Monday, May 15, 2006

The DCamp experience

So DCamp was definately worth attending, (check out the photos - Dcamp put a smile on my face!) and I'm certainly going to be looking out for other unconferences in the future. The event was well attended, had a great level of participation, well supported in the offices of Socialtext, and well sponsored (BayCHI, Socialtext, O'Reilly, Intuit, eBay, Yahoo, Google, IFTF, AOL, Enthiosys, Embyra & Uzanto). Rashmi and Stacie did a great job of pulling the whole thing together. There are a number of things that of course need to be organized before an unconference - such as location, food, and sponsorship ...and t-shirts (as modeled here by Rashmi). The t-shirts were just great - cool design and all that, yeah yeah... but the best part was that women were identified as a target market (!!! shock and awe !!!) and I was able to pick up a T that I wasn't for once, going to pass on to my husband. This one is mine!!

On to the sessions: I was able to be at DCamp Friday evening and Saturday from midday, and attended the following sessions (links go to the 'official wiki notes'):

* Open Source and Usability
* Remote Methods
* Agile Design, Development and Usability

Some of the interesting take-aways from the sessions:

  • Open Source and Usability
Kguzik has created a great set of notes out of the discussion in this session, that mainly are suggestions, tips for how usability can be promoted in the world of open source. (see Kguzik's notes at the bottom of the 'official' notes for this session).

  • Remote Methods
    • Provided an overview of Ethnio and The Mind Canvas
    • Ethnio:
      • Ethnio is cool because you can do "live recruiting" on a website and aside from that extra is seems to have all the benefits of the other remote usability technologies.
      • Live recruiting works through intercepting people after they have just performed or tried to perform an action. It's very targetted recruiting.
      • The participant only needs to install a small plug-in, and they haven't had any trouble with participants doing that. It uninstalls afterwards.
      • The audio and video is merged into a FLASH file for later use (smaller size than avi). The resulting recording is whatever the full screen resolution of your participants screen is.
      • Currently runs with IE and Firefox (but is currently not Mac compatible.
      • All connections are encrypted under SSL.
      • Currently not a lot of opportunity to do collaborative notes - but they're working on that.
      • Ethnio records all the click-stream data and notes can be tied to this data.
      • Custom tags can be created in the fly.
    • The Mind Canvas:
      • One intention is to make user research activities more fun!
      • Provides tools for prioritization tasks - the task has the user divide up a pile of money instead of traditional prioritization tasks.
      • Card sorting tasks have been implemented.
      • The Mind Canvas also includes vizulation tools for the data collected.
  • Agile Design
This session generated far more questions than answers. One of the interesting issues that arose (but that was not resolved) was around timing and the integration of user research. User Research takes time - to what extent can we and should we adapt user research methods to meet the needs of Agile development processes? How can User Research be more active in driving the design process? The issue can be summarized as: Are administrating quick methods - that may be bad - worse than collecting no data?

For those who went to this event and are interested in carrying the conversation on, there are two ways: (i) reunion dinners that are being organized, and (ii) a mailing list.

See you at the next unconference...

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

About Unconferences...

At BayCHI last night Kaliya Hamlin, Identity Woman, gave an insight into the running of unconferences. This was great timing for the DCamp to be help in Palo Alto this coming weekend.

Kaliya defined unconferences as lying between a conference with a structured agenda and a cocktail party - this is where unconferences live. She outlined the important elements of a successful unconference:

The invitation and how it is framed, the wiki where ideas and tentative plans can be posted, as well as a list of who will be there (it has been amazing to see the list grow for DCamp), and the welcoming on the actual day. Kaliya gave examples of having public sign-in lists, big, sometimes illustrated. Name-tags are essential because identity is essential. Activities that have worked in the past have included having attendees represented by their caricature, and having people bring or develop logo's related to their work.

The opening session is an important element too, and have in the past included rapid-fire intros, gathering together in a circle (no matter how many people), and using introductory games.

For agenda creation, Kaliya described how BarCamp, Brain Jams, and Mind Camp have all had folks stick their ideas up on white paper walls. Postit notes have been used at Open Space Technology, Internet Identity Workshop, Recent Changes Camp, and Mashup Camp. Agenda development is often done through public discussion - descriptions of what the agenda topic is and questions and answers around that. At this point topics get added to the agenda, and topics merge, and split etc. Wiki's are used for archiving the schedule and subsequently the content that is generated during the event.

Sessions tend to involve activity, team work, and discussion. People need to be participating and learning, and like being a successful mentee - participants must drive the learning and make sure that they are in the right space to learn. To fuel all this, plenty of food (geek and otherwise) is an essential part of any unconference.

Unconferences do not have traditionally keynotes typically, or typical plenary sessions, though there is usually a closing circle where the highlights are shared etc.

Kaliya talked through lots of other interesting techniques and activities that have been used at these sort of gatherings:

o Interview and Sculpt - for creating an agenda for an unconference of 40 people or less. This is a time-consuming technique that works through the participants being interviewed prior to the event, and then an agenda being developed using the gathered data.

o Speed Geeking - like speed dating; but speed geeking! Essentially moving from project to project.

o Podcasting - to take the conversation outside of the event.

o World Cafe - lots of cafe tables, each table of people has the same question and they work on it with discussions and sketches etc. then after about 20 minutes one person from that table moves to the next. Interesting way that ideas and conversations develop.

o Dynamic Facilitation - where the facilitator supports the flow of conversations and charts concerns, data, problem-solving, and solutions.

o Spectrogram - where a semi-controversial question is asked and participants are instructed to spread (physically / spatially) depending upon their views. Then people are interviewed publicly about their perspective.

(Other techniques include Appreciative Inquiry, Collective Maps....)

During the evening we got a great taster of one of the kinds of activities that can take place at an unconference. Kaliya facilitated an activity where we got together in pairs to interview each other for 5 minutes each about our conference going experience, and when we had felt most alive, inspired, and proud. Subsequently we joined into groups of 6 and retold the stories of our partners to the larger group, pulling out the shared elements of what makes us feel alive, inspired, and proud at conferences. The results of this exercises can be seen on the Dialogue Map that was made using Compendium software.

Now I'm feeling more prepared for DCamp - see you there!

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