Unconferences and the value of participatory events

The Internet Identity Workshop ended Wednesday afternoon and I've had a day to decompress. This was really an outstanding event and one I'm proud to have been a part of.
Written by Phil Windley, Contributor
The Internet Identity Workshop ended Wednesday afternoon and I've had a day to decompress. This was really an outstanding event and one I'm proud to have been a part of. Even though I was one of the organizers, along with Kaliya Hamlin and Doc Searls, I can say that without patting myself on the back too hard because the participants are what made it so great.

If you've never been to an "unconference" format event, they can be a little hard to explain. I was a skeptic at first, but we did a single day of unconference at last October's IIW and I became a believer. This time the format included a half day of conventional talks to level-set everyone and then two solid days of unconference.

The first order of business was to gather everyone together and invite anyone who wanted to make a presentation or host a discussion to write their name and the title of their session on an 8x11" piece of paper. Then everyone lined up and announced their session and put it on a big paper grid Kaliya had made up. There were times we had as many as seven sessions happening simultaneously. I blogged the sessions I attended. Others did so too.

IIW2006 Session on Identity and OPML-400.jpg
Dave Winer leads a session on identity and OPML at IIW2006.  

I may sound excessively effusive, but it's hard not to be excited after an event that just seems to really come together. Kim Cameron, Microsoft's Chief Architect of Identity, said the following about the event:

Everyone in attendance was awe-struck by the IIW 2006 that just took place in Mountain View. It was incredible.

With Doc Searls and Phil Windley navigating at the macro-level, the amazing Identity Woman Kaliya orchestrated an "unconference" that was one of the most effective events I've ever attended. It's clear that creating synergy out of chaos is an art that these three have mastered, and participants floated in and out of sessions that self-organized around an ongoing three-day hallway conversation - the hallway actually being the main conference room and event! So we got to engage in all kinds of one-on-one (and few) conversations, meet new people, work out concerns and above all work on convergence. Many people told me they felt history was being made, and I did too.

People showed amazing new demos of identity metasystem software from many different approaches and on many platforms. People, we are achieving orbit.

I heard some similar comments from others. The ability for people to create their own agenda is incredibly powerful. If we'd done this as a traditional conference, we would have nailed down the agenda and speakers two months ago. By the time we got to the event, everyone would have been interested in something else. The unconference format allowed us to nail the sweet spot of the conversation without even trying. The people who came to the workshop did that naturally as a matter or participating.

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IIW participants at a session on mapping identity systems.

We're planning two more events in 2006. The first will be a half day intro to Internet identity in conjunction with Digital ID World in September. I'd like to do a parallel series of session with some structured sessions for people new to the space and open format sessions for veterans who need to talk. The second will be another workshop like the one we just did. We're toying with the idea of doing on the East coast in November, but nothing's been cast in stone yet. If you have opinions, let me know.

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