I'm a Social Media Entrepreneur, Professor of Digital Marketing, Author of 5 books, Podcaster and an Organic Farmer.


Kiruba Shankar

The Hindu on Unconferences

Yesterday’s MetroPlus, The Hindu’s supplement, carried an impressive half page writeup about Unconferences. The article talks about the new emergence of unconferences and its growth in popularity amongst the techies. You can read the online version here or click on the newspaper screenshot to enlarge it.

(Image from Sriram Iyer)

The article also mentions about the Unconference book, which has been seeing a slow but a steady progress.

The article carries a lot more credibility because, its author, Sudhir Syal has attended unconferences and is also helping organize a couple of them.

There’s also been some interesting learning based on feedback from Lisa Heft, a contributor to the unconference book project from the US. Open Space Technology, the original form of what we now known as unconferences, has been in existence since 1985. Wow, that’s for two decades. And most of us think its a recent phenomenon. Or at least I thought so, until we started the book project.

And its just not the technology industry that’s using the unconference format. Lisa adds, “It is something that has been around for a long time across the world and in a huge diversity of industries, cultures, and countries”.

Who would’ve thought!

Also, it looks like The Hindu would not credit the photographer whose photo has been used in the article. In spite of Sudhir, the author, taking the effort to get permission to use the photograph. It may have been an oversight, though.

But a huge thanks to The Hindu for giving unconferences main stream coverage. It can do wonders with getting better participation and better support from corporates.

A Conversation about the Unconference Book

The other day, I sat down with Sudhir Syal to have a casual free-wheeling conversation about the unconference book. Both of us are involved in the project along with a bunch of passionate folks. At last count on the mailing list, close to 100 folks from 10 different countries have joined the book project. Right now, about a dozen folks have actually started writing for the book and the rest will soon start chipping in with their bit.

The book got off to a slow start but now has picked up good pace. The most important part of the book is the finalizing of the chapters and that has been done. People have also started owning up chapters and forming their own small teams to get them done. From this point onwards, for the next month, the project should be on auto-pilot mode with multiple chapters being written simultaneously by different teams.

The podcast was originally shot as video but I’m still stuck with the encoding part. So, I went ahead and published the audio version. I particularly liked the casual conversational mode of the podcast. If you wanted to know about the book, listening to the podcast might give you a good idea.

Fun Video Recording About the Unconference Book

Learning is a lot more fun when you enjoy what you are doing. Yesterday was a classic case in point. I wanted to have a conversation about the unconference book, especially what its all about and its progress and capture it on video and audio. It was an excellent lesson on video podcasting.

The Unconference book is seeing a slow but steady progress. Actually, a lot slower. But hey, none of us are pro authors or publishers. It’s hard enough coming to a decision with 5 folks in a single room. Now, imagine about 80 people from 10 different countries involved in the project. You get the picture. But its an awesome experiment and we are hell bent on finishing this project successfully. After all, it will indeed be the first ever book about unconferences and that’s a good thing to be a part of.

Now, back to talking about the fun recording.

I called up Sudhir Syal who has now taken on the baton of leading the book project from The Knowledge Foundation’s side. Sudhir is a nice conversationalist and a nice guy to be discussing the book project with. I also called up Kausik Ram, a super enthu fella who has a keen interest in video podcasting, especially on the technical side of things.

So, late last night, we hauled ourselves to Sudhir’s sprawling bungalow in one of Chennai’s poshest locales. After energizing ourselves with a refreshing lemonade, we got about setting the equipments in place. Nothing fancy. A Sony handycam erected on a tripod. For audio, I had my Edirol voice recorder on. We spent a few minutes finalizing the lighting, camera angles and chair positions.

That’s Sudhir on the left and me on the right. We are seen brainstorming about the unconference book. Sudhir is a pretty energetic chap who has shown interest in driving the book project. It was nice to find someone who is keenly interested in the project. There are many enthusiastic folks in the team but you need someone to hold the torch and lead the way. Sudhir with a strong journalistic background (Economic Times & The Hindu) and bountiful enthusiasm was a real good fit. It’s not easy but it sure as hell will be a great learning experience.

That’s Sudhir working on the notes and laying out the flow of conversation before we started recording it.

A view of points written by Sudhir. The handwriting was worse than a doctor’s and hence I had to ask Sudhir to write it neatly in caps for my reference.

We decided that instead of an interview, we will have a casual conversation about the book and each of us will ask relevant questions to drive the show along. The conversation went off very well. What was meant to be a 10 minute conversation extended to about 22 minutes , without us realizing how fast the time went by. We were quite engrossed. The conversation was quite high spirited. We were all quite happy with the way it turned out.

Kausik was an excellent sport. He played the patient cameraman capturing the conversation. We had just one camera but he made sure to get enough variety. He did good within the limitations.

The looks on the faces says it all. That’s Sudhir and Kausik rewinding the interview and checking out the video. It has come out decently well. The video still needs to get processed and edited. It’s going to take a few days time before the video and audio is going to be available. Will make sure to link it up from here when its ready.

Announcing the Launch of a Book Project, Authored Entirely on a Wiki


This is probably the most challenging and definitely the most interesting project we have ever undertaken. And I can’t tell you how thrilled we are to announce this.

So what is this book about? The book is about ‘Unconferences‘. Well, what is it? Think of BarCamps, FOOcamp, BlogCamps, BloggerCons and yeah, WikiCamp. Well, these events believe that the collective intelligence of the audience is far greater than that of the speaker. So, instead of just the speaker talking, the crowd is encouraged to participate in the discussion. Ask anyone who has attended any unconference and they’ll tell you that its far more fun than any straight jacket conference.

So, why is this book so special? This book will be one of the world’s first on this subject. No, I’m not kidding. If Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, O’Reilly, Powells, Oxford Book Store don’t have it, its just not there. In fact, search for ‘unconfernce book’ on google and see what you get.

That’s nothing. The most special feature is that this book will be authored collaboratively by people worldwide. These are people who have helped organize or attended unconferences around the world. And at last count, there were in excess of a hundred unconferences that took place worldwide.

The best part is that this book will be openly written on a wiki. It follows the same spirit of the unconference, where every one pitches in to help. This means that you can participate in this book. If you have attended either a normal conference or an unconference, you can chip in.

This is an open book. It’s for all to see. You can actually witness the progress of the book week by week, day by day. Of course, there will be chaos out there. There will be confusion. Heck, It wouldn’t be an unconference book without that. Unconferences thrive on chaos. But just like the successful events we have helped conduct, things magically fall into place. And guess what, its a far superior product and we all have good fun doing it.

I’ve always thought that book writing is a long, lonely, forlorn process. This is going to be diametrically opposite. Why do I sound so confident? Here’s why. Yesterday night at about 9:00 in the night, a person came up with an idea of making a small booklet on Wiki for beginners to be handed out to the participants of Wikicamp. By 12 midnight, the contents were ready, by about 3:00 early morning, the booklet was edited, by 5:00 am the layout was ready, by 6:00 daybreak the book had hit the printers and by noon today, the booklet has been published. Yup, in a little over half a day, a wonderful 20 page booklet got done. And who made this happen? A team of about a dozen folks who collaborated, collated and contributed on this wiki.

If a booklet can be ready in half a day, then a book can certainly be gotten ready in 6 months time. Yup, the book will hit the book stands on September 8th, 2007.

Within just a few days of letting out the news of this book project, we have a editor who have volunteered to help with editing, we have designers who have volunteered to help design book covers, we have at least three consultants who have helped publish international books give us guidance, a book layout professional who wants to chip in with his contribution. My wife volunteered and helped design the entire site, customize the wikis and the blog. All these within just a few days of spreading the idea.

Everyone knows that this is a niche book and it will never get anywhere near a bestseller. This will never make any money. But the satisfaction of being part of a team, the joy of learning the book writing process and the pride of seeing one’s name as a co-author is just so invaluable.

This is an open book. You can be part of this book writing process. You are welcome to add, edit, discuss, or plain simple criticize. You can write a chapter or just a para or just a line. It’s completely up to you. If you aren’t into writing, you can help with proof reading, editing, research, marketing… the opportunities are amazing. Everyone who contributes will have their name mentioned in the book. If you are interested, join up the mailing list.

Take a look at www.Unconference.info

This book project will be kickstarted by Jimmy Wales at WikiCamp on Sunday, 25th Feb. Yes, Jimmy is part of this project.

Remember. This is your book. This is our book. Let’s go have fun.