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Summary:

Tim O’Reilly has built a publishing empire based on geek love. Now its time for him to face the ire of the very same geeks, who are now organizing a rival camp to Tim’s Foo Camp. “I really love the people who COME to O’Reilly events […]

Tim O’Reilly has built a publishing empire based on geek love. Now its time for him to face the ire of the very same geeks, who are now organizing a rival camp to Tim’s Foo Camp. “I really love the people who COME to O’Reilly events – but have you ever seen Rael or Tim at anyone else’s conference?,” asks Marc Canter, the Silicon Valley raconteur and a digital provocateur. Good point, Marc.

Russell Beattie, one of the kindest souls (when not ranting against stupidity) is more explicit when he says, “Unlike Jason, however, I’m quite upset about it. But I’m also a bit annoyed because I spent quite a bit of time and effort this past year *being* a Friend Of O’Reilly.” Jason Shellen, incidentally is the Jason mentioned in that comment.

Hey maybe its time for some geek solidarity – those who think of Marc, Dave Winer, Scoble, and Russell as friends, maybe it is time for them to step-up and decline their FooCamp invites. Say what Jeremy? Time to show, Tim, that geek giveth, and geek taketh!

Dave Winer has his say. Robert Scoble is being polite. Chris Messina thinks I am posing as media, I am spinning it. I don’t know – this is my opinion, based on what others wrote. No posing dude… you are off the mark here. :-) Everybody says there is no fight. Fine by me! I have heard different opinions – in private of course. Most are sanguine about the whole thing. I, personally, don’t care either way – I hope everyone goes “CAMP”ing and has fun. Tim explains what and how of Foo Camp selection process. Makes sense… it’s business after all.

  1. to be fair, i think the Foo Camp ‘exclusivity’ criticism is a bit over-harsh. (full disclosure: might have been my offhand posting on Chris Pirillo’s BrainTrust list that got the whole “foo on Foo” thread going).

    altho i’m sure the event could be more inclusive / democratic, and perhaps a few notables may occasionally (and likely unintentionally) get left out, overall i don’t think the O’Reilly folks are being snooty. quite to the contrary, i’m guessing they just put together the best list they can, invite some smart folks they work with or know about, and have people up for a weekend campout.

    in the past it’s been a pretty low-key event; no planned schedule and no overt agenda other than to geek out and have some good food & drink (which Tim pays for; also somewhat overlooked in the recent conversation is the fact that they don’t charge for hosting the event, unlike the typical O’Reilly conference promotion).

    to the extent foo camp has become an “it” event, some criticism is perhaps justified that they make the invite process more transparent, however i doubt they’ve really thought about it that way. it’s probably more like “hey let’s invite that guy/gal… they did some cool stuff with us lately”.

    i can’t speak for Russell or others who may have been overlooked (and i agree i’m surprised he was), but to paraphrase i wouldn’t ascribe to malevolence what can easily be explained by inertia / human nature.

    some times even good friends may forget to invite me to their party. most times i don’t feel slighted, i just throw my own party a few months later and invite them to come to mine :)

    - dave mcclure
    http://www.simplyhired.com

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  2. Hey, guys, I find this “I didn’t get invited and I’m mad” thing pretty hard to deal with. First off, if someone is really a friend, what they’d do in a situation like that is call. “Hey, I didn’t get a FOO invite, and I’d love to come. Is there any possibility of getting one?” There have been quite a few of those calls, with answers ranging from “We did invite you, but the invite must have gotten caught in your spam filter” to “Wow, we overlooked you. For sure we’d like you to come.” to “Sorry, but we’re just too full. Maybe next year.” (More on that last answer in a moment.)

    The one sure way to prove yourself not a friend (and to make it really hard to invite you if we did make a mistake) is to make a public stink about it.

    As to why we can’t invite everyone:

    1. There’s a limit to an effective size for the event. Given the space we have available, the self-organizing format, and so on, the optimal size is about 150 people. We’re already approaching 250, especially with people who didn’t RSVP till the last minute suddenly changing their minds. (Some of them we’re having to turn away.) This isn’t a commercial conference where “the more the merrier.” (And even commercial conferences have attendee limits after which they are “sold out.”)

    2. You have to understand the objectives of the event. Its primary purpose is to make sure that O’Reilly’s editors, conference planners, and technical strategists are exposed to new thinking from people who are on our radar but haven’t necessarily been part of our community. Second, it’s to make sure that our individual contacts become collective contacts. Third, it’s to create
    a great mix of old friends and new, so that it doesn’t become “same old, same old”, and there’s always new blood.

    That third goal is what makes the invite list so difficult to manage. Everyone has such a great time that almost everyone wants to come back. If we have everyone back, the event stops being interesting, and doesn’t meet any of its goals, as outlined above.

    So how do we decide who to invite? We curse the facts that our social networking tools do a terrible job of helping us visualize all the people we collectively know, what they do, and why they ought to be invited. (Good opportunity there, by the way.) We curse the fact that we don’t have an easy way to even see who’s been added to our address books since the last time we did it.)

    Then we put together a list of a thousand odd names that we have to winnow down as best we can.

    “Core FOO” is a first cut — someone who does a lot of work for us in one way or another. But even then, that’s a hard call. For example, we have over 600 authors. Writing a book is a pretty big commitment, but that’s not enough. We have hundreds of people who’ve presented at our conferences. Again, a lot of work, but not a slam dunk. But there are some people who work so consistently for us — write, serve on conference committees, etc. that they are part of the extended family. They’ve got to be invited. (But even then, we sometimes forget someone who we ought to have invited. It’s mind numbing going over lists, especially when someone has done great work for one person but is unknown to others.)

    Second cut: This is a really cool person on some axis that we’re trying to learn about and/or increase our company contacts. For example, because of our new Make magazine, we’re inviting a lot of “makers”, hardware hackers and people who make stuff in creative ways. We’re also very interested in internet-enabled market research, so we’re inviting a bunch of people who do cool work in data visualization and/or are working with various kinds of buzz metrics.

    Third cut: This person is doing something that’s of broad enough appeal that there will be a critical mass of interest. For example, we may know someone who’s doing great work with, say, .Net or Cocoa programming, but we know that they aren’t going to have a lot of fellow travelers at the event, and so not much social heat is going to happen.

    Fourth cut: Key people from important O’Reilly business partners, with whom we’re trying to build a deeper relationship, and for whom an invite to the “it” event will help seal the deal. (Sorry, but we are a business, and the event does have a business purpose, to increase our connections with people who will benefit our business.)

    Fifth cut: invited previously, didn’t really participate. This cut applies to O’Reilly employees as well as outsiders. The editors who we saw spend all their time with their existing authors rather than reaching out and mixing with new people didn’t get to come back this year. (Just to be clear how hard it is to make the cut, fewer than half of the O’Reilly employees who wanted to come didn’t get an invite!)

    Sixth cut: the bozo filter. Someone who has been at a previous FOO camp, and whom we had complaints about for some reason or another, or who has built that kind of reputation on the net. Unfortunately, you probably don’t know who you are, but other people do.

    After all these filters have been applied, we still have a much bigger list than we can invite, so there’s a fair amount of randomness in who we pick, because we know that randomness can make for an interesting mix.

    All I can suggest is that anyone else who wants to run an event like this is more than welcome to do so. If you do it well, you’ll very soon have the same problem we do.

    (I can point to a bunch of other invite only events, too, and their processes are even less transparent than ours. Try to get an invite to Hackers, for instance. Or the TED conference, where you not only have to apply for an invite, you have to pay $5000 for the privilege of attending.)

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  3. Om-

    We (the planners of Bar Camp) are no where as bitter as you make us sound. We’re just lookin’ to have some fun.

    -ryan king

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  4. oh really… ryan back tracking now :-)

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  5. In Tim’s defense (hey, maybe one day he’ll invite me), I saw him at a conference recently. I think it was Walt Mosberg’s D3. In the 15-20 seconds I spent introducing myself he seemed nice.

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  6. Some people are known from over-reacting and from knee-jerk reactions to various things. As Tim O properly points out: instead of making stink on the net, they should have call him and kindly ask for invited. After all this Foo Camp is part of Tim’s business expenditure and can’t be wasted on passive spongers.

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  7. Speaking as a friend of Tim’s (and of O’Reilly’s (I think ;-)) who’s not attending Foo Camp, I a) have seen Tim at other conferences (Walt Mossberg’s “D” was the most recent example); and b) agree that the event is best-served by keeping it to an eclectic list of technology doers.

    My advice: Keep the venture folks, bankers, uber-pundits, and the rest at large, as much as possible, and focus on having people who are creating tech stuff talking to people who are creating tech stuff. That is the best aspect of O’Reilly’s conferences, and by all accounts that has been the best part of prior Foo Camps.

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  8. I was fortunate enough to attend last year, but didn’t get an invite this year ;-(

    But, I figure – “Hey, it’s time to let someone else have a turn.” It was a great time and I got to hang with some interesting people, for sure. Like having lunch with Larry Wall and then realizing over a beer that the geek I’m talking to is Bram Cohen of BitTorrent fame.

    But the main thing I remember is that most of the folks weren’t well known and didn’t have an industry rep — they were just hackers and doers out on the forefront of whatever they did. They were ace PHP heads, or geeks from MIT that were building robots, or big time Perl jockies.

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  9. Tim is right, guys. Don’t get hung up on lists here. The mere fact that people like Kottke, Om, and others aren’t going shows that it’s not a question of “not being important enough” to get invited. Heck, *I’m* going, and I can think of at least 100 people more “qualified” if you want to use social rank as a meter.

    In my opinion, this should be a rotating invite anyway. Term limits. Go once or twice and then open your spot to some else… maybe even pass it on personally.

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  10. Om-

    I’m not backtracking, I had no expectation to be invited to FooCamp and am therefore not disappointed or bitter.

    We’re not trying to get back at O’Reilly, we’re just trying to do something fun (and, of course, play off of others’ disappointment :D).

    -ryan

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