Kajsa Hartig

A blog about Cultural Heritage and Digital Communication

A conference under cover? Or the biggest un-conference ever?

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I am probably one of the last people in this world to share my experience from SSWC 2010, www.swedensocialwebcamp.se . But here we go:

Imagine 400 nerds camping in a field full of sheep, gathering in tents or on cliffs by the sea with laptops, iPhones and iPads everywhere (and a WiFi!).

Or imagine 400 social media experts gathering for the event of the year.

Both descriptions have been used by media about the Swedish Social Web Camp, that took place last weekend. The truth lies perhaps somewhere in between. All participants share a passion for social media, and quite a few represented the very elite of digital communication in Sweden today.  And yes, we did camp in a field (though the sheep wandered off to the other side of the island – most likely avoiding the invasion).

The great difference from f.ex. Dream Hack, is that these ”nerds” actually spend most (not all!) of the time – during the event– offline. And the main topic is communication, not technology.

SSWC is an un-conference that was organized last weekend for the second time ever, first time was in 2009. The site was the island of Tjärö, just off the coast of Blekinge in southern Sweden. The (un-)conference fee of 900 sek covered the boat trip and all meals.

So, the format was un-conference, and the content decided entirely on site by the participants. Friday evening a grid was set up in the tent. Anybody could pick up a pen and paper and announce a session (20 or 40 minutes long), spontaneously or prepared. And it worked!

There were plenty of opportunities to meet experts like Brit Stakston, or Johan Ronnestam, or Björn Alberts. And there were just as many opportunities to encounter new and upcoming companies, entrepreneurs and projects.

The sessions announced ranged from entrepreneurship and business development to social media in politics, media, schools, the use of Creative Commons or services like Flickr or Facebook and last but not least the development of strategies.

Me and Matthieu Hartig,  gathered 34 people for a session on social media and cultural heritage. It was more of an attempt to see how many of the participants who would be interested in cultural heritage, than to give a presentation. Only one of the participants in our session was actually working at a museum. The rest were involved, engaged or just interested in one way or the other. (We made great connections and this calls for a tweetup in Stockholm soon!)

Some practicalities around #sswc 2010: A huge tent with benches and tables housed the meals and a few sessions. An old barn next door served as a room for sessions. The rest of the sessions took place outdoors, in the fields and on the cliffs. All meals except breakfast were served outdoors, and the participants were seated in the main tent or outside on wooden benches.

There was a WiFi serving almost the entire island. Yes, even the camping ground was covered. But as with every conference I have visited, the WiFi was coming and going. However, considering the circumstances, I am still very impressed.

As for documentation, the conference committée was filming the event, the main parts were covered by national TV and news paper journalists. Mattias Boström, at the publishing company Piratförlaget, decided to make a documentation of the event. He asked the participants to contribute to a book, the SSWC-book. The result: 180 people contributed to over 600 pages, with blogposts, old and new. The book was both edited and designed by Mattias Boström, and then delivered straight to the camp site. For those of you who speak Swedish (or is interested in the few posts in English!) here’s the link to download the entire book! (Thank you Mattias for a great job!): The SSWC Book (Pdf).

Conclusion
The concept of an un-conference is excellent in this case. It opens up for personal meetings, the individual participants matter, not companies or organizations.

Social media covers a broad spectrum of services and methods, and is used in all parts of society. Still there aren’t that many people deeply involved with development and implementation. So for now it really works. It’s a unique – once in a lifetime – chance to learn from the experts in a very informal situation. The camp site calls for relaxed meetings and just having fun (as for having fun, check also my last blogpost on playing with cultural heritage)!

Still I hope that next year the event will have slightly developed towards a conference. There will be many more than 400 people wanting to participate. One issue is how to make a selection. This year they made two realeases of tickets. Some people didn’t make it since the website couldn’t handle the onslaught.

Also, to attract the very best in the business, I believe a call for papers will be necessary. The committée would then need to set some goals for the whole event, preferably covering some central areas where social media plays a vital role in society. The grid with un-conference sessions will still be one of the most important aspects of the event, and it serves as a great example of how to use crowdsourcing with a holistic perspective!

And as Jocke Jardenberg (another excellent expert) repeated during the event, we need to work hard this year and come back to Tjärö next year to share our new experiences and contribute to further development. I.e. everyone is obliged to set goals for the year to come. And here’s the most exciting thing: As with Museums and the Web, there is a growing community. The community rising from the un-conference SSWC is actually capable of growing and thriving in between the events, keeping in touch, meeting regularly at f.ex. Stockholm Social Media Lunch Club and other places. So there is no reason not to set high goals for SSWC 2011. And then we’ll see SSWC perhaps evolve into a conference, but definitely extend itself in-between-conferences.

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