I Camp. You Camp. Foo Camp.
This weekend I was psyched and honored to attend Tim O’Reilly’s third annual Foo Camp in Sebastopol, California. Aside from being one of the best professional/academic gatherings I’ve been to, it reminded me exactly how little I know. Ever sit in a room full of 20 people laughing at a joke you don’t even begin to understand? Multiple times? It’s humbling.
I experienced a little of that this weekend, not to mention breaking bread (or keg) with the some of the people I most respect in this industry. To try and remember every conversation would be futile, but the most surreal moment for me was at a dinner table with Esther Dyson and Jeff Bezos when I relayed to Jeff that we used his original attorney at Amazon to incorporate our own company. Apparently this attorney was also instrumental in talking Jeff out of Amazon’s original name “Cadabra” (sounded too much like “Cadaver”).
*Note: 2nd most surreal moment — riding an off-road Segway for the first time. Fun!
This weekend wasn’t about networking though, and that’s what made it so different and so much better than any conference I’ve been to. Nobody pitched their product, nobody talked about how great their company was, and nobody tried to appear better than anyone else. In essence, the political and competitive aspects were completely absent, and replacing them was genuine altruistic discourse. People demoed concepts and expressed opinions they’d never do in an open forum with the simple caveat “Please don’t blog about this.” In other words, there was no agenda other than the exploration of ideas.
I was also struck by how little millions of dollars seem to change great technologists. Brewster Kahle sold his company to Amazon for $250 million several years ago and the cat is still hard at work and walking around in 10 year old New Balances. Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake are freshly minted from their $35 million sale of Flickr to Yahoo and not only have they continued their great work at Flickr, but their pace of innovation seems to have actually increased.
There were only a few other designers at Foo Camp so perhaps that led a bit to my fish-out-of-water feeling, but in the end, that could have been the best thing about the event. I’d rather stand around a campfire with an engineer, a CEO, a video producer, and a sociologist and talk about mass transportation than talk about Gaussian Blurs with a bunch of people who are already like me. This phenomenon was actually the subject of many conversations around tagging and communities; do you really want your online information so tuned to your current tastes that you are never exposed to anything new?
Anyway, it was a great weekend and I sincerely hope a new crop of people are able to enjoy it next year. I’d certainly go again, but I much agree with Scoble on the issue:
“I’d far prefer that someone else had a chance at it… Let’s put it this way… I was dragging down the IQ scale.”
You and me both.