‘Social’ Media: The Oddness of Meeting IRL

 

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Each of these terra cotta figures bears the likeness of an actual employee of San Francisco’s Internet Archive. The “Little People” were directly addressed by several speakers this week at the Books in Browsers conference there. None of the sculptures responded. They’re “seated,” quietly, in the sanctuary of the former Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist, now home of the Archive. Look in the upper right of this image — those blue lights are on the servers that maintain some of the mighty Archive’s 10,000,000,000,000,000 bytes of data (that’s correct — ten petabytes, one quadrillion bytes) in arched alcoves of the imposing sanctuary. That’s 170+ billion web pages. Which is my excuse for this huge caption, of course.

 

 

 

Ania Wieckowski, Harvard Business Review’s Managing Editor, is nothing if not a poised tweeter.

She sweetly tweeted this — or tweetly sweeted it — at this week’s continually provocative Books in Browsers (#BiB12) publishing conference in San Francisco.

This is one of the lesser known confabs in publishing, invitational and demanding, keenly focused on the future of the book and our relation to it.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Books in Browsers, Internet Archive, StoryWorld, Writer's Digest Conference, Tools
Organist Don Knuth rehearsed his Thursday evening concert for a celebration of the Internet Archive’s achievement of 10 petabytes of data. A power failure, ironically, pulled the plug on the concert.

The conference was co-produced by the Internet Archive in San Francisco (thank you, Peter Brantley) and O’Reilly Media (thank you, Kat Meyer and Joe Wikert).

BiB embraced the Archive’s latest milestone, 10 petabytes of data, in a celebration led by founder Brewster Kahle.

Meanwhile, Wieckowski and I have been in touch on Twitter for a year or more. Guy Gonzalez introduced us online, artful bringer-together that he is. But we’d never met in person.

Wieckowski sought me out during one of the conference’s 15-minute breaks.

After a hug and a grin, we chatted beside my live-tweeting command center at the door of the sanctuary, dodging our passing-jostling colleagues as if we were the kind of joggers who trot around each other a few times in order to exchange morning pleasantries.

This pattern would repeat itself throughout the two long days of great material at Books in Browsers. Although I had met some of my favorite Twitter correspondents who were there in person, others — like Wieckowski — were still virtual-only to me.

Although #BiB12 is a small conference compared to Writer’s Digest Conference West and the transmedia-anchored StoryWorld Conference + Expo in Hollywood, I still missed people in San Francisco with whom I’d like to have spent some time.

So as we move more deeply into confab season, let’s look at how to prep for the bridge these gatherings can be between usernames and name tags.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Books in Browsers, Internet Archive, StoryWorld, Writer's Digest Conference, Tools of Change
Books in Browsers conference-goers on break in the lobby of San Francisco’s Internet Archive

 

Making the most of time together: Five logical points

  1. Find out who’s going. Many conference organizers are learning to share their list of attendees with other registered participants on an opt-in basis. Tools of Change has done this for years, with a great system for being in touch with folks prior to the conference. Books in Browsers uses EventBrite, which lets you see the list of attendees.
  2. Prioritize your important folks to meet, of course.
  3. Now get into the conference schedule of sessions, work out the breaks structure, and plan out your breaks.
  4. If some of the colleagues  you want to meet are presenting, try not to target moments just before or after their presentations.
  5. And remember to leave some true breaks for yourself — don’t fill up every single non-session moment.

It’s the act of making a hard appointment that will ensure your get-togethers occur. I have one associate, Viki Noe, who chases several of us around the digital block before each conference until we’re all lined up to get together.

The alternatives?

  • “We’ll grab a coffee!” No, you won’t. That’s way too vague. The presentations start flying, and you spend the breaks dashing to the next session rooms to hunt for power outlets for your laptop.
  • “How about the 10 a.m. break — meet me at the door of Brian O’Leary’s panel at 10:20 a.m. We’ll get coffee and talk. Will that work for you?” Yes, it will, because you’ve gone to the trouble to get specific with your plan. Add it to your calendar.

What will you talk about?

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The Internet Archive sanctuary before Books in Browsers

Consider that “oddness” Wieckowski refers to in her tweet. It might not be merely the surprise of how someone looks in person (not quite as youthful as the avatar) or sounds when they speak (not quite as authoritative when seated next to terra cotta Little People).

I think she’s also referring to the fact that you may not have as much to say to each other as you expect. All the times you’ve been in touch in the past were tightly wrapped around the news of the day or the latest bump in the industry! the industry!

If you’re worried this might be the case with someone, schedule your meeting as part of a session — try to meet just before a presentation you’re both going to attend, and suggest you sit together. The reason you get on like a house afire online is that there you have shared business. Let the panel’s comments do the job of those shared topics.

Yes, it’s hard enough just to get packed

But it’s not only authors who like meeting up with the herd from time to time. Everyone I know, from metadata experts and consultants to editors and startup CEOs can enjoy the camaraderie of a conference. And the smart ones make sure they don’t get lost in the swirl of “we should find some time to chat!”

Find that time before you get onto the plane. You’ll solidify important bonds for the long stretches of e-life between these vibrant ground-level confabs.

Share your own tips with us for getting around to everybody at a conference. What method do you use to be sure you reach the right folks?

 

 

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About Porter Anderson

@Porter_Anderson, BA, MA, MFA, is a journalist, speaker, and consultant specializing in publishing. Anderson is The Bookseller's Associate Editor for The FutureBook in London, a sister site focused on developments in digital publishing. He is also a featured writer with Thought Catalog in New York, writing on publishing and on #MusicForWriters in association with Q2 Music. In 2015, Anderson has programmed the IDPF Digital Book Conference that opened BookExpo America (BEA) and is programming the First Word event at the Novelists Inc. (NINC) conference later in the year. And he is working with the Frankfurt Book Fair on special programming for its new Business Club suite of events and facilities, now in its second year, 13-16 October, in the 2015 Buchmesse. More on his consultancy, which includes Library Journal's and BiblioBoard's SELF-e among its clients in 2015: PorterAndersonMedia.com | Google+

Comments

  1. says

    I’ve had the privilege of meeting IRL a host of writer-folk whom I had only met previously on line. And my experience has been utterly delightful and positive. Once over the initial disconnect of matching face to online-voice (much the same way it’s odd to see a photo of a radio host you’ve listened to for years), there would be no lack of conversation or topics to connect to.
    LJCohen´s last blog post ..Staying in School

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    • says

      Super, Renee, you’ll enjoy conferences as soon as you start going, I’m sure. There are some new ones being introduced this winter, too, and I’ll have news of them as soon as they’re talkable over at Writing on the Ether. Great of you to read the post today and comment. Thanks!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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  2. says

    This post made me smile. I’ve had the same feeling ever since I started attending conferences in the early 2000s – and it’s amazing how many people tell YOU their surprise upon meeting you. It’s nice to hear, “you’re much taller and thinner in person,” (because I doubt they’d say so if it were the opposite, right?) but it does speak to how we visualize a whole person based on the little avatar we see. I guess since I have a round face and big hair, they have made the rest of me shorter and rounder. :)
    I met a writer I’d corresponded with in real life last week and she was under 5′ tall and it brought a tear to my eye because she was the same height as my grandmother who raised me. I said, “you are darling!” I didn’t share with her that she reminded me of my grandmother, because she may have taken it the wrong way.
    I suppose we could use the aging avatar effect so when they see us in person they say, “you are so much younger in person!” ha
    I do love these tips about meeting people IRL. I have a conference tomorrow in OKC and cannot wait to meet 35 new-to-me writers. Have a nice weekend, Mr. A!
    Malena Lott´s last blog post ..The Dark Side of Being a Writer

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    • says

      You’re definitely on the correct side of your avatar, Malena. :-) Always smart to have the in-person effect be a happy surprise — you want that avatar doing Dorian Gray Duty for you if at all possible. If anything, I sometimes think smart avatar choices can be a great inspiration for a fitness program. “Keeping up with my avatar” should make sense to more than one person at the gym.

      When I was in college and was auditioning for the acting MFA at Yale, Carmen De Lavallade went around the room and stopped in front of each of us with our headshot in her hand to appraise us. She’d intone, “You don’t relate at all to your picture” to one person, then “Good relationship in this one, I get a good sense of you from it” to another.

      As you say, amazing how much supposition we can pack into that avatar. Hope your Oklahoma City conference goes well. It might be fun to meet those new writers in person, THEN see their online avatars, try it out in the reverse order.

      Cheers,
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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  3. Ray Pace says

    Conferences can be fun. Don’t expect to meet everyone and see everything. Be yourself. Having that sense of humor and displaying it will get you great results.

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  4. says

    Porter,
    Thanks for these tips. You have articulated well the benefits of advanced planning for connecting with ok line colleagues, but I’ve made some of my best connections through totally unplanned, serendipitous meetings at conferences. I met my book editor because she happened to sit next to me at lunch at a writer’s conference. I guess the bottom line is to go into these conferences with a clear goal for what you want to accomplish and a networking mindset. Thanks for another great post, Porter.
    CG Blake´s last blog post ..Book Review: “The War of Art,” by Steven Pressfield

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      • says

        Auto INcorrect: For a time I ran a section of CNN.com called CNN.com/Career. Not a job-hunting site but a workplace-theory-and-trends magazine-format part of the site. We were quite hot until 2001 changed the emphasis in many parts of the news world. At CNN.com/Career, one of my regular correspondents’ last name was Humphries. Somehow, the auto-correct changed it to “Homophiles.” You can imagine the byline that resulted. :)
        -p.
        @Porter_Anderson

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    • says

      Well said, CG, there’s definitely a lot to be said for being open to surprise and chance meetings at confabs. I’ve had some great unplanned experiences, too.

      My intent here was just to work on how you might address the people you know you DON’T want to leave to chance and be sure you can see while you have the opportunity. All else is, as you say, potentially a matter of fine serendipity.

      Thanks, as ever, for reading and commenting with such perspicacity.
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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  5. Bernadette Phipps-Lincke says

    Wow. As an SF buff, I sorta wonder whether the Internet Archive in the pictures above with the church pews and all is not perhaps a little bit of life imitating art. (I’m kinda getting this Ayn Rand, Church of Humanity vibe here, along with some scenarios from Philip K. Dick’s, Ubik).

    I suppose however we choose to see it, it is inevitable that the internet is the way of the future for not only meeting people, but for acquiring a major portion of our reading material–and that future is now.

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    • says

      The Net is also called “the way-back machine” quite a bit in the sanctuary of the Archive, Bernadette. Your vibes are right on the money. It’s a fascinating place and run by some terrific human versions of those terra cotta “Little Archivists,” too. :)

      Thanks for reading and commenting. And yes, the Internet is not only the way of the future, but it is everything right now — and has been for some time. We’re just discovering it … like a new layer of Ether. :)
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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  6. Marilyn Slagel says

    I enjoyed this post, Porter. My one desire leading up to attending my first conference was to mee Jane F. She did not disappoint. In person I found Jane to be just what I expected. She was recently on a call for Dan Blank’s platform class and we connected again. I love the conference experience!

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    • says

      Hey, Marilyn,

      So glad you’ve been able to have a couple of Jane Encounters. She’s wonderful, isn’t she? And she’s one of the most articulate in explaining just how rewarding our online relationships can be. (She and I met online, as a matter of fact, and only later in person — yes, at a conference.)

      You’re well-aligned with the ideas in this post, I can tell. Glad you’re taking advantage of Dan’s class and hope to run into you soon at a conference.

      Meanwhile, thanks for reading and commenting!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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  7. says

    This post really made me smile. Especially the section about assuming you’ll have a lot to talk about and then running out of common ground. Writers… we’re excellent with strangers on the page, but IRL we’re tongue-tied. Or I am.

    That said, I love meeting IRL. I usually can’t help prodding them and saying ‘gosh, you’re real’.

    As for the avatars, I’d arranged to meet a Twitter crony after my dance class in Covent Garden. When I found her she confessed she’d already pounced on about five people with long red hair. One of them she ambushed from behind and was startled to find they had a beard.

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    • says

      Roz!

      I started to answer you last night and then didn’t finish. The Little People made off with my reply, that’s my excuse. Yes, I remember saying to one Twitter person I was meeting in person, “How great to know we both really exist.”

      And, yes, per your Covent Garden pouncer (that wasn’t me, was it?), we had a couple of avatar-lookalike confusions in the form of “celebrity sightings” over the past 10 days of four conferences (on my travel list, anyway) — each of them turned out to be the kind of bearded redhead mistake you’re recounting here, lol.

      Remind me to put out an announcement when I release my new Kevin Bacon Lookalike Avatar, will you?

      Thanks for reading and commenting (and finding the column I hadn’t even had time to tweet!). :)

      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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  8. says

    What a great post, Porter. I have had nothing but positive experiences meeting virtual friends in person. And I will add that being in touch with an organizer-extraordinaire like Viki Noe has enhanced the experience as well as the likelihood of making these connections. Good tips too on how to plan ahead for these meetings. Thanks.
    Kathleen Pooler´s last blog post ..Memoir Author Madeline Sharples Discusses the Power of Memoir to Heal: “Leaving the Hall Light On” Book Tour

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    • says

      Thanks, Kathy —

      We’re both lucky to have had Viki doing the driving on many occasions, anything someone else can do to sort out the logistics is a welcome help to me since I tend to be awfully busy at confabs. We’re lucky to have her and you and others to take the reins. (She was at Writer’s Digest West last week with me, as you know … or was that the week before? Four conferences in 10 days has left me Lost Among the Little People, lol.)

      Thanks for reading and commenting, as ever, Kathy!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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  9. says

    Hi Porter, these are all great pointers, since conferences can end up being such a whirlwind of information and experiences. For me, the din of the crowd dominates, so I prefer one-on-one conversations whenever possible. For this reason, as well as being respectful of other’s time, I think scheduling a time for a meaningful meet-up is a wise thing to do. Great post! And just love the “Little People” image :-)

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    • says

      Thanks, Terre,

      The Little People (or Little Archivists, as we also call them) became progressively strange, I must say, not less so. The more we became used to them, the odder and more singular they each seemed, made as they are to reflect precise elements of dress and personality in the living people they represent. Live Inaction Figures, lol, probably far more disturbing because the DO represent real people than if they were a simple collection of generic types.

      And thanks for reading. The din of conferences. Yes. Echoing badly in my ears now. :)
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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      • says

        Ooh, that does sound odd, and a bit creepy. As long as you didn’t see yourself :) Were the Little Archivists “interactive”– could you sit next to them and pinch their cheek–or were they “hands-off”?
        The nice thing about these major conferences is that they are usually held in a Wyndham, Westin, or the like, and each usually provides ample meeting areas in each room. A Rothko chapel or a Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist they are not, but they are quieter.
        Terre Britton´s last blog post ..Quick Study: ce n’est pas une pomme

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  10. says

    I just finished reading Writing on the Ether and was so happy to find more Porter over here on Writer Unboxed! (Great Ether this week, by the way. Of course, it’s always good…)

    I think meeting over food for the first time is a great way to keep the conversation going, especially if it’s during the luncheons where you sit with a bunch of other people. That way there is something going on (you have to eat), and there are lots of people around to keep the conversation going. Then you can see each other in a less populated environment and feel more comfortable. However, I don’t have as many people to connect with as some. I don’t think it would work so well if you have ten or 15 people (or more) to connect with in two days. :)
    Lara Schiffbauer´s last blog post ..Funny Photo Friday

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    • says

      Hey, Lara,

      Yes, always more Porter, I’m afraid, you’re a good sport and thanks for reading Writing on the Ether so faithfully!

      Over food is definitely good. By halfway into a conference, over drinks is even better. (The brain-drain of a good confab is incredible — don’t know how many you’ve done, but you begin to feel the normal cerebral functions within a few hours of new, sharp, mind-opening presentations, lol.)

      And yeah, when you have a lot of people to reach in a short time frame (as was the case at the recent Books in Browsers for many of us), it can be a sprint (or a very long meal, lol).

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting,
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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    • says

      Cassie, I know the feeling! I have to say, we were all distracted by the “Little People,” as we called them — one of the creepiest forms of honor (to have an effigy made of you as an employ of the Archive) I can remember seeing anywhere. They were placed on the side ranks of pews in the sanctuary so we could sit in the center. But there was room to sit down in “their” pews among them. From the back, this produced a remarkable illusion that they were real, as one (human) person moved among the still terra cotta ones. As you say, all very sci-fi and surreal. Part of the charm of an organization that is trying to capture as much of the web as possible (more than 170 billion pages so far) for posterity — in a former Church of Christ, Scientist. :)
      Thanks for reading and responding!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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