KiwiFoo ’09 and the power of conversation

This is an old post but I’m leaving it here for the hell of it. Failed links have been updated (where possible) or removed.

I had the good fortune to attend KiwiFoo (aka Baa Camp), a kind of unconference which brings together a cluster of people from various fields who share at least one thing: a burning passion for what they do.

Hard to go wrong with a starting point like that and sure enough it proved a hugely entertaining and engaging weekend and something of a networking nirvana – every single conversation I had over those two days was interesting and useful and I made some great connections.

Sincere thanks go to the organisers Nat Torkington – who brought the idea of FOO (Friends of O’Reilly) to New Zealand – Jenine Abarbanel and Russell Brown for the invite, and for arranging such a stimulating event.

There’s no set agenda for KiwiFoo, instead you signal ahead of time what you’re interested in talking about and settle it down into scheduled one-hour sessions when you get there – then rearrange them until most people are happy with the spread.

For the most part the sessions are led by one or two people who get the ball rolling then open it up for discussion. Brilliantly simple and effective.

There were several highlights, including a very funny Saturday night town-hall debate which left me hankering for more oratory in my life (a certain lack of variation in the use of adjectives notwithstanding).

Another highlight for me was a session on the future of news in NZ which turned out to be lively and left me with the clear impression that people – all kinds of people – really care about keeping quality news alive.

We didn’t solve the problems of the world but started a good conversation and there were a few threads that have stayed with me.

One is that the news media is broken, albeit not completely and in different ways for different people.

Notably, a number of entrepreneurs talked to me about how little coverage there is of their sectors in mainstream news and what coverage there is often comes straight from press releases they’ve written themselves. They want their stories told in context and more coverage of the issues they face.

Advertising is a biggie – it’s not being sold well online and big agencies often don’t work for small publishers. And the need for good journalism to support democracy is paramount regardless of who’s publishing the news (newspapers, TV companies, bloggers, networks of independent journalists).

Probably the biggest takeaway for me was that the Future of News is a really big subject with multiple threads and I feel like we’re still looking for an effective framework and lexicon for discussing it. There was some suggestion that a MediaFoo might be a good idea and it certainly holds appeal for me. There’s a lot to talk about.

A particularly impressive outcome from KiwiFoo was the way a core group of attendees drove the #blackout campaign to halt the addition of the contentious S92A clause to NZ copyright law.

Here are a few posts from other KiwiFoo campers: Mozilla hacker Robert O’Callahan, SixAparter David Recordon, Hard Newsman Russell BrownInterclue’s Seth Wagoner , blogger David Farrar and the Strategist.