ETech 2006 wrap-up

As ETech 2006 winds down, I wanted to mention some of the highlights as well as a lowlight. The conference highlights included the keynotes by Ray Ozzie, Jon Udell, Clay Shirky for their simple, practical ideas and insights.
Written by Phil Windley, Contributor

As ETech 2006 winds down, I wanted to mention some of the highlights as well as a lowlight.

The conference highlights included the keynotes by Ray Ozzie, Jon Udell, Clay Shirky for their simple, practical ideas and insights.

Ray Ozzie's talk contained a single, simple idea with real power: let's build a clipboard for the Web. And in true geek style, he came with working code. Microsoft can't do this on their own since it requires cooperation from too many entities beyond their control, but they can plant the idea, supply example code, and evangelize and that's just what Ray's doing. He had me as soon as he showed how you could cut and paste dynamic data as a feed.

Jon Udell's talk this morning was the most practical of the lot speaking to how one makes the most of the tools available to us on the Internet. Jon reduced his thoughts to four key ideas that came down to: organize your ideas well and use the right meta-information, build active, dynamic contexts for information that are future proofed, use the right, canonical names for things, and tell good stories. Jon's been making these points all along and I can testify to their usefulness.

Slightly less practical, but still applied was Clay Shirky's talk on moderation strategies. Clay made the point that network-based communities have a bimodal distribution: They either avoid "annoying" trolls by restricting the freedom of participants or put up with them. Yet, there are a few exceptions. Clay's studying the exceptions to understand what strategies they use for moderating community discussion.

There isn't just one strategy. The strategy used by Slashdot, for example, is very different from the strategy used by the Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan site The Bronze Beta. Clay's approach in using patterns is based on the observation that neither seeing a site like Slashdot in operation nor having its code seems to have been enough to transfer the moderation strategy to other applications. Patterns can transfer detail without being overly specific.

There were other talks that were noteworthy for their entertaining style and interesting ideas. I'd put Bruce Sterling's talk on the Internet of Things and George Dyson's talk on Turing's Cathederal in that camp. Both were almost impossible to write-up in a way that captures their real nature, but I'm sure they'll both be on IT Conversations soon and will be worth a listen.

The biggest lowlight was the last day of the conference. Overall, the conference venue, the Manchester Grand Hyatt, was great. Lots of room, plenty to do nearby, and pretty good meeting spaces--at least for the first two days.

The last day the conference moved to the third floor into a space that was just way too crowded and the Wi-Fi that had just been hobbling along before went completely dead. The network connectivity was so bad in one session I attended that speaker couldn't do what he'd planned to do. Someone in the audience volunteered their laptop with a EVDO card and the session was saved. I suspect there was some scheduling glitch, but it gave the impression that "the last day doesn't count."

The conference didn't have it's usual hacker flavor this year, at least for me, and I missed that.   Ironically, some of the sessions in the last day were among the best in terms of being by geeks for geeks and truly emerging.  Part of that might have to do with the theme.  Attention's an interesting topic, but I don't know there's a lot of the traditional hacker types that are paying attention, so to speak.   Maybe I missed them, but I didn't go to any sessions where some someone said "I've hacked this little thing to do attention for X." 

The most important idea from the conference was Doc Searls turning attention inside-out to talk about intention. I wrote about that in some detail last night, so I won't rehash it, but all the discussion of attention did result in more than just smoke.

There were a few announcements at the conference, but the one I thought was the most underreported was AOL's announcement that they were opening up AIM and providing a developer SDK. This could be a source of fun new apps on IM.

Bottom line: Emerging Technology lived up to it's reputation as a great place to find out about what developers are up to and to hammer out understanding on complex ideas like attention. I'm glad I came.

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