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Google Docs Went Stunningly Well At Webstock

Copy of old WaveAdept post dated Feb 21st, 2011 - re-posted here to preserve the content

During the lead up to Webstock we wondered how we could both pimp our wares and give something useful to all the attendees - we came up with crowd sourcing of the attendee note taking during the sessions.

WaveAdept's Webstock 2011 collaborative attendee note taking

It was a pleasure to watch the notes magically appear before my eyes, URLs mentioned by the speakers were pasted in and even pictures taken by those closer to the front were inserted. I have to say it worked better than imagined and my grin was from ear-to-ear during the opening session as I turned to jot down a note and it appeared before I had fingers upon keyboard.

Favorite Webstock 2011 quotes

Before I talk about the Google Docs though I'd like to say thank you to all the @Webstock crew and pick out just a few of my favourite quotes. There are, of course, too many incredible moments to list them all so please take this as a small sampling of the awesomeness that is a Webstock conference:

  • "Robot + story = human / human - story = robot"
    Frank Chimer
  • "Developers - advice to you: find a way to make it fun or find something else - quit!!"
    Michael Koziarski
  • "I don’t know why but that accordion sound has gone straight through the head to my heart"
    Jason Webley
  • "The longer the line the more line spacing"
    Jason Santa Maria
  • "there is so much crap on the web trying to find something is like WALL-E wading through trash

    instead of updating or replacing content people just pile it on top of what’s already there."
    Kristina Halvorson
  • "Do your own thing"
    Marco Arment
  • “I’m not a _______ person” is twaddle
    Jason Cohen
  • "You are in a hurry and you need to choose what seat you want to sit in. You are horrifically bad at something (if you don’t know which ask your friends!!)"
    Michael Lopp
  • "Even Heroes are scared shitless. Everybody is scared. ... ‘you might be scared - but they can’t eat you’"
    Merlin Mann

... but what are your thoughts on Webstock 2011?

Lessons We Learned Using The Google Docs

If you're thinking of setting up something similar for a conference, team away-days or even for meeting notes here are 3 learnings from the Google Docs experience:

1: Make sure someone is the guide

It was a conference full of highly motivated and extremely competent web focussed people and so the assumption could've easily been, "No assistance with Google Docs required here". But remember everyone needs help, guidance and support when there's something new - this is about people not technology.

A few points of guidance I provided:

  1. Signposts to the Docs - where are they, where's the next one etc.
    Mostly this was using Twitter but I did pop in "Next session is ..." links at the bottom of each doc
  2. Someone to answer questions
    No matter how "obvious" it seems to you having someone to go to is crucial
  3. Be the first to show it's OK
    I re-formatted text, added headings inserted table of contents to show that it was Ok to not only type in text but to make it easier to read

There were a few other subtle supports I gave during the earlier sessions but as people realised that these Google Docs were truly theirs (ie, not owned by me/WaveAdept who were merely providing the "playing field") others stepped up and, through modelling of behaviour, validated the approach. An example of this was inserting photos/diagrams.

2: Give everyone a simple index page

The homepage became more than just a set of signposts as it became both the expression of "ours" and a place to land back on and rest for a while. I think next time we work with this approach we will extend the homepage to be much more a 'water cooler' area allowing for non-session specific chatter (although for public events this is the space Twitter holds extremely well).

The simple index page (including the calendar of session times) also allowed those not at the conference a place to land, catch up on what had been and settle into some live watching of the notes as their interest took them.

3: Let go

Editing a collaborative document requires a fundamental shift away from the file based approach many of us have grown up with. This is NOT your document, these are NOT your words and it is most certainly NOT the place to get all shirty when someone re-formats the text you've just entered. All ownership is given to the group as each member of the group acts in the best interests of each other.

Being clear on what the goal of the group is (in this case it was extremely clear and obvious - accurately record what was expressed on stage) goes a looooong way with easing the "letting go".

More on this at, Google Docs … So What – The ONE Reason Why You Should Care

Thank you

What will happen to the notes now? We promise to leave them open (read-only) for all time including the index website. If you quote from the notes please note that there is a Creative Commons copyright notice upon each doc as we believe it's only fair to attribute to all the work the awesome contributors made.

Thank you all for making it such a great experience for everyone that was there and those that followed along from afar. And remember

(picture from Nathan's, @Webstock 2011, YOU ARE F***ING AWESOME!!!)