On technology’s leading edge Web 2.0 community, something called the “unconference” has gained a great deal f popularity. These are events where people with similar tech passions are gathered together without speakers or agenda. Attendees often sleep overnight on floors. The idea is to have an open source exchange of ideas. The events self-organize, where people who want to discuss a subject gather together almost ad hoc. The signal flag is to have the word “camp” in the title of the gathering.
I’ve reached an age where camping for me involves a nice hotel with a tree in front. To date, I’ve avoided attending. But their power and gathering strength in the Web 2.0 community cannot be denied and the ideas that have come out of them have earned my respect. These new unconferences seem to me to be a Petri dish for innovation.
So when TechDirt, a seven-year-old blog-centric corporate intelligence company announced it was holding a Web 2.0 Greenhouse event in Sunnyvale’s Plug & Play meeting facilities, we immediately became interested. TechDirt is a savvy group. I regularly read their blog , which I believe is written by founder-president Mike Masnick (I say believe because the company is apparently rife with guys named Mike). TechDirt’s core service is to deliver highly customized daily newsletters on information relevant to a specific company. The company may redistribute it through their own intranet or to clients.
This has always seemed to me a good idea and I’ve been vowing to myself to dig deeper into it one of these days. Yesterday turned out to be the day, although it was only for a two-hour sampling of the daylong Greenhouse event. If the Web 2.9 camps are a Petri dish, then the appropriately named Greenhouse is the next step in the evolutionary process.
While the camps maximize audience participation by minimizing structure and making it all audience participation, TechDirt Greenhouse gives real structure, while brilliantly integrating the audience into the value of the event, going far further than the usual Q&A and traditional conferences.
They even had one luminary speaker, Andy Kessler, a respected financial analyst and successful author, who advised the Web 2.0-focused audience on the essential needs for monetizing their good ideas. The remainder of the format involved very brief and informal presentations by Web 2.0 companies who were asking the audience to help them resolve specific problems.
After hearing several of them, the audience of about 50 would subdivided into small groups, where they would work on generating specific suggestions on how to resolve the problems. For example, I followed a company called Loomia, which described itself as a company that gets beyond search to give you relevance. The problem is that to accomplish this, they need to know something about your tastes and preferences and this leads to a privacy issue.
I joined the breakout group headed by Tracy Sheridan who met with the Loomia founder and gave him armloads of constructive ideas on how the problem might be addressed or circumvented. When the group merged into the general assembly, Tracy’s representative read the list of suggestions we had come up with as did the other subcommittee heads.
Although I only attended a fraction of the overall event, I was impressed on several levels. I attended no event better organized to take advantage of the wisdom of crowds. The quality and thoughtfulness of attendees was apparent wherever I looked. The ideas to real business problems, were occasionally naïve, in my opinion, but more often they were creative, concrete, funny or occasionally inspired.
I think TechDirt is on to something with Greenhouse. I hope t spend a full day with a future event by this innovative new group. I think both are worth watching.