That media

@media Europe is all wrapped up. And a very fun experience it was too.

The high standard set at @media America was maintained for the British version. Mind you, I did find the double-track programme a little off-putting. I think that the San Francisco event had more of a communal feel. Of course, that could be down to its more intimate nature—150 people instead of 700—but the fact that everyone was seeing the same presentations meant that everyone had plenty in common. When a conference is split over multiple tracks, there’s an inevitable corresponding fracture in the audience too.

As far as audiences go, the @media crowd may have been fractured into designer and developer factions but there’s no escaping the fact that these people are savvy… really savvy. They know their stuff when it comes to web standards and accessibility. I’m sure I was teaching grandma to suck eggs but I addressed the issue of Ajax, specifically Bulletproof Ajax (Hijax in other words). It seemed to go over pretty well. The fact that the material had already been road-tested in San Francisco probably helped. If you’re curious, you can see the slides (PDF). Once the podcast is ready, I’ll get the audio transcribed.

My duties weren’t done when my presentation was finished. As with the American leg of @media, I had the pleasure of moderating the hot topics panel that traditionally closes the show. I had been really looking forward to this and putting a lot of thought into which of my fellow speakers should be in the line-up. I definitely wanted Joe: he’s like Statler and Waldorf rolled into one. I also really wanted to have Hannah Donovan on board. I thought it would be great to have someone who isn’t so well known on the speaker circuit fielding questions—especially someone so passionate and entertaining.

Well, Patrick wasn’t having any of it. Despite my strong protestations, he insisted on a more well-known constellation of panelists. I pointed out that this meant that the resulting panel would be a very homogenously male affair but he said he accepted full responsibility for that.

Well, alrighty then. If he was willing to stand behind that decision then I made sure to let everyone know that they could direct all queries about the all-male line-up to PTG.

Afterwards, a lot of people—including Patrick—told me that they thought I was being a bit harsh. Well, I’ll probably never get asked back to speak at @media again but feck it… I’ve had enough of the same heads talking at every conference (yeah, I know that’s rich coming from me).

But just let me have my little rant…

I’m not suggesting that someone should speak “just because they’re a woman”—that would be tokenism and we can all agree that that is a bad idea. But I think that diversity can be a factor in choosing speakers.

It’s naive to suggest that choosing a line-up for a conference is as simple as just getting the best possible speakers. It’s more complicated than that. The truth is that many factors go into the choice of speakers. For instance…

  • How good is this person at public speaking?
  • Is the subject matter relevant?
  • Did this person speak recently in the same geographical area?
  • How far would they have to travel to get here?

All of these questions are addressed in the choice of any speaker for any conference. All I’m suggesting is that the diversity question be just one more to add to the list. So that’s a far cry from suggesting that anybody should be chosen purely based on gender alone, okay?

Anyway… I wanted Hannah on the panel ‘cause she kicks ass and she deserves a wider audience. Still, the final line-up of the panel—Joe Clark, Richard Ishida, Dan Cederholm and Drew McLellan—was pretty darn stellar. We had a lot of fun; fun that was lubricated with the addition of a long-overdue bottle of wine I got for Dan to thank him for the use of the word “bulletproof.”

Again, once the podcast is available, you’ll be able to hear it for yourself and yes, I will get it transcribed.

As usual, the social events were the real highlight of the conference. I had a blast meeting up with old acquaintances and meeting new people over a beer or two. ‘Twas a pleasure to converse with such knowledgable and friendly peers.

Update I think I need to clarify why I had my little rant here. I’m not trying to pick on Patrick: Patrick put on a kick-ass conference featuring such kick-ass female speakers as Molly Holzschlag, Shawn Lawton-Henry and, of course, Hannah Donovan. My rant is aimed is at all the people who came up to me in the pub afterwards and accused me of wanting Hannah on the panel just because she’s a woman. That’s not the case at all, hence my explanation above (which I’ve broadened out to a wider defense of factoring in diversity as opposed to choosing speakers just because of anything).

I’m probably conflating two different rants here: lack of female speakers and lack of new faces. But let me make it clear again that Patrick specifically told me that he would take full responsibility for the all-male line-up of the panel: that’s why I mentioned it (and, no doubt, embarrassed him) at the beginning of the panel. Frankly, I thought it was very brave of Patrick.

Anyway, for those of you think I’m bashing Patrick, I’m not… or at least that’s not my intention. I’m bashing all the people who think that factoring in gender into a conference or panel line-up is immediately equal to tokenism. I hope now I’ve made that clear.

In any case, the hot topics panel and the whole conference was a roaring success. Yeah, I know this post sounded like I’m a real nitpicker but that wasn’t my intention. I just wanted to clarify my comments and my feeling about diversity… feelings for which I make no apology.

So I tried to make a well-meaning point but I got misread as simply being mean. Damn. I’ve been hanging out with Joe too much.

Have you published a response to this? :

Responses

James Darling

I was not impressed by your actions on this, and it has let me down on an almost infinite respect for you.

I don’t think it was the right way to attack the issue. Even from someone as influential and respected as you, I think it was immature to have a one man crusade for one instance of something you did not like.

It is not up to you to decide who was on that panel, it was up for Patrick to decide who he thought was best for the event he has been organising for the last year, and the two years previous to that. He both out-qualified and out-authorised you on the decision (not to sound too military-like).

In addition, your choice of battle, Hannah, appeared to be more personal than professional. It is clear that you and Hannah get on, and these actions do wreak (if not purposefully) of ‘buddy help’.

I think the most telling point was that, as far as I know, no-one directed any objections at Patrick or any of us. Surely that means that either you where alone in your belief, or you failed to convey your point. Either way, I think you did far more damage than good.

So to read this blog post, showing your continued perseverance in this area surprises me. It is rubbing salt into the wounds of both Patrick, who really does take this to heart, and his event, something that was an all round success (I think the helpers were by far the greatest bit).

In regards tot he issue you are trying to raise, I think the most mature and thorough discussions so far has been a round-table at Rails-conf - http://podcast.rubyonrails.org/programs/1/episodes/roundtable-women-in-open-source

Ben Darlow

Whew… well, the conference certainly was a blast. And the hot topics panel was very entertaining. But I’m not sure I like this whole gender diversity thing getting airtime again. The last time it came around it seemed like you couldn’t speak a word in disagreement to the prevailing voice without being rounded upon.

And here we go again; Patrick, who I have no doubt has every desire to include diversity amongst the factors for selection in both the speakers and panel members at @media — and let’s not forget has all manner of other factors to consider besides — instead of being criticised in the context of a few jokey words in front of an audience of 700 is now being more seriously pilloried in front of an audience of potentially millions.

I think this is wrong. @media is a fantastic conference which has showcased an excellent variety of speakers — both new and old — whilst maintaining a reasonable level of diversity. To give people who weren’t present the impression that the organiser doesn’t actually give a damn about it is not only disingenuous, it belittles all the good work that has been done already.

# Posted by Ben Darlow on Monday, June 11th, 2007 at 5:03pm

Stephanie

Having been to WDN and @media America I think I preferred the two stream approach. I’m not very talkative but it was pretty easy for me to pretend to be social if I had the opportunity to fill some one in on a presentation they missed and there’s less chance that I’ll have to sit through a presentation I’m not interested in.

That said there was an slot at WDN where I was bored silly and I enjoyed every presentation at @media America.

As for having a woman on the hot topics panel? I don’t know how much value you can place on having "more well-known" panelists since every member of the audience is likely to not know one or two people on the panel anyway (or maybe I just live under a rock and am over generalizing).

Having moderated before I think you’re a good judge of what makes a good panel.

I would like to see something done to get more women involved or raise their profiles but it’s hard to say what can be done. I think it’s a larger social issue that no one person can control but will never be fixed if we all ignore it. I applaud you for trying and applaud Patrick for organizing a damn fine conference.

# Posted by Stephanie on Monday, June 11th, 2007 at 5:19pm

John Greenaway

I thought the panel was as ever one of the best bits - and each time you’ve lubricated it (not just in the wine sense) very well.

Pretty much anyone could be called a token x I guess - gay, american, brit, female, wears glasses, w3c member. Just depends how you spin it. New faces arre nice in some ways, but sometimes the same people appear because they’re actually not bad…

Ms. Jen

Jeremy,

Keep hanging out with Joe.

I will second you and stand with you on the speaker diversity and fresh blood.

As for Hannah’s lack of "star power", hmmm… Last.fm is getting courted by CBS… if that is not star power…

;o)

# Posted by Ms. Jen on Tuesday, June 12th, 2007 at 12:10am

Patrick Griffiths

Thanks for opening up comments, and for the update, Jeremy.

I still think that your comments, and this post have been somewhat unfair, and unprofessional. I have been slightly shocked by, and I’m very disappointed with, the way you have handled this, on a personal as well as professional level.

The gender issue bores me, frankly. Not because it’s not important, but because the same arguments repeat themselves over and over.

My simple answer to "why aren’t there any women on the panel" (or "why aren’t there more women presenters at the conference", for that matter) is that gender is not a factor in selecting speakers and I refuse to discriminate based on gender, so called "positively" or otherwise. I know that others disagree with this approach, but I think my argument is a legitimate one (to which some considerable thought has gone behind), and I stick by it unapologetically.

For a bit more of an insight in to my opinion on some of the issues surrounding this matter, take a gander at an article I wrote on the subject a few months back: http://www.vivabit.com/atmedia2007/diversity/

The general reasoning behind choosing the panellists was as follows:

  • I wanted a designer. Dan has spoken at three @media events now, and is deservedly one of the most respected designers in the business. He has proven very popular, and had yet to sit on the Hot Topics panel.

  • I wanted a technical speaker. Drew, lead of WaSP, who had gone down so well with his presentation, was an obvious choice.

  • I wanted a representative of the W3C. I mentioned this to Shawn Henry, and she suggested Richard Ishida over herself.

  • I wanted Joe. An accessibility expert helps, but his opinionated, often controversial, no-bullshit attitude was the primary reason, adding extra spice to a panel.

  • I wanted you. Because last year you did such a great, memorable job in keeping things interesting, entertaining, and fair.

To tackle some of your comments:

  • I’m quite sure you put a lot of thought in to who your fellow panellists would be, but it’s highly unlikely you put as much thought in to, or considered as many factors involving, who should be on the panel. These events take a looong time to plan. Ideas for @media 2007, including topic and speaker ideas, began over a year ago, and plans for @media 2008 are well under way. I’ve also had three years to think about these kind of things (not to mention being privy to feedback and correspondence from attendees). At the end of the day I am the best person to make the call, and the previous points aside, it simply wasn’t for anyone else to decide, and my choices should have been respected and accepted.

  • You make the point "I thought it would be great to have someone who isn’t so well known on the speaker circuit fielding questions". I agree. Richard Ishida was sitting up there, who isn’t well known in the usual web standards related conference circuit, and so was Drew McLellan, who hasn’t done much speaking at all. And what was the last speaking engagement Joe had?

  • As for "a lot of people—including Patrick—told me that they thought I was being a bit harsh", it wasn’t raising the issue that was harsh, it was the way in which it was raised - it was long, drawn out, and the gender issue was used to highlight your main gripe, which was that Hannah was not up on stage.

  • "I pointed out that this meant that the resulting panel would be a very homogenously male affair but he said he accepted full responsibility for that" Yes, you did (once, and not particularly strenuously), and I will, but the gender issue was categorically not the reason you wanted Hannah on the panel, as you alluded to even before your update. I wasn’t the only one who felt that the drawn out criticisms came across as you turning not getting your own way in to a gender issue to "get your own back." I’m just saying that that’s how it came across - as exploiting a sensitive issue.

I would also like to reiterate that I asked Shawn Henry (a woman who you were not keen on having on the panel) and she suggested Richard. You were fully aware of this but chose only to mention that Hannah was not included.

Event organisers should be able to rely on speakers to represent the conference they are speaking at, and even support it. That doesn’t mean they should go against their beliefs, or tow a political line (there is rarely a political agenda, at web conferences at least), or that there isn’t room for constructively criticising points raised during the event. What event organisers should expect speakers not to do is turn around and bite.

You turned what could have been a quick quip (followed by a constructive article with a dose of respect for someone you know) in to a lengthy attack and seemingly exploited the gender issue because you had a grievance about a largely unrelated matter.