Another wonderful conference.

I’m sitting in the computer room at the Radisson RTP after Science Online ’09 has wound down, and most of the attendees have left — though I’m looking forward to dinner with a few fellow stragglers this evening.
Many thanks are due Anton, Bora, David and their various helpers, sponsors and assorted minions for running another wonderful conference. I was happier’n a pig in a puddle with this year’s program, as I was able to attend an Open Something (or related) session in almost every slot. There’s nothing quite like indulging an obsession with a crowd of like minds, especially when there remains enough diversity of opinion to (mostly) avoid the echo chamber effect. There was only one thing I can point to that wasn’t essentially perfect, which is that the web connection, wifi or wire, was flaky and slow quite a lot of the time. That observation must be taken in context, though: although everyone commented, no one complained. It just isn’t that sort of gathering.
My session with Björn went well (OK, I can’t really judge that — but I had fun!) — although it would have gone better if I’d shut up sooner. Having not been to an unconference before, I wasn’t strict enough with my introductory blurb and took up time that would have been better spent on the ensuing discussion, which was just terrific. I’ll know next time — and Björn was careful to learn from my mistake, limiting himself to a quick intro for his session with Peter Binfield and obstinately driving the discussion away from echo chamber territory, challenging the participants to come up with new ideas and ways forward. (If you’re interested in the Impact Factor question — that is, metrics and measurement in science — there’s a collaborative bibliography underway in a Google Doc here. I’ll make it publicly editable as soon as I figure out how; in the meantime email me if you want an invite to collaborate.)
I definitely prefer the unconference format to a traditional lecture-style conference. When there is a subject that needs more intensive coverage by the speaker(s), the flexible format easily accomodates that — for instance, John Wilbanks’ talk on the semantic web was of necessity about half informal lecture and half rowdy discussion, simply because it’s a complex topic about which few of us knew very much. (Before John got through, I mean, since it was an informative and inspiring look at the technology which will probably underpin the next truly radical leap forward in scientific capability.)
As Eva Amsen and Henry Gee both observed, the line between people I know online and people I’ve met in meatspace is getting very blurry these days. I was nonetheless pleased to meet Eva and Henry f2f for the first time, and also Björn, Peter and John, Cameron Neylon (more like “nylon” than “nay-lon”!), Victor Henning, Martin Fenner and a dozen others to whom I apologize for being too tired to remember you right now! I was of course no less happy to catch up with old friends, repeat offenders like me who were also at the 2007 and 2008 events.
And now it’s too late for me to get a nap before dinner, so I think I’ll go see if a shower will wake me up instead. More later as I process the many new ideas and insights I collected in the course of two very enjoyable days.

One thought on “Another wonderful conference.

  1. Bill, it was so nice to see you again. Thank you for the session – don’t self-flagellate either: I saw the video and the session did what it needed to do: introduce OA to people who are not OA Nozdrul (or anti-OA Nozdrul). There were plenty of related sessions on more advanced aspects of openness and publishing for the OA Nozdrul to enjoy. I think you and Bjoern did a great job.

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