Saturday, September 6, 2008

Unpacking InVerge '08

InVerge is in the books, and there were a lot of amazing presentations and takeaways - and an equal amount of space for critique and comment. Everyone's a critic, of course, but in this case I think that my (thoroughly informal) polling of audience and presenters, the Twitterstream, and Eric's chats with people at the W + K reception, all combine to give me some standing to make some points about the conference as a whole.

Crack open for meaning and discard the shills

I'm not alone in my belief that the Big Names at the conference were there to hawk products, position themselves as vendors for the potential customers in the audience, or both. Disney was easily the worst offender, delivering (badly) a scripted tour of, er, excuse me, "Disney immersive media properties." The toy czar sounded like the worst kind of mercenary for the entire presentation, and his minder (a VP?), while less robotic, had even less interesting things to say. They unclenched a lot during the Q & A, and I'll revisit the value of that in a moment.

Others (dome entertainment guy, Tony Uphoff from TechWeb, etc.) were in the "I did this!" camp; an interesting "convergence" technology was introduced/talked about, pretty pictures were shown, with no unpacking or deeper discussion, and overall I think the audience was neither blown away nor likely to buy. I was looking forward to the Nike+ guy (cancelled due to illness) but I fear that the presentation would have been no better. I can't begrudge their right to be there - everyone's presentation was germane to the subject - but none of it qualifies as "thought leadership."

Contrast that with the academicians from USC and MIT, who both got into the meaning behind "I did this!" and also pushed the standard "oooooh, interaction!" rhetoric into a place where ideas happened.

My point is this - if you're a suit, you sit on a panel and get asked questions. This allows you to unbutton (the Disney guys said pretty smart stuff in the Q & A) and also limits your ability to bombard us with pitches. This includes, in my opinion, media (as opposed to thought) leaders like Mr. Uphoff. I'm sure he's really good at speaking off the cuff. Hell, have him moderate. He's more than capable of that.

So instead of a full day devoted to commercials, you give two hours - one to dome guy/Verizon guy/"look at our cool app" people, one to the Fortune 50s. And yes, we are honored that you're here. We just don't want to hear rewarmed investor relations horseshit.

Know your audience

People who escaped the "buy me" trap (Renny Gleeson, Karl Long) were still aiming low in terms of audience expectation. Eric mentioned early on in day one that he'd never seen a more Twitter-headed audience (and he should know). So the "survey of the landscape" talks are never going to be more than preaching to the choir. I thought they both did an admirable job of surveying that landscape, but seriously, push the envelope. I'm harping on "thought leaders," but it's on the front page of the InVerge web site - it is the point of the conference. If you're going to lead on content and strategic thought around Web 2.0 then you for damn sure better have some thought leaders available. Both Renny and Karl should come back, using Josh Green's or Scott Kveton's speeches as the bar over which they must leap.

We should be having great discourses about the future of this Intertron thing. The Simulacrum is forever shattered! The audience is not passive! For god's sake, get cracking.

Amatoor theatricals

The partnership with Portland Center Stage is awesome! Push that envelope a bit more and consider some actual stagecraft discussions mixed in with the rest. I think there's a real opportunity to open the discourse to the arts within the InVerge conference. And no, it's not better placed in Cre8con, it belongs in both and for different reasons. The MC got it - and I bet he knows who to talk to to get behind/beneath the surface of our newfangledness and find the narrative thread.

This is all "new" only in the sense that the medium has changed. Shame on Karl Long, for example, for not talking about the weddings-by-telegraph, some of which ended bitterly when the bride and groom (who had never seen one another) discovered that they had entered a mixed-race marriage at a time when that was really, REALLY not okay. The artistic/historical perspective would bring needed context to the flux that's occurring at an individual level.

In sum
Push harder. Less nonsense, more provocation. And, in case it's not clear, THANK YOU SO MUCH for putting it on. This isn't "I won't attend again," this is "When I come next year I hope the preceding has occurred."

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