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October 26, 2010

Attending meetings remotely - a cautionary tale

In these times of financial constraints and environmental concerns, attending meetings remotely (particularly those held overseas) is becoming increasingly common. Such was the case, for me, at 7pm UK time on Friday night last week... I should have been eating pizza in front of the TV with my family but instead was messing about with Skype, my house phone, IRC and Twitter in an attempt to join the joint meeting of the DC Architecture Forum and the W3C Library Linked Data Incubator Group (described in Pete's recent post, The DCMI Abstract Model in 2010).

The meeting started with Tom Baker summarising the history and current state of the DCMI Abstract Model (the DCAM) - a tad long perhaps but basically a sound introduction and overview. Unfortunately, my Skype connection dropped a couple of times during his talk (I have no idea why) and I resorted to using my house phone instead - using the W3C bridge in Bristol. This proved more stable but some combination of my phone and the microphone positioning in the meeting meant that sound, particularly from speakers in the audience, was rather poor.

By the time we got to the meat of the discussion about the future of the DCAM I was struggling to keep up :-(. I made a rather garbled contribution, trying to summarise my views on the possible ways forward but emphasising that all the interesting possibilities had the same end-game - that DCMI would stop using the language of its own world-view, the DCAM, and would instead work within the more widely accepted language of the RDF model and Linked Data - and that the options were really about how best we get there, rather than about where we want to go.

Unfortunately, this is a view that is open to some confusion because the DCAM itself uses the RDF model. So when I say that we should stop using the DCAM and start using RDF and Linked Data its not like saying that we should stop using model A and start using model B. Rather, it's a case of carrying on with the current model (i.e. the RDF model) but documenting it and talking about it using the same language as everyone else, thus joining forces with more active communities elsewhere rather than silo'ing ourselves on the DC mailing lists by having a separate way of talking.

So, anyway, I don't know how well I put my point of view across - one of the problems of being remote is that the only feedback you get is from the person taking minutes, in this case in the W3C IRC channel:

18:50:56 [andypowe11] ok, i'd like to speak at some point

18:52:34 [markva] andypowe11: options 2b, 3 and 4: all work to RDF, which is where we want to get to

18:52:55 [markva] ... which of these is better to get to that end game, wrt time available

18:53:23 [markva] ... 4 seems not ideal, but less effort

18:54:01 [markva] ... lean to 3; 2b has political value by taking along community; but 3 better given time

Stu Weibel spoke after me - a rather animated contribution (or so it seemed from afar). No problem with that... DCMI could probably do with a bit more animation to be honest. I understood him to be saying that we should adopt the Web model and that Linked Data offered us a useful chance to re-align ourselves with other Web activity. As I say, I was struggling to hear properly, so I may have mis-understood him completely. I glanced at the IRC minutes:

18:54:56 [markva] Stu Weibel: frustrated; no productive outcomes all these years

18:55:10 [markva] ... adopt Web as the model

18:55:37 [markva] ... nobody understands DCAM

18:56:03 [markva] ... W3C published architecture document after actual implementation

18:56:45 [markva] ... revive effort: develop reference software; easily drop in data, generate linked data 

I responded positively, trying to make it clear that I was struggling to hear and that I may have mis-interpreted him but noting the reference to 'linked data', which I'd heard as 'Linked Data':

18:57:12 [markva] andypowe11: support Stu 

The minute is factually correct - I did support Stu - but in an 'economical with the truth' kind of way because I only really supported what I thought I'd heard him say - and quite possibly not what he actually said! With hindsight, I wonder if the minute-taker's use of 'linked data' (lower-case) actually reflected some subtlety in what Stu said that I didn't really pick up on at the time. If nothing else, this exchange highlights for me the potential problems caused by those who want to distinguish 'linked data' (lower-case) from 'Linked Data' (upper-case) - there is no mixed-case in conversation, particularly not where it is carried out over a bad phone connection.

So anyway... the meeting moved on to other things and, feeling somewhat frustrated by the whole experience, I dropped off the call and found my cold pizza.

My point here is not about DCMI at all, though I still have no real idea whether I was right or wrong to agree with Stu. My gut feeling is that I probably agreed with some of what he said and disagreed with the rest - and the lesson, for me, is that I should be more careful before opening my mouth! My point is really about the practical difficulties of engaging in quite challenging intellectual debates in the un-even environment of a hybrid meeting where some people are f2f in the same room and others are remote. Or, to mis-quote William Gibson:

The future of hybrid events is here, it's just not evenly distributed yet.


(Note: none of this is intended to be critical of the minute-taker for the meeting who actually seems to have done a fantastic job of capturing a complex exchange of views in what must have been a difficult environment).


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I've given up on hybrid meetings. Kudos for trying!

As technological as people are trying to be, whether during meetings, trade shows, or for personal use, it's never going to be as good as the traditional face-to-face contact. Sometimes I think technology just makes things more difficult and frustrating!

Following (not via telecon, but by Twitter) I'm afraid the discussion was even more confusing, but I hope the salient point you made above:

"that DCMI would stop using the language of its own world-view, the DCAM, and would instead work within the more widely accepted language of the RDF model and Linked Data"

is recorded and agreed upon somewhere. For the record, it certainly is by me.

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