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by Jay Fienberg

Idea: hurling technology conference

posted: Mar 16, 2005 8:01:18 PM

I haven't yet attended an (Etech) conference, or a South by Southwest Interactive (SWSXi) conference. And, I'd really like to attend both someday (maybe next year)—they seem like good places to meet interesting people who are doing interesting things.

But, in looking at the programs and various presentation transcripts, it seems like both have turned into "establishment" events with predictable topics / speakers that are like so 6-12 months ago. Even cool and interesting people seem to be presenting on the topics they already blogged about too many months ago.

Maybe it's just an artifact of how much effort goes into these big conferences, e.g., the presentation topics got picked 6-12 months ago. So, maybe what I'm imaginging as better is something that can only be done as a kind-of LobbyCon.

But, I'd like to go to a conference on new technology (and, new social / cultural developments enabled by technology) that covers topics A-list bloggers have never or barely even blogged about. Or, if an A-lister were presenting, it would have to be about their most controversial ideas that practically no other A-lister has agreed with.

So, if A-listers are widely quoting you / linking to you—um, maybe your topic is no longer representative of something emerging. Maybe this restriction would create too much of a "crackpot" conference. And, maybe that's a bad idea.

But, maybe it could be like: stuff you know people are experimenting with, but you know you don't grok yet—because you can't. Most presentations would not be about answers, but about still inconclusive, but interesting, experiments.

Anyway, I was thinking it could be called the "hurling technology conference"—the word "hurling" suggesting a sonic twist on the word "emerging", as well as having some interesting connotations.

Here are some interesting transcripts and commentaries about ETech and SWSXi presentations that suggest (to me) the need for a different kind-of conference:

I realize that it's probably dumb of me to criticize these conferences I haven't attended. As I said at the top, I look forward to attending these conferences myself in the future.

But, I mostly just wanted to see if anyone else was envisioning a conference with topics / presenters that were maybe even more quirky / off the beaten track. (Though, maybe there'd be a Groucho-paradox: what quirky-enough presenter would present at a conference that'd be willing to invite them to present?)

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Comment by: Justin Martenstein ·
posted: Mar 17, 2005 10:45:53 AM

The problem with ETech is that, in order to get so many smart people all together at once, you have to plan ahead. So they set up their speakers and their tutorials, etc. six months ahead of time, and then everything is six months behind.

I think in order to something that truly encompasses "Hurling Technology", it would have to be assembled quick, cheap and locally. Essentially, I'm thinking of recurring meetings that are structured around one or more topics / presenters. From there, it just gives people a chance to gather, innovate and brainstorm on each other's ideas.

Ted Leung has actually been talking about something like that here in Seattle:

The problem is, it's just talk right now and nobody's really done anything about it.

Comment by: Jay Fienberg ·
posted: Mar 17, 2005 12:23:28 PM

Thanks for the comment Justin, and for the link to Ted's post. Conferences take a lot of work, and I feel a little silly criticizing Etech and SXSWi, because they are, by almost all firsthand accounts, pretty great conferences.

But, Ted Leung is a good example of someone who'd be interesting to hear speak about some of the details of what's developing at the OSAF, or any side projects he may be doing. It seems like there weren't so many folks like Ted at ETech this year.

I'm new to Seattle, and I've just started connecting with folks up here. And, I definitely would be interested in the kind-of informal gathering that you and Ted are each talking about. I'll connect with some of the folks I've already met up here and see if we can maybe scare up a quorum of interest in doing something in Seattle. . .

Comment by: Justin Martenstein ·
posted: Mar 18, 2005 1:40:49 AM

I'm fairly new to the area too, so I'm still making connections.

My idea for how to do something like that would be similar to what they do over at dorkbot-sea. Basically I'm thinking about a monthly meeting, usually on a weeknight. We would have two or three guest speakers, to present on some cool project they're working on for about 30 minutes each, and then Q & A. The rest of the time would be for networking, brainstorming, random hack projects.

I don't think something like this would be too hard to organize. We would need a venue, some A/V equipment, and then the speakers. The rest should fall into place.

Are you on Chris Pirillo's Seattlist? I'm thinking about just tossing this idea out to them and seeing if anyone has any suggestions for where to do it, or who we could get to present.

Feel free to email me if you want to discuss this further.


Comment by: Adina Levin ·
posted: Mar 19, 2005 4:45:07 PM

Part of the problem is the format. Panels have a hard time not being really dull. Keynotes are typically famous people giving a stump speech for the 30,000th time.

Presumably the "birds of a feather session" at both conferences were more interesting, since they reflected current interests of participants.

Unfortunately, in order to attract attendees, conference organizers feel they need to filthe program with famous faces.

The "activist technology" track that I helped put together was more original but still suffered from the panel format. See Nancy White's liveblogging at

I think the suggestion for local/regional conferences is related -- people don't need to cost-justify so much travel, and already know the people, so they can concentrate on more interesting conversations.

Comment by: Nancy White ·
posted: Apr 6, 2005 8:02:46 PM

Hey, a few of us, including Ted, are thinking about putting an open space sort of gathering together the day before - that would be June 23rd. Interested in helping think it through? Let me know!

nancyw at fullcirc dot com

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