Report from FOO Camp ’06 [foocamp06]

looking up - FOO campFoo camp is an annual O’Reilly unconference event and I was fortunate enough to be there again for foocamp06. It’s an invite event, but all the details, notes and summaries are public at the event wiki.

Disclaimer: If ra-ra reports annoy you, skip this post – I’m positive about the whole thing. Yes I’m an O’Reilly author, yes I think the FOO gripes are mostly noise, and Yes I realize how convenient these opinions might appear to be.


  • My best unconference experience. I had conversations with so many good people outside my circles it’s beyond comparison. It was an intensely fun, intellectually challenging, and an entirely social weekend – I finished off a Moleskine with all the notes, contacts and ideas I found.
  • There were often a dozen simultaneous sessions (plus various interactive machines, projects, and, well, people) and I gave into chaos and jumped in: there was no right way, a metaphor for many things. I missed lots, but didn’t mind.
  • Random cool memories (skip if this annoys): Learned brain memory tricks from IMDB’s s HB Segel, had red wine spilled on me by Brian McLaughlin, sat across from Ray Ozzie as he showed me the history of shorthand, had an awesome audience including Kevin Kelly and Hal Varian listen to my innovation talk (can you say role reversal?), learned a new world of termenology for novel sex acts (innovation comes in all kinds), waxed philosophic by the fire till 4am with the folks from Poly9, and got to talk about Hyper-G to someone other than my dog.
  • Most people let me pick their brains for the innovation book – some even tracked me down after my session (it’s not too late), including Backyard Ballistic’s author William Gustelle, a work I’m a huge fan of – I had no idea its author was in the building. I highly recommend his work.
  • Joshua Schachter‘s “That sucked” session, where the floor was open for people to tell tales of things gone wrong. Every conference in the world needs a session like this: we learn more from failure than success. Paul Graham‘s tale of the bug that caused a plotter pen to fly across the room will stay in my mind forever.
  • The fact that i was so caught up with cool shit that, despite my best intentions, I missed Jane McConigal‘s Zen Scavenger hunt for the second year in a row.
  • Jogging Saturday at 8am on the awesome trail behind the apple grove. Awesome because I was 1) actually up at 8am 2) actually running and 3) had it mostly to myself.

Innovation session:

Lowlights / Observations:

  • The variance in session quality is astronomical: which is amazing as this had little impact on my total FOO experience. However a “how to run a good unconference session” tip sheet with light touch advice and examples would close the gap (draft in progresshere it is).
  • It’s my own fault, but I realized towards the end there were no writing focused sessions. With dozens of other authors/writers running around, something literary would have been fun.
  • I’m guessing fewer sessions were recorded or taped this year. I don’t know why, but the vibe was much less about blogging, posting and publishing in real-time than last year. Maybe this is not a lowlight – not sure.
  • Missed FooBarCrawl. Hadn’t even heard of this until I got home. Would have planned for it and went even though I live in Seattle. Awesome idea. If I’m invited back next year, I’d definitely do this.
  • Need to ask people who run sessions to do a better job capturing whatever was there: the post session notes are sparse, despite the wiki living on forever. Its sad to look up an amazing session I missed, or could have post hoc contributed to, only to hear the crickets of a blank wiki page.
  • (Fantasy) Wished for an audio/video wall between FOO and BAR camp, by the fire. Plus there should be a planet wide primal scream done simultaneously by all campers world wide.

I’m still jazzed about the whole thing: I haven’t stopped writing since I got home Sunday night.

Thanks to Tim, Sara, all the people who brought cool things to share and everyone who makes this thing happen.

6 Responses to “Report from FOO Camp ’06 [foocamp06]”


  1. […] I’m finally back home in Washington, DC and fully recovered from the three whirlwind days that made up O’Reilly’s epic FOO Camp 06 over the past weekend.  The event was nothing if not spectacular and included real camping, a genuine Google Earth fly-over, lots of opinionated discussion between extremely smart people, flamethrowing robots, and some excellent unconference material of all kinds including — of course — about Web 2.0. The first evening consisted primarily of getting settled in, having dinner, and general introductions in the big tent on the O’Reilly campus in Sebastopol, California.  I met plenty of folks I hadn’t met before including Dale Doughtery, the man who coined the term “Web 2.0″, and who also edits the popular MAKE magazine.  Though fun, it wasn’t until the next morning that things really got started. FOO Camp 06 – 1st Day The day’s sessions began at 10:00AM and I headed off to Timeless Code, a great session put together by D. Richard Hipp, creator of SQLite, and Greg Stein, chairman of the Apache Foundation.  Attended by David Heinemeier Hansson, Martin Fowler, and many others, the session explored how to make code last the test of time.  We explored the fact that some organizations are actively running code that’s decades old and that some organizations, particularly the government, plan for code to last for 30 years and more. Some folks brought up the intriguing Long Now project to build the Millenium Clock as an example of the types of challenges that it will take in order to make code resist aging including the disintegration of society and the transformation of language itself.  Tom Malloy of Adobe observed that Adobe is trying to figure out how to design PDFs to be readable a thousand years into the future.  The upshot is that as more Web content on the Web continues to accumulate, making it available to future generations will become a serious challenge.  Projects like The Wayback Machine, which makes already it possible to see virtually any Web site through the lens of time, will be essential stewards of our digital past to ensure we don’t ultimately lose most of the rich Internet ecosystem we’re quickly building with user generated content and Web 2.0 concepts. The next session was a thought provoking romp across the intellectual terrain of innovation and creative thinking given by Scott Berkun (be sure to read his great roll-up of FOO Camp here).  Attended by Caterina Fake, Tara Hunt, and a cast of others, Scott sparked conversation and debate across the spectrum. I found this session so fascinating I made a full digital movie of it I’ll make it available in the near future via my links.  Scott touched on common misperceptions on innovation and cited plenty of historical examples including Isaac Newton discovering gravity and how Thomas Edison developed the light bulb.  Afterwards I cited to Scott some fascinating thinking that John Hagel and John Seely Brown are doing on open innovation and something they call Creation Nets.  He promised to look into it for his forthcoming book on innovation which was ostensibly the subject for the session. At lunch, Google had a plane fly over and re-image the O’Reilly campus for Google Earth.  A sizeable crowd of folks all fell back onto the grass each time the plane went by, including for a few passes, Tim O’Reilly himself (in light blue shirt on the flyby picture to the left.) After lunch I attended a session given by Niall Kennedy and Sam Ruby on Syndication Hacks. It was after a terrific lunch and though I thought it might be a bit of a rough start, I couldn’t have been more mistaken.  A great general discussion about RSS and Atom syndication ensued and it was an excellent overview, particular for me, about the specific capabilities of Atom, which has a great REST-based model for the two-way use of a feed, allowing it to be used as a true general purpose Web service for lists of items.  Very excellent indeed. At 2:00PM, Kathy Sierra gave her usually amazing talk on Addictive User Experiences in the biggest room at FOO Camp (I think, anyway), in an auditorium up on the 3rd floor of one of O’Reilly buildings.  Right before it began I ran into Om Malik and had a chat with him and I conveyed to him how big a fan I was.  In any case, I was struck by how many of the techniques that Kathy talks about are of specific advantage when co-evolving Web 2.0 sites with users.  Best quote:  “Make the right thing easy, and the wrong thing hard to do.“ After this I went to Gregor Hohpe’s informative session on Out of Control: Working with Ultra Large Websites.  Gregor, who I haven’t seen since the SPARK event earlier this year, has done some well-known work with the design patterns of large, highly integrated systems and I was eager to learn more.  The discussion ranged around highly multicore systems, custom ruggedized file systems, management methods, monitoring tools, as well as radical decentralization — Web 2.0-style — using techniques like the BitTorrent protocol to scale out instead of up and use other people’s infrastructure to do it.  One thing is for sure, the incredible scale of our Web systems is pushing the edge of our abilities in many ways from reliability and scalability to cost effectiveness and design for manageability. FOO Camp 06 – 2nd Day The next morning it was my turn to give a session, the subject of which was Applying Web 2.0: Leveraging Network Effects for Fun and Profit.  I’ve been writing and speaking a lot lately on a core element of Web 2.0, namely network effects, and I’ve put a good edge on the material I think.  It was early on Sunday so the turnout wasn’t what I hoped for but the quality of the crowd more than made up for it including O’Reilly’s Brady Forrest.  Specifically, I’ve recently been researching precise ways of designing the invocation of widespread network effects directly into the architecture of a Web application.  A key observation here is the understanding that a network effect is specifically caused by the triggering of new, active connections amongst the universe of potential connections on a network. […]

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