We’ve returned from ROFLcon II (April 30 & May 1, 2010) and are eager to share all we learned with anyone who will listen…
Huge ideas abound and it was an incredibly helpful (and dare we say important) conference to witness. It was only the second time in two years they’d even held this exploration of internet culture, memes, academia and society at MIT. Anna (first-timer) and I (returning for round two) soaked up every minute of the packed two days. There’s so much to share, but we wanted to be sure to get some key themes in writing first:
- The entire conference started out with Ethan Zuckerman’s (The Berkman Center for Internet and Society) brilliant “From Weird to Wide” primer on important philosophical questions about culture, the internet and memes. This included not only a bright debut of Kenyan’s first meme explosion, but also an important discussion of a significant point: Be an anthropologist, not a bouncer. In other words, embrace rather than exclude. It would set the tone for some interesting underpinnings for the rest of the conference
- Apparently the rest of The Internet agrees that YouTube comments are the most ridiculous in the universe
- Another giant point writ large: Know your history. There were many great moments in a variety of panels that included memes and networks old and new, but the overall one can’t be hyped enough: know where we’ve been. For example, the open community of Usenet, with its challenges, imperfections, sub-communities, stalwart user trust and very existence pre-AOL set the stage for one of the toughest but singularly important lessons of the entire conference…
- “AOL” and “Training Wheels.” The Tweets heard round the world. As the very last panel at ROFLcon II tried to wrap its arms around the topic of “Mainstreaming the Web,” Ben Huh and Moot (from LOLcats and 4chan fame, respectively) deftly created a distinct separation between the open sub-communities that operate online (some anonymously) and those that allow for a mainstream audience to operate in a larger but closed system. With over 950 attendees, ROFLcon included employees from ominous internet giants such as Google and Mozilla, but as this panel pointed out, not a soul from Facebook (or none that would admit it). This lead to the single most Re-Tweeted line from the conference, uttered by Ben:
“Facebook has become like AOL, it’s like training wheels for the internet. It’s a safe place, except for your privacy.”
And thus what was once considered a fringe medium was correctly pegged as having moved into a mainstream culture controlled by a single corporation. We’ve been here before. With 400 million users, with meaningful proportions of diverse generations, races and cultures, Facebook is not unlike the closed system of AOL. This doesn’t make it right or wrong, but it does make it everywhere and closed – and drastically different from much of the sub-cultures brewing away contently in the rest of the web.
For Feedback one overriding point was clear: the social web hardly, barely begins and ends at the doors of Facebook and Twitter. Certainly a critical mass at those two giants means we must implement there to reach a large population of consumer. But even more importantly we must dive deep, see fewer obstacles and research even smarter and harder beyond these barriers into the sub-cultures that exist in the interest, cultural and geographic communities. There are enough self-proclaimed social media gods to take care of staring at Facebook and Twitter only. But it’s not unlike marveling only at a capital city and not noticing the swarms of people outside, down the roads, in other states, in other countries… The future of the net and community is not only also out there, it may indeed only be out there. Think I’m just being overly dramatic? Ask AOL.
More to come on some of our favorite moments by myself and Anna (@alucas9). We certainly had fun too and some photos are up on our Facebook Page right now. In the meantime be sure to check out her interview with Christian Lander of “Stuff White People Like” fame.