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Crowdvine versus SWIFT

Some post-Computers-in-Libraries reactions are floating in about SWIFT, the conference software purchased by ITI. (Note: before I get into this, I want to underscore what a fabulous time I had in my drive-by attendance — trip report forthcoming, I promise! — and I bow and offer my humble thanks to Cindi, Roy, John, and Kate for putting on “a really good shew.”)

Jason Griffey summed up my conclusions almost to the letter. See, there was this meeting with the Otter Group. I was only at the meeting with the Otter Group for twenty minutes, since I had to catch a flight, but it seemed o.k., as far as meetings go.

I’d add that at the end of a long day at a conference, trooping into a classroom setting with no food or beverages didn’t improve anyone’s opinions of the software, but then, it really takes more than that. If DRA came back from the grave with shrimp and steak, would we love them? I hope not.

Then again, what was the point of that session? If you have to explain what your tool is really supposed to do, then your software is broken. Stop talking and stop making excuses. If you are the developer, go fix it, and if you are the customer, check your deliverables and ask yourself if you need to choose another product — or if you need the product to begin with.

I’ve been at IA Summit 2008 since Friday, and here’s the difference. The Crowdvine software actually works (and I could see how it worked BEFORE I signed in). It allows me to connect with other attendees, view sessions, and follow the zeitgeist. I didn’t have to sign a crappy term of service. It wasn’t broken the first time I logged in. The interface is pleasingly pulled together, the fonts are not squinchy-tiny, and yes, rumors to the contrary, it “interfaces” with Facebook–and with RSS, Flickr, and other social software.

Deep down, I don’t care about Crowdvine, but I care a lot about how well I can function as a conference attendee, and from that standpoint, it works. Also, Crowdvine isn’t perfect, but I suspect if I had to give this product grief, ASIST would take it in stride — because they too aren’t invested in Crowdvine. They’re invested in making IA Summit a success.

Not only that, but the wifi access at IA Summit has been fabulous. They don’t have the electricity thing down — people huddle around outlets, and the small power strip I tote with me (an idea from Cindi Trainor) has been a smash hit — but wifi has been consistently fast and smooth. ASIST realizes that a conference hosted by an organization with “Technology” in the title needs to deliver the T.

I’ve stoutly insisted that ITI puts on good conferences. But I’m going to qualify that now, and I have the credentials to do this. ITI puts on really good conferences… for LibraryLand. Grading on that curve, they’re an easy B+. Compared to conferences that serve technology communities outside of our profession, ITI conferences are a D, and that’s a kindness grade.

That doesn’t mean I won’t attend ITI conferences; the content is often worth it. But I feel so bad when LibraryLand makes do with crappy technology. It’s like we’re living out our own worst stereotypes.

Now someone might bring up how broke we are as librarians. Fair enough. But we’re talking here about the difference between one conference software and another, and the difference between burpy or nonworking wifi and wifi that is “just there” when I open my laptop. We don’t want cheap stuff that doesn’t work. I am better off “off the grid” or using a simple wiki than I am trying to cope with broken tools.

Which brings me back to my original suggestion. Given limited resources, I suggest ITI focus on providing incredibly good wifi and encouraging us to live blog conferences with the slides posted to or other high-traffic sites.

If ITI can’t afford truly functional conference software that meets the needs of the people who would actually use it, then you know what? Don’t trouble with it. A factoid from today is that when people like a product, they tell three people, and when they don’t like a product, they tell seventeen people. I would update that to “seventeen bloggers.” Why not focus on the happy 3? We’ll all be better off for it.

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