With some controversy, FOO Camps are an invite-only affair run by O’Reilly Media, a company self-described as being wholly concerned with spreading the knowledge of innovators. The original idea of the FOOCamp (‘Friends of O’Reilly’), as journalist John Battelle explains it, is to ‘get 200 or so smart folks with a lot in common together in one place at one time, let them pitch tents, toss in a Wi-Fi network, and see what happens’.
No VIP speakers, no pre-defined schedules or goals other than a gathering of people to help change the world. Beyond the conventional open-topic FOO Camp, there have also been themed ones looking at Science, Collective Intelligence and as of last year: the Social Web (the first was called Social Graph). The Social Web FOO Camp (#swfoo) was started by David Recordon and Scott Kveton (and also run this year by Sara Winge and Dave Morin). Here is part of the invite I was sent:
Last year we hosted a similar event, Social Graph FooCamp, which helped to bring together a wide variety of people throughout the industry and has led to some real progress when it comes to the evolution of the social web. We’re now at a point where many social networks are building their platforms with the same underlying technologies and actual interoperability between large networks and small sites is becoming a reality. This year we hope to continue building on that progress by pulling together an absolutely amazing group of thinkers and doers.
Opening session - Photo by SilverisDead (John McCrea) http://www.flickr.com/photos/56624456@N00/3457716557/
To facilitate the free exchange of ideas, the event is under what they call frieNDA: where everything is in confidence, everything said is under NDA. This works quite well, as people put the concerns of the community above company politics. What this means though is that there is much I cannot relay here. However, I can give you an idea of what the event was about by sharing some of the topics discussed, refer to information publicly made available in blogs and in videos after the event, and share details I’ve been given permission to do so.
Part of the schedule board - photo by ArtificialIgnorance
So, on the first night after everyone is briefed about the event and how it works, the blank boards are put up. Anyone can grab a texta, write a topic and plop it on the board. And lots of people do, about a great range of topics. There were a few sessions on open/participatory government (the Director of Citizen Participation at The White House, Katie Stanton, gave a talk). Kaliya Hamlin ran an interesting session on Community Context & Affinity and proposed a draft of a four-quadrant model to observe different types of communities and the role of social web for these communities. I missed Kevin Marks's session, but he has been developing his ideas on bigotry in social networks since and you can see some of them in this short online video. I enjoyed Terrell Russell’s session on contextual authority tagging -- on the ‘use of folksonomy to discover and define cognitive authority through reputation within communities of users’ – and the various tangents we went on discussing decisionmaking, authority and tag decay. Noel Dickover ran a great session on media and coevolution, asking such questions like ‘What do tools get out of evolution?’, ‘What tools will replicate the most?’ and ‘Why do we have stuff we don’t like?’. I’m not doing his session justice, as the group that was there contributed lots of intelligent theories, insights and philosophies.
“Old Media” was a recurring theme, with many sessions exploring changes to books, newspapers, TV and film. Robin Sloan (Current TV) ran a session on ‘The Social Life of Books’, where among other things discussed was the crowd-sourced proof-reading of Project Gutenberg texts at Book Oven. Justin Thorp reflected on the future of the social book session he participated in. He realized that with devices like the Amazon Kindle you can ‘grab all kinds of attention and engagement data about how people read books’. Such data is available with other digital services like YouTube (indeed, Arin Crumley found that most viewers of FourEyedMonsters stopped viewing after 22 minutes), so it makes sense that interesting insights could be gained.
If you were an author, how cool would it be if you could know how far your reader got in your book, how many times folks had to flip back pages, what words people looked up, or how long people were staying actively engaged with the book. Technically, you could gather that data with the Kindle and I’d be shocked if they weren’t. “Well… only 23% got all the way to page 400.” Maybe, when you write the second edition of the book, you need to beef up right around page 400 because most folks are getting lost.
Among other things, Justin is Developer Community Manager at Clear Spring. It was interesting hearing from Justin about how their widget system is being used to market entertainment properties. On Saturday night there was actually a screening of film- We Live in Public (that director Ondi Timoner and Josh Harris spoke about to a shocked and interested audience).
Ondi ran a session to brainstorm ideas on how to market and finance the film. We had a great session with Chris Bissell (Chief Software Architect at MySpace), Justin Thorp, Josh McHugh (Attention Span Media) and Nate DiNiro (UncleNate – who I was also excited to meet because of his involvement in Earth Class Mail, and the very fun and world’s first non-conference: notatsxsw).
I ran two sessions: one on the insights of the rise of multi-platform entertainment and the other was on social interaction patterns from games. I offered the first because I thought I should contribute something to the brain trust there, and the latter (the one I didn’t prepare for) because it was of interest to some of the developers. In the cross-media session I spoke about how every entertainment property now has multiple-points-of-entry: how audiences not only expect to be able to access a film, TV show and even book through computer, portable media device, television and so on, but also how different artforms (games, comics, novels, live-action, animation) are also part of the experience of a fictional world. Among other things, I spoke about the history of the ‘customer experience’ from Disney onwards, and how the concept of the ‘pre-show’ has now infiltrated this area: there is no ‘outside’, there is no ‘touch-point’ that is not part of the experience for users. But the idea that seemed to really pique interest was the notion of designing for transformation.
On the TV front, there were a couple of sessions run by Henrik Werdelin (the Chief Creative Officer of Joost) and Ty Ahmad-Taylor (who was Senior Vice President, Product Development and Strategy at MTV Networks). Henrik got the conversation going by talking about the value of putting TV online:
The biggest value in putting TV online, seems to be less about the interactive features you can create on top of the video, but more around the social interactions you can add around the whole experience. So don’t focus so much on coming up with ways to change the video, focus on putting the viewing in a social context, e.g. what is your friends watching, what did the think about the show etc.
Predictably, there were a lot of people in the session saying the usual rants against the broadcast industry. I found it interesting, however, that the conversation naturally drifted to multi-platform approaches: the issues of siloing, how Current TV is intentionally designed to have a symbiotic relationship between TV and web and so on.
Another issue that seemed to be of great interest to Henrik, Ty and others was the problem of how people find stuff they don’t know about. This was taken up and explored further by Ty who ran a session on this topic, and shared his initial thoughts in this video recorded at #swfoo:
What was of interest to those who participated was how people share info on what they’re watching, and what they’re interested in. Henrik offered some stats about the Facebook Connect viewers using Joost: they watch 30% more TV, write 15% more comments and invite 30% of more of their friends. I liked Ty’s cool little group facilitation exercise (to explicate the point of the session too) at the end: where everyone recommended something you should and shouldn’t watch.
Outside session about social devices - photo by David Recordon
There were discussions about the federating social networks. In the entertainment industry, when people talk about silos they’re usually referring to businesses and industries. The breaking down of those silos is often achieved with companies merging. The same principle of silos is spoken about in the context of the web. But the focus is on data and the free-flow and control of data between social networks. There are articles, workshops and videos online which can help explain the thinking behind it, how important it is, and how it has been developing. [To be honest, I’m still trying to get my head around the difference between federation and data portability (the latter of which I’m more familiar with, as some great Aussies are behind it).]
The federation of identity was another topic. Concerned with the portability of identity information, and seen in examples such as Facebook Connect, the discussions were about the standards that are needed. There were also talks about OpenID (a decentralized system that enables people to use the same sign-in details across a range of sites), and of course lots of talks about OAuth, which is explained well on the website with an analogy of a ‘valet key’:
Many luxury cars today come with a valet key. It is a special key you give the parking attendant and unlike your regular key, will not allow the car to drive more than a mile or two. Some valet keys will not open the trunk, while others will block access to your onboard cell phone address book. Regardless of what restrictions the valet key imposes, the idea is very clever. You give someone limited access to your car with a special key, while using your regular key to unlock everything.
OAuth is a valet key for web services. ‘While OpenID is all about using a single identity to sign into many sites, OAuth is about giving access to your stuff without sharing your identity at all (or its secret parts)’. But what is interesting too is a security issue with OAuth that came to light around #swfoo. Marshall Kirkpatrick tells the story of how the open community solved the problem together.
Privacy was a topic that was discussed by many, from a variety of angles. Steve Ganz, the Principal Web Developer at LinkedIn Corporation, commented on this recurring theme:
Suw Charman-Anderson ran a few of sessions (I missed the one about cats!). One of which was on ‘Social Networks in 2025’. The topic was related to her research for Carnegie UK Trust about what driving forces are going to affect the way that social technology and the internet is going to evolve over the next 15 years (and what that means for civil society organizations). People in the session contributed thoughts about education (traveling parents and home schooling), geo-tracking and tagging, multi-tasking, changes to organizations and companies (small networked teams, changing jobs), sensor web, networked computing, 3D printing, privacy, identity and so on. Suw has been posting about the development of her report in a number of posts since then- interviews, categories of driving forces, a large mindmap, and a chart.
I also found out quirky little things during the event. Joshua Schachter, the founder of delicious, said that the most used tag by everyone on delicious is ‘toread’. While Kellan McCrea let me know that most of the staff at flickr use film and not digital cameras, that 50% of the flickr groups have 1 member (which is normal I’d say for any social network), and there are quite active darknets (where people share non-public photos amongst each-other). And of the told me some of the intricacies of the new media applications they do for organisations and events like the and how they use their RFID tags.
The tweets from the event are no-longer coming up in Twitter Search, but HashTags.org has them. As for me? I wish I did Gwen Bell’s Laptop Yoga sessions each morning. I wish I’d heeded the advice of previous FOOCampers and slept on the plane trip over, and went to more sessions about stuff I knew nothing about. Some goofy (but gold) highlights were the Slankets, Bacon, Death Star Watermelon, Werewolf and being a Charlie’s (Kevin’s) Angel. At the closing, Dave Recordon and Dave Morin said they want to take the ‘camp’ part of FOO camp even further, so the next Social Web Foo Camp will be on a ranch somewhere…
A big thank you to my sponsors: #swfoo (O’Reilly Media, Facebook, Google, MySpace, Yahoo!) and dLux Media Arts for making it possible for me to participate.
Christy Dena used to be on the Board of dLux Media Arts and developed a Second Life arts tour with us. She organised the first two BarCamps in Sydney and participated in the 2008 Microsoft Social Computing Symposium. Christy is on the cusp of finishing her PhD on the use of multiple media platforms in film, TV, games, print and new media, and works as a consultant on cross-media entertainment projects. Her site is at: www.ChristyDena.com.