bavacon or: How Blog Branding Ate My Soul

Image of Batman fighting Blade

Image credit: “Pittsburgh Comicon” by RL Johnson.

Let me be frank here, I love the bava, I do, I love the little fucker. And I pretty much say whatever I want on it, and really could care less about the consequences. It’s my little space to create and have fun, and I seldom, if ever, wield it as a hammer against others. In fact, that’s not the logic of this space, if, indeed, there is one. I also don’t brood over the blogging process, I write half-baked thoughts and let them die an ignoble death. That’s an important element of this space for me because it is a liberation from my grad school days of writing–a period that’s was a deep source of inadequacy and trepidation for me. I kind of think of the bava as an unlearning of that process, an intentional reaction to that prison house that I no doubt helped to create in my mind.

So, it’s funny how this process has recently become a source of anxiety for me in other regards. Namely, the idea of “creating a brand” through my blog. I absolutely hate the idea of framing one’s blog, online presence, digital identity, etc. as a brand. It is that very market-speak language of the web that robs it of any of its vitality. It makes what so many people are doing in this space for a wide variety of complex and conflicted reasons synonymous with some kind of consumer recognition bull shit. It turns these spaces about people, into a product-driven logic of statistics, rankings, and meager celebrity. It removes one from the very act of sharing and discourse that undergirds the power of such space. If we are using the term online branding to frame our conversations about institutions, personal blogs, or digital identities, then the apotheosis of people as product has been realized, and we might as well tattoo a bar code on our necks and get scan-inventoried at the local Wal-Mart. Resist market speak in education, fight the nefarious logic that seems to so innocently seep—or is the proper green, bio-metaphor of the moment “organically” more appropriate here—into a space that needs to remain ever vigilant about what the realities of markets do to any sense of community, culture, and camaraderie both to their own sense of mission, as well as for the culture at large they were designed to serve.

So, at this point in the post one might ask, “Hey, bava, why all the preaching and teaching, hoss? Get to the punchline already.” Well, the punchline is that my own exhortation is born out of an ambivalence about what I have to say next. You see, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” and I am capitalizing on this quote from Emerson to introduce an idea that has been bandied about on this blog in jest, and one which a quite persistent and rather funny blogger has been taking quite seriously. What I’m referring to here is bavacon. What the hell is bavacon? I don’t know, I might blame Bryan Alexander for it via his throw away comment here, and I also might blame Steven Egan for taking my attempt to downplay the whole thing with a joke quite seriously. But when we get rid of the idea of bava from this equation, what Steven is talking about really fascinates me, and I will quote extensively from his post on the subject below:

Might it be possible to arrange a digital conference thing with no physical location? A mash-up of sorts using different digital communication tools? AV chats, chat room discussions, feeds and more through a portalesque webpage to the individual locations? If needed I have a domain that would work well for this, and this goes right along with my plans for it. Unfortunately I don’t have the hosting or know-how to do that, or I would.
….
First is the timing. With the economy problems, travel budgets are shrinking. The technologies to be used are easily accessible and widely varied. People are taking a serious interest in education and distance education. That interest is starting to wane due to other pressures. So, having a digital conference, possibly with a physical location, could start a wave of accessibility to learning conferences. With some interest in pushing the conference model into the Web 2.0 and other interests in improving conferences, now could very well be the best time for such an experiment

Second is the draw. The Bava is a collection of creations by Jim Groom, who has plenty of contacts and could likely draw a crowd. That means the first event could be a big success. That would increase the chances of other conferences following suit. It also means that the word would spread, where if I were to try to do this there wouldn’t be the draw to make it work.

Third is the accessibility. Jim is a serious advocate of accessibility in learning, be it in tools, materials, opportunities or software. So I don’t doubt he would try to make the Bavacon accessible to the masses. This also came out of a discussion on not being able to attend conferences and events, so it isn’t just Jim’s ideals. It’s also the direction this thing started in.

Fourth is the potential. This is where it becomes important. The timing of this could make this a big event in the learning circles. The draw of him and his contacts could add to the bigness of the event. An accessible learning conference would mean that teachers, educators, students and the masses could attend. Together that makes for a potentially huge event where students, teachers and policy makers can attend and possibly participate. Yet that is just the tip of the ice burg.

Local viewings and discussions are a possibility. In a single chat room it is hard to deal with 50 or more people. Yet if you have up to around 20 people in a discussion it is entirely possible.

Live and archived videos, twitter, RSS feeds, live and archived audio, chat rooms and live physical viewings or the video with discussion sessions afterward are all possibilities. That’s all interaction and starting conversations.

The fact is, I think Steven is right about so many points, save the one where I might be the draw and impetus for such an event. What it could and should be is a collective happening that is distributed and would push a whole bunch of people to think about how we might be able to bring people together for a kind of focused learning party that is not dependent on geographic space. I think it would have to be an event for creativity and performance, not papers and research. We could synch our twitter accounts and watch films “together,” a model I saw here and thought was brilliant. We could get a venue in Second Life and perform our work—I was inspired by NMC’s Second Life conference “Rock the Academy” for the possibilities here this past November. We could create mashups, art, poetry and the like in a distributed space that syndicates into a site over the course of a specific period of time, and what else….? I don’t know, the ideas would have to be generated by everyone, and would be a large part of why this would be valuable. Namely, imagining ways to create these personal and social communions online at specific times and places throughout the distributed web. One thing I am pretty sure of, however, is that it would have to be free, open, and archivable with everything that was created and captured made freely available with an open license. Moreover, it would take a number of people interested and able to make this idea a reality.

All that said, a large part of me would much prefer being in the same physical space with these people hanging out and talking and riffing about these things (hence WordcampFred). That said, I think this model of a focused, distributed event might make for an interesting opportunity for thinking through and innovating with the very technologies that might point the way forward in terms of alternatives. So, to that end I have this to say, I’ll help Steven organize this if other people are see some potential value in it. The other condition is that we kill the name bavacon, let’s call it abjectacon or infocultacon or con-a-punk or something like that. Moreover, perhaps this is happening already, and such an event may just seem like more work or duplicated effort—something none of us need at this point. But I do know that I’d like to have something to work towards, and more times than not it’s the usual presentation venue and form that isn’t really pushing us to new ways of imagining how to share this stuff. That’s what I am interested in with this push, what do you think?

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25 Responses to bavacon or: How Blog Branding Ate My Soul

  1. Alan Levine says:

    Why does a con need to be confined to a time or virtual space? The bava is on all the time. The con happens when people connect. I feel it is bavacon time when you click “publish” and when I write a comment and click “submit”

  2. Cole says:

    I get where you are going with this … one thing that works about events is that they have boundaries associated with them — typically time and location. Those two things usually help create opportunities to hang out and sneak away from sessions and really connect. I think what you are proposing is something like that w/o the location boundary. I’d be into trying it and seeing how it plays out, but at the end of the day I really do like getting together and getting real.

  3. Steven Egan says:

    Thanks for going along with this Jim. While it is in your better interest, you didn’t have to. For that I publicly thank you, co-conspirator.

    In the interest of transparency, I’ll explain what I meant by your draw Jim, personal contacts. Through them, a domino, or snowball, effect might occur through your contacts, their contacts and all their readers. That’s the draw I see.

    That said, you have seen exactly what I meant. Though one thing to make clear is the potential for more than one physical location.

    We can change the name, and I’m willing to take the blame. Especially if things go well. Now, I’m off to go stir up some more people to play with.

    Have fun, spread the word and tell me what you think,
    Igen Oukan

  4. Reverend says:

    @CogDog:
    That’s fair enough, but I’m thinking of it as an event that isn;t about one blog per se. Kind of like a convention or conference without the organizational logic. A happening that frames things outside of a personal space. I know this is potentially problematic, but the value I see in it might be towards thinking through the ability to imagine spaces in some kind of loosely coordinated way. I think a kind of grass roots organization around creativty outside of the academic sphere that educause an NMC promote is what I am interested in. Espeically hen it costs thousands, literally, to go to those eents. it become a matter of a certain amount of privilege.

    @Cole:
    I can’t argue with that, but I kinda see this as a space for innovation with the tools we are constantly talking about. I am ambivalent to some degree, and I told Steven as much on his blog. At the same time, I’m still in many ways struck by his argument, and I do think the idea of having a space online that is not a conference per se, but a interstitial space for thinking and having fun might be something to explore for a variety of reasons. The very ideas you have been blogging about so eloquently these last weeks actually pushed it forward in my mind. is there another way to commune and convene that may suggest something different? Maybe not, but maybe.

    @Steven:
    As yu can see, I don’t know how excited folks will be by the idea. It may cross-over too directly with the work so many already do online. But I am fascinated by the idea of a moment, a happening where people might be pushed to do something they wouldn’t normally. An inspiration of sorts for performing. We’ll see how this goes, and I think samll and simple is always the best way to start. No reason to over think, promote, or raise expectations, just do something cool. That’s that.

  5. Steven Egan says:

    @Alan The idea is to allow people to schedule a dedicated time to meet and gather above and beyond the usual. To bring in new people it’s nice to let them spend a short time in a semi-organized event. For those of us who are busy, it’s nice to set aside some time for these sorts of pursuits. I also look forward to the interactions and people I’ll meet.

    So, in short, it’s all the good parts that people say about conventions without the limitations of physical travel and location. For one thing, I can’t attend such things. For another, I recently tried to find a location for an event and couldn’t.

  6. Scott Leslie says:

    I’m with the cogdog on this – all Bavacon, all the time. I admit I do get some weird looks at the grocery store from the sharpied knuckles and hoodies I’ve started wearing non-stop, but my cred at the local video store keeps going up and up.

    More seriously – I agree with the notion that an “event” (physical or virtual) provides something to aim at and can be useful for catalyzing action. I think we all know too, though, that with virtual ones it can be harder to get the same level of participation. Not impossible, and worth trying, but it does raise the question of how it would substantially improve on the ongoing distributed dialogues and experiments already occuring.

    • Reverend says:

      Scott,
      I think I know ehat you are saying, and it is my first impulse as well. I guess time and space don’t matter and the happening is ongoing. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here, but I’m wondering why then we need conferences and the like to begin with? Is it all professional development, a CV line, or an excuse to meet up? I guess so, and that means school might be the very same thing, an excuse to hang out. I don;t know, i was talking with Patrick and Martha last night over beer about a new kind of school, where people from all over the edtech/academic world come together and build something on top of this. A place where we physically meet and teach and share it all out, the physical still seems important to me in this idea. And D’Arcy talked about something along these lines too. A kind of experiment a la Black ountain College, that will ultimately fail, but hopefully give us a way to sit down together and talk. We do that through the blog and other media, but I wonder sometimes if that’s enough. it may very well be, and I may simply be suffering from geographical isolation, but I have to think a movement needs movement. I’m ready to do something more, to take the chances Cole has been talking about, to risk it all fora glimpse of something else. I blogged Steven’s point here because I think he wants some of that too, he’s student who is in many ways outside of so many of the events I can’t even afford no less a starving student (we have that in common). What’s another way to commune, is it the blog, twitter, and the like alone?

      I don’t know, maybe, but maybe not.

  7. Steven Egan says:

    If you think about the post where this idea started, it was about wanting to go to Northern Voice, and the comments were mostly along the same lines. Why do people want to go to such events? The answers to that question are why there is need for an event. Socializing, discussing and making friends is as big a part of the solution as all the great ideas that come out of it.

    Also, there are ideas already to go way beyond this. You could well call it “a new kind of school, where people from all over the edtech/academic world come together and build something on top of this.” This conference idea is almost the same as the idea I have for using the content module idea I’m also working on. This is all a step in that direction.

    Oh, and one correction to what Jim said about what Jim said about me. It’s mot “so many”, but rather all or almost all. I want to participate, and can’t as things stand right now. I want others like me to have the chance to participate. My limit is blogging and the like, so I’m trying to leverage what I can do to do what I want to do.

  8. fuck those ComicCon posers. They can never compete with The Reverend. This is how I imagine you as you pump out post after post in those marathon BavaBlogging sessions.

    http://darcynorman.net/images/reverend_superhero.jpg

  9. Steven Egan says:

    Funny, that’s pretty close to what I was envisioning. Only thing is I was calling him “Reverend Boom”.

  10. Hrm. I thought I’d cornered the market on Boom. I like the image of The Reverend aka Experimental Firebreath darting around Gotham with his trusty flamethrower, seeking out silos and walled gardens wherever they hide.

  11. Steven Egan says:

    I liked the idea of The Reverend walking away from an exploding building, throwing a peace sign with a serious face and saying, “Flour power.”

  12. Reverend says:

    @Darcy and Steven,

    This isn’t helping any with moving away from the branding you know. But, I do have to admit that I am definitely an internet superhero 🙂

  13. absolutely. I just logged on to the Jim Groom to verify the reach of your internet branding.

  14. Steven Egan says:

    I am not a sidekick. Just want to get that straight right now.

    Super Edtechs?

    Edtech League?

    Hmmm… I guess that is more of what you were talking about.

    Anyways, how about some alternate convention names?
    Edu NON-CON
    Edu ODD-CON (Open Digitally Distributed)

  15. Steven Egan says:

    I have a good one this time, LOL CON!

    Laterally Open Learning Conference.

  16. Steven Egan says:

    Okay, so I was chatting with Jim and figured that it might be worthwhile to put my reasoning into a post, rather than fielding questions as they come. So, here’s the link.
    http://blog.igenoukan.com/2009/02/odd-con-reasoning.html

  17. wait. I thought we were talking about BACON. wtf is a BAVAcon?

  18. Steven Egan says:

    Bacon with an extra “a” for flavor.

  19. Ed Webb says:

    EduBacon it is, then.

    I’m in, for whatever, whenever, however.

    Also, situationists will help us:

    http://flickr.com/photos/edwebb/3318379700/

  20. Andy Best says:

    The Rev is still so Edupunk.

    This is an amazing post and has provided me with the inspiration quote of the ‘ever’ …

    “If we are using the term online branding to frame our conversations about institutions, personal blogs, or digital identities, then the apotheosis of people as product has been realized, and we might as well tattoo a bar code on our necks and get scan-inventoried at the local Wal-Mart. “

  21. Brad K says:

    I was 2/3 through this post when I realized that you were not launching your own brand of breakfast meat. I am kind of disappointed now.

    I do think the notion of online conferences does need some updating. I would embrace experimenting with a big edtech hipster online unconference.

  22. A large part of any conference is the coffee break chat and random mixing. A lot of serendipity there that is hard to get online (outside of virtual worlds, where you can bump into strangers with similar interests all the time…)

    I think that would have to be part of the value of EduBacon – otherwise it would be as well to just post everything to blogs and YouTube

    But online its possible to have a conference that really mixes asyncrhonous and synchronous forms and modes – and there surely is (still) some untapped potential there

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