Open Space Conference Draws Technologists and Social Activists Together to Build Better...

Open Space Conference Draws Technologists and Social Activists Together to Build Better Communities

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Feb. 5, 2006 — A conference to advance the use and technology of wikis and other community-building tools provided the perfect setting to try out the Open Source style of conference called Open Space, which is based upon spontaneous creative collaboration.

That meant that when more than 100 participants arrived in Portland, Oregon, on Friday for the three day event, no schedule, no agenda, and no speakers were on any program. Instead, attendees proposed dozens of topics for small group discussions by announcing and then posting on a wall their proposed sessions, with an attached room number and time. Social activists and software engineers co-mingled in front of the wall searching for the sessions that would fulfill their desires and potential as participants. The conference was called Recent Changes Camp, a name befitting the bustling free-for-all environment.

Ward Cunningham, inventor of the first wiki, likened this conference style to a wiki itself. "It assumes people are creative, and if left to their own devices, will in fact create in a way that is worth the effort of everyone coming." Wikis are like Web sites with inter-linked web pages, but they are unique in that they allow anyone to edit and change any of their contents. Similar to a conference that allows anyone to produce, edit and collaborate in the events.

Ted Ernst, one of the co-conveners of the conference, noted, "The wiki community’s embrace of non-techies was really special. They added a lot of heart… This isn’t tech just for tech; it’s tech for people, and that makes a huge difference."

These two groups were united by their passion for change. Ideas bubbled up during the dozens of meetings held simultaneously, exploring issues as diverse as jobs in Oregon, making wikis comfortable for newcomers, identity online, linking wikis together, philanthropy, spirituality and government. Conversations continued intensively over meals and late into the night. New relationships developed, old ones were strengthened, software was written, projects were imagined, initiated and/or substantially moved forward.

Cunningham said he looked forward to the world they’d create. "The ideas are inspiring. It’s not just, ‘Go buy more stuff and consume it.’ It’s, ‘Give back to the world.’ "

View the 12-minute Quicktime music video I made at the conference. It really conveys the collaboration and flavor of this unique conference which will be convening again next winter, so I encourage you to reserve your seat!
– geri