After a blur of a long weekend in Dublin, Ireland, I'm replaying in my mind the course of events that took place at Mashup Camp Dublin and the great many new and old friendships that I and the rest of the Mashup Camp team either started fresh or nurtured.
When Mashup Camp founder Doug Gold and I first started talking about taking Mashup Camp to Europe, I honestly think both of us were privately thinking that the other one was crazy. After all, in its less than two-year existence, our fledgling startup that's behind Mashup Camp -- Mass Events Labs -- has only produced a handful of events.
Heck.. we're still tweaking the formula for our events in the US, and there the both of us were talking about Europe? Although we've both been to Europe several times, we aren't what I'd think of as experts on the lay of any local land outside US borders. Isn't exporting events to Europe the domain of those big global event production companies? If we had business advisers, I'm certain they would have recommended against the idea -- telling us to focus on our domestic events before thinking internationally. But then again, Mashup Camp itself wasn't exactly the result of some well fleshed-out business plan. In fact, there wasn't even a business plan.
As several witnesses (including Doc Searls, Mary Hodder, Chad Dickerson and my partner Doug Gold) can attest to, without being sure how, when, or where the first Mashup Camp would be held and within a couple of days of thinking of the idea out-loud in their presence, I announced that we (Doug and I) were going for it. In other words, we don't exactly have a track record for figuring things out first, and doing them second. So who was I or Doug to tell the other that perhaps it's time to think things through before heading across an ocean and venturing into the complete unknown?
Even crazier? Yo Doug, let's start with a country that neither one of us has ever been to. Yeah, that's right. Between the two of us, we've been to the UK, France, Germany, Denmark, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, Spain, Belgium, Italy, Sweden, Austria, and the Netherlands (where my wife is from and my Dutch is passable). But screw all that. Let's start with Ireland.
That question was asked of me over and over and over again -- during the days leading up to Camp (by attendees as well as the Cork,Ireland-based blogger/podcaster Tom Raftery) and up until about half way through Mashup Camp at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin (headquarters to the stout beer maker). "Certainly," as many asked, "there are other popular European destinations that are central to Europe's software developers." For example There's London, Berlin, and Amsterdam just to name a few (the last city of which many American Mashup Campers suggested we target for our first European venture). Why not one of those hotspots?
To be honest, I have no empirical rationale for why, in our minds, Dublin was beckoning louder. That said, in my 16 years as a tech journalist, most invitations from American hi-tech outfits to see their European facilities were invitations to go to Ireland. In my mind, I've always pictured Ireland as a tech hub. And, with some of the most outspoken members of the European software development and Web 2.0 communities hailing from Ireland (not that they aren't in other European locations as well), there was was a certain buzz emanating from Ireland. Though Doug and I couldn't put our thumbs directly on the pulse of that buzz, we both sensed that there was something special about Ireland. And with hardly a second thought, we picked Dublin for our first European venture. Now, in hindsight, we're glad we did.
If it could be said that there's a unique and special soul to the software developer, that soul definitely thrived in Ireland this past weekend where developers from not just Ireland, but other parts of Europe as well, descended on Dublin for what those in attendance were telling me was actually the first technical event to come to Ireland. Over and over again, I heard how Ireland is starving for technical events but how none of the major event production companies has had the guts to bring one there. It seems odd to me given how many IT and Internet giants have parked major points of presence in Ireland; IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, AOL, and HP just to name a few.
"Yes, there are other technology events that come to Ireland," we were told. "But they are more marketing in nature. There's no content there for technical folks like developers to really sink their teeth into." Mashup Camp apparently gave them what they were looking for. Although I should point out that, as an unconference -- where the content is for the attendee, by the attendee -- they actually ended up giving themselves what they were looking for. Not just during the on-hours of the event. But also during the off-hours when we roamed Dublin's Temple Bar district less like birds of a business feather flocking together and more like brothers and sisters in search of life conversations (not just with each other but the locals too), local stout beer, and the live oscillations of Uillean pipes that drone so emotionally that you're made to wish you're Irish if you aren't.
There in Ireland, the same patriotic glue that binds the locals together can also be found binding the local developers together for a family-like comaradarie -- one into which technologists from Europe, the US and anywhere else are very warmly welcomed -- one that I'm not sure I've observed elsewhere.
In absence of the technical events that I'm told Ireland craves -- ones that might typically provide the venue for regularly recurring and productive developer get-togethers the way so many domestic events do -- the regional developer community appears to have taken matters into its own hands by scheduling "open coffees" and other periodic meetups. The result appears to be a technical brother/sisterhood that runs deep, but friendships that run deeper. In fact, it's apparently not uncommon for the friends, family, and significant others of developers to join in the festivities as they did when Doug and I hosted a party at the small but traditional Irish pub The Bankers. These friendships cross party lines too. The members of the community who are vendor representatives by day are simply part of the family by night where the conversation is sometimes hardly about tech.
That's not to say that the conversation wasn't also richly tech as well. Not only did we have a healthy contingent of business technologists at Mashup Camp (in fact, Enterprise Ireland helped us to pull it off) all of whom were eager to talk about the implications of mashups on business, the attendees -- a bunch of whom hacked mashups on-site -- were extremely well versed in the sciences of mashups, APIs, Web services, and Software as a Service. In other words, we're talking about a community of developers with the technical credentials that are as good as those you'll find anywhere else in the world -- but one, it seems to me, with a slightly greater proclivity to "early adopt" the mashup approach to behind the firewall application development for businesses than I've seen domestically. Based on what I've seen, European businesses (and consumers for that matter) are quicker to take action on disruptive technologies than are their American counterparts so long as the potential for impact is significant (as it is with mashups).
On the second day of what was a 3-day Camp, Kapow product manager Andreas Krohn, a developer himself, came up to me and said that the conversation happening at Mashup Camp was "absolutely world class." I'd add to that that so too were the friendships we forged. As much as events like Mashup Camp are about technology and opportunity, Mashup Camp Dublin served as a reminder that it's just as much, if not more, about people and relationships.
So, to the great many friends we left behind in Europe when our Aer Lingus flight departed for Boston, please hold a seat and a pint of Guinness Stout for us at The Porter House, The Bankers, Oliver St. John Gogarty's, or the Fitzsimons. We're already plotting our return.