I have attended many conferences in the last few years. Each offered fantastic opportunities to network, learn and make new friendships. At the end of each conference, we head in separate directions and our connections migrate to the online world using tools such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. It’s a model that’s worked well in many respects.

Compare those experiences to the one I had for the last three days at Ottawa Web Weekend. Thirty-six people of varied backgrounds, interests and experiences gathered and established themselves as part of a cohesive group with a common vision. Once we agreed on that vision — which, admittedly, had the potential to go very badly (thankfully, it was a very positive experience) — sub-groups were created and worked to complete individual component pieces of the goal.

Here is a model that dismisses the speaker-audience relationship and turns the whole event into a symbiotic learning experience. The project forces everyone to function in a team and (more importantly) to be part of a cooperative unit — it’s a very subtle yet important distinction. It’s community building at its best.

The strongest part of the experience is creating, debating and refining ideas with others. I worked with veterans and newcomers and learned as much from each.

My experiences were not limited to working with members of the marketing and business teams. I had regular dealings with the design team and some interaction with the developers. I made up for missed opportunities to work with others by taking time to speak with and even interview (for some podcasts) them during the occasional break.

There is a significant payoff: if successful, the project doesn’t end at the scheduled time. The group that, as we discovered last evening, realizes their goal will likely continue working together to further themselves and their project. That means that the real-life connections have longevity and additional meaning. The Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn connections reflect a real collaboration, friendship and (perhaps) a business affiliation.

After twenty-eight hours of working together in close quarters, the development and design teams demonstrated their achievements, and marketing, legal and business presented summaries of their plans. Then, something amazing happened. Everyone announced their intention to continue with the project and dates for our next meeting were kicked around.

When I think about the various conferences and events I have attended in the last few years, I realize that the Ottawa Web Weekend was by far the most educational, most innovative, most community-fostering and the one that will continue to deliver to and be delivered by everyone involved.

Note: more posts and podcasts — including the product announcement — to come.