My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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paris and Le Web 3

First off, Paris rox! I was not expecting to love it as much as i did. I mean, i *hate* cold weather and it’s always a bit disconcerting to be in a city where it’s impossible to understand 99% of what’s going on. What surprised me is that my 2 years of high school French meant that i could follow basic things. Knowing simple words like “gauche” and “droit” were unbelievably useful (given how frequently i get lost). Plus, i could make enough sense of the menu to find duck (mmm… duck). Of course, my pronunciation of said words is ATROCIOUS. Anyhow, i could totally live in Paris (with some French lessons)… that was surprising to me.

Now, onto the controversial Le Web 3 conference… For those who don’t follow tech gossip, it seems as though many people were outraged at how the conference was handled (and it seems to have provoked amazing amounts of juicy web drama of the teenage boy type). The dominant complaint concerned the fact that three politicians showed up, took the stage, and gave stump speeches. Others were upset because the tech talks were pretty generic.

Personally, i found the whole political thing utterly entertaining. I came to France expecting generic talks. We’re talking a tech conference of 1000 people. Since most of these people haven’t heard any of the presenters before, most of the presenters went with one of their solid talks instead of something more risque; plus, a lot of the program was panels and Loic reached out to us based on what we’re known for. So, while i was stoked to see some of my favorite people speak, i didn’t really expect to learn a lot from the talks themselves. (That said, i LOVED the talks by Marko Ahtisaari and David Weinberger; both gave me lots of ideas to chew on.)

I realize that folks didn’t like the politicians because they felt as though they didn’t pay to hear propaganda. I had a totally different take. For me, they were the best part. Why? Precisely because they didn’t say anything. Everyone’s always telling me that politicians now understand the web, want to be a part of it, want to listen to their constituents. I found the French politician’s attitude proof that they were just as clueless as American politicians. They know that this tech thing is important but they don’t actually understand it, and still they want to find a way to manipulate it to make them look good. I was particularly humored by the old media person who got up to be a complete contrarian, arguing that new media has no value. To solidify this point, he wouldn’t let Loic actually translate what he was saying – he wanted to dominate the airwaves his way. Of course, this was all complicated by the fact that there were press – old and new – EVERYWHERE. I couldn’t walk ten feet without getting interviewed by someone for a podcast, a newspaper, a live TV show, a blog, etc. It was obscene to see how many people wanted to “cover” the event… in fact, it seemed like there were more there to cover it than to listen to it. In that way, it felt like a political convention… Only the primary actor (“technology”) was a concept instead of a person. Since we were talking about tech, talking about the agency tech had, i thought that the fact that the politicians were there making a mess of things was FANTASTIC.

All of that chaos meant that i got more out of Le Web 3 than i’ve gotten out of a conference program in years. Of course, there were downsides to this… I had to figure out how to cut my 30 minute talk to 15 on the fly on stage and i feel like i wasn’t as clear as i wanted to be. That’s unfortunate because i wanted to give a solid talk. Le sigh. Another thing that was uber depressing was that i knew 2/3 of the women in the room. People may bitch about there being no women speakers but at Le Web 3, there were no female attendees (other than femalepress). It was a sea of middle-aged white men dressed in business casual. After 4 days in Paris (a surprisingly diverse city), this was a complete shock. And i thought that American conferences were homogeneous!

The ever-present press also meant that it was really hard to just hang out and catch up with people that i knew. I find hallway conversations to be the highlight of a conference… and they were key to Le Web 3 too, but it was hard to get some privacy to talk to people. At the same time, it was super nice that there was only one stage, one main chitter chat room, and one place where everyone ate lunch. I really really liked the total immersion.

At the same time, i was sick as a dog so i only got to attend part of each day. I spent most of the first day trying not to faint and putting on the best ::blink::smile:: face that i could possibly muster. I couldn’t attend the party, couldn’t eat any food (or drink any wine), or even be a werewolf in Paris. Much to my chagrin, i spent a lot of time in the bathroom trying to stop the dizzy feeling. I had to spend the majority of the first day in bed; the second day was spent trying to ward off the terrible nausea. All of this made it really hard to really engage with folks and i probably came across as a total bitch when i’d fade out and then go run off to the bathroom. (Cuz “excuse me, i have to go to the bathroom” is a pretty known excuse to get out of a conversation… And i was forced to say that to probably 20 people rather than puke on their shoes.) Majorly unfortunate.

Yet, even sick as a dog, i really enjoyed the conference; i would totally go back. And hundreds of people bitching means that people got really worked up. While this is seen as a “bad” thing, i actually think it’s pretty awesome. Then again, i believe in living life by doing things that will be memorable. Le Web 3 will DEFINITELY be memorable. As for Paris, i’d be happy to go back anytime.

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12 comments to paris and Le Web 3

  • Hej dana I enjoyed your speech a lot. Sorry to hear you were so ill. Loved the fur hat by the way http://flickr.com/photos/vannispen/320824664/in/set-72157594414416700/

  • Dan

    “Then again, i believe in living life by doing things that will be memorable.”

    Paris, in my experience, is always, ALWAYS, memorable. A fantasy lover of the first order. It seems to say Life and Love in a way no other place can.

    I’m sure there will be another trip. Thanks for this report. It will only get better.

    Dan

  • Sorry to hear that you were cut short, but it didn’t come over as that. You were a star. I’ll be asking today whether you can come over to speak at our conference in Scotland next September. I hope so!

  • Hello Danah,

    Unfortunately I could not go to Paris but I like very much your blog, studies and articles, and have read the long Financial Times article about you. Congratulations! Do you have a written summary of your Paris presentation?

    Gyorgy Bogel

  • Hello Danah, even if you were curt short, your presentation was just amazing. I don’t know wether Paris rox but I now know you do !

  • Bertil

    > Anyhow, i could totally live in Paris (with some French lessons) […]
    > As for Paris, i’d be happy to go back anytime.

    Word taken:
    I’d love to teach you from here (so that you stop inventing new ideas that I can’t translate) because I’m not sure the podcasts would be of any help (Top of the list: still “French Maids” — God: geeks are luscious)

    You’ll be welcome anytime; feel free to come in the spring, which can be beautiful. Regarding diversity, I don’t know if you were around Barb’s or Belleville, but conference location aren’t always close to the hotter spots.

    I couldn’t decide myself to come—but in the end, I was in the same state as you were, so I was happy to stay away from the fuzz. And of course, your take on it is one step ahead: “What he says is clueless? That’s interesting!” I love ethnographers: you could give them savages dudes that own nothing but dirt, they would make sense out of them — wait: that’s how they started. 😉

    Actually, ironically enough, Sarkozy in his very first worlds say that France is late & clueless. The fact that no one pointed it out says it all for me.

  • Larry

    Glad to hear that you gave a speech at La Web, since that makes my comment a little less off-topic than it might be…

    Any chance you’ll be available for our community college’s Spring semester Speaker’s Program(Houston)?

    Please let me know if there’s a better way to contact you for this sort of thing.

  • explaining why you were wearing a bear on your head …
    Hope you feel better 😉

  • Simon Jones

    It’s probably a good thing that there were so few females at Le Web 3 – I counted four male chauvinist ‘jokes’ from the stage, including at least one from host Loic Le Meur. Sigh.

  • Your talk was great Danah, and many people told me that they thought you were one of the high points in the program.
    Hope you are feeling better now.

  • Hi Dana,

    I liked the politician’s appearance as well, but I can understand the other’s point of view. But I’m much more annoyed at having paid the price for (often blatantly) generic tech-talk (or even worse, bad, bad, bad, simplistic business talk like in that strange discussion about “enterprise 2.0”) than generic poli-talk. What I found most striking was that much of these talks could have taken place with slightly different vocabulary back in 1995, as well as in 1999. We have the infrastructure now, but none of the real questions (the tough economic once, property rights, online ad revenues etc…) have been answered. If you think about it, Brad Delong’s “speculative microeconomics for tomorrow’s economy” and Hal Varian’s “information rules” contain a lot more wisdom and understanding than was presented in Paris, a.d. 2006.

    I’m not certain that it’s possible to have a non-scientific conference create that kind of wisdom, but I still think Loic was juggling with a few too many balls lately and, well, dropped a couple. But Paris is always worth a visit and getting a better glimpse into the French blogosphere (not so much during the conference though) made it well worth the time (and possibly the money).

    I believee that, regardless of cultural differences, the Paris network (L’ile de France) proves to which extent physical proximity of people is important even in the digital world – just look at the dispersed German experience. And, of course, there’s Loic, who’s probably to a non-trivial amount responsible for the French blogging phenomenon, as one well known French blogger suggested to me.

    But I did not get a chance to thank you for your talk at the conference. You and David Weinberger were about the only ones to add some real value for me. And a longer topical chat with David even appeased me intellectually.

    I haven’t followed your blog regularly until now, but I think I will from now on.

    Hope you’re feeling better now. happy holidays!

  • Hi Dana,

    I wanted to say there are women 😉 not only reporting but doing things. Well of course I am far from you (switzerland) and my site (www.profession-web.ch) is 100% french…which will not help…but still I just wanted to say we are a few :-)) I also reported and podcasted altough did not have the chance to meeting you. You must admit that such events are so rare, that yes, people jump on this opportunity to meet, network and report, which gave you the strange feeling to be as a star, chased by mics. Nonetheless, I agree with Jeff : you were one of the most interesting intervention. Get well and please, come back again next year !