People are good. It's a fundamental belief of mine. People should be friendly and courteous. It is our obligation as members of a somewhat advanced civilization to treat other individuals with dignity and respect. To be
cooperative, direct, honest and open. To also be graceful with measured words
I say this as I ponder the New Media Atlanta conference that took place last Friday. If you have not heard by now it was, to say the least, a quite interesting event. Seems that a little app called BackNoise become a very important part of the proceedings. Allie Sullivan, Paul Chaney (two places) and Stacy Williams, with this thoughtful article, have nice summaries of the proceedings. All of these folks are missing a few fundamental factors that led to the digression that they describe.
I have led and participated in my fair share of conferences in my day. I understand how hard it is to put something together. I understand how thankless the task can be. I applaud Matt Fagioli and Brad Nix for taking upon themselves to put New Media Atlanta together. But while I know Stacy and respect her a great geal, I am going to respectfully disagree with her. The conference was not great. It opened slow. With an hour of sponsors trotting across the stage. It started out so slow that the first scheduled speaker, Jeff Turner (who by the way did a masterful job moderating an afternoon panel), got up on the stage and said, to paraphrase, "the conference sucked thus far" according to BackNoise.
It really did not suck, but the slow opening led to people distracting themselves and many of them ended up on BackNoise. Once people got there they did not leave. They did not leave the back channel because the conference content was too basic for the audience. A negative comment vicious cycle ensued.
But you can't blame this on a simple Web application. BackNoise is merely a thing. A thing that lets anyone create back channel conversations with zero friction. I like to think about it as event specific Usenet, though others prefer an IRC analogy.
Regardless, just like Usenet, IRC, and any other online community, it is up to the community members to set acceptable standards. The New Media Atlanta community failed to set standards that many of the participants deemed to be acceptable. But you can't blame that on BackNoise and the presence of anonymity. Much of the commentary on the Internet is carried out under anonymity and unidentifiable pseudonyms. Many complained of the anonymity. Few called out participants that were carrying out what they deemed unacceptable behavior. Even fewer, including those that are now blaming BackNoise and anonymity, took to posting under a user name.
Most just stared and watched the train wreck. They just watched, without trying to push the car off the tracks. They watched without calling attention to the wrongness of what was transpiring. The organizers did not participate or guide the back channel in any meaningful way.
I am one of the very, very few that put my name on some comments (due to my sense of self importance if you were to believe the back channel). I did this to try and diffuse the situation. And yes, like many of the speakers, I was attacked. So what, there is nothing to fear from those that are anonymous.
When it came time for Chris Brogan to get on stage what he did was brilliant. He confronted what he feared the most head on. He shed his presentation (if he had one) and projected BackNoise on the stage screen during his speech.
Are they some things that could be done to improve BackNoise and make it a more conference friendly? Sure, I have been telling Keith Mcgreggor, the creator, for some time I believe this to be the case (BTW what is better about telling someone they suck using your real name rather than anonymously). And Keith is currently actively seeking ways to improve BackNoise based on what has transpired.
But if you are feeling icky and sick as a result of what happened at New Media Atlanta, don't blame it on BackNoise. Look in the mirror. Next time a back channel pops up at a conference that you are attending don't just watch. Take an active role in setting the norms and standards on what you want the community to be. Don't complain after the fact. Do something in the moment to lift the conversation. Do something good.