A tale of two conferences, lessons for the PDC
The past two weekends have seen two remarkable events (Dave Winer's BloggerCon and Tim O'Reilly's FooCamp). One was open to the public. One was a “by-invitation-only” event. Both innovated in the way that the audience was encouraged to participate.
What lessons does that hold for “big industry events” like Microsoft's upcoming PDC? (Which is expected to sell out today with more than 7000 attendees).
First, what were some of the innovations?
BloggerCon innovated in a few ways:
1) It had a “free to the public” day where everyone could come and be a part of the session.
2) It broadcast all the events to the public and had a live chat room going where you could add your own two cents without even attending the conference.
3) The session moderators were expected to get the audience involved and many played “Oprah” with the microphone, getting tons of audience feedback.
4) It was a conference by and for webloggers, so there were tons of great weblogs after the event.
O'Reilly's CampFoo was a private party. But, it had its own innovations:
1) There were no sessions planned in advance (even though we had a wiki for a week or two to try to get something going).
2) There were no speakers, no moderators, no “idea police.”
3) There was a Wiki. If I didn't like an idea, I could have erased it. I didn't see any of that going on, though.
4) There was an IRC chat room, an Apple Rendevous room, and a non-stop hallway conversation — when I say non stop I mean it. On Friday I talked with people until 4 a.m.
5) There was absolutely no expectation that you'd go to sessions — they had a bar and a tent up full time. 802.11 was everywhere and you could just sit outside and enjoy the sun, if that's what you wanted to do. My son, for instance, watched some water rocket launches (Doc Searls has pictures) and played some video games, taught eBay (er, Jeffrey McManus) about Yu-Gi-Oh! cards and explored the deep recesses of the O'Reilly compound.
6) By having a campout, folks who are broke like me could attend (Patrick and I slept on the floor of one of O'Reilly's conference room). I couldn't attend BloggerCon because of the cost of traveling cross-country and staying in a hotel room. My wife Maryam's unemployment benefits recently ran out and that's putting great strain on our budgets (hopefully things go her way soon, she had an interview last week with an insurance company — she likes doing event planning — and another with a different company this week).
Both weekends were quite remarkable. I really should have gone to BloggerCon. FooCamp was over the top. Let me explain. Patrick and I arrived Friday evening at about 10 p.m. We were both hungry, so we checked in, got our badges, and made an initial tour to figure out where everything was located.
Soon we were pointed to the O'Reilly kitchen. It was mostly empty. A few people would come in, visit the fridge, grab a piece of leftover chicken, and disappear. I was tired, so sat down and started munching. Well, slowly people came in, and started to sit down with me. First, Robert Lefkowitz, an exec with AT&T Wireless. Then Doc Searls. You all know him and if you don't, it's about time you got on the ClueTrain. Then Yossi Vardi, the guy who funded the development of ICQ (one of the three guys who wrote that was his son). He remembered me because I had one of the first websites that recommended ICQ. OK, now the party was suddenly very interesting. Got three guys who come from different places (Yossi is a negotiator on one of Israel's peace negotiation teams) and you've got something fun. But, it only got better. Linda Stone walks in. She used to work for Microsoft and others. Then Sergey Brin and Larry Page come in (co-founders of Google) looking for food and they see an interesting conversation taking place so they sit down and start talking with people and generally fooling around (I have pictures of the two juggling bottles of water). Then Tim O'Reilly walks in. OK, now this is getting real weird. I'm eating dinner with all of these folks and this is just my first two-hour experience.
Guess what, it only gets better. Then Kevin Marks walks in, says “Scoble, you gotta come, Stuart Cheshire from Apple is giving a talk on ZeroConf and Rendevous and you just have to see this.” It was about 11:30 p.m. I thought “this had better be good to get me away from this conversation.”
It was, my 21 hours at CampFoo was just like that — it just kept getting better and better — on Saturday afternoon I had a lengthy conversation with Bob Frankston, one of the inventors of the spreadsheet.
So, back to what the PDC can learn.
Well, the PDC is a centrally-produced experience. Unlike O'Reilly we've already made up most of the sessions. But, we are trying a similar model. The evening BOF's are sessions that attendees are giving.
The PDC is being run by a huge corporate monolith. But, we want to hear what people have to say to each other and to us. So, there's PDC Weblogs, and newsgroups (the newsgroups, we expect, will be a powerful force for normal everyday developers to get heard).
Anyway, it's been a month of extraordinary events so far. Pop!Tech is this week. Can't wait to see the conversations that one starts. And then the PDC ends up the month.
It's pretty clear that the event industry is coming back, but in a different, more attendee-centric, form. Do you disagree? Agree? What do you wish conferences and events would do for you?
By the way, I was gonna link to a bunch of sites, but I gotta go to work. Doc Searls seems to catch the highlights very well. Start there, he links to everything good that I've seen on the two events. [The Scobleizer Weblog]