BrainJams New Orleans – Big Announcement!

On Thursday May 4th we are going to bring the best of Web 2.0 to the New Orleans small business community in what could be one of the biggest Unconferences of the year. This will be a day of conversation, peer to peer learning, and developing a better understanding of how the technology community can serve the needs of this vitally important city as it comes back from the trajedy that was Katrina. Our goal is to help small businesses understand how they can make the most of blogs, social networks, tagging, wikis and other collaboration tools – but I have a feeling that much more will come of this.

In looking at the recovery efforts (and the ongoing clean-up) I have been shocked by the sheer scope of the problems down there and inspired by the resilience of those who suffered through the disaster. While there is no doubt that many in the community still need basic necessities and technology can do little to ease much of the human suffering, I really think we all need to look forward together to the potential of the new New Orleans. From my perspective, the small businesses are going to be the backbone of this revitalization, so I want to empower them with knowledge of how they can use these incredibly useful tools the industry is creating to support their efforts.

For this event, we will be applying all we have learned from our direct experience and the wisdom of other unconference organizers. While the format may be subject to change somewhat, I think that participants will really get a lot out of this structure we have put forth for the event. We hope to kickoff the day with a short introduction/keynote from a local leader to provide a better perspective on the role of small businesses and technology in the rebuilding efforts. We would really like to have Harry Anderson who has owned a couple of small businesses there for many years and is one of the clearest (and cleverest) voices of common sense we have heard coming from the region since Katrina.

The majority of the morning will be spent with our signature one-on-one knowledge networking with the group being split between small business folks and technologists. This is where you have 5 minutes to talk to the person sitting across from you about what you are passionate about and what you are working on now. After 5 minutes, a bell rings and everyone has 1 minute to move one seat to the left. The intention is to share knowledge and resources (sites, books, people etc…) with one another and to see how you might be able to help one another.

The afternoon will primarily encompass three types of activities going on at the same time.

  1. A Main “Confersation” track to serve as an introduction to the most important aspects of Web 2.0 for small business owners – blogs, collaboration tools and social networking.
  2. Open Space sessions where the participants will lead conversations on topics of their choosing which could be focused on everything from rebuilding the local tech community, to developing tools to meet the needs of the local economy to addressing social/political issues.
  3. Peer to Peer Learning, where individual experts will offer their time to share their direct expertise, teaching other individuals how to do certain tasks (like start a blog, set up a web site, use BackPack or other ‘mini-lessons’)

But this day in May is only the beginning of the process. We intend to build a vibrant community of technologists from around the country to provide ongoing advice and support to the local economy by engaging in genuine conversations. One of the hopes of the event is that this leads to a BarCamp/SuperHappyDevHouse sort of weekend that will build specific tools and information services for the local economy. But rather than being a couple of ‘one-off’ events, we hope to establish an ongoing collaboration between the six tribes (art, education, for profit, government, non-profit and technologists) that brings involvement from all across the country, and around the world. Indeed, it is our intention to donate at least 50% of any proceeds from the sponsorship revenues to go towards this cause as well as establish a separate fund that can take donations directly. Finally, we hope to inspire the people of New Orleans to embrace this new form of ad-hoc community driven collaboration and put on their own events just like WoolfCamp has done here in the Bay Area.

While we are pretty much starting from ground zero at this point in time and still need Patrons to cover the cost of the event (attendance will be free!), I have faith in our community’s ability to pull this all together and make it happen in a big way (Dave Winer? Mike Arrington? you out there?). We also still need a large venue with good power and wifi as well as local technical support, peer teachers, volunteers to support local logistics and local promotion to get the right sort of people to the event, If you are interested in helping in any way, will you please contact me and join the BrainJams community to discuss how we can all contribute to this important cause.

PS – For those of you who have not been to JazzFest before, this is the perfect time to experience the soul of New Orleans that lies in the heart of this great city’s music. The second weekend includes some of the best Jazz musicians in the world as well as Jimmy Buffet, Warren Haynes, The Radiators, Robert Randolph, Paul Simon, Lionel Richie and Fats Domino!

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