FOO Camping in Sebastopol
Earlier this summer, I was honored to receive an invitation to FOO Camp, a geek camping event at the O'Reilly publishing HQ in Sebastopol, north of San Francisco.
So last Friday, I did the 7-8 hour drive from LA with danah and Graeme, a co-worker from News Corp in Sydney, stopping at In-N-Out Burger each way (thank you, sweet sweet GPS).
FOO is an unconference in the sense that invitees program the schedule (as in the case with Barcamp.) This year, there were about 300 people at FOO. It was exhausting, inspiring, humbling, intense, and wonderful.
A highlight for me was playing games run by Jane and danah--specifically Werewolf and OOF, a reverse scavenger hunt. Jane has a good OOF overview here, but basically it involves a team picking objects before getting the list of items to find, and then determining how each object is a perfect match for an item on the list. Rolling with David Weinberger's suggestion, our teams's objects were 9 lifesavers and Greg Stein.
We didn't win, but the exercise in constraints-based creativity was super-fun. Plus, it was great being thrown together to strive for a shared goal with folks I don't know. Sharing the experiences of competition and gaming provide a great shared context to refer back to later. Put non-geekily, gaming facilitates getting to know people faster, so thanks to danah and Jane for putting together some kick-ass games!
The conference sessions were excellent; in particular, I enjoyed these:
- Getting High Performance out of High Performance People, by Keoki Andrus (with whom I also had an excellent and serendipitious conversation on Friday),
- Creating Passionate Users, by Kathy Sierra (who was excellent and who I'd never heard live),
- What I learned from Y-Combinator, by Paul Graham (hopefully he's got an article version coming soon), and
- a reading of a chapter from David Weinberger's new book, Everything is Miscellaneous
I also participated in two of my own sessions: one on the future of online media with Mike from Newsvine, Jay from Digg, Adrian from the Washington Post, Gabe from Techmeme, and a couple of other really interesting people, and a far too-short and somewhat unsatisfying session on hacking the corporation (look for more on this soon) with Yahoos Bradley Horowitz and Caterina Fake. Hacking the corporation was unsatisfying because I wanted to talk about organizational democracy and hear how people have used technology to decentralize their organizations, but the session got off-course a little bit. I suspect this is because "hacking the corporation" was too vague a term, and thus resolving peoples' different interpretations took up much of the 20 minutes we had. Once we were on the same page, I got a lot of push-back on organizational democracy.
Lessons learned: set expectations earlier, and be better prepared for strong disagreement about a concept that significantly challenges the organizational design status quo.
I am extremely grateful to Tim and the rest of the O'Reilly crew for the opportunity to attend FOO, and for putting together such a tightly-run weekend. While often feeling like the dumbest guy in the room, I had a fantastic time. And while I'd love to go again in the future, I'd happily give up an invite so someone else can go. FOO is just too much fun to deprive deserving people of sharing the experience!