Better late than never: my report on last week’s mesh conference.

This year, mesh moved from its traditional home at the MaRS Centre to the more spacious Allstream Centre on the Exhibition grounds near the shores of lake Ontario in Toronto. Although the venue was larger, the event still felt “meshy,” with plenty of networking opportunities, nice breaks between sessions, fabulous food, and valuable and stimulating keynotes, panels and presentations.

Billed as “Canada’s web conference,” mesh, now in its sixth year, features four streams: society, media, business and marketing. On Day One, Emily Bell (pictured here), director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, in a conversation with Mathew Ingram, talked about how the media is changing and where journalism is headed. Key quotes: “Aggregate or die” and “Trust is the new black.”

By the way, a hallmark of mesh keynotes is the setup in which one of the mesh founders sits on stage and converses with the speaker. I prefer this style of communication over a formal speech. Bonus: little need for PowerPoint slides.

Next up, Ron Deibert of Citizen Lab, in a keynote facilitated by Rob Hyndman, shocked us a bit while discussing state control and surveillance of the Internet. Key quote: “The United States has a cybercrime strategy; and it says cybercrime attacks can be responded to with ‘kinetic’ means.”

After a delicious luncheon buffet, participants scurried upstairs for workshops; usually five ran concurrently. I attended one that was described as “Social media’s role in telling stories,” but was really about how The Huffington Post uses social media, with Rob Fishman of HuffPo. Don’t get me wrong: It was a very interesting talk, just not what I was expecting, being a student of storytelling. Key quotes: “The Huffington Post is OF the Web, not ON the Web” and “Every editor should be a social media editor.”

Jennifer MacMillan of the Globe and Mail covered “How to handle online comments and community,” giving us a peek behind the curtain at the newspaper. Key quotes: “It’s not our community; it’s the readers’ community” and “Our reporters are using the same tools our readers are.”

I’d been looking forward to Michael Geist’s talk on “Copyright or copyfight: What lies ahead for Canadian copyright,” and he didn’t disappoint. He pointed to three pressure points around proposed changes to Canadian copyright law: trade pressure (mostly from the United States), narrative pressure (the notion that Canada is a “piracy haven”) and social media pressure.  It remains to be seen, after Parliament gets back to work, whether Canada will end up with U.S.-style digital locks.  Key quotes: “Bill C-32 is flawed but fixable” and “Europeans think that U.S. copyright law goes too far.”

After a short break we filed back to the main ballroom for the afternoon media discussion, a conversation with Tony Burman, formerly of the CBC and now with Al-Jazeera. Mathew Ingram did a nice job moderating. Many in the room were gratified to hear about Al-Jazeera “from the horse’s mouth” and not filtered through U.S. media. My favourite insight from Burman is that he dealt with more political interference at the CBC than he does at Al-Jazeera.

Day Two at mesh is more about business. The first keynote, most of which I missed thanks to my late arrival, featured Mark Surman of the Mozilla Foundation. I did catch all of the Marketing keynote with Gabe Zicherman, moderated by Stuart MacDonald. Zichermann, chair of the Gamification Summit and Workshops, and co-author of the book Game-Based Marketing, was absolutely fascinating and engaging. As an expert on gamification (a word I had heard rarely before this week), Zichermann spoke about the connection between the power of games with brand and marketing strategies.  Key quotes: “Crappy badges on a crappy Web site is not gamification” and “We need to put people in a state where they become one with the system and lose track of time, balanced between anxiety and boredom.” Ok, you had to be there.

Donna Papacosta speakingAfter lunch, crowds packed into the session on measuring online influence with Valeria Maltoni and David Armano, moderated by Mark Evans. I was unable to attend, since I was presenting on “podcasting for marketers” down the hall. I shared my more than five years of experience with the “why” and “how” of podcasting for marketing purposes, particularly in the B2B space.

I was a bit disappointed by the session I attended next. The guilty shall remain nameless, but I’d like to say that if you are ever asked to substitute for a colleague and deliver his or her presentation, you still need to prepare. If you say: “I’ve never seen these slides before; I’m reading them for the first time,” you will lose your audience. If there’s time to print your name in the program, there’s time for you to prepare. </rant>

The final session for me was on advertising on Facebook, with Rolf Dinsdale. Normally this is not an interest of mine, but I’m working on a project for a client where we will indeed be running Facebook ads. I did learn one key thing: To overbid on your pay-per-click ad to get better placement.

Many others have blogged and tweeted about some of the terrific sessions that I missed.  Check out this media coverage too:

Financial Post

Globe and Mail

And be sure to read Louise Armstrong’s thoughtful post on conference etiquette.

A big thank-you to the mesh guys: Stuart MacDonald, Mark Evans, Mathew Ingram, Mike McDerment and Rob Hyndman.

Note to Western Canadians: The first mesh west  happens in Calgary June 8, 2011.

Finally, here’s a link to the official mesh11 photos by CNW photographer Kaz Ehara. Thanks for capturing the first-ever picture of me speaking where I don’t look like an alien.


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Writer, speaker, podcaster, communications and social media consultant, workshop leader and part-time university instructor. As a consultant, I emphasize the importance of storytelling and relationship-building, and enjoy helping people understand how today’s technology, combined with tried-and-true tactics, can help them communicate better with employees, customers and prospects.


  1. Thanks for your interesting and comprehensive summary! Sure beats an endless stream of tweets, which constitutes the Globe & Mail’s “report.” Is your own presentation somewhere online or has someone else blogged about it?

  2. Good point, Sue. The tweet streams seem to only make sense if you were IN the session, in most cases. I have seen a couple of blog posts about my session. One was written by a non-English speaker and had lots of errors. I DO plan to put my own presentation online, but it will take me a few weeks to do so, because I want to record a narration for the slides. Too much on my plate now! I will let you know when it’s online.


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