to lend their energy and support. Kristie mentioned that all day long she was pulling 1's and 5's out of the 'tip jar' at the last event. We even received around $50 in private donations after the event.

Brian Dear of Eventful wrote a good post on the financial aspects of Amateur Events using the term "user generated advertisers" which was picked up by BusinessWeek. Peter Caputa of WhizSpark correctly points out that this has been around for a while, though I disagree with him in that it has not been thought about in this context. When user generated content, meets user generated conferences, meets user generated advertising, wonderful things can happen... and that is one of the keys to the success of BrainJams.

BTW - We never even got mainstream media's attention for what we did (still don't really have it despite the piece on KRON4 and a nice article on Internet News) and yet, all the right people showed up, we did not lose money and the patrons received value for their contributions. Am still not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but do want to spread the word wider so we will be issuing a press release next Monday about the prior event and the future.

Also, I should point out that a friend and colleague is working on this problem with his recently announced company
SyncPeople in which I was briefly involved that also addresses this problem form a more holistic perspective which I think is right on target.

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Where is the Netiquette?

It used to be a given. The leaders of the Internet 'revolution' were all focused on providing an open space that invited people in and made them welcome. They lead by example, and people like Howard Rheingold set a damn good example in how he conducted himself (still does) which was expressed in the book Virtual Community (free read on his site).

Now we have (unnamed) folks who would rather "efff good sense" and "effff civility". Maybe these statements were merely meant to be antagonistic or just frothy, but I suspect they were generated more from group think that developed amongst a portion of the conference attendees. Those statements certainly shocked me and made me stop to think about this matter deeper, so I am glad for that if not the sentiment.

The trouble is, these are the new leaders and this is the example they choose to set. Sounds a lot like Charles Barkley exclaiming he is no role model and dismissing the notion that he should be a responsible leader. Well guess what, he was a leader/role model and so are you. While anarchists (not referring to any individual here) have some appealing ideas and arguments, those arguments tend to be narcissistic and inward focused. Which is fine if you want to live in a world where no one is looking out for anyone else. But if you truly want people to be empowered and to become self-reliant beyond government hand-outs, we must lead them. In order to lead them we must communicate with them and educate them. As any good parent will tell you, we lead by the examples we set. How we communicate, how we conduct ourselves and what attitude(intention) we take when interacting with others are the most important things every individual has in their direct control. So take control of it and let's all work towards our common goals while respecting each individual and being more tolerant of the situational and cultural differences.

History has some lesson here I am sure - most likely in the fall of Roman civilization, but I am no historian so that is as far as I will take that point. We do however, stand at a defining moment in our history which could determine the success or failure of our society. Either we continue to wage wars and behave crudely like violent animals, or we can rise ourselves up above all that by being more conscious and aware of the world around us and how we interact with it.

Howard Rheingold wrote an important critique of a paper that presents quite an opposing view to this which I just found researching this post. Am so glad there are people with his insytes in the world who share them so freely. Am so glad that smart people have had the chance to enter the conversation - I certainly don't want to shut them out as we have done with the political system in America. The biggest problem with American politics (for those of you not living here who can't see it) is not that the system is broken as some suggested in the back channel. It is that the loudest people with the most aggressive personalities have shouted down and intimidated the moderate centrists who actually represent the majority of my great country. And yes, I am a proud citizen, not for the many stupid things we have done over the course of our history, but for the incredible, soaring spirit of possibility that beats within our hearts and the hearts of millions of people who have come to live here.

So I am glad Mena confronted Ben, but wish she would have done it better. I also have a lot of respect for Ben standing up as he did, but I wish he could have just said why he felt Mena's presentation was Bullshit. Most of all, I am glad this conversation has come to light at this time - it is seemingly the most important thing to come from Les Blogs. Don Park has one of the best points I have read so far in all this on Ben's blog post about 'the civility incident'.

[Update: Apparently Ben does not like the attention as all links to his site are getting the message GONE. If you follow one of those links, just hit the refresh button or enter the URL directly to read the page]

[Background bote: I briefly participated in the backchannel conversation at the end of each day of les blogs and have read through many of the posts about the 'Ben vs. Mena' discussion which I will now affectionately call 'the incident'. I was not there, but I watched the video. I also posted a comment on Ben's blog. This is a much deeper discussion that was brought to light as a result of 2 well meaning people who each would probably wish things went down differently. I saw some people talking about this as if the people being affected were just 'suits' (ie business interests) but the reality is much broader. Even if it were just suits, many people forget that there are people in those suits, and those people deserve as much respect as every other human until they are known personally as being less deserving. Wholesale stereotyping seems to be bad when addressing most groups by many people, but ok when it comes to people in the world of business. This double standard is not fair, nor is it appropriate or inline with the peace/love view of the world that so many of those people are proponents of. Equal justice/opportunity for all, means ALL people, not just the people you agree with.]

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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Bloggers are hurting the dead tree people...

It has been a long time since I used that phrase. But back in 1996/1997 we bantered it about quite a bit when we talked about the Internet revolution. In case you don't know, 'dead tree people' refers to the people who work at newspapers. The advent of the web was supposed to have meant the end of them back then just as it is today. A quick search on Google yielded only 57 results which I find odd considering its prior prevalence as a term of less than endearment.

I was in the process of writing a post about the Ryan Blitstein's whining piece in SFWeekly last week and the fact that the San Francisco Chronicle was working with a direct marketing firm on a new outreach campaign, when I read Mike Arrington's piece on Lee Gomes write up in the Wall Street Journal on the tech blogs elite. I must say that this is one of the first articles I have read from someone outside the valley that really gets it in a deep way. Kudos to Lee - the Wall Street Journal certainly won't be disappearing any time soon, and he is one of the reasons why.

When you build an organization of smart people that are empowered to understand and communicate meaning, you are bound to be successful. This no longer requires really deep pockets to fund it, nor does it require advertising budgets. All it requires are the people, their insights, the tools, the organizing principle and the effort. Wow, look at that, a new acronym - PITOPE. A lousy sounding one, but that is really all it takes...
To his point about some journalists complaining of losing choice seats at PR events etc... we should all remember this simple truth. Marketing people are trying to buy the largest influence for their money. If they know that one key blogger like a Scoble or Arrington can influence several thousand people who influence untold numbers of other people in just a few minutes time, why court someone whose influence is not easily measurable and not in real time who will be filtered by an editor and a publisher with potentially competing agendas? Hmmm, this goes much deeper than time permits at the moment. More to come, but now back to the regularly scheduled post I started before I saw the WSJ piece...
The Chronicle has hired a DM firm to do subscriber acquisition for them. Just got the call (on MON):

CSR - "You have been randomly selected for a new trial subscription of the San Francisco Chronicle that runs for Friday, Saturday and Sunday for only $19.95 per year."

ME - "No thanks we don't do print any more."

CSR - "Thank you for your time."

ME - "Goodbye"

I wanted to write about this because of the cover story I saw in this week's SFWeekly where the writer bemoans how Craigslist is making newspapers fire people and reduce the quality of journalism because they are taking millions of dollars from newspaper's classified revenues. The guy forgets that the SFWeekly did the same thing to the Chronicle and Examiner when it launched, and when cable advertising came in and when auto trader launched and when... just about everyone who could come up with an idea for a media product launched. It is called competition and it is seldom good for entrenched monopolies, but usually good for the people over the long term.

In the increasingly connected world in which we live, each of us only has 24 hours of attention each day, so those who can use the least of it and provide the best value for that time are the winners of our economy. Simple is hard. Do it and win.

I believe that the economy favors those organizations who can best leverage the right assets for solving a particular problem. As more and more of the economy is driven by knowledge based products, the right combination of assets is all about collective brain power. Essentially, as Paul Zane Pilzer says, [my paraphrasing] "people's ability to get along is the single most important determiner of value."

Craig understood simple and he is helping others to do the same with their all important causes. A population that is better educated will make a better country as long as they have an efficient way of being discovered and heard by people who are passionate about the same things.

if this means the end of the newspaper, c'est la vie. I certainly hope they wakeup from their slumber and start to innovate and kick more ass like the folks over at KRON4 have done. Not only did they launch a local blog aggregator called The Bay Area is Talking to participate in the conversation and remain relevant, but they have also launched a new Video Journalist program (brief explanation on Wikipedia) with the assistance of the modern VJ movement's principal advocate Terry Heaton. Check out one of Terry's posts from back on 11/12/2004 describing what he saw as the future.

"Here's my prophecy. What will begin as a cost-cutting measure on the part of station owners will eventually lead to a transformation in video newsgathering in the U.S. The ability to edit in the field (or at one's home) will also lead to employment changes and open the door for citizen involvement in the process."
Things are changing all the time but it seems that several people in the newspaper business just want things to stay the same. Maybe it would be better if only those in the ivory towers could read and write - that way they could tell us what to do like the kings and churches did before Gutenberg? At least there would be more trees I suppose...

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BrainJams3Dec2005: Much thanks and love for...

... first and foremost to the love of my life and newly crowned fiance, Kristie Wells, without whose emotional, logistical and financial support I never would have been able to do this whole thing and turn a little idea into reality.

There are many people to thank, many of who I have thanked ad nauseum since we started, but first and foremost, thanks to our Patrons who made it all financially possible.

  • David Gutelius from SRI not only got the space for us this time from his esteemed employer, but offered up a space for the Web 2.1 event, helped coordinate and was an invaluable advisor in thinking about how to manifest this idea.
  • Mike Arrington from TechCrunch is a sharp nice guy who gets it more than any other lawyer I have ever met. Besides being a patron, I am glad to call him a friend.
  • Tom Blossom and Hobart Swan from MindJet ponied up cash and prizes for this past BrainJams event and laid the groundwork for future collaboration. I loved their product before they were Patrons of the event, so anything good I have to say about them comes from the heart of a user not the wallet. (I even created my attempt at a resume in MindJet
  • Pandora has finally tweaked the music genome just right. Again, speaking as a user, these guys rock. Hopefully next time we can try to do the BrainJams radio powered by Pandora idea I had for the conference (where a live pandora station is playing and we all can vote music up or down throughout the day)
  • Scott Beale from Laughing Squid could not be at the event in person, but was certainly there in spirit. Another person who I am proud to call a friend as well as a patron.
  • Lawrence Coburn from Rate-it-All has been another overwhelming friend and patron of the event. I can't thank him enough, though I will try at our holiday party next week...
  • When I met Nate Koechley at TLPTEALP, I had no idea how fortunate I was at the time. A technologist with the spirit of a warrior. One of the few people I have met with the word 'catalyst' on their business card who actually is one. As I said to him, it is not so much the money as the energy it represents...
  • William Pietri from Scissor came out of the blue, but in the small world we live in, is a friend of a friend. I hope to get to know him better in 2006
  • Judith Szepesi of Blakely, Sokoloff, Taylor, and Zafman came through at the literal last minute - just as I was about to print the program for the day and go to bed. Not only did she come through big time in paying for most of the lunch, her and her husband Charles Merriam were terrific participants with tons to contribute. Am very glad we had the chance to meet and look forward to talking more directly in the future.
Last but definitely not least, the many volunteers who came over to our house a couple of times and did so much before and during the event.

  • Rachel Murray has been key to organizing content in the wiki, working through the big issues, promoting the event to other communities and making sure things were running smoothly the day of. For this extraordinary effort, and her contributions to the conversation, we are giving her the first ever Star of BrainJams award - which in the case of this event includes her own copy of MindJet's MindManager.
  • Andy Kauffman was phenomenal with all around support. Not only did he lend his dynamic energy towards the thinking behind the ideas for BrainJams, he came to my house to run some errands and record a podcast about the event from his mobile rig. Then he showed up and was a ball of fire all day, eventhough he was at a concert the night before till the wee hours of the morning.
  • Preston was awesome as a co-host - despite the difficulties she faced when trying to get people moving who did not want their conversations to end. She also helped quite a bit in nailing down the ideas for running the event and is just a great source of energy for us all.
  • Noah Kagan did an awesome job with the teen panel - perhaps we will have more things to do together in the future... And maybe next time, Tara will be in town to see her idea in action rather than listening to it on a podcast.
  • Nancy Tubbs was a big help the day before the event in setting up and particularly at staying focused. She also suggested the simpler 'ring around the room' as opposed to my idea with multiple circles. It worked, so much thanks to Nancy for all her help.
  • Brian Shields shot some great video of the event which made it on air over the weekend. He also came to our house for some planning meetings and has been a great friend on our journey so far. Thanks again for your energy.
  • Shannon Clark is a new friend (known less than a week) but he and Christopher Allen have been very helpful in educating us on what works with Open Spaces and lending their expertise from prior events they have done. No need to reinvent the wheel, but I would like to make it spin better :) I am really thankful to have true experts at this to advise us.
  • Majida Thalji was a one woman power show. We never met or spoke before, but she showed up and just started working. Amazing! So cool too. This is the sort of self starter I want at my next start-up - someone who just sees something needing to be done and does it. Reminds me of the old dirty bucket of water outside the monastery story - but I wont go there now.
So many others to thank, I hope I remembered everyone, but have not been able to think so clearly with this cold the past couple of days. More to come shortly...

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Monday, December 05, 2005


Just a quick note on this development (still working on several other emails and blog posts). I just got off Skyping with Ben Barren from down under. He heard the podcast from The Chris Pirillo show the other day and wanted to see about hooking up with what we are doing with BrainJams.

We talked about how they could build on parts of our successful event from last Saturday and I invited him in to the community so we can all learn about how this can work best from all corners of the world. The Wiki Page is coming soon, but if you want to register you can send email to and check out the BrainJams Wiki for more details later.

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some inspiration from Paris...

I so wish I could have been there. I love Paris. I made it there once with a former girlfriend and Kristie and I will be back there in the spring I hope. We had a real blast running around the city, lunching in the latin quarter, spending way too much money at maison du chocolat and eating/drinking amazing cuisine. We had dinner at one of the oldest still operating restaurants in the world where we had a private dining room just for the two of us. Apparently this was the place the courtesan's used to meet their 'gentlemen' for the evening - the divan's were placed next to brass rails on the walls (hmmmm wonder what that was for?) - but this tangent is over, because the real reason I love Paris is the spirit. It feels like one of those earth vortexes (ala Taos etc...) because the energy just makes it a magical place.

Thankfully, we get to live the event through our live blogging and flickring friend Tara Hunt and to participate in the back channel at Tara posted a photo last night that really caught my eye - I thought it would look good as a black and white with high contrast, but could not make that happen, so after playing with photoshop a little to make it look like something, I came to a certain point and the spirit of Paris and this past weekend's BrainJams event, when I mashed up Tara's photo and came up with this new poster idea.

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Sunday, December 04, 2005

BrainJams3Dec2005 College Panel

4 Stanford undergraduates joined 60+ people in Menlo Park to discuss what they think about the latest technology, what they use and why. Noak Kagan from and did an exceptional job leading a sharp, insightful and entertaining conversation across generational boundaries. Thanks to Andy Kaufman for recording this session. This one is for you Tara...

BrainJams:planning 1st key insyte

There are many to come, but I think the first is:

Event Name/Title = Event Tag

We put the tag (BrainJams3Dec2005) everywhere, on the flyers, on the footer of the BrainJams Journal, even on the router name. It seems that it worked. Check out Technorati to see the latest.

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