FooCamp: What I Did On My Holidays


So, FooCamp. It’s a bit like being at a conference where only the speakers have turned up, with no formal schedule and more foyer space than seating for sessions. In other words, it’s just exactly what you want it to be: a chance for a damn good conversation. Or several.

And I did have several damn good conversations. Michael Sparks ran a session, which was far too sparsely attended in my opinion, on how to use scifi to do brainstorming. He explained the basic principle, which is that you name a bunch of authors, ask what thing they have invented in their fiction, and then assume that it’s actually real (so long as it doesn’t require breaking the laws of physics). You then ask how things would be different if you had this thing, and what aspects of it you could actually make within a year.

We ended up taking Terry Pratchett‘s Luggage (which has legs and follows its owner round), and working out how to make one… basically you take a Roomba, add a suitcase to it and include additional sensors to follow a beacon implanted in your shoes. You could also add GPS, and Google Maps so that it can find out where you are (you must also transmit your geolocation to it), and then figure out an optimal route to get to you. You could also add a webcam so you could see where your luggage was, and with a bit of AI you pretty much have the Soomba. Or is that a Luggoomba?

How does this change things? Well, in the context of TV programmes, (Michael works at the Beeb), you could have Holiday, shown from the luggage’s point of view. Or LOST, where the luggage lands on the other side of the island and has to fight its way through the jungle until it’s reunited with its owner. Or Airport, all about how the luggage coped with being routed via Minsk. The opportunities are endless!

And also very funny. In fact, we thought it was so funny that we got told off by the participants of the session next door who said we were being too loud. Oops.

Another set of great conversations were with the guys from Second Life, Cory Ondrejka and Philip Rosedale whom I spoke to a few times about what they were up to in their virtual world. I went to a couple of Second Life-related sessions, including the one Philip ran, and was really fascinated by the way SL is developing.

It seems to me that it’s going to be increasingly important for me as a social software consultant to be in SL, and to come to fully understand its ecosystem and the economics. Organisations and businesses are already using SL for mixed reality events, and other commercial purposes, and I have already have conversations with various clients regarding how they could interact with the people within SL. Of course, it being a community-owned world, any business wanted to enter into it has to do so carefully, and has to understand the community before it tries anything, lest it screw up.

Additionally, I can see SL becoming a really useful tool for running virtual meetings an a way richer and more real than IM or voice chat. Or, in fact, even videochat in some ways. It’s hard to stand up and pace about in videochat right now, and sometimes avatars are a more real representation of ourselves than a photo or video is. (But that’s a whole nother post.)

So I foresee a lot more work with SL in my immediate future, not to mention hopefully a lot of ongoing discussions with Philip and Cory.

I had a lot more fascinating conversations with fascinating people, but it’s impossible to record every one of them here. I also had a great time playing Werewolf (link doesn’t include the role Healer, which we were using, but it’s close enough that you’ll get the gist). I only got to play one round, and I did fairly well at not getting lynched (I was a villager), or eaten by the werewolves, but the Seer didn’t figure out I was a villager so that immediately threw suspicion onto me. However, it was a real laugh and I can see why everyone is addicted to it. Really am looking forward to another game some time.

Overall, I have to say that Foo was a fantastic experience. I know it’s not cool in some quarters to rave about how bloody great Foo is, because it’s invitation only and therefore there’s a risk of cliques, but as someone who doesn’t really feel that she’s all that well known or doing the sort of groundbreaking cool shit that a lot of people there were, I must say I felt very much accepted by everyone. There was a great gender balance too. In fact, Quinn tells me it was 17% female, which is far higher than your average tech conference, so props to the O’Reilly crew for that. And there was a lot of diversity in the type of people there: it wasn’t just cool dudes with robots (although there were some cool dudes with robots in attendance).
I did, of course, try to pitch a book idea, and fluffed it really badly. I’m no good at this pitching thing. Witness my attempt to pitch my talk via a single sentence on the schedule boards. Just one person, the very nice Nic Werner, turned up and I have to say that we had a great conversation about social software. One day I will actually write up the talk I was going to give, but maybe next year, if they invite me back, I’ll have something more Fooey to talk about.

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