In a shift to the softer side of life for its mostly technologist attendees -- more of a "humanities" focus, as one observer termed it -- the 2007 version of the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference was decidedly different from previous editions. It turns out that technology is really about people, and life, and fun, and happiness, and good health, ETech was trying to tell us. With that decidedly more fuzzy focus, one might conclude that the technology industry is indeed showing its age.
The O'Reilly organization produces a lot of conferences. I don't know how many of them have continued under the same name for a half-dozen years, as ETech has. Technology conference life-cycles rarely last this long, which is a tribute to O'Reilly. But the general, if largely unspoken, feeling this year was that this event -- which has had so many ardent followers for so long -- seemed to be struggling for an identity in its sixth year, or at best was in transition. Not that it didn't draw a big crowd, or feature many great speakers and presentations. It was just difficult to put one's finger on an overriding takeaway from this one -- except that there wasn't one.
And maybe that was the point. More than one attendee was heard to say that this year's conference really didn't feature any breakthrough emerging technologies. There were no news events, no major introductions of anything we hadn't already heard about. ETech was just a huge mixed bag -- a potpourri of so much stuff, so many topics, there was surely something here for everyone. But attendees had to really work at this conference experience to get their money's worth, making their own way and defining their own takeaways. More than several I spoke with seemed at a loss to explain the event for themselves, personally.
O’Reilly chose a "magic" theme this year, which was interesting, though abstract in its promise and not entirely paid off in the execution. But there were many fun moments. The evening events, the “mathamagician” show, the Make Fair, the Werewolf game session, all were big favorites. And the "1/2 Baked" session that Dave McClure put on was an absolute laugh riot. Five teams of five were each given two random words, as contributed by the audience, and had about 15 minutes to come up with a company pitch to a panel of VCs, based on these arbitrary company names. (The strange theme of at least three of these names? Death. Hmmm....)
No one would argue against the fact that this is an insider event for geeks. Non-developers cannot possibly understand what all these self-defined "cool kids" are talking about half the time. And that's just fine with them: They’re just here to have a good time. In fact, that's the main definition I had in my head about this event before I got here, anyway, based on past experience: It's primarily a big, fun time for developers.
This ETech was a long one. Many people arrived Sunday and stayed through Thursday afternoon. There were even some pre-event, more business-focused tutorial sessions on Monday, but I wasn't able to make it to ETech till Monday evening. One of these tutorials, for aspiring entrepreneurs, I'm especially bummed I missed: "Coder to Co-Founder: Entrepreneuring for Geeks", by the founder of Wasabe, Mark Hedlund. But this post by Phil Windley recaps it wonderfully.
There were too many sessions for me to recount, though I did post about several on my blog. But the best overall recap I've seen is Another ETech Sprint Complete, by Chris Lott at his Ruminate blog. And Dylan Tweney's interview of Tim O'Reilly as the event wound down, posted on his Wired News Epicenter Blog, O'Reilly Wraps Up, is telling.
Want more takeaways? Search for etech2007 on Technorati, and read blog posts from individual attendees. You'll get as many perspectives as there were people. And again, maybe that’s the whole point of this year: No strong, consistent theme, just a whole lotta tech.
-- Graeme Thickins