The Building Industry Meets Web 2.0 at Be2Camp

Be2Camp Logo
How can the building industry use Web 2.0 tools to enhance delivery of services and better integrate new concepts like sustainability? These are some of the questions and issues that will be discussed at the upcoming barcamp, Be2Camp, to be held at The Building Centre on Store Street in London on Oct. 10, 2008. This event will begin at 10 a.m. and will adhere to the delivery method of a traditional barcamp event.

The agenda continues to evolve, but to date those attending can look forward to hearing about topics such as Web 2.0 technologies, collaboration through document management, use of open souce or public data, use of charrettes, peer production, virtual worlds, green technologies, and post occupancy evaluations. Other proposed topics include the use of voice over IP services such as Skype, carbon footprints, cloud computing, discussion of BIMstorm, social networks, and podcasts. A Pecha Kucha session will take place after the close of the barcamp.

As usual, the pace and organization of these events evolve over time even changing throughout the actual day of the event. The focused and fast-paced delivery has become one of the more attractive components of this type of conference. Those working in the building industry who may have an interest in attending are encouraged to visit the Be2Camp network site, sign up as members, look through the agenda, and register to attend for free. Anyone who may want to volunteer to speak can also sign up at this network site.

BIW Technologies, EMS Ltd., and The Building Centre are the designated sponsors to date – other companies or suppliers to the industry can sign up for sponsorships by e-mailing Martin Brown, one of the Be2Camp organizers.

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Why Do Social Networks Hate My Avatar?

Ok, I am really starting to get a complex about my avatar. For the second time this year, I have tried to join a social/business network and been told by the administrator that they don’t let people stay in their network unless a “real” photo is used in the profile. In other words, “No Avatars Allowed.” The network this time is a CAD-related ning network named Space Claiming.

Pam Broviak\'s Avatar - Banned for being non-real
Pam Broviak's Avatar - Banned for being non-real

Because I already have blogged about “avatar discrimination” here, I will not go into all that again. But each time this happens, I cannot help but wonder why the network administrator makes this decision. Are they so superficial that they need to actually see what someone looks like in order to adequately judge if someone is worthy of being admitted into their special group. They certainly cannot think I am nonhuman – I post blogs, upload photos, comment on other’s posts, respond to messages. Maybe they hate the way my avatar looks. All of these thoughts go through my mind, and then I realize if someone can only accept my contributions if they can see what I look like, then I probably don’t want to be part of that group anyway. It is kind of like what happens in high school, but I never thought 28 years after graduation, I would still be dealing with that mentality.

Maybe next time, I will just upload a photo of my crazy Aunt Sophie – God rest her soul. Would network administrators prefer this because it is real?

My crazy Aunt Sophie (now deceased).
My Aunt Sophie (now deceased).

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Web 2.0 and Public Works Presentation

Today, I am giving a presentation at the 2008 APWA Congress; my topic – virtual public works. My portion of the presentation will focus on the use of Web 2.0 tools in the public works and government sectors. Representatives from TEEX and World2Worlds are also participating. You can check out my presentation at this link. Those who would rather view the document in more of a book-like format can click here.

There is also a video that goes along with the presentation showing engineering and public works related sites in Second Life. I will post this later and add a link to this blog.

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Barcamp, social media, and pizza

Ok, the pizza in the title probably caught your attention, but the real focus of this blog will be “barcamp” since I am beginning to become more involved with this concept and thought others might be interested in hearing more about it. Not really sure how familiar the average person is with that term, but until my friend Martin Brown – a building professional from England – brought it up in a conversation, I had never before heard of it. According to the all-knowing Wikipeida, a barcamp is defined as: “an international network of user generated conferences — open, participatory workshop-events, whose content is provided by participants — often focusing on early-stage web applications, and related open source technologies, social protocols, and open data formats.”

Martin certainly piqued my interest in this type of conference venue but I was not sure I would get a chance to experience one myself. But then last month I noticed that there was one scheduled to be held in Chicago on Sat., August 8th covering a topic in which I have a lot of interest: Social Media (here is a link to the event site). So I registered which meant that I simply added my name to the list of attendees on the wiki that was used as the Web site for this particular barcamp. No fees were required, although they did take donations of $10 to $20 at the door. For those of you who attend regular conferences, you will notice how completely unlike a normal conference this registration process is. But that is only the beginning.

Photo from the 2008 SocialDevCamp in Chicago
Photo from the 2008 SocialDevCamp in Chicago

The basis of the conference seems to be that it is totally informal and completely engaging. Participants are encouraged to not only present but enter into discussion during the presentations. The dress and meeting site is informal. We met in a building on the IIT campus in Chicago. Most were in jeans and t-shirts although some did dress up a little more. Each session was 30 minutes long and consisted primarily of Powerpoint-like slides. The event started at 8:30 a.m. and lasted until 6 p.m. with coffee and doughnuts in the morning, pizza for lunch, and a get-together at an Irish bar in Chicago after the conference. Because of the informal nature of the barcamp idea, sessions changed throughout the day so a volunteer updated us after each presentation, letting us know what would be next in each room.

Another aspect that was totally different from the type of conferences I attend was that everyone had either a laptop or an iphone. And everyone was on the Internet on and off throughout the presentations.

Because many of us were following each other on Twitter, we could post comments or converse online with others in the room or even with people we knew who were not there. And this is where something incredibly interesting happened that illustrates the awesome power of social media. One of the presenters was giving his session using an Internet-based slide show. I noticed that a few others in the room had picked up on this and were actually following the slideshow by going directly to the URL he was “broadcasting” from.

Wanting to share my new-found knowledge of this online tool with others, I sent out a Twitter about the online tool with a link. Martin Brown picked up on this, as we follow each other on Twitter, and he visited the Web site noticing that it was run by someone in Hungary. So Martin e-mailed this person in Hungary asking about using this online tool for the barcamp we are organizing (which will be covered in a future post). The person responded indicating he was often in London and would be very interested in presenting at our barcamp. So within hours, information from a presentation given in Chicago reached London and then Hungary resulting in the participation of a professional in Hungary at a future barcamp in London. Again, this was all set up within hours!

Overall, I think I retained more from this conference than I normally would at a more traditional event and met more people. And so of course I cannot help but think of how to apply this to public works – I have to think that it would work well. Those of us in public works have a lot of experience to share and as someone said at the barcamp, all of us are smarter than one of us. Perhaps a barcamp like this could be set up at one of the APWA conferences – either at national or state – to try it out for a day and run it parallel to the regular conference. If anyone else has attended a barcamp, I would be interested in hearing your opinion of how well you would think this would apply to our industry.

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Civic Forum Launch

Starting today at 4pm SLT (PST), I will host a Civic Forum on Public Works island. This forum is intended to be an informal and open discussion about city government. So bring along your ideas, questions, concerns and teleport over to Public Works. Below is a little more background information on why I feel hosting and participating in a discussion like this is important:
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Working for city government, it doesn’t take you long to realize that a significant portion of your day is spent helping people understand how city government actually works. Not that I mind doing this – it helps me meet the people in my community, and I do enjoy helping people. But sometimes I think that I could help them more if I could use the time instead to finish the projects that we are working on to make our community a great place in which to live. Particularly when their questions are general ones that could be answered by just about anyone with any background in government. Not something complicated or specific to our town. If only there were some better way to engage the public and inform them.

Not too long after starting my job as city engineer, I began to try to think of some way to push out knowledge about city government to the general public to help minimize the amount of time I spend each day educating people about city government. At the time, I thought perhaps having high schools incorporate this into their classes would help, but standardizing that and making sure it is taught uniformly across all schools is difficult, and I know schools already struggle to fit in all the required and mandated educational goals. So I pushed the idea back to simmer with all the others I seem to come up with.

But in the back of my mind, I kept thinking about all those people out there who have questions about how their city works, and maybe don’t have the time to visit or contact their city hall or maybe are a little intimidated about doing so. Also, I realize there are a lot of people in certain professions like realtors, contractors, developers, etc., who also have questions but maybe cannot get them answered from their own city due to many reasons like lack of staff, or perhaps not knowing the right questions to ask. They also have some ideas about how we can better serve up government. Other people might need to address some issue with city hall but just don’t know the best way to approach their city officials.

Now along comes Second Life, and I see a platform that can be used to educate, inform, interact, collaborate, and communicate with people regardless of geographic boundaries or distances. In Second Life we can meet and either help each other find the answers to questions – with the added benefit of being able to do so on our own schedule and anonymously if we so desire. People also have the chance to take advantage of a collective knowledge held by the large number of residents. There is a large group of government professionals and experts already in Second Life. And everyone in Second Life lives in a real life community somewhere. So the Civic Forum has been launched to try to see if Second Life can be used to help facilitate engagement between government workers/officials/experts and the general public.

Although my experience is U.S. based, this type of forum offers the opportunity to involve other government professionals from other countries. This not only would help serve people from across the globe, but would help those of us working in government share ideas and concerns because even though we may be in different countries, in the end, at the local level, we share many of the same issues and concerns. Can you imagine if someday we could have a central location in a virtual world to which anyone could go to get their government-related questions answered? Anytime from anyplace? Now that is serving the public!

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