Thursday, November 12, 2009

Education is now about filtering information, not finding it

Last week at the MPI Texas Hill Country Education Conference in Fort Worth, our session panel discussed the application of social networks to events and event planning. We clearly had overwhelmed most of the audience with the vagaries of Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, Pathable, etc. They knew that "everyone is doing it," but they weren't sure what it would do for them.

For example, look at a typical "share this page" icon bar like the one on the left. The social network world asks you to connect with everyone you've ever met, and then to share everything you do with all of those people, plus the people they know, and so on. As "connecting" and "sharing" have become easier, the amount of information bombarding you grows exponentially. Things are completely out of control when CNN reports live Twitter feeds from Iran as "breaking news", without any clue as to what is true and who is providing the information.

The Way Education Is
This reminded me of a recent experience. I was helping my 4th-grade son Cade with his homework - a research paper on piranhas. Like any Generation Z student, he first Googled "piranhas", and then started browsing through the top 10 results (out of 1,820,000). He already had more information than I possibly could provide for his two page paper. Shaking my head at the advantages he has in school over my experience, I went downstairs to finish some chores.

A few hours later, I returned to our playroom to find him still at the computer, hitting keys like a madman and laughing hysterically. "You've got to see this!", he screamed as he replayed "7 piranhas kill and eat frog" on YouTube. I looked at his Word document and saw that he had formatted the title and date on the top of the first page, but nothing else.

The Way Education Was
During my education, the hardest part of the assignment was finding information. Given the same research assignment, I would have had to get a ride to the library (during the hours it was open), search through the card catalog, write down the Dewey decimal codes for a few books on the topic, find the books and browse through them to see which ones looked the most promising, check out those books, go home, read the books (or at least the table of contents) while taking notes on key facts, write the paper, and then finally type it in the mandated format. This process would take me at least half a day.

My children, however, could accomplish the same task in minutes with Google and Word on their home PC. Yet Cade spent about the same amount of time to finish his paper as I would have without his technological advantages.

The New Task of Education
That made me realize - my education was about finding information and storing it for future retrieval. Cade's education (and my ongoing education) is about filtering the flood of information coming at you every second.

In the past, it was so difficult to find information that once you found it, you better memorize it so that you could retrieve it quickly the next time. Thus open-book tests did not help the unprepared.

Now, you get more information thrown at you in 5 minutes than we had in 5 days, before the Internet and Television. The key is to figure out:
  • What is true
  • What is important
  • Who I can trust

And, as Cade demonstrated:

  • What should I ignore

Social Networks can help you filter, or they can flood you with more information

Back to the point of this analogy. The best aspects of Social Networks are ones that help you connect with friends, and through mutual association help you answer the question of "Who can I trust?" The worst aspects of Social Networks are those that increase the flood of minutiae, unsolicited marketing, spin, and out-right lies.

Hopefully, we will improve our mental filters as part of our ongoing education in an environment of limitless information.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

How Social Networking Will Affect Privacy and Data Security of Your Events

Last week, Certain Software exhibited with other meetings technology companies at the HSMAI Affordable Meetings conference in Washington, D.C. The show hosted a separate Event Technology Expo for companies like ours, whose booths surrounded a 40-seat demo area where vendors spoke each half-hour on event technology topics. Rather than repeat the product sales pitch that I used in our booth, I elected to speak about the emerging data privacy and security issues as social networking applications work their way into face-to-face events.

Event Technology Expo Short Seminar

I prepared these slides before I read my speaker instructions and learned that the 15-minute presentation was audio-only. But these are the talking points that I used at the expo.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Using Technology to Reduce Housing Costs at HSMAI Affordable Meetings in Washington D.C.

Rob Wilson of Meeting Sites Resource and I spoke at the HSMAI Affordable Meetings national convention in D.C. last Wednesday (on my birthday no less). The show was under new management, and J Spargo rose to the high standards set by George Little Management over the past decade. Once again, the separate Event Technology Expo worked well for meetings technology companies like Certain. Overall, attendance and business attitude were the most positive I've seen this year, although, speaking relatively, Washington may be having a better year than the rest of the country.

Event Technology Expo Session
Many of the attendees were local commuters, so our 4:45pm time slot was a bit sparse on traffic. Below is our perspective on using meetings technology to reduce housing costs, both before and after the event's contract is signed.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Twitter: I don't get it, but I'm going to give it a chance

I set up a Twitter account long ago, but I have never used it. Today I decided to give it a chance, so if you are interested in following my short posts then go to and subscribe.

I don't follow others on Twitter, but I just read an article about how Dell used Twitter to clear out refurbished inventory at rock-bottom prices to the tune of $3 million. So maybe, like the Web itself, there are both good and bad uses for Twitter. I will try to follow a few rules:

1. I'll post when I learn or do something that could help others immediately. For example, last night I stayed in a 9th-floor suite overlooking Union Square at the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco. What is amazing, however, is that Yahoo Travel offered a package with the room and flight for only $60 more than the flight alone at Virgin America.
2. I'll only post when I'm doing something out of my normal routine

This is an experiment, so please give me feedback on your experience with Twitter.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

When technology saves you time but does not help your work.

I work from my home in Dallas, while my colleagues are spread in offices from San Francisco, Seattle, Sydney, Brisbane, and London. So I set up my work phone extension to forward to my home office phone, which is a virtual "softphone" from Skype, which will then forward to my cell phone if I don't answer on my laptop. Finally, my cell phone will collect a voice mail if I still do not answer, and it will email me that message in an attachment.

Technology to the rescue

At least that's how I thought it worked, until this week when a couple of people told me that they called and received a "Mailbox full" message, even though my cell phone mailbox is empty. I checked with our internal IT and found out that the number of rings my work line waited before going to voice mail was the same as the sum of the number of rings my home office and cell phone waited before recording a message. And so sometimes my work line would take a message, but it wasn't sending me an email since the system was upgraded, and I had no indicator light telling me that I have a message.

So, today and I have 100 unanswered messages going back to January 28th. I apologize to those who think I never return calls, but I also wonder about how much productive time I had recently without all of those interruptions...

My phone solution

In case you have a similarly disconnected life, after much trial-and-error I finally settled on using a Skype In subscription, a Freetalk wireless headset, and a Sprint data card. The quality has been acceptable for business use for the most part, and it keeps me connected anywhere I travel as long as I have Internet or cell phone access. Just be sure to check the forwarding settings every now and again.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Think you'll never attend a meeting in a Virtual World? Look out behind you!

I've heard meetings expert Corbin Ball speak for several years now about the coming era of Virtual Meetings in Second Life and similar sites. The typical audience response is something close to "not in my lifetime", but Corbin keeps plugging this vision.

I may have been one of the skeptics in Corbin's presentations, but I've recently been converted by three experts in my own house.

Toontown vs. Second Life

The other day I walked over to our computer table to see three of my kids (Kyra age 10, Cade age 9, Izzy age 6) excitedly switching screens and looking over each others' shoulders as they played a new game they discovered at - Toontown. Basically, you pick a Disney character to represent yourself, and then you run around a virtual Disney world, talking to other kids' Toontown characters and trying to figure out how to defeat the evil Cogs infecting the world.

To my kids, this environment was more natural than the pictures of real trade shows that I show them when they ask me why I went away last week. Their response is, "You stand in that tiny booth all day waiting for people to come see you?!?"

There is Izzy above, using her dog's name "Ginger" for her Toon.

Izzy talking to a Cog (they are bad).

Izzy talking to a town employee for help.

The Coming World of Virtual Trade Shows

As the Toontown generation becomes the working class, the age of virtual trade shows is inevitable. Inc. magazine recently published an article ("Nice meeting your avatar") on three leading providers: InXpo, Unisfair, and ON24. I've also seen Digitell at the Meetings Tech Expo shows and have explored their version of Active Worlds platform.

I tried the Active Worlds platform but found the experience lacking. There were too many key controls to move around, visiting booths took longer than I was willing to spend, and the booths were too cumbersome to customize (in my opinion). The experience was too close to reality - at a real show I don't mind walking across the floor for five minutes to find a booth, but I'm used to everything being instant at my computer.

The systems will improve, however, and if it's in Inc. this month then it will be in Forbes next year and in Newsweek the year after that. By then you may have attended one yourself. If so, please let me know about your experience.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Society of Government Meeting Professionals 2009 National Education Conference

Last week I attended the 2009 National Education Conference for SGMP in Louisville, Kentucky. Like all trade shows this year, attendance was down by nearly half, and of those about three times as many attendees were suppliers compared to buyers. The meetings world has not stopped, however, and I continue to meet customers who renew their licenses and new prospects who want to make their operations more efficient.

Online Registration Presentation

Thursday morning, I spoke on "Online Registration for Government Meetings" with about 60 planners. Below are the slides that I presented.