Here are my short notes from the FOO gathering/conference last week. FOO (Friends of O’Reilly) is an informal conference like thing held at O’Reilly Media’s main campus in Sebastapol, CA. This year (my first) saw some complaints over the invite list, and a bay-area response (the Bar camp).
- Informality breeds ideas . Despite the number of people the whole thing felt informal, low tech and open. There was no session plan: the first night a big board was put up, and people spend the next hour writing sessions in, moving things around. Totally ad-hoc and chaotic, which, once I got used to it, was wonderful. There were plenty of slots for anyone that wanted to present (though no guarantees anyone would show :). Some sessions were slide decks, others coversations and many were just demos.
- Coolest stuff seen. Mind you, there were 5 times more sessions than I could possibly have seen and I missed all of Sunday. The Inventibles was most memorible: clever uses of new materials for all kinds of things. And they seemed to be sooo enjoying what they were doing. Squid-labs was a close second, (check out rope and sound) . Black Ops of TCP/IP scared the crap out of me. I missed the Zen scavenger hunt. FOO has posted some session slides and notes.
- People are friendly when they camp. Because everyone is camping out on the lawn or crashing in empty offices, there’s less pretension, and because the spaces are all shared, it’s natural to be communal (Can I borrow X?). Some conferences always make me feel like I’m at dog show, with little ribbons and awards for everything. Well, making people camp and share showers kills much of that pretension. On the flight home, flipping through Wired magazine, I saw mentions of several people I’d met and shared beer with over the weekend, not completely understanding who they were until then.
- The basics make things work (and FOO nailed them). I’ve run or attended many events, and the good ones nail the basics: environment, food, tone. Beyond the camping environment, the O’Reilly offices had wi-fi, kitchens, and plenty of conference rooms and offices for our use. Super generous. The food was hi quality buffet style, open bar, and the kitchen staff were great. And Tim and Sara set the right tone: Tim’s opening remarks (an anti-keynote keynote) and friendly style gave a baseline to everyone for how we should treat each other.
- I’m not as techy as I used to be. Many of the sessions where technological explorations: “here’s an amazing thing, used in a cool way”. But I often felt I’ve been taking too many curmudgeon pills: I kept asking myself ‘where does this go?’, “who does this help?’ and ‘what does this change?’ and not finding answers interesting enough to stick around. I realized how much more I’m interested in design in every sense, the process for coming up with ideas and matching them to problems, and how to manage a gang of people in that process, than anything else. The sessions definitely had an emphasis on new technologies (social software, taging, open source, podcasting, etc.) and different levels of thinking about how to build with them – which I connected with – just not as intensely as the other folks I met. And speaking of more worldly thoughts, I did have some great conversations with Alex from worldchanging.com, and got to meet Jim from benetech.org