The Meet-up is dead, long live

Auckland web developers meetup – 23/June/2011 is one of those many web services people flocked to enthusiastically a few years back when it first appeared on the virtual social landscape. I signed up for a bunch of meetup groups imagining my cloud community horizons expanding explosively and began mentally preparing to get along to events and actually meet people face-to-face.

People I had previously only read, not met as such.

The reality was, of course, that events came and went (to be fair the Meetup community in NZ is pretty small, and I don’t think anyone else in Hamilton NZ knows it exists) and I never actually got a long to a single meetup….. Not one.

Until last Thursday that is.

For the last few years a bunch of Auckland web developers and designers have been using to have gatherings every month or so, and it was one of these sessions I went to last week. This is no-back-of-the-pub gathering of a handful of socially awkward boffins (though they do adjourn to the pub after the meetup, a post-meetup-meetup if you will).

No, this is a popular enough event that numbers are capped using the RSVP system at meetup. Take last week for example, there were 180 web folks in attendance, and 220 had registered interest before the event.

Without going into the details of the three sessions (links to them follow) which by the way were all very useful and entertaining (two often incongruous elements of a tech talk), the thing I was most impressed by was the healthy number of people who were prepared to brave rush-hour Auckland traffic to get along to a venue they’ve never been to, to listen to and mix and mingle with folks they may have never met.

OK so the free Pizza and Epic beer probably helped (thank you Orion Heath)

The other thing that tickled my fancy was geek-superstar Mozilla hacker Robert O’Callahan doing an awesome slides-optional presentation where he lost connectivity and talked for about 20mins with a “Server not found” error on the monitor behind him. Didn’t matter squat, he couldn’t have cared less, but sure looked funny thinking about it now.

Anyway, a big virtual-ups to the awesomely funny and larger than life John Ballinger (you can pay me later big fellah) and KarlVR and anyone else who’s involved in organising these things. Punters don’t appreciate how much effort goes into pulling something like this off on a semi-regular basis, especially when its a not-for-profit activity, and a fairly narrow slice of the community.

I’m all for the social web, but you really can’t beat face-to-face. I’m so relieved other people still see value in it too. See you at the next one.


What is the new Workspace?

Photo by Michael Cardus. used under CC licenceThe Cisco Collaboration Community hosted another live chat via Twitter today as part of the series of open discussions about collaboration and unified communications. This latest session was focused on “new collaborative workspaces, how they’re effecting the way we work, and the key technologies that are driving these changes”

Twitter performance seemed a little slow today (ok, so when isnt it :) so the lag between responses made the experience more disconnected than usual. An interesting conversation developed nonetheless amongst a mix of Cisco and independent contributors. The transcript of the session will be archived soon but the posts themselves are available now via a search on the #CollabChat tag at Twitter.

Rather than reproduce the conversation I’ll stick to including my own reflections on the discussion and the changing workspace:

Enterprises and their solutions have often rubber-stamped physical and virtual forms of workplace interaction amongst teams, have set boundaries, defined policies, rules and roles, sandboxes and security, times for meetings and formats for content and communication.

Those legacy features may be desirable in regulated, sensitive or corporate environments but a big challenge for today’s workspace is we now have ever increasing opportunities to participate in diverse and distributed virtual teams and projects, and to use services and resources that may exist outside the corporate firewall. Workspace members come and go, their patterns of work, availability and timezones are varied, the tools or resources they use, content and tasks they perform and collaborate on are increasingly diverse.

As a member of a virtualised team an individual may and should be able to view their workspace differently to the way others see or make contact with theirs. They each focus on different requirements, and contribute in different ways. The workspace may be addressable (say via a URL or such like, thanks @LLiu) but it will be distinctive and personalised, and temporal.

The workspace is multiple people, one or more places, multiple resources and devices, interacting at various times. Documents, video, voice, meetings, messaging, asynchronously or synchronously etc etc. As @MikeGotta mentioned the modern workspace landscape is surely challenging the desktop metaphor we are accustomed to.

We need IT to bridge across the entities, times and locations, to support us as we interact with and contribute to the workspace outcomes.

Various technologies come and go, some stay, some outlive their welcome. Email, document and content managements systems, portals, blogs, forums, wikis, virtual worlds etc. A best of breed of any one may be great for many workspace requirements but certainly not for all. Experiments like GoogleWave offered a lot but possibly overwhelmed the user with choice and direction.

Telepresence in its various forms, desktop sharing and conferencing, and recording and streaming of audio, video or other captured activity are IT functions that already support us with live face to face or time-shifted asycnhronous participation in distributed teams and workspaces. Other tools like SocialMiner from Cisco can play an interesting role and reach out to open channels and provide clues about disconnected conversations on a topic related to your workspace activities.

The challenge for the workspace of today and tomorrow and the tools used within it is ensuring sure these tools are relevant to the individual, the team and their activities. To present them and be flexible in applying them in various contexts. To be innovative and malleable to support changing demands, and inter-operate with other emerging platforms and standards. And importantly, not overwhelm the user with choice or features, yet provide the functionality they desire when they need it.

Should be easy right? :-)