FOO Camp – My Meta Experience

This past weekend, I had the fortune of attending FOO Camp 08, O’Reilly Publishing’s confab on their campus in Sebastopol. FOO Camp is the original tech “unconference”, where there is no pre-set program. There’s an empty grid of presentation and discussion slots, and attendees fill them out.

I enjoyed myself, though it took me a while to find a rhythm. The experience is a little disorienting at first, as you navigate the space, the people, and the program, all of which feels like it’s shifting. I didn’t really get the hang of it all until the end of the first full day, when I finally just began to relax and engage with the people around me.

There’s an adage that the best part of conferences are the hallway conversations, and one point of the unconference is to create an event that is all hallway conversations. The thing is, the hallway conversations at FOO Camp were still much more interesting than the vast majority of the sessions (including the session I lead… more on that in a bit). There’s something about the spontaneity and organicness of a simple conversation that simply can’t be improved upon.

I also suspect I didn’t choose sessions well. Most of the ones I attended were “meh,” though I’d hear about other great sessions after the fact.

What I learned is how not to run a session. Jeff and I facilitated a discussion around new user experiences that go beyond keyboard and mouse. I didn’t want to overly define the session, and as such, it ended up being far too broad and diffuse. There’s an art to crafting a topic that finds a happy medium, where it’s not too narrow that it discourages exploration, but not so broad that there is no anchor. If I were to do it over, I’d have chosen a narrower aspect of new user experiences (probably natural interfaces (touchscreen, gesture, voice input, etc.) and use that to go deeper.

Tim only knows if I’ll be invited back next year.