Reflection on iConference 2012 in Toronto

Art Gallery of Ontario

This year, I attended iConference for the first time (last year, I had a paper there but was unable to attend so my co-author Cliff presented it). It was held in Toronto, so my friend Vitak and I decided to drive to save money, being the poor grad students that we are.

Toronto was less urban than I thought it would be, with very contemporary architecture snuggled next to somewhat older row houses. I was very impressed with the Art Gallery of Ontario, with a very interesting circular stairway that is part of an addition done by Frank Gehry. The Royal Ontario Museum also had a very impressive “crystalline” structure. The most wonderful thing was that the campus of the University of Toronto was smack in the middle of the city, with wonderful access to museums, concert halls, and commercial districts.

The highlights of the trip were actually not part of the conference sessions. The first was having lunch with Barry Wellman, Brian Keegan, and Barry’s grad students. The second was dinner with a bunch of grad students. It’s always a pleasure to converse with super-smart, funny people. I’m learning more that conferences are less about gaining new knowledge and more about networking. At these venues, I sometimes wonder if Burt’s arguments about structural holes is true. Quite often, probably as a reflection of my personality, I find myself introducing people to other people, but I have never felt like the “brokerage” provided any benefits to me as Burt suggests. Rather, I have felt more often social identity crisis, as defined by Tajfel, whereas both “groups” that I am a part of see me as a being part of the other group. Is it a perception issue of half-empty, half-full, or do we need to reconsider the benefit of being a broker?

Barry and two of his grad students at University of Toronto

Anyways, the nice thing about iConference is that it is very small and cozy, which makes it easier to navigate than conferences like CHI, which can be daunting to navigate and sometimes more impersonal. I personally found a panel with Bo Xie, Jes Koepfler, and June Ahn about health, social media, and well-being closest to my own work and thus most interesting. Each of them looked at different communities– elderly people, homeless Twitter users, and teens– which was great because so much of the social media research focuses on the (convenient) undergraduate sample.

Bo Xie and Ivan Watkins at iConference2012

Here are some pictures from iConference: http://www.flickr.com/photos/arcticpenguin/sets/72157629324736717

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