NOTE: This is meant to be constructive engagement and not criticism. This is also meant to provoke discussion, not to be an opportunity to say "I remember this event before it was cool"
I'm sitting here this morning at Yearly Kos, after having a number of conversations last night with various attendees. I have some thoughts about what we're seeing as a loss of the uniqueness and specialness of the event, due to a variety of factors, mainly the loss of connective tissue and the spatial vastness of the venue. My thoughts on the flip.
Not to say that last year was the perfect event, but there was a real sense that we were all sharing the same convention. The common area was such that you would have to walk over people. The small rooms enabled people to go in and out. I attended candidate hospitality events with 10 or 20 people. There was an authorial voice to the convention, from the series of Laughing Liberally stand-up hosts, to the various blog-centric panels. Things sprung up at the convention organically, like the great moment from momster writing her first ever post. We were a HUGE convention, by the way, with around 1,000 people. But it was a big convention that seemed small.
Here is why many of us believe that there is a difference this year.
• The space: it's simply too big for our needs. The worst part about it is that there are dozens of common areas. People are so spread out that you're not getting as many of the serendipitous conversations or greetings. People are running from one place to another just to get across the mountain. It's not conducive to community.
• The lack of connective tissue: There is far less of a "voice of the convention" this year. And the impact of that is that nobody is having the same convention. There was the Dean keynote, sure, but very little else that everyone could share. The Andy Stern/Harold Meyerson event was awesome, but it didn't come from a "Yearly Kos" place, it was a good labor event that just happened to be here. There wasn't that voice of the convention that came out of that.
• Too many things going on: Everybody wants to be a part of this event and that's great. But you're drinking through a firehose at this event. And again, it ensures that nobody is having the same convention, and I believe that matters. The importance of this convention is to translate the meetup and communication into offline action. If nobody's communicating in the same way or in the same spaces, I wonder if that importance is muted.
• The inevitable cliquishness: Last year, everyone was meeting one another for the first time. This year, those who know one another have found that habitat group, and the lack of community and connectivity means that you have to lash together, fragmenting the community even more.
• The de-emphasis of blogging: I'm not necessarily complaining about this, but many are saying that they're going to these panels with many very good progressive leaders and experts, but that they could find such panels at the Campaign for America's Future or other conferences, and what made YKos special last year was that it was coming from a blogging perspective. This may be a function of there being so many panels, but I haven't seen one front-pager from this site on a panel, for example. As one blogger who shall remain nameless put it: "Last year we came together to talk to each other. This year others came here to talk to us."
Now, none of this is to say I'm having a miserable time or anything. I LOVE every minute of this convention, the camaraderie, the people, the events. But I think a lot of us are feeling a little distracted and disconnected. This appears to be a consensus opinion from most people that I have talked with. Some of this is completely inevitable and understandable. But I think there are a few things that may be tweaked to improve the convention:
• The space is simply not conducive to the community you're trying to foster. Future "votes" on where to hold the convention should include the SPACE ITSELF and not just the city. I love Chicago but McCormick place isn't working.
• Just say no. Everyone wants to hold a panel and that's great. But I think there's some duplication in it, and it would be great to do less better. I think people would welcome less choices, and especially if it means that there would be more things we all do together. This also addresses the "blog-centric" thing, because putting fewer of those on would push the people who want that kind of experience together.
• An emcee. There simply needs to be a voice of the convention shepherding everyone through. I feel like I got that last year, but not this year.
I have tried to address this respectfully. And my goal is to think about how best to translate the rich and active community we have online into an offline convention format. Thanks.