6 Questions with Tim Courtney

By Mike Maddaloni on Tuesday, August 05, 2008 at 02:05 PM with 2 comments

6 Questions logo1 - Who are you, and what are you doing here?

I'm Tim Courtney, a Chicago-area (Wheaton) native who "grew up" on the Internet. I get excited when I see technology enabling people to connect in the real world on deeper, more diverse, and more meaningful levels.

Thus, I'm very interested in social technology and online communities that are changing the way we self-identify, select our associations, and interact in a face-to-face world. These trends are instituting large cultural shifts and we're just beginning to see the potential and the results.

To answer what I am doing; a few things. Most immediately, I'm co-organizing SocialDevCampChicago with Andy Angelos coming up on August 9th. It's a BarCamp-style unconference for people passionate about social networks, web applications, platform development, new media, identity management, and other related topics.

Through my employer XNet, I co-host Silicon Prairie Social; a popular tech networking event in the western suburbs. XNet is a a Lisle, IL-based boutique data center (colocation, dedicated, and managed servers), where I work and am responsible for marketing. We help frazzled IT people sleep at night, knowing their critical systems are in the hands of experts who are committed to the continuity, security, and growth of their businesses.

photo of Tim Courtney2 - You certainly are connecting people! What is an "unconference" either in general or how you see it and how you see SocialDevCampChicago unfolding?

An "unconference" is a conference where the attendees drive the discussion, and many times the discussion topics are decided at the event itself. SocialDevCamp Chicago is somewhat based on the BarCamp concept for unconferences. Here, we're allowing attendees to sign up for time slots for their presentations and panels, provided they fit one of two tracks: a Business & Culture track and a Technical track. We're also providing a Coding Lounge for people to relax and chat or code together.

Our goal with SocialDevCamp Chicago is to see people come away with a better grasp of the technologies and platforms driving web trends over the next few years, and be able to apply that knowledge directly to their pursuits; businesses, communities, causes, etc. We also hope attendees will come away with a better understanding of how social technologies are changing how people relate to and communicate with each other in their face-to-face relationships.

3 - Are you finding people are seeking to meet people to get to know more in person, or just more people to communicate with online?

With SocialDevCamp, I get the feeling that people want to come together in person and talk about their shared interest. Of the people I've talked to who are attending, they're coming to learn more about development and trends, while meeting people who are likeminded. I get the feeling they want to transfer online connections into in-person collaboration and relationships -- whether as partners, collaborators, customers, users, or even friends.

4 - What personal goals do you have for SocialDevCamp?

For several months, I've been thinking through how to apply the essential features behind social networks to niche interests such as my own interest in LEGO. I believe hobbies and interests can flourish if the online experience for users becomes an extension of everyday online activities. I'm looking to share some of these thoughts at SocialDevCamp and solicit feedback from other thinkers in the space.

5 - What have you been able to apply from your leading these events to your position at XNet?

SocialDevCampChicago really stems out of a personal interest in development of social technology. The three Silicon Prairie Social events, however, have had a direct tie-in to XNet. Arthur and I have used the Social events to build up the suburban technology community like many of the events in the city have done for downtown. As a result of rubbing shoulders with other service providers, integrators, and consultants at the Silicon Prairie Social, I've been able to take knowledge and insight of emerging trends back to XNet and shape the direction of what we'll offer in the future. We've also seen some promising partnerships begin to emerge from our involvement there.

6 - What is one question I did not ask, and what is its answer?

As a technology evangelist, what is your key focus?

When talking with others about technologies -- social or otherwise -- I really focus on design and usability. I've worked with developer groups over the years in open-source environments and seen the focus be on the software and the features. People use computers to accomplish personal and social ends, not to interact with technology out of its own right. Technology should be transparent if a platform or application is to reach as many users as possible. If you're looking to spread your idea via the web or via a social platform, make the interface intuitive to the user -- not to you or following a set of prescribed rules. For a better worded outline of the above, see this blog post by Aza Raskin summarizing the "Not the User's Fault" manifesto.

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