I can't decide what is making it harder for me to write this morning. Is it the fact that I am still completely exhausted after a weekend of too little sleep and too much mental stimulation? Or is it the more mundane fact that God-awful music is blasting out of my speakerphone courtesy of the now 57 minutes I've been on hold with Bank of America credit card services? I'm going to go with mental overload because I refuse to cede the power to communicate to B of A musak.
This weekend I was privileged to attend Tim O'Reilly's FOO Camp. FOO stands for "Friends Of O'Reilly" but the crowd is only a small subsection of those who count Tim as a friend. Tim has long been not just a uncanny predictor of future technology trends but a supporter and promoter of both those technologies and the individuals responsible for inventing them and shepherding them from concept to phenomenon. The individuals present at this year's FOO Camp had played significant rolls in the creation and dissemination of some of the most important technologies over the past decades (from Lotus 1-2-3 to Perl, Python, Ruby, Flash, you name it). But the conversations of FOO Camp were clearly pointed at the future, which leaves one's mind spinning.
One of the things that is striking about FOO Camp is that nearly everything that takes place over the weekend is collaborative. Talks are rarely lectures -- they are conversations. Ad hoc projects at FOO take interesting twists and turns because they are necessarily interdisciplinary, driven by experts in hardware, software, networking, who are encouraged by the environment to think out of the box (a child of FOO's inventive environment was unveiled at this year's gathering -- Chumby is an open source hardware and software platform that truly embodies the collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of FOO). As I wandered around O'Reilly's campus Saturday night I was struck by the incredibly inclusive, social and creative energy everywhere -- in one room a group of folks were singing and strumming Simon and Garfunkel tunes, in another a crowd was engaged in their 5th or 6th hour of Werewolf, on the patio a few pyromaniacs enjoyed a fire sculpture involving propane and a zen sand garden, others gathered 'round the laser in Make Magazine's office engraving their laptops and cell phones with various a sundry images and insignia.
Two of my favorite sessions during FOO Camp were further testimony to the collaborative nature of the weekend. One of the "talks" was entitled "Halfbaked.com: entrepreneurial improv theatre." It was organized by Dave McClure, Paul Rademacher and James Levine, who had the great idea of randomly assigning teams of participants two word company names and, with fifteen minutes of preparation time, having them then present their business plans to a panel of VC judges (namely, me and Paul Graham). The results were clever and funny and felt sufficiently close to my day job as to be a little disconcerting. The winning team pitched Bottlecap Porn, fully functional (if somewhat under-featured) website and all. The other session I can't stop talking about was called "That Sucked," which was organized by Joshua Schachter. In Joshua's session, he started off by telling about times he'd been faced with technical challenges that really sucked. He then opened up the floor to the crowd to share their stories. The tales of woe expounded were like a history of computers gone bad, from printers shooting parts across the room to infinite loops to missing source code (the inspiration for SourceForge). They were simultaneously the geekiest and funniest stories I'd heard in some time. And like the "Halfbaked" session, virtually everyone in the room participated, making the session all the more illuminating and entertaining.
I hope that Tim and the entire O'Reilly organization get as much out of FOO Camp as do the participants. We all certainly owe him a debt of gratitude for hosting this incredible event.
Post Script: I hung up on Bank of America after being on hold for 190 minutes! I hope there is less of a wait when I call to cancel my card.