Monday, October 19, 2009

10th Annual GUT Conference

Friday night and Saturday I spent some quality time with other community organizers, writers, and activists who gathered for a combined Digital Media Conference organized by the Organizers' Collaborative (10th annual conference), National Writers Union, and Open Media Boston.  I often go to conferences on my own dime, so to speak, but always end up bringing back valuable information to use in my work.  This was no exception.

Overall, I was able to gain something important for my work from the conference and that's always a plus.  I consider conferencing successful if it brings me into touch with people who have knowledge or skills I can learn from -- the oh so important networking aspect of conferencing -- and it's a bonus if the sessions provide even more knowledge on topics.  I've gone to so many conferences over the years that many workshop sessions are not all that valuable to me.  But I have to say that the GUT Conference each year has provided important session content as well and this year was no exception.  (Another conference that has done that is PodCamp, but that's another post entirely.)

Combining workshops by writers and media activists brought broader content and additional depth to the workshops, with common threads of organizing/activism and technology.  It seems like a smart thing to do when people have scarce resources and technology is so pervasive in our lives. 

Technology is a real concern to writers as they struggle to earn a living while technology is getting so good at making so much free.  Newspapers, for example, are struggling to redefine themselves in the technology economy and determine what should be free and what should be paid for. Organizations and individuals who want to use the Internet for fundraising or to earn a living need to understand what technology is available to do what, how it works, and how to make it work for them. 

The question of how consumers would pay for information was part of a session I attended on microfunding, where consumers can pay for content on a subscription, per article, or tip basis.   Many web-based content providers want to earn money using the Internet.  Setting up a payment scheme that works for that type of content and gets people to pay can be tricky and may require trying more than method before finding one that works for a person or organization.  Try Delicious' website and type microfunding in the search bar to get an idea of the many options you have for setting up a payment scheme for your website's content.

I have been learning Joomla web development software to convert my websites from a proprietary platform to open source.   But also of concern to me is a good database structure that lets me manage course registrations and payments, memberships and payments, volunteers, and fundraising.  Having a database that works with Joomla, so this is available online and I can manage it from almost anywhere, is important to me.  So I attended the CIVICRM workshop and learned more about it in one hour than I'd learned from research on the Internet I'd done.  That was very valuable to me and can help me make a decision about whether to move in this direction or not after my Joomla sites are running.

Of course, having such a database online raises security issues, so the session on Data Safety, while focused on the Massachusetts law that goes into effect March 1st, seemed a logical session to attend.  I realized during this session that I still have some work to do to comply with the law and now need to absorb more info about it so I can pass this along to others at work.  Thankfully, some tools provided during the session will make compliance much easier. 

Too many conferences focus on workshops and not enough on networking.  Quality sessions are important, but networking can make or break a conference.  There isn't enough networking time built into the GUT Conference in general and this is something I'll bring to the organizers' attention.  I hate having to choose between a session I want to attend and spending some time with people from whom I can learn.  While it seems counterintuitive, I've found that the PodCamp model of 90-minute sessions with 30-minutes in between provide a great balance between the two.  It really works and this is something I'll try to encourage GUT organizers to adopt.  Session facilitators might find it a bit intimidating at first, and some topics can benefit from a Part 1 and Part 2 or a long session, but if you want people to gain as much as possible from their time, you've got to give them time to talk about what they're seeing/hearing and learn from each other.

Overall, I'd give it a good grade and feel it was worth my time.


  1. Martha, tell us a little about your experience at the conference and what sessions you attended.