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Is the Australian IA community a clique?

I’ve just been away for a week at two of my favourite conferences - OzIA and Web Directions.But this post isn’t quite about that…

I read some of the feedback from OzIA on the weekend. And one comment stuck out and worried me a bit. The comment was along the lines that my talk seemed silly (which I can deal with) and cliquey (which worries me).

Now I know that a couple of times I mentioned folks in the audience by name. I know that I know a decent proportion of the crowd. And there definitely is a group of IA folks in both Canberra and Sydney who see each other regularly, hang out together, eat together and even do non-IA stuff together.

But it worries me that it may be seen as a clique. Something that has an in-crowd and an out-crowd. I worry that it might look like there is an in-crowd that doesn’t want to involve other people, because that’s just not the case.

Those of us who do hang out together do so partly because we have gotten involved in something. We’ve been to conferences together, attended IA meet-ups together and volunteered together. We’ve discussed the future of IA and what it all means over drinks. That crowd has built up over time and changes over time. There is no membership and no secret handshake. It is just a bunch of folks with a shared interest.

So, please. If it looks to you like there is an IA clique that you are not involved in, just get involved. Here’s how:

We aren’t an exclusive clique and we really do love getting to know other people who do IA.

13 Responses to “Is the Australian IA community a clique?”

  1. Tom Voirol Says:

    As an oldie in IA but a newbie in the Australian IA community who has just attended his first Oz-IA I can happily confirm that the IA community is more inclusive, open and welcoming than I had ever dreamed.

    Donna, who was criticised, is one of the main forces to make it that way. The only thing that’s silly here is the feedback received.

  2. David Humphreys Says:

    I second Tom. I am by nature a pretty reticent guy and gleefully introverted. But I was struck not only by the passion of the group but also the surprising inclusiveness. Yes there were a bunch of people that hung around together and were a little intimidating for a outsider from Brisneyland to approach. That happens everywhere. When I did get people on their own for a moment I always found them open and friendly and possibly just as interested in talking to you as you were in them.

    I didn’t get to talk to everyone I wanted to (yourself included Donna) but I quickly overcame any grumpy and paranoid feelings about being excluded because everyone WAS so friendly and welcoming.

  3. Donna Spencer Says:


  4. Gary Barber Says:

    I don’t consider myself to be in the clique, if there is one. ;) I don’t attend any events besides Oz-IA, I’m not that active in IAI. And I have only discover the IAI-AU list this week. Okay maybe it was mentioned on the main IAI list but I would have missed it.

    But given all this I have found the IA community in Australia in general to very warm and friendly, certainly more than other aspects of the web industry.

    I know that during Oz-IA I did introduced a number of people to groups of people I already new, and they in turn where welcomed all over the show.

  5. Marie-Laure Says:

    This was my 2nd OZ-IA and I too have found the IA community open, friendly and willing to share, however I will say that at times at the conference, I felt that there were a lot of in-jokes in the presentations. A lot of the presenters knew each other (which is not unreasonable or uncommon at all) but there were references to each other in some of the talks, like ‘this is especially for X’, and then some people would laugh, and the comment wasn’t always explained – to be fair some were, so maybe it’s just something for individuals to note for the future.

    I hope the following will sound like constructive criticism Donna and Gary ;-) …but maybe the last session influenced the filling in of the feedback forms. I know it was the last one of the conference and that you were presumably going for a light-hearted approach, but the light-hearted stuff did appear as ‘too knowing’ and got in the way of content. It seemed as if there was lots more useful content prepared, but time ran out, which came over as a bit blase.
    I don’t think the comment from the floor about us all ‘coming out of the woodwork’ would have helped anyone who felt it was cliquey either, although Donna, you did look shocked and said something against it. The comment did generate a passing thought that maybe ‘people in the know’ were twittering away making rude comments about everyone else!

    So although the above are minor points, I think they could build up a cliquey atmosphere in some people’s minds.

    I, as a fairly introverted person, felt though, and similarly at my first OZ-IA, that at breaks and mealtimes everyone mixes very well and that it is easy to start conversations with people, which hasn’t always been my experience at other industry conferences.

  6. Donna Spencer Says:

    Thanks Marie-Laure – that’s good feedback and things to watch out for;)

  7. Pat Says:

    Donna, I have a confession to make, I didn’t stay for your presentation as I had to whisk my daughter off for some much needed quality time (she’s the one who added some drama to Mr Cox’s preso earlier in the day!). So I don’t know the specifics of the comment that was made, nor what Gary and yourself spoke about.

    However, I would say that a clique does exist. It’s not just ‘IAs’ as opposed to ‘non IAs’, there is a group within a group of IA practitioners (possibly many sub-groups). I’m not convinced it’s simply due to some people participating more, or having more experience with ones local peers. As is the nature of cliques, it’s very subtle and non-specific. It’s more about attitude. It’s the vibe of the thing :)

    Now there’s not necessarily anything wrong with this, I think it’s natural that people will congregate based around friendships and shared interests, or even geography. Nor am I suggesting it’s a deliberate strategy. But you did ask the question.

    Perhaps the solution is as you have suggested, just get more people involved. But playing devil’s advocate, when you suggest that it’s everyone else’s problem, that they need to do more, that sounds…well, cliquey. It’s like the cool kids saying that the uncool kids can be in their group, they just need to be cooler :)

    (I fear this is yet more IA introspection, so let’s move on…)

  8. Donna Spencer Says:

    Thanks Pat. Your point about the fact that I have just gone and told everyone else to sort out the problem, rather than do something myself, is a good one. Note to self…

  9. Aaron Stewart Says:

    Well, as one of the New Zelanders at Oz-IA who knew none of the Aussies except Donna and Andrew (and that only slightly), I can honestly say that one of the highlights for me was the open friendliness. It’s the one thing I always mention now.

    It was never hard to meet people or strike up a conversation. I never once felt that there were sub-groups subtly projecting exclusion vibes (of course, that’s possibly because I’m too thick to notice :) ).

    But the in-jokes testified to good relationships. They show that people aren’t just being surface-level polite because they happen to be in the same room. I’m sure we’ve all been in those excruciating networking events where everyone’s got the fake smile and performing the polite-but-shoot-me-now chit-chat…

    So, I saw the whole thing as positive. Oz-IA was clearly attended by a bunch of people who knew each other well, but just as clearly, they were happy to meet and include others. Best of both worlds, I say!

  10. John Says:

    HI Donna,

    I’m afraid I agree wigh Marie-Laure above. I think the last presentation of the day may have influenced people’s feedback. I’m sorry to say that the presentation offended and insulted me. At one point you referred to contractors/consultants as “faceless” and that contractors/consultants don’t have good relationshiops with their clients. I found this really insulting. I’m not “faceless” to my clients, neither is my project manager or my managing director or the company that I work for. And as for not having good relationships with my clients, the fact that I was sitting in the audience next to my current client who I now consider a good friend (and vice-versa) seemed to nullify that comment for myself. I realised that you must have had a bad experience working for a consulantcy, however I think it’s very unfair and bias to paint all consultantcies the same.

    Unfortunately at the after-conf drinks, I heard similar sentiments from others. I think everyone understood that there is a great, close-knit group of IAs which attended the conf who are not just peers but also great mates. I think the “bad feeling” came from your/Gary’s presentation which did seem to include a few too many references to individuals, situtations, or in-jokes which weren’t relevant to the whole audience. I think that might have put people off just a little bit.

    I think you have a wealth of great experience to offer at OZ-IA. I’d love to hear you talk next year on your theories and specialist knowledge around IA as a process rather than the job of being an IA.

  11. Donna Spencer Says:

    @John – thanks for the feedback

  12. caronnect Says:

    Hmm, I could refer to myself as an ‘oldie’ like Tom but will resist from doing so despite there being truth in it :-) Oz-IA is one of the highlights of my professional and personal calendar, and I’ve attended the past few years since its inception.

    It’s an intimate, stimulating and thoroughly enjoyable experience – Eric Scheid & supporting band do a fantastic job of organising it. I have to state here and now that I’m a big fan of Donna! Donna has always supported events such as Oz-IA and I constantly amazed with the high quality of her presentations & workshops. I really appreciate that Gary & Donna tried for a light, personalised account in the last session of a very busy weekend. It was just that – their personal views were shared with the conference participants in an entertaining manner – at times controversial (which is fine).

    Small point of constructive criticism: add in a caveat of “some consultants / contractors …” or “in my experience, some small companies appear faceless …”. I don’t think that this would water down your opinions or be too conciliatory, as it sets your opinion/s in context and I’m in total support of opinions (and of you). It is simply because others may not understand your context and it’s not true for all coys or contractors.

  13. We Believe in Community « Matt’s Musings Says:

    [...] We Believe in Community I was browsing through Donna Spencer’s blog posts when I came across a post- Oz-IA 08 discussion on whether the IA community in Australia was a clique. [...]

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