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May 1, 2010

A tale of two conferences: FOO and ROFLcon

I spent the day and much of yesterday at two incredible conferences. Very alike but also world’s apart. What they have in common is that the attendees at both love the Internet.

FOO is the Friends of O’Reilly unconference. This was FOO East, which is smaller than the original shindig. The original is held in the O’Reilly campus’ backyard north of San Francisco. Geeks in tents with wifi (as Joshua Schachter put it to me tonight). FOO East is held indoors, in the beautiful Microsoft New England Research and Development Center (NERD Center), a fantastic space. (Thank you Microsoft. And, thank you, O’Reilly.) At FOO, anyone can schedule herself in one of the dozen of meeting spaces. Lots of hallway time, food, drink, talk…

ROFLcon is held on the MIT campus, a ten minute walk from FOO. It celebrates Internet culture … lolcats, the Winnebago Man, Autotune the News… (Sorry, but I’m too tired to do the links. Maybe later, in which case I’ll remove this remark.) (I got to moderate panels with Autotune and the FakeAPStyleBook, and another with the director of a movie called Winnebago Man, and Aleksey Vayner.)

FOO skews 20-30 years older than ROFL. FOO-ers think of the Net as a tool for improving existing human systems. They want to build stuff, preferably this weekend. ROFL-ers think of the Net as a creative medium for expression. They want to create stuff, preferably this weekend.

I’m generalizing horribly, of course — not to mention that there were more than a few people who were going back and forth between the conferences. But the differences are real and unsubtle. It seems that there are many ways to love the Net.