I had the privilege of attending FOO Camp this year and i have to admit it was an utter blast. I had the great fortune of having a partner in crime in the form of Miss Jane. She’s so amazing at inciting people to play and i’m so in awe of her so the opportunity to collaborate with her was glorious (although i’m totally intimidated by her ability to turn everything into a game). For our “demo,” we created a Zen Scavenger Hunt to explore the ideas of supergaming and social play. Jane explains the rules on her blog. In short, people are told to gather 12 objects and then we hand them a list and they have to find the objects listed amongst their twelve. Here was the list:
A problem (2 points)
A non-scalable solution to object #1 (3 points)
A scalable solution to object #1 (6 points)
A new mobile Web 2.0 platform (demo, please) (3 points)
An experiment in nanotech bioengineering gone bad (3 points)
A self-replicating machine (demo, please) (7 points)
A passenger amenity from the first commercial space flight shuttle (2 points)
A working tele-operated object (demo, please) (7 points)
A tool for collaboration (3 points)
A relic from the battle between the monkeys and the robots. (P.S. Who won?) (3 points)
Edible computing (demo, please) (6 points)
FOObarred TM Anti-Surveillance Device (4 points)
The folks who played were MAGNIFICENT. There were nanotech tooth cleaners, whiteboard wikis, edible tape… and then there was the dirty sock. Oh dear the dirty sock… Poor sock.
Also, with Jane’s instigation tendencies in full force, each night involved extended games of Werewolf. Thank goodness for play… i ended up getting to know so many people that i wouldn’t have thought to talk to otherwise. It broke clique structures and gave people a level playing game to actually get to know one another. Amazing really.
I have definitely decided that Werewolf is necessary for future events in this space. Folks in the Bay Area are going to gather to work through the best form of Werewolf for groups and i can’t wait to see how those iterations affect future conferences.
In addition to play, i did attend sessions and engage with people about ideas. I tried to go to things that i knew little about. The biotech/nanotech stuff was fascinating even though so much of it was over my head. I also went to a few where i could contribute – creating passionate users, public/private masks, taxonomies. I also had 1-1 conversations that went pretty deep. For example, Jimmy Wales and i dove deep into Wikipedia and that was completely mind-opening. That conversation alone made the entire weekend worth it to me.
I also held a session about the ways in which (real, not articulated) social networks connect to innovation and why diversity (intellectual, cultural and biological) is critical for everyone invested in technology. I’m going to work on a longer post about that one shortly. But the session was intended to get people thinking about how their social structures affect their ability to innovate. It helped motivate people to think about their own networks and how they learned from people entirely unlike them. It also created a brilliant conversation about conference organizing, bridging outside of your known relations and taking network effects seriously.
On a separate note, i want to take a moment to address the opening of this post. It was a privilege to attend FOO and i know that there are bad feelings and elitism critiques. I can truly understand both perspectives and i know that O’Reilly is trying to be transparent but that in that transparency, there are also hurt feelings and self-doubt. And this makes me sad and frustrated because i genuinely don’t know what the appropriate response is. I was uncertain as to whether or not i should document this event because some told me that it was irresponsible for me to attend an “elitist” event. But i chose to do so because good things did come of it and i wanted to record that. And i wanted to share the game that Jane and i did.
The problem with privilege is that much is gained from it. Ever since i went to college, i’ve seen the value of privilege. Politically, i’ve never believed in just tossing it away but trying to use it as an opportunity to engage with people about the core issue of privilege. This is why i did the session on networks and diversity – it let me address the topic without ranting; it let me educate and motivate people using their own self-interest as the key.
Unfortunately not everything is scalable and i don’t know how what should be done. I am very stoked that there was a second camp – BAR camp. And i definitely think there’s an interesting model in there. What would it mean for people to simultaneously organize lots of hyper diverse events? The trick would be to really mix people up – create a good balance of network cohesion and diversity. You don’t want to simply scale one event – not only because of physical space but social structure space. FOO is already too large and i know that O’Reilly is really uncertain of how to deal with success on that front. And besides, more would actually dilute the interaction. I only got to meet a fraction of people that i wished to meet because there’s a limit to the number of deep conversations possible in a short period of time. But the problem with multiple events is that people have to volunteer to organize them and engage people’s trust. That’s hard work.