Affinity dots Here's a trouble-free networking idea that's a tradition at science fiction conferences and is easy to adapt to any kind of group. You'll need a variety of colored stick-on dots, some felt-tipped pens, and a large easel with a writing pad. With that small investment you can create--and have attendees create--affinity dots.

Affinity dots are stickers that attendees add to their badges that tell something about themselves. Leave the dots, pens, and flipchart-type pad by the registration area with a dozen model dots to get people started. For example, a yellow dot with a P on it might mean "Monty Python fan." Or an red dot with a pair of parentheses might mean "Let's talk about color calibration." Or a green dot with a BSD is "I do BSD systems." The key to each dot's meaning would be recorded on the pad.

This idea comes to us from Eric Raymond, president of Open Source Initiative, who spoke to us for the story on IDG's LinuxWorld Conference & Expo. (See page 50.) "What you do," Raymond says, "is encourage people to create these affinity dots for themselves and put them on their badges, and encourage people to create their own affinity dots. People can get quite creative and quite funny about this.

"Anything that increases the social richness of the convention tends to have good consequences. [Affinity dots] give people more handles on a situation for deciding who it would be productive to talk to. They even function as an ice-breaker. If you see someone with an affinity dot, it gives you an excuse to talk with them if you want to."