Voice of the vendor

BloggerCon took place yesterday at the Stanford Law School and was described by Dave Winer as the “unconference,” where everyone is equal and participates in a university setting as users. During the Information Overload session led by Robert Scoble there was some vendor identification beyond the rules of the conference, and the response to the vendor violations set a tone for the conference that left many participants on edge and caused some audience members to get up and leave as an act of protest.

The discussion focused on what features users would like to see in the feeds they used to help them consume information more efficiently. At one point in the discussion it was obvious to me some of these problems are addressed by Technorati’s Attention.xml or other similar implementations of feed aggregators using user actions to help refine future data representations. I knew Dave Sifry and Tantek Çelik would be excited and possibly chat up some of the feed aggregator developers on the side to let them know about what they were thinking in regards to attention metadata.

On IRC, the discussion of Attention.xml had already started. Dave Sifry raised his hand as high as it could possibly reach, and he may have even done some jumping jacks. When he was given a chance to speak he spoke as a vendor about Technorati’s solution to the issue and crossed the line regarding vendor pitches at the conference. Dave Winer stepped in, called him on it, but Sifry continued. Dave Winer stood firm and would not let Sifry talk about Attention.xml. Steve Gillmor spoke about attention metadata as a general concept, but not many people seemed tuned in to the complex explanation.

Bob Wyman of PubSub made reference to PubSub. and some of the key considerations needed to implement an idea raised by an aggregator user (11:38 in). Dave Winer stepped in, told Bob he was being too technical, and said “vendors don’t participate in the discussion actively here” and voices in the crowd seemed unhappy with the level of control exerted by Dave during an “unconference” of equal users.

A bit lengthy, but that is some of the background as I remember it. The incident overshadowed the entire day as participants were not sure what was mentionable or not mentionable.

Now for my take on it all.

Did Dave Sifry cross the line and plug Technorati and its services? Yes. Given the pre-announced constraints of the conference he should have talked about the idea of attention metadata and not the Technorati implementation of that idea. Technorati’s implementation is not solidified and is looking for feedback and a good opportunity for feedback presented itself.

Introducing yourself and your vendor affiliation is not a bad thing and is not against the spirit of what I think Dave Winer and Stanford wanted to see happen at this conference. Introducing yourself and what you are involved with establishes authority. When Brendon Wilson introduces himself and mentions his involvement with PGP, I interpret his corporate mention as establishing authority when the context of the discussion was verified identity.

A vendor identifying himself or herself is creating authority or creating an introduction to a group of users if they are interested in seeking out him or her later. There are good ways to connect vendors and their existing users without opening up to a sales pitch. There were users at the conference interested in meeting and speaking with Mark Fletcher and they are more likely to give one on one feedback about Bloglines if they know he is in the crowd and what he looks like.

Overall I think the issue of vendor participation was overblown and detracted from a free flow of ideas and participation from intelligent users and authors. It was good to meet so many people who are creating tools to make online publishing a better experience. You should not have to watch from the sidelines while there is so much collaboration to accomplish.

Update: 26 Nov 2004: Sifry’s remarks regarding the Technorati MP3 feed is during the Podcasting session recording at 1:06:30. Podcasting was the first session of the day and the Sifry was the first occurrence of vendor conflict that day.