Illustration of Derek Powazek by Adam Ellis

Observations from ETech

I returned from O’Reilly’s Emerging Technology Conference with a stack of business cards, a nasty case of the sniffles, and a brain stuffed with ideas. It was a fabulous time. Here are a few observations from my days in San Diego.

  • “Web 2.0” definitely means something to someone, but no one’s sure who or why. (We do know, however, that it’s not Bruce Sterling.)
  • Flickr is the Web 2.0 equivalent of the iPod: A canonical example for any story, whether it’s about funding or design or technology. It’s all Flickr, all the time. (It’s well-deserved – Flickr does most things right – I just worry about the inevitable backlash.)
  • MySpace makes designers nervous. The mere mention of the word sent most people into a tirade about why design does, or does not, matter. (My two cents: Everything has design. The only question is, does the design speak to the desired audience?)

Photo by Derek Powazek,

  • There are a lot of companies, and ideas for companies, floating around right now. And they all have one thing in common: User-generated content. Getting it, organizing it, delivering it. The words we put online are as important as ever. Personally, I find this most excellent.
  • I was chatting with Tim O’Reilly before my session (and, yeah, I kinda can’t believe I just said that, either) and he asked me about my topic. So I told him about how I saw online community changing from a series of company towns, where one boss owns the community, to a world of interconnected, independent sites, each it’s own network of people and communities. He said, “Sounds like the original intention of the internet to me.” And, of course, he was right.
  • If, before the trip, you’d asked me to predict what my favorite moment would be, there’s very little chance I would have said, “watching a young man with a striking resemblance to Harry Potter timidly poke a half-alive-yet-still-fighting prawn with a chopstick until it jumps off the table and into his lap.” And yet, it is.
  • Biggest bummer: Discovering that the pesky cold that prevented Heather from coming with me had stowed away in my luggage, just to inflict me with its delirium on day two of the trip. (I’m told the cold meds made for an entertaining presentation, though.)
  • Biggest pleasant surprise: The shout-out from Linda Stone in her big talk. (Confidential to Linda: Thanks for not holding a grudge after my faux-pas the last time I saw you. You know what I mean.)
  • Other observations of note: Scott Beale takes excellent photos. Product demos are always boring. Game design can be applied to anything get happygoodlucky success. The only thing stranger than Cory Doctorow is Cory Doctorow in a kilt. The same community design issues I obsessed over five years ago are even more relevant today, just with different buzzwords. The best way to wind up in conversations about your new company is to write “What should I call my company?” on your nametag. The phrase “fancy trousers” is fun to say. (Try it!)

All in all, ETech is one of the most interesting conference experiences I’ve ever had. I’ll be back next year, for sure.

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Hi, I’m Derek. I used to make websites. Now I grow flowers and know things. I’m mostly harmless. More.