mesh Stays In the Moment
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mesh Stays In the Moment

mesh organizer Stuart McDonald revs up the crowd.

The sixth edition of mesh, “Canada’s web conference,” wrapped up yesterday evening after two days and more than 20 sessions tackling the web and the ways it is changing how we live. The conference spanned four themes—society, media, marketing, and business—and explored issues such as the evolution of the newspaper industry, the explosion of online crime, shifts in corporate culture and structure, and the use of game mechanics to guide action. Headlining each morning were keynotes by experienced speakers from notable organizations like the Guardian, Mozilla, and Citizen Lab.

A few attendees we spoke with were disappointed that the material wasn’t as cutting-edge as they had hoped. (“I guess I knew more than I thought,” said one.) Admittedly, much of the material at mesh, while well-presented, could be found via other sources like the speakers’ own blogs.
However, mesh isn’t about early-adopter ideas: discussions around pay walls, digital policy, and gamification aren’t exactly new, but what the conference aims to do is flesh out concepts the mainstream may have heard about, but hasn’t dug into, and knit them together into a larger whole. At the marketing keynote on gamification by Gabe Zichermann, for example, audience members were surprised to hear about the success of social games company Zynga, makers of popular Facebook games Farmville and Mafia Wars and rumoured to be set for a $10 billion IPO offering, and some seemed befuddled by the concept of applying game mechanics to marketing.

mesh attendees rock tables and beanbags at the Allstream Centre.

The mesh conference is run by some of the savviest and in-the-know people in the technology field, so it’s clear that the chosen level of sophistication in the content is intentional. The collective expertise of the team shows up in neat touches, such as the Back Channel, where attendees can vote up questions to the speaker. It’s an interesting evolution of the chatter on Twitter that has become a mainstay at speaking engagements over the past couple of years.
In a sign of mesh’s growing accessibility, this year saw perhaps the most media attention to date, with live recaps from National Post, the Globe, and a live taping of the TVO show The Agenda. In addition to traditional media, as is now commonplace at conferences, sound-bites and take-home messages from the speakers were quickly transcribed, hash-tagged (with #mesh11), and shot off into the Twitterverse, sometimes at a rate of hundreds of tweets per minute. This was beneficial for anyone who couldn’t attend the conference, or didn’t want to pay the $639 admission—the equivalent of listening to a concert from the parking lot.
One problem with a stream of tweets is that information can get distributed without sufficient context. An example was the release of results from Pixel to Product, a year-long study on the digital workforce in Canada that aimed to “quantify the Canadian digital media industry,” commissioned as part of a $40,000 mesh prize. Released on the first day of mesh, the report was meant to be a snapshot leading to a longer look, said lead author Justin Kozuch. Unfortunately, the study contains gaps that most Twitterers seemed to skim over, such as the small representation of Quebec respondents (0.9%), which casts a shadow on how well the study captures the whole of the Canadian landscape. (Kozuch attributes the anemic showing to not having a proficient French speaker onboard, and hopes to rectify the stats in followup work.) What’s scary is that the media and Twitter users have jumped on the numbers, eager to share their what they’ve learned, and so these values become a default standard.
At a conference dedicated to understanding how we use the web, it’s a fitting reminder that with the power of sending out messages in an instant comes the responsibility of an impact potentially much more lasting.
Photos by Andrew Louis/Torontoist.