Two+ years of a wild ride

Two years and a month ago I created and launched the Future Trends Forum.  For two years it has been going and growing.  I wanted to reflect on it now, with some data and milestones.

All right, to be honest, I want to kvell a bit:

2,008 The number of participants currently registered on the Forum email list.  Those are unique individuals.  That number is smaller than the total number of people who’ve been in all sessions so far, because not everyone signed in with an email, and some participants didn’t want to be on the email distribution list, which is fair.  I’d estimate that larger number – everyone who’s been in at least one Forum – to be as high as 2,500 or more.

Forum with Chris Gilliard and Robin ReRosa

With Chris Gilliard and Robin DeRosa

Two thousand people.  That’s a decent-sized conference, or a small town, or a nice concert.  That’s a good number of people – and remember, not just those who visited, but each of them decided to stay and keep participating.

97 That’s how many Forum sessions we’ve held so far.  Ninety-seven. That’s just shy of 100 live meetings.  Remember that each has been free (no cost to participate).  Each session has been open, in the general sense – i.e., no special downloads necessary, no personal approval required, nor special equipment needed.  All that’s been required has been a web browser (Chrome, preferably) or the mobile device app, and a decent connection speed (I know, I know, believe me), plus a basic microphone and camera to join us on stage or to privately videoconference with other participants (a laptop, phone, or desktop’s built-in mic and camera work just fine).

In 2016 we held 41 sessions.  In 2017, 45, or almost one per week.  This year, 11 sessions as of today, and we’re on track for at least 45 for 2018.

97 That’s how many session recordings are currently and freely available on YouTube.  The total amount of video content is closing in on 100 hours.

6,000+ That’s how many total views there have been of those YouTube session recordings.

Forum live at the NMC 2017 conference with Richard Culatta_and Roxann Riskin

30 Average number of Twitter interactions for a given week.  That includes my tweets (around 7 each), several promotional tweets from Shindig, and tweets from participants before, during, and after a live Forum.

Interestingly, we haven’t had much traction on giant social media platforms other than Twitter.  We streamed events on Facebook for a while, but few dug in there; my Facebook updates on the Forum rarely elicit more than a handful of likes and fewer responses.  This is probably due to Facebook preferring its own video platform, and being hostile to URLs linking off-site.  I haven’t seen much interest on Mastodon, Google+, or LinkedIn.  (But see below!)

Without numbers Starting from scratch – from zero, to pick a number, and from nothing but the good technology and kind people at Shindig and my reputation – we have grown the Forum into a major media venue for exploring the future of education.

I’m not sure if this is widely understood, but the Forum grew without an institutional home, without a single media partner, without external buzz of any kind, without any venture capital funding – heck, without any funding, period!  We made it work.

I don’t know of anything quite like the Forum, honestly.  There are some individuals who write, speak, etc. about the future of education and technology, as do I, but without hosting this kind of diverse discussion.  There are occasional panels, either face to face or digital, but they tend to be one-offs.  Some publications summon up multiple contributors, but the results are consensus-driven, unitary, without a minority report (for example, the late Horizon Report).

It is also, I think, a social network in the old sense, or, well, a community.  Some folks now know each other through the Forum experience.  They connect on the Forum and elsewhere.  Together we have surfaced and developed shared concerns and themes, as with any community.  People who know each other through the Forum meet up in person.  There’s something good going on here.

The Forum remains fiercely independent.  Nobody shapes programming and discussion except me and participants.  Shindig keeps the tech running, but has always been hands-off when it comes to content.  My Patreon supporters have offered support and advice, but have never pushed us in a programmatic direction.  Nobody has gotten me to avoid a topic, or change my stance on an issue, or successfully encouraged me to shape discussion in a particular way.

You can see this independence in the contradictions and open conflict between participants and guests.  The former frequently challenge the latter.  Guests call out other guests over time.  Participants express different points of view – unsurprising, given more than 2,000 people addressing complex and, at times, contentious issues.

Forum: MissionU questioned by Cali Morrison

Cali Morrison questions the founder of MissionU.

Heck, we began on February 11th, 2016, with Audrey Watters, herself no stranger to controversy.

I try to make the Forum a welcoming space for diverse perspectives.  As a facilitator I encourage people to share their thoughts, supporting those who look like they need backup.  As the person who arranges guests, I seek out a diversity across nations, institutions, races, gender, profession, and viewpoint.

(Speaking of arranging for guests: this is a major piece of making the Forum happen.  It’s invisible, I think, but please know that I’m constantly on the hunt for fine guests.  I fire requests to a range of people, and guide them down the pathway to being in the Shindig space.  This involves a mix of diplomacy, audacity, stalking persistence, research, and hand-holding.)

Supporting these diverse and important conversations matters deeply to me.  As I’ve said before, holding conversations on challenging issues and involving deep disagreement is hard in 2018, and also – and therefore – very important.  It’s not easy creating a venue for precisely these discussions, but I think the Forum has become such a space.

I began this post by saying I was kvelling, which is true.  I’ve kvelled all over this post. But I am above all in awe of how much energy, time, thought, and love people have contributed over the past two+ years.

Some of you have given so much.  For example, frequent participant Frank Beshears has launched a Future Trends Forum database project, which is very ambitious.  Another frequent contributor, Roxann Riskin, has been a terrific friend and booster.

Some guests have carried their Forum discussion on their own blogs, like Phil Hill , Jim Groom, and Martin Dougiamas. Friends like Kelly Walsh, Rayane Alamuddin and Robert Kelchen, Michael Haggans, Rich DeMillo, Timothy Harfield, and Jonathan Blake Huer have supported us through their blogging.  Maya Georgieva and Emory Craig have been hyper-friends, appearing as guests, panelists, participants, and all-around boosters.  Joshua Kim has supported us from his Inside Higher Ed perch (when would you like to be a guest, sir?).  David Raths has generously followed our conversations at Campus Technology.  We’ve even appeared in a book, cited by Nicole Hennig in her 2017 Keeping Up with Emerging Technologies: Best Practices for Information Professionals.

I want to explore what happens next with the Forum, but here I want to stop with this note on the people who make it work.  I am very grateful to you all, each and every one of you, and hope to keep honoring that trust.

 

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6 Responses to Two+ years of a wild ride

  1. Kelly Walsh says:

    A wild ride indeed! I always look forward to those Thursday afternoons (and occassional other times) when my calendar is clear and I can sit in on an FTF Shindig session. Thanks for your informative and inspiring work Bryan, and the many speakers and guests who have contributed to the dialogue!

  2. I’m looking forward to some podium time when I get my new front teeth. Just sayin’

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