This is Not the Summer Camp I Remember

Deconstructing Dave

So Dave and Scoble (still on his Memeorandum hiatus) were talking. They agreed that the blogosphere has become as flammable as mailing lists and usenet newsgroups. I don’t really agree with that, but this isn’t a poll.

Dave says there are some topics that you can’t talk about without inciting a flame-war, and he does his best not to incite one by not mentioning what those topics are. At least not directly.

Then he says there aren’t many people doing the flaming, but that they control discourse because they control who gets to “speak at the conferences.”

Ah, conferences. Camps, mashups, gatherings, happening, Techcrunches. We’re back on the “my nerd camp is better than your nerd camp thing,” with an ironic twist of Gatekeeping thrown in for good measure.

I have some questions about these conferences that I hope someone will answer for me.

Maybe these Conferences are…Different

But let me digress just a little. I typically give between 15-20 speeches a year. Not in Mike Arrington‘s back yard- I’ll never make it on that invitation list. Rather, I speak at conferences, seminars and conventions about boring things like real estate development and the music business. These events are attended by people in the business, but not really because they are the place to be seen or because they are more fun than a party at Mike’s place.

The truth is that people attend them primarily to meet the continuing education requirements mandated by their licensing state. Sure, there’s a lot of networking at some of the big ones, but most of the time getting required continuing education hours is the focus.

Of course, this guarantees an audience as people who would prefer to be elsewhere have to get so many hours of continuing education a year.

I speak at these events not because I think they’re more fun than Disneyland, but because sometimes people hear me speak and then hire me to do their legal work. It’s marketing, plain and simple.

The Cost of Being Seen

Which brings me back to the conferences Dave is talking about. Since he is talking about flaming in the context of the blogosphere, I assume these conferences are related at least in some material way to blogging and the blogosphere.

Who goes to these things? Do they pay lots of money to attend? Is it like a geek Oscar party where it not the party but the being invited that counts? Are there actual customers in attendance or only vendors and journalist types? Who are the customers of a conference about blogging? Isn’t it a little like preaching to the choir?

How many people attend these things? Is there a big group of people who travel from one to the next like some sort of Grateful Geek nation? Are there Daveheads? Is Dave a bigger celebrity than Ken? If they played checkers, who would win?

Do the people who attend these conferences have jobs? Is going to these conferences a part of their job? Do their companies pay for them to go to these conferences? Can I get a gig like that?

OK, so a lot of that is tongue in cheek.

But I don’t get the turf wars that seem to be ongoing over these conferences, camps, mashups, whatever the unnecessary synonym of the day is. What is the turf that someone is trying to protect? And why?

And One More Thing

And here’s another thing, what kind of conference lets somebody flame someone else from the podium without giving the recipient a chance to respond? I’ve never been to nerd camp but I have logged hundreds of hours behind the podium and I have never once witnessed anything like that- and if you think the egos at nerd camp are bigger than the ones at law or music camp, think again.

In fact, I have seen sponsors make time for someone who wasn’t on the agenda to present an opposing view point. How can we triangulate from a single data point?

Unless these conference are more cage match than college, anyone who lets people stand up and trash someone else just because they don’t get along isn’t doing a very good job of running a conference.

I Know You Are, But What Am I?

I don’t understand about 80% of what Dave and Scoble were talking about that got distilled into Dave’s post, but I still agree with Dave that once the issue becomes one of personality instead of issues, the conversation has been irreparably tainted and it is time to find someone else to talk to.

I enjoy the conversational nature of the blogosphere, and I particularly enjoy hearing someone explain why I need to rethink my position about things. Otherwise it’s just one big echo chamber. But some people just can’t handle disagreement, and so anyone who disagrees must be stupid or evil. I just tune those folks out, which makes them even madder. Shake the scorpion a little and it will sting itself to death. And all that.

So Give Me the Goods

What am I missing about these conferences that gets everybody in a tither?

UPDATE: Christopher Carfi taught me most of what I have been able to gather about these conferences via this excellent post, which I came across just now. I still don’t really know what an unconference is. Is is like 7-Up?