Monday, December 14, 2009

Final thoughts on Our Broadband Future

Roger Clarke wrote some "Final Thoughts about the Broadband Future Event" in Sydney last week. For me the event ended on a positive note with Genevieve Bell, on e-Community. It was refreshing to hear ideas about broadband for people to use,
rather than as something done to them.

I started to suffer from conference fatigue on the last day, to the
point that in a moment of inattention I plugged the wrong power supply into my wireless modem and destroyed it.

George Bray wrote in the Link List: "I was able to participate remotely from my beachside cabin ...". In a way he got better access to the event than I did, sitting in the venue (just behind the PM, Minister and assorted dignitaries).

There were power boards and WiFi supplied for the Twiterarty in the fist and last few rows of seats. However, sitting cramped over a 10 inch netbook screen in your lap for hours is not very comfortable. Given that much of the time I was not looking at the live speaker, but instead at my netbook or at the projected image on the big screen in the auditorium, I might as well have been somewhere more comfortable.

There were some advantages being there live, such as the spectacle of Senator Lundy operate a laptop with one hand while Twittering on a smart phone with the other. The coffee and lunch breaks were very high bandwidth networking events. A node of ACS people formed in the centre of the room, grabbing anyone important who wandered past and lobbying them on assorted issues (It was useful to be able to meet the new ACS CEO and President Elect).

It was a little unsettling to wander into a conversation and find the Minister for Communications, the head of the ABC, or the PM part of the discussion.

One frustration I had was that the media were never in the media room, they were wandering around taking part in the discussions. The speakers preparation room was more open that I have seen it at commercial events, with non-speakers allowed to wander in.

Another frustration was the large number of the Link mailing list members present. As everyone else was furiously trying to plug their product or policy proposal, I tried this myself, but people kept saying: "Yes Tom, I read you posting about that on Link".

In retrospect, perhaps I would have been better off sitting in the media or speaker's room at a comfortable desk during the sessions, watching them on screen. Then I could have come out to mingle during the breaks.

The stream sessions did not work so well. The problem was that most of the time was taken up with talks by the panellists. While mostly excellent people and speakers, this was a waste of the limited time. It would have been better to provide the talks online in advance and then go straight to discussions. Also I could not get the Wiki to work at all, despite (or because of) all the user-ids and passwords I had been issued with. As a result I felt I had less ability to communicate by being in the room.

This was an excellent experiment in an Internet enhanced event (not quite as good as the Internet Global Summit).

But perhaps more of the bar camp format could be adopted. There was too much spent on glitz and stage managing. As an example we could have done without the glossy colour program (so glossy you could not scribble notes on it). A sheet of monochrome paper printed at the last minute (so it was up to date) would have done. The expensive looking neoprene
conference satchel was so large it was an encumbrance and does someone at the Department have a rubber fetish? ;-)

Perhaps what is needed is an official event with the important speeches and "fringe" events with the less formal bar camp style discussions.

ps: Technology does have its limits. After the forum I took a 370 bus to King Street to go to a performance of "Cabret" at the New Theatre. In the street I bumped into Chris
Chesher, who mentioned there is a Fibreculture event on Wednesday, about "Freedom and control in the Australian Internet".

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