Archive for March 23rd, 2005

PC Forum 2005

March 23rd, 2005

I’ve spent the last few days in Arizona at PC Forum, a gathering organized by Esther Dyson. This was my first trip to PC Forum. Esther contacted me a while back to say she knew she’d like me to speak on some aspect of the Mozilla project, and we then spent some time thinking about a topic. It was a very interesting process, quite different from my experience with many other conferences. This is not a case where the conference organizer come up with a desired presentation and then found someone to give it. Instead, Esther spent a fair amount time of time talking to me about the Mozilla project. We talked on the phone a few times, we met in person, we talked on the phone some more. Esther took what she learned of the project and of me, and then started thinking about how she might fit this into the event in some interesting fashion. After a while she came back and suggested a discussion with Kim Polese on some topic about how open source works in practice. I said sure. Then came a set of discussions about a bio. Most conferences ask for a prepared bio and print it up. PC Forum does this, but Esther does more. The version of Release 1.0 just before the conference contains extended descriptions of the speakers. I don’t know if Esther personally writes every one, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Esther tracked me down in Beijing for a set of phone calls to finalize the description about me. All of this means that there is a very personal feeling to the gathering — even newcomers like me are known to the conference host.

On the other hand, the content of the discussion was left quite open. Esther was developing an idea of where to start and where to guide things, but at no time did we plan the content. I approached it as a “conversation with Esther” and figured she would guide us into interesting territory. I met up with Kim Polese a few minutes before our talk and she had the same experience.

The conference itself is active. Of course a large set of attendees know each other from work and past conferences. There is the activity of the VCs and the companies looking for funding and /or partnerships. There are a wide range of very creative, accomplished people looking for interesting conversations. This year included a focus on health care, and also a discussion on the meaning of work and education initiated by Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union. Everything has a very technical bent but not every discussion is entirely technical. The energy level was high.

It’s not new, but it’s still exciting to see the web take its place in all this ferment. The web enables a new set of activities, a new set of ways for people to interact, and of course the communities and businesses built on that. It was also fascinating to note the extent to which the idea of “community” has become mainstream. It seems everyone wants to develop a community around their company or project or effort. This makes sense to me, given the power and effectiveness of the Mozilla community. This focus on communities is not explicitly (or perhaps even consciously) tied to the open source experiences. However, I suspect that the accomplishments of open source communities may be a factor in this general business attitude.

It’s also great to see the extent to which Firefox is seen as playing a role in the current climate of excitement and creativity. Many people stopped to say thanks for Firefox. I want to pass those thanks on to the astonishing community of people who are helping to make our goal of innovation a reality.

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