etech 2007 opening round

I am attending etech again this year, having either ignored or overcome my reservations from last year.

I am not going to try live blogging this year, the network just gets to be too spotty to be worth it. Instead I'll take notes and try to distill them into something meaningful at various points during the days.

The opening session tonight as well as many of the day's tutorial sessions were eclipsed by something that didn't happen here: Kathy Sierra of Creating Passionate Users canceled her appearances here due to various threats she had received in the past few weeks leading up to death threats this weekend.

This is just unacceptable.

It is the sort of ooh, we were just kidding behavior that one sees in the political arena with various talking heads and anonymous trolls calling for the death or dismemberment of someone who dares to disagree with them.

There is no <intent> tag for comments or blog posts, no <context> tag. If you do not support the words you are writing, then do not write them. There is no right to anonymous speech on the Internet. Zero, none. It is a privilege, a quirk, but not a right, and it will disappear quickly if this becomes the norm for discourse.

I did not overhear much talk about this in the hallways tonight, but I am also extremely anti-social and more likely to be propping up a wall than hobknob with people.

Opening sessions

Rael Dornfest opened the conference tonight with a bit of a preview of the week. Perhaps the takeway is the tag line for this year: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Dornfest added that he/O'Reilly/etc. were looking for the small pivot points, the small changes in technology that move them from magic to real, practical uses. Examples cited included the proliferation of WiFi, the ubiquity of wireless devices.

Tim O'Reilly then took the stage for The O'Reilly Radar, zipping through a number of ideas, themes, memes, etc. that they have observed. A constant seemed to be the shift of ideas, processes from the technology world into meatspace. He cited examples of a kite manufacturer who has shifted from hand sewing kites (for kitesurfing) to designing kites on an (open source?) CAD program and then ships the designs to a manufacture in China. It takes five days from completion of design to having it back in the US and ready for testing or use.

Other examples cited were a manufacturer who has open sourced the hardware design for their geek consumer toy which I didn't catch the name of, focussing not on the easily commoditized product but on the software. Another example was the motorcycle industry in China which O'Reilly called comparable to linux distributions: many assemblers utilizes the same core manufacturers for parts and distinguish their resulting motorcycles by design and quality of assembly.

Tim called this notion creation networks.

He then moved on to talking about attention. Attention was last year's buzzword, what happened? Twitter happened, the Facebook news page happened. People seem to like sharing their attention streams. It is not enough to capture the streams using an attention recorder, people want to be able to share, view, use, mashup these streams and build new things from them.

O'Reilly moved on to the topic of Web 2.0 and Wall Street. The key observation being that like Wall Street and markets, the Web 2.0 world is a networked information economy. It relies on network effects to create and grow value in shared information. An observation he made: we have prediction markets now on the web which falter due to lack of "traders". On Wall Street you have market makers whose role is to keep trading moving. Who are the market makers of Web 2.0? What other lessons from Wall Street can be applied to things like Digg, attention markets, prediction markets, etc?

O'Reilly closed with a quote from Peter Norvig of Google (this is a paraphrase of a second party quote): We don't have better algorithms, we have more data. The context being Google's translation efforts. More data online with faster processors means you can teach the systems more thoroughly, more deeply.

I have no deep insights from what I saw tonight. Interesting topics from Tim and Rael to set the tone, will be interesting to see how other sessions proceed. And I'll miss Kathy Sierra's session, they have been quite good in the past.

Posted in ETech


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