Blogging was where we began, and how we built our company so we have preserved this archive to show how our thinking developed over a decade of developing the use of social technology inside organisations

ETCON: roundup and impressions

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The Emerging Technology Conference is an extraordinary event that always seems to attract a fascinating variety of interesting, committed and clever people, who come together to discuss the future of social software and other technologies and approaches. Key themes were social networking tools, applications of social software ideas and various new ideas concerning how we think about what we do – see links at the bottom of this piece
session.jpgThis year’s event was in sunny San Diego (Chris Heathcote and friends produced a guide and experimented with collaborative mapping ), which meant many of us foreigners used Los Angeles as a stop-off point and decompression chamber. Apple’s flagship LA store, incidentally, was way too tempting, so I am glad I only got to play with a G4 server cluster in the conference *after* I had been to the store
It is most refreshing to see such an intensive cross-fertilisation of ideas between geeks, business people, academics and others concerned with the future of social computing in an open and receptive environment. Most people here really care about what they do, and are highly sensitive to the social impact of technology – in short they want to do good stuff. That was why the two presentations involving military technology stood out like a sore thumb, and gave rise to an undercurrent of anti-robot jokes such as Tom Coates’ Is there a ROBOT OVERLORD in your future?, although nobody took it out on the harmless little bot that followed people around in the exhibition hall. The only thing more frightening than the US military attempting to recruit ETCON geeks is perhaps Orkut giving Marc Canter a Valentine card feature to play with
This is probably the only place I know where I feel comfortable asking a hacker to watch my logged in computer whilst I go to the bathroom, and then get a live demo of network packet sniffing to educate me on the vulnerabilities of open wireless networks and unencrypted traffic – it’s amazing how many people still pass enencrypted passwords across open networks (myself included, but no longer!). The Dachb0den hackers loft crew have been amazingly friendly and hospitable, from letting people sleep on their floor to hosting the main party tonight – special props to George for an education in San Diego tapas and novelty drinks
Indeed, where else do you see popular authors like the wonderful Cory Doctorow not only give away their content but actively encourage others to re-write it, or developers like Joshuah Schacter build amazing services for others to use as a basis for commercial applications, but with no apparent interest in exploiting it himself
Another feature of the conference is the large and talented British contingent who make the journey every year – at least nine people from the BBC, others from mobile telecoms companies, freelance developers and policy wonks. They tend to have a more critical perspective on technological developments than the local attendees, but that makes for a good balance between optimism and thoughtfulness
Tim O’Reilly kicked off the conference with his usual keynote that set out the issues at hand – mostly the development of new applications that embed social networking and social software techniques in a meaningful context and the opening up of services that combine and re-combine community-generated information. Quinn captured the spirit well, David Weinberger caught the main themes and Trevor Smith transcribed most of the session in his collaborative notes
There followed three days packed with ideas, debates and glimpses of new technologies and applications, which was exhausting but rewarding. The funniest and most engaging presentation was Danny O’Brien’s Tech Secrets of Overprolific Alpha Geeks, which Cory Doctorow wrote up here (if you don’t know what a shell is, look away now…). The most thought-provoking session was probably Matt Webb’s mind-bending talk about a tiny application called Glancing (but that’s not the half of it!)
The conference Wiki provides links to notes of presentations and blog coverage, as well as the full presentations where available. Tom Coates’ coverage also deserves a special mention for maintaining an articulate writing style throughout the conference, despite the information overload that ended up making his head hurt like everybody else
Several key thematic areas have emerged during the conference, and I shall try to reflect briefly on the ones that made the most impact on me

  • Social networking tools: new developments, tools and ideas in the are of online social networking on both PC and mobile platforms
  • Social software in action: practical applications of social software in a variety of commercial and non-commercial contexts
  • Ideas and new thinking about language, fluidity and emergence and the design and technology values required to support these ideas


wires_sm.jpgETCON 2004: impressions and ideas from the annual gathering of social software geeks and thinkers

One Response to ETCON: roundup and impressions

  1. By Designing for Civil Society on February 15, 2004 at 1:00 pm

    Emerging Technology Conference roundup

    Lee Bryant of Headshift has provided a useful roundup of the San Diego ETCon and social networking developments. The guys from iSociety were there too presenting ideas for using social software in Skyhouse, and referenced the collectively blogged (or w…