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Conference Technology

13 Apr

Conference attendees are getting more out of conferences with technology. Most conferences allow attendees to see online what presentations are available and what exhibitors are participating. At some larger conferences you can plan a schedule of what you want to attend. Exhibitors rent devices that scan attendee badges for lead collection. These technologies are intended to allow attendees and exhibitors to get the most out of their conference investment by an efficient use of time in meeting face to face, asking questions, getting answers and exchanging the latest information. Trying to maximize the benefits of  a conference can involve an exhausting few days for all concerned.

However, imagine the possibilities if you combined an online community with mobile communications to revitalize and effectively extend your conference beyond that precious face to face time. Attendees and exhibitors with their own web access device such as a smart phone, iPad or laptop could do the following before and after the conference and while attending in real time.

  • Plan which presentations to attend
  • Access  schedules on the fly
  • See who is planning to attend a presentation
  • Check in to presentations
  • See who else has checked in to the presentation room
  • Follow  the Twitter feed for the room
  • Communicate with interest groups, exhibitors and presentation attendees
  • See “What’s Hot”; the most popular presentations and exhibits
  • See what people are saying about presentations and exhibits via a Twitter feed
  • Organize an attendee driven round table discussion or break out session
  • See which people have checked in to your booth or exhibit without having to scan show badges


AssociCom plans to extend our online association communities to conferences with mobile conference. We are starting work on this application very soon and we are always interested in your thoughts and what features interest you so please comment below. Thanks.

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Why Email Isn’t Dead Yet

4 Apr

There’s been a lot of talk about the death of email. The general theme seems to be that young people don’t use email anymore, they just communicate through FaceBook or Twitter or some other social media tool. And while I agree that social media tools are in fact better for some types of social interactions, they won’t kill email. The reasons are two-fold: First, some interactions are inherently individual-to-individual and that is a mode of interaction that email supports completely naturally. Second, and more important, email software has evolved to be inherently user-centric. That is, email software is excellent at letting me do what I want with email, and letting me do it in a straightforward way. Here are three examples of this:

  1. Deletion – I just got a message from my the HR department. It’s full of the usual badly chosen metaphors and bland exhortations to seek excellence. They think this is important and, if it were left up to them, I’d continue to see it and absorb its profundities forever. But in the land of email, I’m in control. I can just delete that message and it need never trouble me again. Email lets me decide what is important.
  2. Organization – How I organize email is totally up to me. I’ve seen people who just leave everything in their inbox and depend heavily on the markup that indicates whether they have read a message or not. I like to create folder hierarchies, and file emails away into what I consider to be the “right” place. In GMail, you can create various tags and use them to help you structure email. GMail even has some heuristics built in to try and identify important emails. There are lots of different email clients out there, and they support a wide diversity of individual approaches to managing email. Email lets me organize things the way I want.
  3. Tasks – Most email clients make it easy to flag emails or turn them into tasks with reminder dates and various other features that help one priortize one’s day. I personally use my inbox as a task management system. As soon as I have finished with an email, I file it away somewhere (often the circular file). So all that’s left in my inbox is stuff that requires me to do something. You can tell how overloaded I am just by looking at how many items are in my inbox. As with organizing email, there are many email clients that support a variety of personal styles. Email lets me prioritize my activities the way I want.

I think these capabilities are significant. I haven’t seen any social media platform that gives me as much control as email does. Social media has its place. It’s excellent at supporting group communication. It works well as a way of highlighting new information and encouraging discussion. But it hasn’t killed email and it won’t until it delivers the sort of user-centric experience that email provides.

Association Communication Evolution

15 Feb

Association communication has evolved over time as new technologies have become available. I call these eras – Meet, Mail, Magazine and Moderation.

Meet

A History of Associations identifies the earliest formal associations as medieval craft guilds and merchant trading groups. They communicated face to face because there were few other options.. The first scientific society the Academia Secretorum of Naples, was established in 1560 and the members met at Giambattista della Porta’s home. The Academy of the Mysteries of Nature was required by the Pope to close eighteen years later under suspicion of sorcery but the Royal Society of London which first met in 1660 has lasted a little longer. In 1662 it was first permitted to publish and it is still doing so.

Mail

Publishing technology allowed mass printing of documents. The availability of mail service enabled distribution. Members of associations no longer had to meet face to face to communicate. They could stay informed of association news and be part of the association without the need for travel. That in turn allowed associations to expand in size and geographical scope. Charles I of Great Britain established The Royal Mail in 1635 but it took a while to catch on. For the first two hundred years until 1840 it was considered expensive, confusing and corrupt. However, once established, it did allow most associations the capability of mass communication.  Many associations still use mass mail for raising funds and attracting members.

Magazine

The next step in association communication evolution was the magazine. Magazines were really a further development of printing technology but the reason I am calling it a milestone in the evolution of communications was the ability to advertize. Glossy, with pictures; magazines were a revenue producing mass media for larger associations. You did need a sufficiently large association and/or enough advertisers to be able to justify the editorial staff, pay writers and put out a magazine, but now there was a way to communicate that members considered a benefit of membership and magazines generated revenue.

Moderation

My fondness for alliteration leads me to name the new era of association communication “Moderation”. By moderation I mean moderation of online conversations. The term does capture the essence of the switch from top-down, one to many mass communication technologies such as publishing a magazine or newsletter, to the anyone can communicate, many to many communication possible with forums, wikis, blogs and online communities.

This is a fundamental switch but it is not an immediate switch. Just as mail and other communication technologies took time to be adopted so to it has taken time for people to have and use online access.

It is also not a complete switch. People will still meet face to face and some will meet virtually. People will still read their monthly newsletter or magazine and some will do so online. It is an additional channel of communication.

The bigger switch is in the culture of participation. We, of a certain age such as me, are used to being informed, not informing. That is why there is initially some reluctance to putting oneself out there by posting a comment or asking a question online. Many were initially a little reticent with Facebook, even when simply sharing vacation pictures or making some social comment on a favourite team or news item.

Making a comment about something important may take a little more courage. Private association communities where the comments are to colleagues feel a little safer but that will be the topic for another posting. Most important is that associations now have the tools to harness the power of the association’s biggest asset, its members and their knowledge. The new association communication credo may be “We know more than any of us.”

What is Next?

Associations are adopting the new communication technologies. For example, the Royal Society has adapted to the times. The 44 fellows (members) that are elected per year can be proposed for fellowship online via e-Lect.  Fellows no longer have to meet face to face; they can meet in the eFellow’s room. The Royal Society has also embraced other social media; anyone can respond to a Royal Society blog after logging in with Facebook or Google.

The challenge is to figure out what software tools to use to communicate and how to use them. Should you use public communities such as Facebook or have your own private community or both? That too will be the topic of a future blog.

This blog is available as a .pdf for download here.

The Agile Association

24 Jan
Is your association responding quickly enough to the changing needs of its members? If not, then you are probably seeing a decline in membership as people seek elsewhere for answers that might have come from you. How can you get back on track?

The software industry has gone through similar crises. Software projects were often behind schedule, and over budget. But even worse, when the systems were deployed, in many cases after years of work, people discovered that they were impossible to use or did not provide the capabilities that had been anticipated.

In reaction to this, a small number of people struck out in a new direction propelled by the idea that the whole way that software was developed was wrong. These become the leaders of the Agile movement and it has blossomed into one of the most popular ways to manage a software development.

What does this have to do with associations? I think it has everything to do with associations. Early on, the leaders of the Agile movement developed a manifesto representing their core beliefs about software development. Here they are:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Notice that the word software only occurs once. And if you replace the word software with the word systems, you have a set of guidelines that can be broadly applied to any organization that provides products or services. This then, is the foundation of the agile association.

In the software industry, adoption of agile was slow at first. The principles outlined above were often in direct opposition to “the way things are done.” But my experience is that teams that adopt agile are both successful and happy. I anticipate that associations will likewise benefit.

Easy is Hard

12 Dec
At a recent meeting, I overheard a snippet of a conversation about usability: “Application developers needed to do more than improving the usability of their software. They need to look holistically at what they are trying to enable for the user, and make that easy for the user.”

As someone who has been developing software for a number of years the challenge is that easy is hard. There are a few reasons for this:

  • To make something easy for the user, you really need to deeply understand what it is that they are trying to accomplish, which really means that you have to understand how they view their roles and responsibilities within the organization. And you can’t discount the importance of goals such as “make the user look good to their boss.”
  • Complicating this first point is the fact that a given piece of software will be used by a variety of people who have different roles, goals, and levels of expertise. For example, for the online community platform that we make, two obvious roles that we want to serve are the community manager and the end user, but their needs can be quite different.
  • As technologists, we are aware of a vast universe of possibilities that could be incorporated into software, and our general inclination seems to be to try and stuff as much as we can into the box. Unfortunately, an onslaught of features rarely translates into a satisfying user experience.

We really want to make AssociCom something that seamlessly helps people create active and productive online communities. But to do that, we need your help. We need your guidance about what is important, and your thoughts on how to achieve that. So, let us know what you think! Strike up a conversation with us on Facebook, send your thoughts our way on Twitter, or even just reply to this posting.

SneakerNet Defined

13 Oct

We’ve started doing regular live stream’s at AssociCom. For the moment, we’ve settled on every second Wednesday at 10:00 am Pacific. There is an archive of shows at http://www.AssociCom.com/Show. We’ve not got 3 under our belts and we’re starting to feel professional.

Well, maybe not too professional as you can see from this short clip of me defining what SneakerNet means 🙂

Yesterday’s stream was on Your Association and the Cloud. The goal was to help demystify some of the hype around the idea of Cloud Computing. We didn’t get to talk about all the things that I had hoped we would, so I think we’ll probably do another installment on the topic in the near future. We did manage to cover a fair bit of ground in terms of covering some of the history that has lead up to cloud computing, looking at the basic technology involved, and diving in to some of the different things that are called cloud computing.

What we didn’t cover in much detail was the analysis of whether cloud computing is a good choice for an association; issues such as security, privacy, reliability, etc. So, this is what I’d like to spend some more time on in the future. I’m hoping that I can solicit your feedback on particular questions you have about cloud computing and then we can put together a show that is focused on your needs.

So, join in!