End of the Wireless Summit

The National Summit on Community Wireless Networks ended a few hours ago, on a high, but tired note. This was one of the best conferences I’ve been to, from the standpoint that everyone attending is smart, experienced and has valuable thoughts to share.

For those of you who couldn’t make it, there will be audio and video of the sessions coming on-line over the course of the next couple of weeks. By this Wednesday, we should have the opening and closing plenaries up for video streaming and mp3 and ogg vorbis audio downloads.

How do I know? I was lucky enough to coordinate the recording of the Summit, with the help of Jay Eychaner, John Anderson (of DIYmedia.net) and Drew Tarico, producer of the mediageek radioshow, and the support of ATLAS, the dept. I work for at the University, which is hosting the streaming content.

The panel sessions on Saturday were very productive and enjoyable to be in because there was a definite attempt made by the summit organizers to make the sessions more interactive and collaborative, rather than 90 minutes listening to experts tell us how the world should be.

I think this is still a novel way to approach a conference for many participants, but everyone, to their credit, was very cooperative and worked with it. I proposed the Community Media and Community Wireless Networks on Saturday, and was the last speaker amongst the panel of five interesting presenters. Because I had the opportunity to hear what the other panelists had to say, I also had the opportunity to tie things together and give a briefer talk (7 minutes).

My entire point for proposing the panel was not to tell everyone how community media and wireless networks should work together, but rather to suggest that they should and that they can benefit from the collaboration. More importantly, my point was to challenge people to experiment with the convergence.

My concrete suggestion is to use the bandwidth created in wireless mesh networks (where wireless nodes connect together in an ad hoc network independent of wired networks or Internet) for streaming audio and video content just within the wireless network, which costs much less than streaming over the Internet. I’m sorry if this idea sounds like gibberish — it’s definitely something I will write more about here in a more complete form.

Of course, one of the most fun and useful aspects of conferences is meeting lots of interesting, smart people, and this conference certainly delivered on that. I think that’s where some conferences fail — not that they don’t have those people around, but that they don’t encourage this networking, either because we’re divided into experts and audience or because there isn’t an overiding ethos of cooperation and equality.

What was so great about the attendees is that it didn’t just attract geeks and programmers, but community organizers, community media activists, policy wonks and scholars. But even though the sessions were pretty focused in three tracks–tech, organization and policy–the division didn’t carry over to the people. And many folks moved freely between different tracks — the rooms were right next door.

I’m tired and not looking forward to being at work first thing tomorrow morning, but I’m glad I spent my weekend at the Summit.