I guess most people choose the conferences they attend with care. There’s nothing worse than having shelled out good money (my own in most instances since I work as an independent consultant) on a 2-day conference when you realise within the first day that the general level of knowledge and expertise is at best equivalent to your own, and at worst, somewhere below your own level of competence. In other words, you’re not going to learn anything you didn’t already know. I accept there are still networking opportunities to be had, but this doesn’t always compensate for the time and money you’ve already invested in attending the event.
I was intrigued therefore by the recent avalanche of fliers and emails I’ve received since the start of the New Year advertising conferences on the general topic of ‘Web 2.0 in Government’. Even more intriguing was that most of the speakers seem to be from various (UK) government departments, and not – as I might have expected – renowned and acknowledged experts from academia or the private sector. Please excuse my cynicism, but I’m not sure how much I would have gained from one particular session entitled “Web 2.0 – was is it?” that was being led by a senior civil servant from the Home Office.
On digging a little deeper into the backgrounds of some of the ‘expert’ presenters, I found a fairly common theme – they have all implemented Sharepoint somewhere within their departments (usually their Intranet).
I find this slightly worrying from a professional point of view since some delegates at these conferences may come away with the perception that Sharepoint is an exemplar for Web 2.0 technology. I’ll admit that Microsoft Office Sharepoint Server 2007 – or MOSS 2007 – is a quantum leap ahead of its predecessor (Sharepoint 2003), but if anyone seriously thinks that the integration of a few collaboration tools and an improved content management system make this a serious contender for ‘Web 2.0 application of the year’ then they are sadly misinformed.
I can’t quite put my finger on why (once again) Microsoft have got it so wrong, other than they have taken a simple concept (networking and collaboration) and made it so complex to implement. What would take weeks to set up using MOSS can be implemented on something like Ning in a matter of hours. They also appear to have missed (or misunderstood) the difference between teamwork collaboration (which MOSS can do fairly well) with the development and support of communities of interest or communities of practice etc. In particular, the cost and complexity of using MOSS for supporting unbounded communities would be phenomenal – and why would anyone bother to even contemplate doing so when there are ‘proper’ Web 2.0 products out there such as Ning (previously mentioned, Community Server, Blogtronix or the hundreds of others too numerous to mention?
Maybe it’s a case of re-applying the old adage that “no-one ever got sacked for buying IBM” to Microsoft. However, I feel that some organisations will be regretting their choice very soon, and particularly if they really want to exploit the ‘community’ approach to learning and sharing – as we’ve done for the communities of practice in local government.
So – choose your conferences well. Unless you adopt a blended learning approach, where conferences are just one of many information sources, you may not know when you are being misinformed!