By Meredith Farkas | April 10, 2008
I went to the discussion about the SWIFT conference platform, which I haven’t discussed publicly on this blog (though many others have on theirs — and many of them offer quite astute observations). I do think it is a deeply flawed tool that doesn’t provide value. I knew just about everyone in the feedback session and I respect all of them very much. That’s why I was surprised and disappointed by the tone of the discussion. While most of the criticisms were valid, there were some people who were really on the attack about this. There was real anger in the room. It got to the point where I actually felt sorry for Kathleen Gilroy of the Otter Group and frankly, felt a bit embarrassed. Is this the impression we want to give? Aren’t we better than that? Yes, the emails were annoying (especially when your picture was used in adverts for it… wtf?). Yes, the platform met a need that simply doesn’t exist. Yes, the platform is awful. Yes, the terms of service were ridiculous. But we always talk in this profession about not castigating people for their failures so that they will feel comfortable taking risks and trying new things. And I felt that we did exactly the opposite. There was no telling Kathleen what we would like out of an online conference community. There was very little in the way of constructive criticism. It was largely a venting of spleen.
I’m not defending Kathleen Gilroy here. I think she and her organization are seeking to make money off a concept (Web 2.0) on which they seem to have little understanding. They are creating deeply flawed community platforms that don’t meet needs and feel rigidly structured from above (the polar opposite of what people want from 2.0 communities). I think her behavior in trying to silence bloggers who criticized her last project (ALA 2.0 Bootcamp) was reprehensible, and I think that may have been part of the cause of the sturm und drang. However, I feel like by having this open forum, she was at least trying to be more transparent and open to criticism. Hopefully, though, she at least took to heart some of the legitimate points that people were making about SWIFT. I don’t know that I would have if I were attacked in that way.
Kudos to Jane Dysart and Information Today for exploring new options for aggregating content and building community online. We shouldn’t discourage their experimentation in these areas, and I worry that might be the result of this whole affair. There may well be better ways of collaborating online around a conferencethan what we already do. Kathleen, sorry for the drubbing, but it really is a terrible product. I hope you’ve figured out that librarians are not a good market for your products/services. Or maybe we’re the perfect test audience since, if it can survive us, it must be a pretty darn good product. We’re like a wind tunnel or one of those crash-test machines. “Designed even to survive librarians!”
If nothing else, this SWIFT platform gave me some ideas for how to do some of what they were trying to do better. I’ve been looking for a way to aggregate all of the blog posts about a specific session together since I created the wiki for ALA Annual 2005. For Internet Librarian 2006, I created pages where people could post a link to their blog post about a specific session or write a report right on the wiki. That did not happen because it took effort on the part of the user. The Otter Group sought to solve this problem by having individual tags for each session. The likelihood of people actually using a session tag is slim-to-nil – it’s hard enough to get people to tag their posts CIL2008. But I had another idea while I was sitting in the session about SWIFT. What if I take the RSS feed that comes from the Technorati conference tag and filter it using Feed Digest or Yahoo! Pipes? I could filter it for each individual session and then would have feeds that contained just the posts from each individual session. I’d probably miss some posts because people would not put in the title of the session or would enter it differently, but it’s the best alternative I can think of. I could then use Grazr to create an interface where someone could click on a date, click on a track, click on a session, and see all the blog posts about that session (here’s a very rough version with posts that mention Pecha Kucha and CIL2008 or Computers in Libraries — there’s an RSS feed as well). I just did that in a few minutes using Feed Digest, Technorati, and Google Blog Search (to pick up stuff Technorati missed — like my own post!). It would be very time-consuming to set it up for every session, but it would certainly provide value without asking users to do anything differently. Do you think this would be useful? Are you happy enough with just seeing what Technorati pulls up under the conference tag? I’d love some feedback, because it would certainly not be worth the effort to do for future conferences if it doesn’t add much value.
When I see something done badly or stupidly, I don’t get mad. Well, maybe I do sometimes. But I also try and think of a better way of doing it. Five Weeks to a Social Library was my comment on the ALA 2.0 Bootcamp. See? This is how it’s done. We often can do this stuff better, because we have an understanding of the tools and the culture. How can we create better conference communities online? Ideas anyone?