I’m starting my own wikiconference

Following up on my previous post on RoCoCoCamp, Evan Prodromou has a post-mortem filled with links (like his brilliant proof-of-concept Wikiclock which I’m considering contributing to regularly), and recounts a sad event that shows the true face of so-called “openspace” unconferencing:

We had Open Space’s minimalist instructions posted on the walls of the SAT, so people would see and remember them. Steve pointed out that the first of Open Space’s “four principles” is grammatically incorrect: Whoever comes is the right people. He said, “In the spirit of wiki, I’m going to correct it right now!” And to applause, he got up with a marker and changed the “is” to “are”.

Before I made that change, I asked for opinions from others on how to change it. Should it be “Whoever comes are the right people” or “Whoever comes is the right person” or something different entirely?

Then, just as we were about to reach a consensus, the OpenSpacePolice came down on me hard. You see, we were working under talking-stick rules (where only the person holding a particular token — in this case a marker — could speak). The Nazi-esque nature of a particular dictating moderator meant we could not bend the rules, and I was left to my own devices. I crossed out “is” and replaced it with “are”, as the emerging consensus seemed to indicate was preferred before it was brutally silenced by the gestapo-esque proletariat.

It gets worse.

Moments later, as the marker had been passed down, some idiot gave some hippie-nonsensical BS about how “is” is better because we’re all one people. Yeah. Then he passed around some LSD and started chanting about how we should end the war. Or at least he could very well have, judging from his clearly screwed-up philosophy.

So this guy, putting his own radical political ideology over simple grammatical rules, stood up and declared proudly that he was going to “revert” my change, restoring the original wording.

At first I did nothing. I wasn’t about to start a war over this, even though I know I would have gotten more support. Later, quietly, I talked with Evan about how outrageous this all was, but he just laughed at me. Someone from the openspaceocracy got to him first, and he sided with them.

I left the “unconference” in disgust (and also because I wanted to get home to watch some West Wing reruns). But I’m not bitter about all this. Instead, I’m going to turn this into something positive.

I’m starting my own wikiconference. I’m going to call it Citizendicamp, and it will have rules that prohibit this ridiculous anarchy and peer pressure that stands in the way of true development. This new conference will be more reliable and more accountable, and will involve the use of real experts instead of these know-nothing nerdy momma’s-boys.

Who’s with me?

6 thoughts on “I’m starting my own wikiconference

  1. D. Hartmann

    Hi Steve.

    I’m sorry you were offended by my manner in facilitating that incident. I particularly tried to keep it humourous in order not to stop you, and if you see the video, apparently some found it so. I wanted you to make the change you proposed, because you felt strongly about it.

    What posed a conunudrum for me was your attempt to poll the participants for consensus. Wikis and Open Space depend on the courage of individuals to publicly state their ideas, thoughts and needs. I was happy when you said you had a problem with the sign, and why – clearly, you were thoughtfully paying attention. However, an important aspect of the opening and closing circle is the lack of criticism – it should be a safe place where people can say their piece without the need to defend it, hence the use of the talking stick to signify respect for the speaker. Switching to a “voting” mode could have, in my opinion, derailed the flow of the circle, where we were simply sharing news, learnings and observations.

    Clearly, the *way* I intervened, even if it did preserve the flow of the group, alienated you, and so it was a failure. I humbly ask your pardon. Like many this weekend, I was dealing with surprises and trying new things, and sometimes we don’t get it right. Facilitating a large group without pushing them around is hard work. There is always something new to learn.

    Thanks for your frankness in speaking up, I’m glad I found this blog entry so I can consider how to do something like this more suitably in future.

    Actually, I mentioned to several people that I thought that episode was really positive… very “wiki” in that there is a trace of the conversation on the sign, and the fact of the crossed out corrections raises questions… “what was going on here?” I hope it raises discussion at future events. We’ll see!

    Personally, I think that both IS and ARE work. We were the right people in that place this weekend, drawn as we were by a common theme. But our coming together made us “a people” for a short time, too. So now I have both on my sign, thanks to you!

    Take care


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