Winer’s Fundamental Law of Conventional Conferences

Fundamental Law of Conventional Conferences. Dave Winer. 2006.

The sum of the expertise of the people in the audience is greater than the sum of expertise of the people on stage.

I was introduced to this idea when reading a 2008* blog post by Ian Usher. *I didn’t read it in 2008, though I wish I had – i didn’t find it until 2015 when I started chasing up early information about TeachMeet.

Three times in the past fortnight this Winer’s Law has come to mind, to conversation, and into action, for me…

  • firstly in a conversation with a friend that I don’t see often enough, who was speaking of her ennui when sitting passively listening to stuff she already knew being explained to her from a stage. Her joy on hearing my profound pronouncement ex-cathedra that there was a Fundamental Law to explain her predicament made me feel very wise.
  • secondly at a recent conference, INTED (in Valencia Spain), where Winer’s Law was certainly true in terms of audience expertise, but the organisers of the conference were very thoughtful with the structure of the conference – of the over 700 attendees, almost all were presenting at some stage (literally the 15 mins of fame!), and the rules of engagement were very clearly drawn up with the Law Of Two Feet in mind – the audience in each of the many rooms was free to some and go as necessary. Coupled with the long siestas coffee and lunch breaks, it made for a conversational, relaxed-but-still-full-on-learning atmosphere. At no stage was an audience member in any ‘captive’, but there by choice and out of interest. It made for a very dynamic and lively two days. As giant strictly organised conventional conferences go, INTED was the first I’ve encountered which has, consciously or otherwise, taken Winer’s Law into account during the planning process.

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  • thirdly, on Twitter this morning, I read a conversation about TeachMeet between @johnjohnston and @MrM which conjured again for me Winer’s Law, and prompted me to reply via this blog post (Hello John, Hello Athole). John summarises neatly here, and others pipe in with comments. As it happens, I was speaking of TeachMeet at the INTED conference mentioned above – it is always interesting to watch the reactions of education academics when TeachMeet – a leaderless organisation, by teachers for teachers – is explained and outlined to them for the first time. There is keen interest and a plethora of questions; a little tension; and a LOT of delight. The image that works best I find is the ‘desire line’ metaphor here.

So thank you Dave for your law, and thank you Ian for pointing me towards it, and thank you Athole and John and commenters for reminding us of TeachMeet’s unconference birth, and thank you to my friend Carmel for the sheer joy of your reaction to it all.

Room 2, INTED 2018
Jano (Peru), Mags (Ireland), Marta (Espana), Pablo (UK), Sung (China), Maria (Espana).






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