The Seattle chapter of ASIS&T put on a wonderful two day event at the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center this weekend the 13th-14th called InfoCamp. It was an un-conference modeled much like traditional BarCamps but with a few twists. The event was split into two separate days over the weekend from 9am-6pm the first day and 9am-4pm the second day. Each day began with single speaker then the day was filled with sessions put on by the attendees (as like other BarCamps) on a first-come first-served basis with personal introductions to the group before each block of sessions.
Aside from the keynotes each morning, there were about four sessions per time-slot and six time-slots total between the two days — four the first day, two the second. I was only able to attend one session per hour so that’s all I’ll review.
Day 1 – Saturday
Nick Finck of Blue Flavor started off the day with a keynote on The Next Generation of the Information Era where he touched on the idea of information overload and the increasing importance of context. He talked about how quickly the idea of the desktop and laptop computers are changing and how important context is in designing the interfaces and technology of tommorrow. We parted with a reflection on our quickly changing times and that we should all be thinking 10 years ahead into the future.
Aaron Louie led a discussion titled “WTF is Content Strategy?” where we tried to figure out what exactly a content strategy “document” is. We jumped around many meanings of content strategy and broke down his individual situation requiring him to deliver this so-called content strategy document. Lots of terms were thrown around but we ended up deciding that what he really needed to deliver was an analysis of the situation with a sort of next-steps for creating an actual content strategy.
After lunch, ZAAZ put on a great event they called Interface-off featuring a live DJ! They set up two stations on the stage with laptops running Visio, Internet Explorer, and Word displayed via projectors. The challenge was to solve UI/IA problems posed to the contestants using these tools in 8 minutes. It quickly evolved into a group activity with most of the work being done on paper rather than the computers but it was great fun. Some of the problems people tackled were combining search results between help forums and help documentation, featuring non-shoe items on the Zappos website, fixing Frys to be less overwhelming but still feature and sell items from all parts of their store without compromise, then lastly organizing a collection of items from an old person’s give-aways with the goal of earning money for charity. Lane, Chas, and I formed a team for the final organization challenge and had lots of fun organizing random crap.
Nick Gerner then led a small discussion about the issues he has been dealing with while developing a back-end calendaring system start-up VSched. He highlighted several visualization issues and interface constraints he was dealing with when aggregating many calendars into a small amount of space. The most interesting question he brought up, though, was how to deal with daylight savings time in traditional calendar views. Two days a year (for many countries) we either gain or lose an hour but traditionally our calendars don’t reflect that change accurately. When we lose an hour our applications still allow us to schedule appointments for invisible time and when we gain an hour there is no way to schedule for the condensed two hours accurately. The really interesting problems come up when you deal with recurring appointments that are either created on the problem times or run into them in a series. We took a look at Google Calendar to see how they dealt with these problems and now my eyes are wide open realizing I have to deal with these issues as well.
Nick Finck finished off the day by talking about The Skinny on The Mobile Web. He spoke of several different ways to optimize and build for the mobile web noting using css types or building separate applications as the primary options. He spoke of the “one web” as a false hope and re-enforced the importance of context when designing mobile applications. He mentioned the difficulty of mobile browser detection and pointed us to a few resources including the dotMobi Mobile Web Developer’s Guide as a good resource (at least for US markets).
Day 2 – Sunday
Bob Boiko started off day two with a plenary about our roles in this “information age”. He posed many questions asking us what we are doing to explain exactly how we think we can solve the lofty problems we all claim to be able to solve. It got everybody thinking about what we’re doing and served as a great starting point for many of the discussions we held on day two.
I then joined the beginning of a two-session discussion on social software tools. We began by discussion Facebook as a one-place-for-everything solution and discussed our thoughts on whether it will become the central place where all forms of communication and networking happen — including email dieing in lieu of the Facebook solution. Recurring points made were that Facebook works as a great “bits feeder” meaning it’s great for sharing little bits about yourself and doing general connections, but not as a full platform for communication; and that people who look at Facebook as a solution based on it’s amazing popularity should be wary not to percieve it as an end-all-be-all solution because everyone needs to analyze their own situation and pick the right solution for them.
Next up in the social tools duo was one led by me and Justin titled “How does communication change with the social web?”. We started it off by asking what people talk about now that they didn’t talk about before the social web and what do people not talk about now that the social web exists compared to before. The discussion led to talking about motivations that people have to create good meaningful discussion on the web and the dynamics behind incentives including making sure to encourage good discussion but not to encourage meaningless fluff. Someone pointed out that he uses content his friends post online to know what’s going on as a conversation starter and that he finds it to be somewhat of a goal to make his friends think he doesn’t read their blog even though he actually does.
Some points I drew from our discussion:
- People need to know exactly how to contribute and that if contribution is wanted, the system should make it easy and easily seen where and how to participate.
- People will participate if they are featured (exclusivity), get personal value, gain credibility, or are rewarded but we need to be careful not to make it too easy to have pointless participation that is value-less. Example: first to comment on a blog post
- (leading from the previous) Don’t give rewards for content blindly because the content will be crap. Example: Gaia Online
- The key is to provide a way for people to give valuable and thoughtful responses but also provide an easy way for people to get involved with simple feedback. Example: Amazon‘s product reviews
- The class system is relevant in online communities and people will often thrive around other similarly-classed, similarly-minded and similarly-experienced people.
- Be careful which features to release initially not to confuse users with the number of options they have to use your system and get involved.
- “Connectors” are important in growing communities. Social web applications can and should encourage and make this easy for people.
I was interested to see how the modified format would stand up and I think it worked out well. The turn out was a little low, but that’s to expected from a first-time conference like this. If all goes well and they put it on again, I’ll be there next year!