Friday, February 8, 2008

Ethan Zuckerman Blogs OLA Super Conference

Those of you who attended Ethan Zuckerman's plenary presentation on the Thursday of the OLA Conference will may recall this speaker's involvement with projects such as Global Voices, Geekcorps and his involvement with Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Zuckerman is also well known for his fascinating blog My Heart's in Accra. Zuckerman is a very prolific blogger who posts substantial essays almost daily (if not more often) on "Africa, international development and hacking the media".

One of the spin-off benefits of inviting a blogger to speak at the Super Conference is that we're also likely to get blogged. True to form Zuckerman posted some fascinating pieces related on the Conference.

Only just hours after his plenary, a post appeared on Zuckerman's blog entitled Help, I'm surrounded by librarians. Zuckerman writes a bit about how pleased he is to have been invited to a gathering of librarians and finds significant areas of overlap with his own interests.

Okay, so I’m at Canada’s largest gathering of librarians. There are likely 4500 librarians from across Ontario in a conference center located in the funky-shaped shadow of the CN Tower. I’m here because I’ve been asked to give a keynote this afternoon. When I got the invitation, I assumed that the Ontario Library Association had wanted to invite David Weinberger, realized he was busy and invited me instead. To my surprise and pleasure, the folks who invited me, knew my work and hoped I’d come to Ontario to talk about some of the issues I addressed at the Idea Festival in Louisville late last year - the internet in the developing world, homophily, serendipity, xenophilia. Which should be fun… for me at least.

Zuckerman then goes on to cover in detail session 418 entitled "Open Source and Libraries in the Developing World" by Bess Sadler, Randy Metcalfe and Nasser Saleh who presented on the eIFL project (Electronic Informatio for Libraries). He describes the eIFL project as one area in which there is enormous overlap between his work and that of librarians.

His post entitled Oh Canada is not directly related to the Conference but at least we can take some credit for getting him up here and inspiring him to muse: "Oh Canada, that frigid, yet funky land. You have ever so much to teach us."

Finally there is Zuckerman's fascinating post on one of the spotlight speakers, Andrew Keen, author of The Cult of the Amateur who spoke about "The Democritization of Web 2.0 and Digital Narcissism". There was a nice (but unintentional) point-counterpoint to having Zuckerman and Keen booked back to back since in many ways they represent diametrically opposed perspectives on the issue of the potential of the internet for social (and political) transformation. Zuckerman was keenly (pun not intended) aware of the contrast. Unfortunately Keen was oblivious. Zuckerman writes:

I hadn’t realized, when I signed up for the gig, that I was speaking directly before Andrew Keen. Keen is one of the hottest internet skeptics right now, and has been touring to promote his book, “Cult of the Amateur”. My friend David Weinberger has been invited to debate Keen several times, most notably in the Wall Street Journal, and I found myself worrying that I’d been put on stage as a cyberutopian strawman for Keen to batter afterwards. As it turns out, that wasn’t the intention. I addressed a plenary session, then Keen ran one of a dozen simultaneous sessions. To the two hundred or so crammed into a too-small room for Keen’s talk, it likely felt that he was responding directly to my optimism about the internet - as it turns out, he hadn’t actually caught my talk, which meant that the conflict between our worldviews was an inherent one, not one created by the structure of the conference.

Too bad we didn't think to set up a debate. Zuckerman was hoping to engage Keen during his Q&A:

I had my hand up for much of the question and answer session, but didn’t get to offer my query. I got asked by several people afterwards what I wanted to ask. Basically, I planned to ask Keen when he’d become worth listening to. He argues that we should listen to experts, not to amateurs… but this is his first book. Did he become an expert in a single moment of enlightenment? Or when the check from the publisher cleared? If it wasn’t a quantum process, was there a moment as a very good amateur where he was suddently worth listening to? And if so, doesn’t that mean that there could be, theoretically, out there on the citizen-generated internet, someone else worth his time to listen to?

The discussion then continues in the comments with interesting personalities like Larry Sanger (of Citizendium) and author David Weinberger weighing in.

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