My wife and I attended Pittsburgh Podcamp 5 this weekend. I learned a lot, and I'll recommend it to anyone who is interested in expanding their online presence.
First things first, of course. For those who don't know, Podcamp is a convention (or, "un-convention" as they unconventionally call it) of people interested in using technology for their own use. It started off more or less being exclusively about podcasting, but has grown to include all forms of social media, from Twitter and Facebook to audio and Youtube.
My wife has plenty of pictures on her site, so I'd recommend looking at those to give you an idea of how things looked. But for a free and decidedly volunteer organization, it was a well-run and impressive event.
Podcamp was two days, Saturday and Sunday, and each day a series of classes were held. (A full schedule can be examined here.) As you can see, with "extending your brand" and "managing multiple identities" to specific classes on fashion and food, there's a little bit for everyone. That particular setup was a good thing, because there were one or two classes that really applied to my own goals and I could safely plot out the entire day's worth of demonstrations. (Thankfully, they also recorded the sessions, so you can watch any of the sessions listed on that schedule.)
I was, admittedly, a little bit too excited. Like a week before the conference, I managed to purchase:
1) A ream of clean-edge business card stock
2) A pack of like 200 lanyards
3) A pack of like 50 retractable badge holders
4) A score of badge clips
5) A score of clear badge holders
6) A package of card stock
And then I printed out ID badges for me and my wife. Sure, they were giving them out free at the conference, but that meant I would have to wait an entire week. This was, of course, unacceptable.
So the day came and we got up early, kissed Dexter good-bye because we knew he'd be pissed at being left alone for more than ten minutes, and took off. I'll be honest--when we first arrived, my hippie sense started to tingle. I expected there to be a lot of young college students and maybe some mommy blogs, and at first I was seeing a whole lot of that (Not that I was drawing any large conclusions based on a few seconds of observation. I would never be so unfair and short-sighted. Ahem.) I was concerned I would feel out of place without wearing Birkenstocks and demanding organic Twinkies for the vending machine.
But then I was surprised--as the morning meeting room filled up, I saw an alarmingly diverse crowd. Sure, most were young people, but there were a lot of middle-aged and older individuals. Some were there for getting their personal blogs improved. Some were there for nonprofits looking for new ways to help people. Some were from businesses trying to improve their social media methods. And we were all gathered together in one crowded room, all looking for the same thing--improving ourselves through technology.
I went to sessions on telling a story and extending your brand. Both speakers did exactly what I was looking to do, but my wife and I also noticed that the speakers were largely confirming what we were already doing--which means we're heading in the right direction. (Her blogs, of course, have exponentially larger followers than my own, which isn't terribly surprising when you factor in her photogenic kindness and empathic inspiration, whereas I more or less focus on the humorous aspects of bat defecation.) If I were to do it again--which I plan to, next year--I might start attending sessions that extend beyond this. Certainly, it's difficult to expand significantly when you're limited to 45 minutes, but i was certainly satisfied with what was accomplished.
The actual sessions were done very, very well. The instructors were all knowledgeable, and the setup was perfect. Each session was broadcast live on the internet. Many of them integrated Twitter, videos, and other technology in each presentation, something that I expect will be more common as more tech-savvy students become teachers (at least those who become teachers in jurisdictions that aren't afraid to allow new ideas in the schools, which is a sadly small amount). Each classroom had a live chat room for the instructor, so individuals at home watching live feeds could pose questions or make comments.
One thing that for some reason I absolutely enjoyed was the Twitterfall. I'm not sure why I found this to be so compelling, but seeing what everyone had to say (including saying the exact same thing as everyone else at the same time) was fascinating. It also increased by Twittering for the day about a thousandfold, and for that I apologize to my mercifully few followers.
At some point, someone thought it would be a good idea to get my wife, my friend Aaron, and myself on camera to give our thoughts. Two out of three ain't bad.
One of the main things to do at podcamp is to meet new people. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make a huge number of connections, though I did finally get to meet the singularly sweet and strikingly awesome PittGirl. Sadder still, I printed out about six million of the world's awesomest business cards and I didn't get a chance to hand any of them out. Being our first time, I was more concerned about getting a good seat and navigating around the place to really spend a lot of time networking. (Also, I tend to quiet down when around unknown people in real life.) But those I did speak with were very friendly, and next year I plan on being more comfortable.
As least when it comes to meeting people. The only complaint I really had about the place was the place itself--this was held at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh*, which apparently has not bothered to spend any money since the Great War in getting seats that don't hurt your ass when you sit on them for longer than ten minutes. I know, it's a classroom, and that's the way they are, but between my discomfort and trying to get my microwave-sized laptop maneuvered around I was sick of the whole thing by the time the session was over. This has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that it has been ten years since I was in a college classroom and my size is somewhat larger than it used to be.
I guess the only other improvement would be the sound quality. The in-room classes were fine, but they had a live feed into other classrooms if there were too many people. Unfortunately, the sound wasn't great and it was difficult to follow anything. A simple A/V glance-over should solve that problem. But this is a good problem--when you're forced to have overflow rooms, it means you're doing something right.
Alas, we didn't make it to the second day. We both overslept and by the time we would have made it most of the classes we were looking forward to were done already. (We ended up going to Penn's Colony instead, which, as my wife pointed out, is a touch different than what we did the previous day.) We also missed the Meet and Greet that was held the Friday before podcamp commenced, which I am sure reduced our networking opportunities. (Also, the fact that we don't drink.) I'm looking forward to it next year, and for anyone interested in this sort of thing I recommend it. If you need any materials to make ID badges, though, let me know before you buy anything.
*For some reason when this was first posted, I said it was held at the Pittsburgh Institute of Technology, which I don't think actually exists. If it does I bet it has something to do with steel.