Saturday, 21 April 2012

#140cuse Conference

Syracuse is the first college campus to host a #140 conference on the 'state of now' and I must admit that I had no idea what to expect.  There were over 40 speakers with 10 minute slots and a lot of aspects, professions and experiences to cover.


I should add that I am not one of the over-excited advocates for social media - that does not mean that I am against it, I am just lingering on the edges and seeing where it is going and how it can fit into my profession before jumping in feet first.  I appreciate that it is an excellent way to build community and get the word out there but, with the library background I have, I also appreciate that it really depends on your audience.

#swag - not quite sure why the # was required

There was way too much to summarise everything here but I will pick a few talks that really hit home:

  • there were several discussions, including Tim Pool of the Occupy Wall Street movement, about using social media to rally round a cause, from taunting a footballer to supporting the 99%
  • Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, and several others discussed the 'flatness' of the internet and the role that each of us can play.  Every URL has the same power and this is a great leveller allowing the truly talented/interesting/relevant to go viral.  Tim Pool noted that social media is democratisation of information all over again
  • 'community' was a theme throughout the day and, I admit, I was a skeptic of how social media, where you are chained to devices, can make you more sociable than actually talking to people eg. why should you tweet Wegmans when you can just talk to one of their assistants?  I am, however, getting it (the penny dropped when having to explain the point of the conference to my housemate and then my Mum, who prefers to side with David Dimbleby and call it 'twittering').  It all depends on what you are putting out there, how you do it, to whom you do it and for what purpose

Discovery with fighter escort by paulandstorm, on Flickr
  • Beth Beck form NASA pointed out that you have to use social media to engage your audience - there is no point in just posting to Facebook that something or other is happening - you have to know your audience, what makes them tick, and use that to pull them in.  You might think that she has an easy job of it since all she has to do is get people interested in space travel - not hard you might think.  But, if you consider how few people actually get to go then you begin to see that it must be difficult to engage understanding and interest in humans in space.  NASA has to engage people's emotions and excitement, which I believe they did with the Discovery piggy back last week (indeed, my Mum was moved to tears at the gym - some sort of mission accomplished I am sure).
  • a vast number of other topics were covered from Twitter support groups for breast cancer sufferers and the privacy issues with shared images to conquering loneliness and attempting to control students' social media outpourings on a college campus

What struck me was the applicability of all of these social media issues to the library world.  The engagement of users, conjuring of community feeling and increased accessibility are all concepts that we need to embrace in this day and age, no matter what our institution.  Tailoring, and on occasion education, is obviously required to ensure relevance and uptake but there is a place for social media in all information services.

Otto the Orange, our college mascot, made a special appearance

I would also like to point out that this was a a rather different conference to any I experienced in the UK.  There was a much more relaxed air and the speakers were so much at ease with presenting that I was very impressed.  The confidence of presenters is something that I aspire to but I know that I am a long way off from standing in front of an audience at a conference, which was being streamed live on the internet, and act as if I was talking to an empty room.  Also, where in the UK would the college mascot make a special guest appearance?!

Tim Pool @Timcast
Alexis Ohanian @kn0thing
Beth Beck @bethbeck
David Dimbleby @daviddimble

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