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Chatting About Event Overload In Toronto

I chatted with Justin from Refresh Events last night about conversation that he started over Twitter about event overload in Toronto.

http://wetoku.com/video/wx4320n6/player?bgcolor=FFFFFF&width=256&height=192

Update: Just to be clear about some strangeness that happened on this post earlier today (sep 29th). I had took down the post at Justin’s request earlier in the afternoon. It stayed down for about 5 hours until I got another message from Justin asking me to put it back up. I did this at his request. Just wanted to be clear and transparent about that. – Malcolm

41 replies on “Chatting About Event Overload In Toronto”

Exactly the contribution I’d expect from someone who clearly didn’t even watch the video and from someone who’d rather put down than contribute even the slightest

seriously, I made it 10 minutes in, before my eyes rolled so far back in my head I almost fell off my chair.If you want me to offer my opinion as much as you’ve chosen to broadcast yours, here goes.This sounds like a “we were doing it first” and anyone else who is doing it now is an idiot, according to us.It reminds me of high school gossip cliques, bad mouthing people without the actual stones to directly name them or pout a name to who they are bashing.Negative topic, Negative conversation.

@brundle_fly: It’s not a matter of “we were doing it first”, it’s matter of saturation. You have to admit, how many more groups are going to start up in Toronto? How many times can we have the same conversations?I never bad-mouthed anyone. I simply expressed my frustration with anecdotal evidence to back up my frustrations. Plain and simple.

The “One Event/Community/person to Rule Them All” model is flawed. It’s all about small pieces, loosely joined. How do you differentiate? Reputation? Size? Sponsors? There are a lot of different metrics of quality – my metrics and criteria might be very different than yours. Communities are heterogenous. Much of what we think of as innovation is the creative tension between different viewpoints. Many of these conferences started as marketing vehicles. Often they are marketing a technology (OpenID, OpenAuth, WordPress, Podcasting, OpenGov), sometimes they are about providing content that is interesting to a community that raises the profile of the host (Third Tuesday, Sprouter, etc.). These events cost money to run, therefore, it often requires a return to host them. Marketing is an easy piece. As a developer it’s harder to justify the costs.

Btw, Third Tuesday Toronto started over 2 years ago and was the first group bringing ppl together to discuss social media in Toronto. I was at the first event with Shel Israel. The only event/ meet-up prior to that was DemoCamp IIRC. Is Thornley using it to promote TFC? Yep. Same with Refresh Events, and Sprout Up’s, which are even newer to the scene, I would reckon. I’m still sore about how all unconferences/ Camps are being portrayed outside of ChangeCamp, because of how much ppl contributed and worked their butts off for SustainabilityCamp last November. I’m going to keep doing what I do, and modify the format in a way that makes sense, if it makes sense, to provide the most value and, ahem, sustainability, for the people who want to participate. But that’s just me, participate or don’t, it’s your choice.

Honestly, stop doggin on FITC. Your distain for them is completely transparent, and doesn’t need to be aired publicly. They run successful events. Deal with it.

My disdain for FITC? I wouldn’t go as far as calling it that. You’re really stretching there, Julian.

There’s no need to ‘control’ the number of communities; let supply and demand take care of it. Communities that put on great events that people enjoy attending will thrive. Communities that just put on events that people don’t want to attend will strangle themselves. Let the attendees figure out what they want to attend.I don’t really see a problem here — I agree there’s a lot, and a lot of overlap, but either there’s a demand for that many events, or it will take care of itself in time.All event producers should do is ensure that they’re putting on the best event, delivering value to the potential attendees, targeting a niche.

There seems to be a perception that someone needs to control what’s going on. That is not the case.I completely agree with Geoff; communities die off, they have a shelf life. What confuses me is, when did creating groups and communities become so popular? 2 years ago, this conversation never would have happened.

Congrats to @jkozuch & @malcolmbastien for bravely opening a conversation on the “over-saturated” community event scene in Toronto.All this has happened before, and will happen again. None of us invented community, and it will continue to exist once we’re all dust.Having a vibrant scene of tech-related meetups and community groups is a fantastic opportunity, not a problem to be managed.If Refresh, Sprouter, Third Tuesday organizers and others are having a problem with overlap, speaker and audience conflict and such, that may be a problem for those organizers and their individual business goals, but it is not the community’s problem. The community appears to be thriving and healthy.There are egos and self-interest at play in every one of these events. Self-interest isn’t going away any time soon. We’re all guilty of it, so I guess we’ll all have to forgive each other for having egos.My own problem is that there are too many events for me as an individual to attend. The way I solve this individual problem is that I exercise my free will and my ability to make choices. If I don’t go to your event, don’t take it as a slight against you or your community. I just need to humbly accept the limitations of being meat.My work is focused on taking what we’ve learned from this kind of online meets face-to-face community-building activity and applying those lessons to back to real-world community and the social and public policy problems and opportunities we find there. i.e. the world that people other than social media scenesters occupy.In my more enlightened moments, I wish more people would copy my model, cuz I can’t cover all the issues and areas of opportunity that I see in the world.I’m not a fan of the “professional community management” language that is used in the social media scene. If we’re interested in genuine community building, and resisting the instinct to commercialize communities, then we should be talking about encouraging community leadership rather than professionalizing community management and leaving it to the few.Communities are decentralized, organic organisms, and leadership in community means more than organizing an event or series of events. Leadership within community is fluid and decentralized. Individuals within community will vote their feet. Some will judge those that indulge in shameless self-promotion as hucksters, some will respect it as a model of leadership.My question to the event organizers is this: are you a community leader or are you a community manager?

Julian: Fair enough. I wouldn’t call it a dig, I was misinformed re: price. I thought there was a price being charged, and clearly there isn’t. My apologies, Shawn for the confusion.For the record, I wasn’t comparing anything. I used their “unconference” as an example of exactly why it’s not that. That’s all it was.An unconference, in case there is confusion as to the definition, is an event where no schedule exists, until it is made up by the attendees.

There are a lot of existing communities and industries in Toronto. They are all trying to get a handle on social media in their own ways. Each of the meetings is aimed at a different industry or different niche. I work in a number of industries, and they are all working to understand what is happening in our world. There are a few of us who are aware of a lot of things going on, and yes it is challenging to attend all of them (heaven knows I try!), but that is really our personal choice.Ultimately it comes down to value. If people do not find value, they will vote with their feet. The popularity of these events just proves people are getting some value and that there is a need.And I notice Justin doesn’t suggest taking his events out of the mix to reduce the choice. ;-)Cheers!Connie

Justin, no I don’t think I do understand the point you’re making in the video. Can you clarify that point?I disagree with your first assumption, that too many events is a problem in the community. It’s not. You also ask how do you manage this situation, to which I respond: you don’t. You also say that community management is a hard job, to which I say: too bad, get another one.I also don’t think that event organizers are community managers. Community managers are hired by a brand or company or project to manage that entity’s relationship with a community, usually online. If you see yourself as a community manager for Refresh Events, then you are managing the relationship between Refresh and groups and individuals in the wider community.This is why I really dislike using the language of professional community management when we’re talking about self-organizing communities of individuals like the organic and unbranded open meetups and unconferences that have emerged over the years. Community management is the wrong paradigm, and I think it’s dangerous to apply it in that context.To summarize my point: your company’s community management problem is not the community’s problem.

An interesting discussion. As one of the co-founders of Third Tuesday, I watched as more and more events came into the space. And over time, I’ve embraced variety of voice and focus as virtues. It makes it tougher for us to program Third Tuesday as an event that stands out as unique. But that’s good. If we become lazy, the community loses it’s value.This year, I’ve tried to make Third Tuesday even better by bringing speakers to TT groups across the country. Shel Israel didn’t just come to Toronto. He also came to Ottawa, Calgary, Montreal and Vancouver. So, this gives us a chance to bring people together across the country around a common theme.In the four years of Third Tuesday’s existence, I’ve tried to keep it as a community-based event. This means that it has a different group of organizers in each city. People who are based in their community. I’m active in the two oldest Third Tuesdays, Ottawa and Toronto. Other organizers have come onboard and departed based on their waxing and waning interest. Content is a much bigger challenge than logistics. So, I’ve tried to keep the organization spare and encourage people to take control of the content. The next Toronto event, for example, is being programmed by Eden Spodek. I’ve also tried to keep Third Tuesday separate from Thornley Fallis. Yes, my name is on the company door and I’ve been involved with Third Tuesday from the outset. But it is not a vehicle for Thornley Fallis. Take a look on the Meetup site, the FriendFeed group and other places that Third Tuesday exists and you’ll see no connection between it and Thornley Fallis.Again, I appreciate the comments about Third Tuesday. It lets us know what people really think. It keeps us honest. And it keeps me working harder to continue to earn my place in the community.

Justin, I have to disagree with you here. Yes, there are tons of events that happen in Toronto that cater to technologists, entrepreneurs, activists, scientists, designers, marketers, etc – a sometimes overwhelming reflection that Toronto is diverse and proactive and willing to both work their butts off to produce compelling events and attend them. While I also suffer from event fatigue (both as an organizer and a participant), I echo Mark’s point – Choose wisely, young Jedi.We’ve had this conversation before as well in reference to the recent Ignite! event that I co-produced with Peter Horvath. My understanding at that point was that it wasn’t about the subject area, but rather the format, which you claimed a stake in. My response then, as it is now, is that no one (not even O’Reilly at this point), owns the Ignite! brand. I’ll go further to that no one owns the community – loyalty and attention are temperamental and people will go where they feel the content/outcomes best reflect their goals. Trying to winnow out other events as a strategy to help boost your business model is a bit of BS and disrespects the past efforts of people who have worked really hard, especially if you’re speaking on behalf of what the ‘community’ wants.If you choose to make this your livelihood you can’t complain that there is competition. There will always be someone offering something similar, something cheaper, something that is attracting your customers. Your challenge is to suck it up and make a better product and sell!+1 to Mark, Tamera, Connie, and David

I listened to the chat between Malcolm and Justin and followed much of the conversation here and on Twitter. There’s not much left to be said that hasn’t been said here already. Communities aren’t new. What’s new is social media helps us share information and knowledge faster and in turn, it can help bring like-minded people or those interested in a common subject together. One of the challenges is event fatigue and learning to choose wisely. If you don’t think an event provides you with value, then either get involved or don’t attend. It may not be for you but don’t criticize event organizers (primarily volunteers) because they can put together an event/events that others find valuable. You can always choose to vote with your feet. Like Mark says, the key measure is how the discussions and presentations at events become actionable in the community. Cheers,Eden

My two cents:1) I believe the words community & event are being interchanged when they are not the same thing.2) Survival of the fittest – people will go to the events they want to go to – the ones that people are not interested in will not survive. No one can/should/needs to be the gatekeeper of this.Relating to my world, there are tons of art gallery openings every week in the city. I don’t begrudge that – people get out to the shows they want to see or the galleries that put on exhibitions they are interested in.

Thank you, everyone for your feedback. I am listening and will continue to do so. Expect a response to this video in a day or two.Sent from my iPhone

Amrita, I agree with both of your points. What’s happened in Toronto (and some other centres as TTT has shown) is that communities have formed around events, so it gets a bit confusing to separate the two sometimes.Cheers,Eden

Justin, you nailed the problem of choice, but in the end I get the feeling that you are being competitive and woried about finding return on your next Refresh event. Its been an amazing and busy month for events and I can understand any stress. But I feel you are taking away from the great leadership steps you’ve built to date in our community. Is your tone more to divide the wheat from shaft or coordinate with, support new entrants, and grow Toronto’s community. What’s going on in Toronto is more fragile than we may think.

Yes, there is event overload, and I now have to make choices that I didn’t have to make earlier. But I wouldn’t complain about having to choose between a Ferrari or a Lamborghini because I didn’t have enough money to buy both, and I don’t complain about this either — it’s just an indication that there’s a lot of good stuff going on. As the saying goes, it’s a nice problem to have.+1 to many others here including David and Mark. I take the number and quality of comments here as an additional indication that “the community” (actually a bunch of overlapping communities) is healthy.

I’d like to see more community events collaborating, rather than competing with each other, you wouldn’t see the overlap you’re seeing right now. That’s the core of what I’m hearing from Justin (though I think the tone is a little harsh).Wouldn’t a simple option be a monthly meeting of community leaders in web/tech to come together and talk about what they’re planning? Could be virtual of course.

There is a lot happening and, in many ways, it reflects the excitement and enthusiasm with Toronto’s high-tech community. While it could be viewed as too much, it would be far more troubling if there was nothing going on. It is important to keep in mind that it wasn’t that long ago (2006) when there wasn’t a lot happening. Then, David Crowe launched DemoCamp, we decided to do mesh, and a lot of other great events such as Third Tuesday got going. I wonder how Toronto’s event scene compares with Silicon Valley.Mark

As somebody who has drifted around on the fringe of many of these communities and events over the past year, the problem I’m seeing is not that there are too many events, but rather that those events that do exist often fail to significantly differentiate themselves from each other. The result is that it *seems* that there’s an overload of events going on.I think that many of the organizers of these events target them at their own existing communities and therefore take a somewhat myopic view of the greater Twitter community. They fail to properly communicate what their events are about and who the target audience/communities are as they simply assume that everybody should already know this.The problem is that the Toronto Twitter community is growing daily in leaps and bounds, and newcomers end up feeling overwhelmed by a whole bunch of undifferentiated events and communities and are left feeling that they somehow don’t know the “secret handshake” that is required to really understand what’s going on in the greater community around them.Descriptive information on an actual web page is a fair start, and many of the events do a reasonable job of defining themselves once you actually get to their page, but I think a better job is needed of identifying topic and target in the actual Twitter stream when an event is announced and/or discussed, as it’s often difficult to even find the motivation to link through to an event’s page when you’re being inundated daily with information on seemingly similar communities and events. The tendency to pick short and trendy names further exacerbates the problem, as these names are often completely non-descriptive of the actual event; for example while “Third Tuesday” and “Wired Wednesday” may be useful in describing *when* an event is occurring, they do little to clue in a newcomer as to what the event is about and who it’s targeted at.

Is about event overload or trying to build a business in an environment better suited to a non-profit endeavour?For better or worse, we’ve become accustomed to our local events being no or low cost. It’s hard for me to justify spending a couple of hundred bucks when I can get a similar learning experience for next to nothing.That said, I’ll be at Justin’s Facebook event Thursday 🙂

Justin, your need to hear your own voice is unbelievable. Stop hating on FITC. Really. I don’t know what your problem is with me and FITC. But just stop talking about me and FITC. Really. Give it a rest. Others are noticing it too, and getting sick of it. You have something to say to me or about FITC, be a man and call me.As for your supposed conversation about too many events, too many communities, its bullshit. Anyone can start an event. Anyone can start a community. Its great for the community. People will choose what to go to. They are adults and can make up your own mind. Sorry you see all these groups as competition. Quit whining. You’re just as guilty of it as anyone. How many groups have you started? How many events have you done? So really. Just because an event or an organization has a company like thornly falls behind it, doesn’t mean its bad. I see no difference between you being behind your events/organization, or thornly falls being behind third Tuesday. Your both going to have an agenda. (Yours is to make yourself a name in the industry. go figure. ) Every organization and community has that element. It comes with the territory. Yes, i run the Toronto Flash User group as well as FITC. Guess what? I market my FITC events to them .Yep. Cause its relevant to that group. But it works both ways…the user group has seen some tremendous benefits from having FITC in its town.As most have posted in the comments here, your wrong. And not that i need to explain myself to you, but for the record to clarify your dis-information for others who do NOT know…The unconference i am hosting in LA at Adobe MAX.http://www.fitc.ca/max-free to attend for any Adobe MAX attendee-One sponsor. For the Free beer.-Every session was submitted. by attendees. I turned down no one. -Yes presentations were pre-submitted and scheduled. That was how Adobe wanted it. Not my call. Their definition of unconference. They gave us the space within MAX.-i am NOT getting paid for this. I am doing this for the community. Its actually costing me money. Go figure.And to go back a bit, I love how you (and your wife) twittered a dig at me earlier this spring. “FITC doesn’t let its volunteers into its own party.” You didn’t even attend. You didn’t know any info and posted shit. as usual. Did you know that it was 1, out of 4 parties, that they were unable to attend? Did you know it was because we had a capacity limit at the venue and had never seen so many people out to the first three parties and we were worried about capacity for the fourth party, the one with the smallest capacity? and we needed to ensure that paid ticket holders could get in? And that a hard decision needed to be made, and yes, i had to personally tell all the volunteers that they would not be able to attend that one party? Did you know i did a free volunteer party a few weeks later with drinks and food. Just for volunteers? I also love how you tried to start a dreamweaver user group, and it failed. But since it failed, maybe thats why you hate me so? so now its refresh? And you tried to hold designfest and it failed. Maybe that was my fault? And yet your whining about too many events and organizations? Go figure.

Shawn, thank you for your comments. I’d be happy to speak with you. I’ve left a voicemail (and an email) for you. Let’s sit down and talk to clear up these misconceptions.

First of all, I should state that I’m not an active member of the Toronto web design/development event scene, so my interest in the topic at hand is at best academic. The reason I’m posting in here is because Justin’s “point” cannot and should not be taken at face value.A few years ago, Justin and I both worked for the same company; I was and still am a backend coder and he was a front-end designer…at least, I think that was what his title was at the time (it has a tendency to change depending on what he thinks will appeal to others at the time). He was there for about 5 months, and during this time, he was given three projects to help with. None of these projects were especially complex, and all of them could have been completed by even an average designer in a few days. He finished none of them, and we would have fired him, but he made it really easy on us by quitting without notice the day we intended to (I won’t tell you how he quit, but suffice it to say that we’re glad we didn’t rely on him exclusively for anything). Fast forward a few months. i had a casual conversation with a friend of mine about incompetent coworkers, and much to my surprise he knew of Justin as well. It seems that Justin had been employed by the company my friend worked for as not only their web designer, but their developer as well. He lasted about 3 or 4 months in a full-time position, during which time he was almost able to complete the front page of his vision of the website. But in his defence, it’s rather difficult to do your job when you have clients outside of the office that you’re doing freelance work for while you’re on the company dime. We didn’t find any traces of freelance work on our company network, but it wouldn’t have surprised me in the slightest if he were freelancing simultaneously as well. Of course, I’m also assuming that he was able to get his clients’ work done…it’s entirely possible that he wasn’t able to do so, either.This is why he claims to have worked with companies such as RIM and the Wall Street Journal. Companies like that are impressed with the tone of the message he delivers. He has the ability, this video notwithstanding, to present himself in a manner that appeals to corporate clientele. He can’t deliver on any of the promises he makes, but he continues to make them. If you don’t believe me, consider this: why would anyone who has worked with major brands not either continue to work with said brands or at least work with other major brands? The scary thing is that his own ego seems to allow him to believe his own hype, and also seems to have no understanding of why he can’t hold down a job, freelance successfully, or from the looks of Shawn Picknell’s comments run successful events (yes, Shawn’s comments were biased, but if the bias is stripped away from the comments he’s surprisingly close to the truth). A little tip from a former coworker, Justin: karma’s very real, and there’s a reason it keeps biting you in the ass. Do yourself a favour, and just stop already.Anyway, I could go on all day about the topic of why Justin’s words should be taken with a strong grain of salt, but I’ll leave that to the rest of you to judge for yourselves. I would recommend subscribing to Google Alerts and using Justin’s name for the period of 9-12 months (my friend and I have done so for several years, based on our bizarre interaction with him, and there are things that come in there that are…well, insane.) But for those of you who don’t wish to do so, understand that the three most important people in Justin’s life are Justin, Justin, and Justin, and that the major reason he’s saying what he’s saying is that he can’t distinguish his events from the competition, despite anything he says to the contrary.Which leads me to the reason he really got into this conversation with Malcolm. Quite frankly, this is an utterly ridiculous argument and one that certainly didn’t merit a half-hour video full of political chest-puffing and mud-slinging, and there’s a very simple parallel that can be drawn that illustrates just how ridiculous the argument is:Go into a grocery store.Find the aisle containing the cold cereal. Every grocery store has one.Compare all of the products on the shelves.We have so much to choose from! There are Rice Krispies and the generic grocery store Crispy Rice knockoff. There are Bran Flakes and All Bran and Raising Bran. So much bran.There are Froot Loops and Fruity Whirls.There are energy cereals, cereals with marshmallows, cereals with a prize inside, cereals that have sugar, cereals that are sugar free (relatively speaking), and then there’s the nutritional information to consider. It’s all so mindboggling!Yet, despite the vast selection and the similarities among some of the products on the shelves, most of us have the cranial capacity to handle the task of being able to disseminate the marketing and product information in front of us and make a decision as to what we want. We may be loyal to a brand. We may want a different flavour than we had the last time. We may want the cheap stuff because the expensive stuff costs too much. But we can handle that decision ourselves.If we can make the cereal decision, there’s absolutely no reason whatsoever why we can’t make a decision about which event(s) we wish to attend, or not attend, as the case may be. Even if a lot of events are similar, anyone who has either attended and/or planned a series of events can tell you exactly why no two events are exactly the same. Even an annual event held by the same organizer with the same theme will be different in some form or fashion each year, if for no other reason than there is no way the exact same attendees will attend each year with the exact same agenda. Even if somehow speakers and sessions in a conference or event end up the same, the attendees and the interactive elements will create unique events each time…and as someone who claims to cater to the interactive community, Justin of all people should know this.Geoffrey Wiseman really hit the nail on the head earlier…let supply and demand take care of the event community. The events that people are interested in will thrive, and the ones that fail to distinguish themselves won’t. If there are “too many events”, then jungle law will inevitably take over and the weaker events will die off. Good call, Geoffrey.The bottom line is that this is a ridiculous argument, thrown out there by someone who is only interested in advancing his own cause by any means necessary, ethical or otherwise. From the comments posted here, I’d say most of you are intelligent enough to recognize that, but much as Shawn Picknell did earlier, I just wanted to clear up some misinformation and provide some context for those who may not know otherwise.

Jeff Aaron, thanks for the frank posting. Im curious to see if it is deleted. Time will tell.

I’m not interested in who Justin was, I’m interested in who he is. In my experience he’s been an all around great person. I can’t validate Jeff Aaron’s personal-attack comments on Justin to be true, nor do I really care to.I find the first half of Jeff’s comments totally unrelated to the post. I also find Shawn thanking that type of comment as taking this all way too far.Very sad to see.

How I judge the character of a community by how it treats its members who fuck up. The fact that we have an event called FailCamp organized by Joey Devilla shows how some of our community truly embrace failure.Justin fucked up. He’s taking his lumps, he’s learning and he will be better for this experience. I have and will continue to offer my feedback and advice to him and to anyone else who genuinely wants to make a difference.Taking the opportunity of his fuckup to indulge in some airing of dirty laundry and past grievances might be fair game in the open source community sense (Justin opened the door here), but I don’t think it reflects well on the rest of us.We all fuck up. It’s how we respond to our fuckups and those of others that is the true test of character.

Kuznicki, Joe Dee +1Poor form all round Jeff Aaron. I feel icky after reading your post.Community = High School Redux

I was not pleased with Justin’s remarks. I think that a lot of people expressed what they found distastful and that’s their right. Justin is trying to respond and he’s obviously learned something from this episode. The blatant attack by Jeff Aaron is beyond the pale. Poor form & a cheap shot. Let’s stick to the issues at hand & leave the personal history (of which we only have one side, and I honestly could care less) out of it.

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