Log in

No account? Create an account
bird poops on plum branch


Buster Benson

No advice column.

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Foo Camp 2006
bird poops on plum branch

Other posts about Foo Camp

+ Jane McGonigal
+ Caterina Fake
+ Danah Boyd
+ Jyri Engeström
+ Joshua Schachter
+ link to other reports you find in the comments if you want...

The Experiment

I LOVED LOVED LOVED Foo Camp. It was my first time, and oh what a new and great experience. I went in there fairly exhausted by the last month of traveling, working, emotional turmoil, etc, and didn’t know if I would be able to rally myself for full participation in this event. So much depends on the first impression and tiny social cues as the group forms. Eric Case’s help driving and supplying me with the necessary goods (sleeping bag, tent space, willingness to introduce me to a bunch of people I didn’t know) provided me with the momentum to walk on my own feet at the event. Then, when Michael Buffington arrived, I new that the weekend would be golden.

The best way to describe the event is as one of ridiculous boiling over of good will. Though it might seem contradictory at first, I’m pretty sure that some of this good will is generated simply because it is an invite-only event. Most conferences like this are open invite explicitly, but charge $1,000+ to attend. This one was absolutely free, but required a special wave of the social network wand. In my mind, one is not better or worse than the other... in fact, the invite-only nature of the event turns the event into much more of a social experiment (controlled primarily by the benevolent O’Reilly). Even more powerful, perhaps, is the fact that the nature of invite-only triggers all kinds of social and cultural “features” in the group. Software in your head.

  • One, you are grateful for your ability to attend. You know you don't necessarily deserve the invitation more than anyone else, but whether it's luck or mistake you get to experience the trip and take from it what you can.
  • Two, you are an automatic member... you belong.
  • Three, there is pleasant pressure to validate your membership with reciprocal good will and participation.

The other feature of free, invite-only, is that the focus of the conference can move away from content and move towards the people. Tim O’Reilly spoke about this briefly in the closing session, saying that they have a theory that part of the “magic” of Foo Camp is that it puts obstacles in front of the actual panels. Rooms might not have a projector, getting a room relies on a bit of a mad dash at the end of the first day, information about the talks are limited and usually almost non-existant, and the schedule itself is non-electronic, always changing, and located in only a single place. If this were a pay event, people might feel that they had paid for something different and feel ripped off if they didn't get something tangible in return. Because it was free, it could be a little crazy and weird.

My recommendation for future Foo Camps is to keep this somewhat anti-intuitive, scrappy, aesthetic and to delight in the obstacles rather than attempt to remove them.

The People

My “conference attendance strategy” was to focus on participation with individuals rather than with groups. I don’t want this to sound too cold and calculated, but I did think about this a lot. Group reputation, in my head, is sort of like mini-fame; individual reputation, in my head, is friendship and rapport. Group participation and reputation is of course required, but I didn’t want to optimize for it. Generally, without desire to oversimplify (since they aren’t mutually exclusive) depending on which you optimize for you might end up making a lot of new acquaintances or a few new friends. I have to admit that this strategy was adopted partially because I’m not as skilled at gaining group reputation. But at the same time, what I’ve learned this last year is that group reputation is generally very rewarding and visible but ultimately my ego hungers for connection and rapport with individuals. I relied heavily on the good will of individuals, rarely attempted to hop from conversation to conversation (instead relishing in prolonged conversations about whatever), and became a bit of a hug monster.

People I particularly enjoyed seeing again and talking with: Eric Case, Michael Buffington, Lili Cheng, Gina Trapani, Brady Forrest, Cal Henderson, Tom Coates, Matt Biddulph, Paul Hammond, Jyri Engeström, David Heinemeier Hansson, Stewart Butterfield, Caterina Fake, Andy Baio, Danah Boyd, Rael Dornfest, Mikel Maron, Joshua Schachter, Wally Tseng, David Weinberger...

People I was super glad to have met or talked to for the first time: Jane McGonigal, Rabble, Mez Naam, Artur Bergman, Simon Willison, Sam Ruby, Leila Hasan, Zaheda Bhorat, Suw Charman, Chris DiBona, Greg Stein, Christian Hammond, Liz Lawley, Linda Stone, Chris Smoak...

And I'm sure many more that I'm forgeting about at 2am...

You all are awesome and are going to change the world.

I went to a number of panels that ranged from putting computers in your brain to repair damaged senses, to spiritual computing, to robot soccer, to the future of browsers, to micro-venture capital, to building fucking large websites, to building tools for the democratic party, and even helped put on a panel on the topic of meditation and mindfulness out in the apple orchard. But really, the difference between a panel and a conversation about sailing as we eat and drink, or playing with robots on the lawn, or watching Brady juggle flaming sticks is pretty much negligible. This conference really was about the people in an unashamed way... and then night fell and there were...


I wasn’t at the conference for more than a minute before buzz about a nightly game called “Werewolf” was introduced to me. Described accurately by Eric Case as “poker, without the cards” this game kept us awake past 5am both nights. Organized fantastically by Jane McGonigal and Danah Boyd (who were, by the way, awesome moderators/players and wonderful people), this game is about reading each other, honesty, lying, group dynamics, trust, facial expressions, team building, logic, strategy, playfulness, and pretty much everything that keeps this damn world moving. It was fascinating as a game, but the real appeal of it was how much you learned about the people you played with, and how quickly you learned it. We’re always trying to read each other in real life, but rarely if ever is it the front and center objective of our interactions.

The really short description of the game is that there is a moderator, 1-4 werewolves, and the rest are villagers. You don’t know who’s who and every turn the werewolves decide on one person to kill at night and the villagers and werewolves together decide on one person to lynch during the day. The goal of the game is to kill the werewolves if you’re a villager, and to kill the villagers if you’re a werewolf. Daytime is for discussing openly with the group who you think is a werewolf and nominating one person to lynch via a majority vote. During the nights the werewolves kill one villager. In addition, one of the villagers is a healer (and at night they can pick one person to make immune to death), and one of the villagers is a seer (they can find out from the moderator whether or not one person of their choosing is a werewolf). The game is over when all the werewolves are dead or the number of villagers equals the number of werewolves. Within that framework, a crazy game emerges. It engaged me so fully that even at 5:30am each morning I lay in my borrowed tent with eyes wide open, heart racing, unable to fall asleep for at least another hour. Thank you Jane, Cal, Tom and everyone who included me and made me feel welcome in this awesome game and killed me in the night.

New Ideas

As we were leaving I decided to inform Stewart about my potentially disturbing goal of changing my last name to Butterfield for a year. He laughed and said, “Yeah, it IS a good name.” I think that is an official stamp of approval for us team. But, in order to tribute the first Butterfield, I think all future Butterfields must have a numerical suffix to their last name, II, III, IV, V, VI, etc.

I talked briefly with Chris Smoak (who previously worked at Amazon on Mechanical Turk) about his Bus Monster project which inspired me to think about ways to improve the Seattle bus system without actually going through the city. For example, by designing and posting better bus maps and schedules along bus routes. This would be a fun experiment slash civic project slash game slash art project... and would help me improve what I think is the only type of public transportation that’s usable at the moment besides taxis. Taxis would be another good system to try to hijack artfully and playfully.

Finally, I have a lot of ideas about merging cognitive behavior with spirituality and games and life hacking and real life and friends and your own city. One of them involves a new blog, another involves the next bit of work at the Robot Co-op, another involves a new game I’m working on, and everything feeds on itself and grows. Onward and outward...

Thanks all for encouraging me to go.

See my photos of Foo Camp 2006 or everyone's photos...

  • 1
I didn't realize there were actual tents involved. Sounds mostly like Mind Camp otherwise, including the Werewolf.

Hi, I was at Foo Camp...I loved it !!

amazing obagi blender

ah i missed it. i would have loved to come though

  • 1