I've not had a chance to keep up with the happenings at this year's Emerging Technology Conference, but I've heard two things that bother me so far:

Russell says:

Interesting conference - too bad I wasn't there to get a longer impression, but boy it seemed like there were some serious pecking orders there.

And someone else I know there said this via IM last night:

You are missing some good conferences this week here, although I have come to the conclusion that a lot of the bloggers are pretty pompous.

I'm not sure what to make of that. Pecking orders? Pompous? It bothers me, I guess. Partly because I've been telling a few folks that next year I'd consider going to ETech instead of OSCON. I've been to OSCON, what, 5 times now? It's starting to seem routine. That's probably a sign that I need to mix things up a bit and, based on reports I'd heard from last year, ETech seemed like The Place To Be.


Anyone reading this at ETech? Are these isolated opinions, as I hope they are? Or is three something of an attitude problem?

Posted by jzawodn at February 10, 2004 08:08 AM

Reader Comments
# Mark Nottingham said:

It sure is when I can't make it to San Diego... ;)

on February 10, 2004 08:32 AM
# David said:

In the day-and-a-half-or-so I've been here at Etech I've had plenty of pleasant conversations with total strangers who fall all over the geek fame spectrum.

"Elitist" is certainly not a word I would use to describe this event. Expensive, maybe since attendees had to shell out a thousand-ish dollars to come (I'm giving a talk so I avoided that.) Intimidating, maybe, since there are a lot of smart people here saying lots of things about neat projects that they're working on. That's a good kind of intimidating, though -- it's fun to be surrounded by people who can teach you something.

Elitist implies, to me, that you need to pass some coolness test to talk to people here, ask questions at sessions, or fully participate. I don't think that's true at all.

on February 10, 2004 09:52 AM
# Eric Sinclair said:

I won't speak for ETCon2004, as I'm a sit-at-home / catch-up-in-the-evenings participant... But I did go to ETCon2003, and I found it to be not so elitest. Yes, there are many of the technorati there (and not just Dave Sifry...), and pundits and chinscratchers of all types. But there aren't bodyguards or even chilly receptions to conversations, imho.

Now, just wandering up to people you've read but don't know (haven't chatted, blogged, conversed) is always a bit of a friction-y task, but I found people I knew and didn't to be approachable and sharing last year. I have a personal hurdle to just rushing up to strangers, though, so maybe I avoided the most uncomfortable situations naturally....

on February 11, 2004 05:28 AM
# Russ said:

Well, there's two thoughts I have about this. First, the people who've been invited to talk by Tim and Rael are definitely some of the more influential and top people in their fields and online. From that perspective they are "elite" and you can see how some people have crowds of people milling about them at all times. But it's that type of crowd that always laugh at their jokes no matter how dumb, etc. You know what I mean?

But was anyone unfriendly or unapproachable? Like I said, I was only there for a day, but I didn't see any of that. What I meant by my post is that you could see visibly who the alpha-geeks and "a-listers" were. And you could also see others *crying out* for attention with fuzzy hats, colored hair and fancy get-ups. I guess it's the same in any gathering... it's human nature to drop into cliques like that.

BTW, Jeremy, I'm sure if you were there, you'd be one of the L33ts. ;-)


on February 11, 2004 10:48 AM
# Marc Canter said:

Yes - you're totally right. Downright cliqueish.

on February 11, 2004 12:05 PM
# Joi Ito said:

Can't seem to trackback properly. Blogged a response here.

on February 11, 2004 12:33 PM
# John Stanforth said:

I haven't gone to enough O'Reilly conferences to have perspective, but compared to conferences in other sectors, this is amazingly friendly. Of course, I talked to Marc last night at Sparky's and Joi and Doc this morning before a session, so maybe my perspective is horribly skewed... ;-)

on February 11, 2004 03:06 PM
# Don Park said:

I think it's recognizability. Before bloggin, I didn't know who Russell was but since then Russ and I 'conversed' with each other so it's natural for us to 'continue' the conversation when we run into each other at a conference.

Likewise, I can't go anywhere bloggers go without being recognized and wrestled into conversation. Why? Because my picture is out there for all to see and a known face will attract more people than a faceless person like Billmon.

So, more you are known, more you gain attention just as prettier girls get more attention than those who are not. It's a jungle out there and I mean that in a good way. :-)

on February 11, 2004 06:49 PM
# Ross Mayfield said:

Didn't observe this at all. And can a conference with self-organizing sessions be elitist?

on February 11, 2004 07:20 PM
# The Blog Sceptic said:

ETech! Social networks! Blog this, FOAF that! Mobile urban international youth culture! User-centered flux capacitors! Emergent democratic empowerment of post-protean societies, YEAH!

Well, it's official! I created a site for blog sceptics called, surprisingly enough, The Blog Sceptic (blogsceptic.blogspot.com).

Anyone is welcome to email me ideas or particularly egregious examples of navel-gazing

on February 12, 2004 08:48 AM
# CF said:

Russ said:

"And you could also see others *crying out* for attention with fuzzy hats, colored hair and fancy get-up."

I felt a little sheepish having colored hair at eTech for fear of being perceived just that way. But I have an offline life too, and bright hair fits into it (no, I'm not a burning man person).

But I only felt snubbed-at-first-sight a few times, and it wasn't by anyone I think of as alpha-geek "famous". The geek-famous I ended up hanging out near (browsing at the book stand, etc.) seemed open and friendly. I'm not gonna start a conversation if I feel like the person has already been mobbed, but we all know the difference between open-face and closed-face, right? I'd-talk-to-you vs. I'm-ignoring-you?

on February 12, 2004 03:56 PM
# ely said:

Yeah, Etech is Elitist. Such conferences are usually intended to be so - otherwise they wouldn't have as much cache (attendee filtering is done by registration cost and/or invitation-only). A more important issue is whether the attendees act and treat each other like elitists ("Us 'alpha geeks' versus the masses that aren't ..."). As soon as you start anointing yourself in this way, you become an elitist. And one way to maintain that elite image is to treat other "non-elites" as knownothings or lesser intelligence unworthly of communicating with. I've always held in much higher esteem those individuals who resist such labels and are equally enthusiast (and patient) with anyone expressing an interest on an topic/issue. Thankfully most true "geeks" still fall into this latter category - but watch out for the trappings of elitism - their numbers are increasing.

on February 13, 2004 08:00 AM
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