60 thoughts on “Foo(camp)Fighting”

  1. to be fair, i think the Foo Camp ‘exclusivity’ criticism is a bit over-harsh. (full disclosure: might have been my offhand posting on Chris Pirillo’s BrainTrust list that got the whole “foo on Foo” thread going).

    altho i’m sure the event could be more inclusive / democratic, and perhaps a few notables may occasionally (and likely unintentionally) get left out, overall i don’t think the O’Reilly folks are being snooty. quite to the contrary, i’m guessing they just put together the best list they can, invite some smart folks they work with or know about, and have people up for a weekend campout.

    in the past it’s been a pretty low-key event; no planned schedule and no overt agenda other than to geek out and have some good food & drink (which Tim pays for; also somewhat overlooked in the recent conversation is the fact that they don’t charge for hosting the event, unlike the typical O’Reilly conference promotion).

    to the extent foo camp has become an “it” event, some criticism is perhaps justified that they make the invite process more transparent, however i doubt they’ve really thought about it that way. it’s probably more like “hey let’s invite that guy/gal… they did some cool stuff with us lately”.

    i can’t speak for Russell or others who may have been overlooked (and i agree i’m surprised he was), but to paraphrase i wouldn’t ascribe to malevolence what can easily be explained by inertia / human nature.

    some times even good friends may forget to invite me to their party. most times i don’t feel slighted, i just throw my own party a few months later and invite them to come to mine 🙂

    – dave mcclure

  2. Hey, guys, I find this “I didn’t get invited and I’m mad” thing pretty hard to deal with. First off, if someone is really a friend, what they’d do in a situation like that is call. “Hey, I didn’t get a FOO invite, and I’d love to come. Is there any possibility of getting one?” There have been quite a few of those calls, with answers ranging from “We did invite you, but the invite must have gotten caught in your spam filter” to “Wow, we overlooked you. For sure we’d like you to come.” to “Sorry, but we’re just too full. Maybe next year.” (More on that last answer in a moment.)

    The one sure way to prove yourself not a friend (and to make it really hard to invite you if we did make a mistake) is to make a public stink about it.

    As to why we can’t invite everyone:

    1. There’s a limit to an effective size for the event. Given the space we have available, the self-organizing format, and so on, the optimal size is about 150 people. We’re already approaching 250, especially with people who didn’t RSVP till the last minute suddenly changing their minds. (Some of them we’re having to turn away.) This isn’t a commercial conference where “the more the merrier.” (And even commercial conferences have attendee limits after which they are “sold out.”)

    2. You have to understand the objectives of the event. Its primary purpose is to make sure that O’Reilly’s editors, conference planners, and technical strategists are exposed to new thinking from people who are on our radar but haven’t necessarily been part of our community. Second, it’s to make sure that our individual contacts become collective contacts. Third, it’s to create
    a great mix of old friends and new, so that it doesn’t become “same old, same old”, and there’s always new blood.

    That third goal is what makes the invite list so difficult to manage. Everyone has such a great time that almost everyone wants to come back. If we have everyone back, the event stops being interesting, and doesn’t meet any of its goals, as outlined above.

    So how do we decide who to invite? We curse the facts that our social networking tools do a terrible job of helping us visualize all the people we collectively know, what they do, and why they ought to be invited. (Good opportunity there, by the way.) We curse the fact that we don’t have an easy way to even see who’s been added to our address books since the last time we did it.)

    Then we put together a list of a thousand odd names that we have to winnow down as best we can.

    “Core FOO” is a first cut — someone who does a lot of work for us in one way or another. But even then, that’s a hard call. For example, we have over 600 authors. Writing a book is a pretty big commitment, but that’s not enough. We have hundreds of people who’ve presented at our conferences. Again, a lot of work, but not a slam dunk. But there are some people who work so consistently for us — write, serve on conference committees, etc. that they are part of the extended family. They’ve got to be invited. (But even then, we sometimes forget someone who we ought to have invited. It’s mind numbing going over lists, especially when someone has done great work for one person but is unknown to others.)

    Second cut: This is a really cool person on some axis that we’re trying to learn about and/or increase our company contacts. For example, because of our new Make magazine, we’re inviting a lot of “makers”, hardware hackers and people who make stuff in creative ways. We’re also very interested in internet-enabled market research, so we’re inviting a bunch of people who do cool work in data visualization and/or are working with various kinds of buzz metrics.

    Third cut: This person is doing something that’s of broad enough appeal that there will be a critical mass of interest. For example, we may know someone who’s doing great work with, say, .Net or Cocoa programming, but we know that they aren’t going to have a lot of fellow travelers at the event, and so not much social heat is going to happen.

    Fourth cut: Key people from important O’Reilly business partners, with whom we’re trying to build a deeper relationship, and for whom an invite to the “it” event will help seal the deal. (Sorry, but we are a business, and the event does have a business purpose, to increase our connections with people who will benefit our business.)

    Fifth cut: invited previously, didn’t really participate. This cut applies to O’Reilly employees as well as outsiders. The editors who we saw spend all their time with their existing authors rather than reaching out and mixing with new people didn’t get to come back this year. (Just to be clear how hard it is to make the cut, fewer than half of the O’Reilly employees who wanted to come didn’t get an invite!)

    Sixth cut: the bozo filter. Someone who has been at a previous FOO camp, and whom we had complaints about for some reason or another, or who has built that kind of reputation on the net. Unfortunately, you probably don’t know who you are, but other people do.

    After all these filters have been applied, we still have a much bigger list than we can invite, so there’s a fair amount of randomness in who we pick, because we know that randomness can make for an interesting mix.

    All I can suggest is that anyone else who wants to run an event like this is more than welcome to do so. If you do it well, you’ll very soon have the same problem we do.

    (I can point to a bunch of other invite only events, too, and their processes are even less transparent than ours. Try to get an invite to Hackers, for instance. Or the TED conference, where you not only have to apply for an invite, you have to pay $5000 for the privilege of attending.)

  3. In Tim’s defense (hey, maybe one day he’ll invite me), I saw him at a conference recently. I think it was Walt Mosberg’s D3. In the 15-20 seconds I spent introducing myself he seemed nice.

  4. Some people are known from over-reacting and from knee-jerk reactions to various things. As Tim O properly points out: instead of making stink on the net, they should have call him and kindly ask for invited. After all this Foo Camp is part of Tim’s business expenditure and can’t be wasted on passive spongers.

  5. Speaking as a friend of Tim’s (and of O’Reilly’s (I think ;-)) who’s not attending Foo Camp, I a) have seen Tim at other conferences (Walt Mossberg’s “D” was the most recent example); and b) agree that the event is best-served by keeping it to an eclectic list of technology doers.

    My advice: Keep the venture folks, bankers, uber-pundits, and the rest at large, as much as possible, and focus on having people who are creating tech stuff talking to people who are creating tech stuff. That is the best aspect of O’Reilly’s conferences, and by all accounts that has been the best part of prior Foo Camps.

  6. I was fortunate enough to attend last year, but didn’t get an invite this year ;-(

    But, I figure – “Hey, it’s time to let someone else have a turn.” It was a great time and I got to hang with some interesting people, for sure. Like having lunch with Larry Wall and then realizing over a beer that the geek I’m talking to is Bram Cohen of BitTorrent fame.

    But the main thing I remember is that most of the folks weren’t well known and didn’t have an industry rep — they were just hackers and doers out on the forefront of whatever they did. They were ace PHP heads, or geeks from MIT that were building robots, or big time Perl jockies.

  7. Tim is right, guys. Don’t get hung up on lists here. The mere fact that people like Kottke, Om, and others aren’t going shows that it’s not a question of “not being important enough” to get invited. Heck, *I’m* going, and I can think of at least 100 people more “qualified” if you want to use social rank as a meter.

    In my opinion, this should be a rotating invite anyway. Term limits. Go once or twice and then open your spot to some else… maybe even pass it on personally.

  8. Om-

    I’m not backtracking, I had no expectation to be invited to FooCamp and am therefore not disappointed or bitter.

    We’re not trying to get back at O’Reilly, we’re just trying to do something fun (and, of course, play off of others’ disappointment :D).


  9. I think Tim is making more of a stink than Ryan is about this.

    But, hey, I can say that. I’m not looking for an invite!

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  12. Dave Winer and Robert Scoble — excuse me but what is the big deal here? They didn’t get invited to a conclave organized by the O’Reilly folks. So what? What’s more interesting is to watch the self-reinforcing circle of email posts in this age of the blogosphere. Everyone gets their 15 minutes of fame — deservedly or not

  13. Why does anyone give a damn, really? Aside from the drinking and the geek group hug, there’s just not anything all that important happening.

  14. I had the pleasure of chatty with Tim O’Reilly at a Uniforum back in 1990 in the O’Reilly booth and I’ve never met an individual in the tech community who was more approachable, free with ideas and genuinely interested in the opinions of his customers. His detractors distinguish themselves to me as a poor judge of character and thin-skinned, ego-centric soles who probable need counseling.

    Of course, that’s just my opinion based upon 10 minutes of conversation with a guy that cared about what I had to say and freely shared his thoughts with me… His ability to spot and motivate talented poeple to write great books in undisputable and I still make every effort to hear what he has to say (mostly through IT Conversations these days) but I can see how the center of the tornado that he has created with his focused business efforts could generate some heat.
    He manages that friction with a generous level of candor and tranparency that few CEO’s can muster.

    What happens at FOO Camp will ripple out to us all in the form of new publications, new conference ideas and re-formulations of some pretty cool ideas. This is how a publisher should do R&D and if you didn’t make the cut… You need to get some new ideas or work on your people skills.

    IMHO, Tim O’Reilly leads… and I follow with my wallet. That’s good business.

  15. Tim’s response is great, and candid. Foo camp is not about open communication or open anything. It’s about establishing a hierarchy and making connections that benefit Tim’s business. A side effect is that an invitation does make it easy for one to take themselves a little too seriously, for those who are so inclined.

    And the reaction the event invitations is revealing – Many think they should be invited because they are more important than everyone else. To me this reveals significant latent desire for a hierarchy here in the blogosphere. IMHO Scoble’s and Winer’s comments are right on, and show why they are so widely read. They know that the conference is all about business and not status; they have perspective, and are not letting ego cloud their judgement.

  16. It has been my experience that O’Reilly press books, with a couple of exceptions, are boring. On topics that I’m interested in! Well organized and informative to be sure, but I have always wondered if there isn’t something that happens in their editing process that takes out the lively spark of interest.

    Now, in reading about the invitation process for the ‘foo’ camp, which I have never heard of before, I can see a possible reason. Filtration. Filtration must be part of the O’Reilly corporate culture.

  17. “Filtration must be part of the O’Reilly corporate culture.”

    Yes… but their intent is to filter out the mundane and identify the new and potentially world changing. Are they 100% on target? Maybe not but if they were they might stop publishing and become a technology VC outfit. The fact that they support and believe in Open Source technologies makes publishing and conferences about they only way to make significant safe return on investments.

    So, yes… they seek to filter with their invites. That’s exactly what Tim is saying. They identify close to 1,000 friends, movers and shakers and they start the filtering to make a great event to help them spot trends and determine a publishing strategy for the year. Most large compainines do something like this but just invite internal talent and close the doors. O’Reilly plans with invited input… It’s very smart and their success indicates that they dleiver what geeks want consistently… I hope we’ve beat this to death and some light is being cast on the FUD surrounding the
    O’Reilly conspiracy theories. Tim O’Reilly is a good business man that has a passion for technologies and people that can make the world change in positive ways and he holds some people accountable for civility
    and tact. In my view, he is often right when he decides someone might ruin the spirit of a good conversation due to their belief that they are always right… virtaully no one is “always right” because they are often not listening to the decision criteria of their “opponent”.

  18. Hey–whenever you monkeys get done throwing ego poop at one another and start MAKING something instead of BLOGGING about your navel lint, let us know.

  19. To be fair the purpose of this event is to build Tim’s business… for his editors and business folks to bond with their clients and content creators. If you look at it like a corporate retreat with with special guests (i.e. clients, future clients, workers, future workers) you lose all controversy with it.

    Why would Tim invite someone like me? Our companies don’t work together and we compete in a number of spaces… the same is probably true of the lot of the folks who are not invited.

    I do find the Bozo filter amusing… Tim might as well come out and just say the “Marc Canter/Dave Winer/Jason Calacanis” filter…. 🙂

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  23. Comments left at Tim O’Reilly’s site here: http://radar.oreilly.com/archives/2005/08/bar_camp.html

    I think what is upsetting to people on face value is not that you have an event that is exclusive. That’s your right, you’re paying for it, it’s your place, etc. We all have events in our houses and businesses that are exclusive. But we take care not to hurt other’s feelings when we do the invites, explain what’s happening, etc. Rather, in your case, it’s the way you do it. Socially, it’s exclusionary to publicly list the attendees, have lots of flickr photos appear (you could ask guest to be sensitive about it and not post the tags and label it) and tell people to express themselves in ways that smack of McCarthy era divisiveness.

    If your goal is to make people feel badly that aren’t in your click, you’re succeeding beautifully. Telling people you’ll punish them for speaking out does wonders for that:

    “The one sure way to prove yourself not a friend (and to make it really hard to invite you if we did make a mistake) is to make a public stink about it”

    So, we have to keep quiet lest we end up in the O’Reilly doghouse?

    Or this one, where you are essentially saying you won’t tell people directly what’s up with them, but rather deal with them in a passive-aggressive way by simply not inviting them back or never inviting them at all. It shows an amazing tendency toward perpetuating high school popularity contests with yourself at the center:

    “Sixth cut: the bozo filter. Someone who has been at a previous FOO camp, and whom we had complaints about for some reason or another, or who has built that kind of reputation on the net. Unfortunately, you probably don’t know who you are, but other people do.”

    These are human beings you’re talking about. You don’t have to like them or talk to them if you don’t want to, and sometimes people are very unpleasant, but don’t position yourself as the filter of the tech community (emphasis on community, where room must be made for everyone to some degree) and expect that people will like or trust you after you tell them that if they are ‘bad’ for speaking their minds ‘you’ll show them’ by not letting into the next event, or if they are ‘bad’ for some other reason, you simply won’t tell them. What happens if someone at Foocamp says something false about another camper? Do you check it out, or just add the mistaken information to some list, and send that ‘bad’ person off, wondering what happened?

    I know there are people online and off that are difficult to deal with or sometimes unpleasant. I understand not wanting to spend time with them. But don’t tell everyone these kinds of things, even if you do actually think them. The rest of the tech community right now is wondering how they’ve been ‘bad’ and is spending time getting angry with you for speaking this way.

    My experience is that the folks in the tech community that are difficult is that they are much, much easier to deal with if you speak to the directly. If there is a problem, address it like an adult. This isn’t sophomore year of high school. He doesn’t have to invite them over. But passive-aggressive ignoring of them causes them to yell louder, and bad mouth him. Be a bigger man than they are by acting like a man.

    Quite frankly, if I were having people over, I wouldn’t want you there because socially you have no ability to control yourself by keeping exclusionary ideas like this to yourself. You would succeed in alienating all my guests. Do you really want to behave this way, as a technology community leader?

    It’s appalling. You should apologize to everyone now.

  24. There are a number of people who are considered to be luminaries in the OSS community, but who I have met personally and wouldn’t trust to shine my shoes. They are complete jerks, but because they have somehow impressed people, they tend to get press, and that sort of thing tends to build on itself, and so tend to get invited to these sorts of events because of the press, and that builds their ego to unbelievable levels. There are also people I have met that are wonderful programmers doing amazing work, but don’t tend to, in effect, stand on street corners and shout “hey, look at ME!” to draw attention to themselves and so never get any attention, no press, and no invites to parties like this where they could get the exposure their work desperately needs.

    These are also people who are socially inept, or who annoy, irritate, or anger people, but who are doing some extremely interesting or important work. These people also shouldn’t be excluded.

    I’m not trying to rain on Tim’s parade here, but I agree with a previous poster – the whole thing smacks of the shallow and self-serving popularity games we all saw in junior high and high school. You’d think people would’ve gotten past these sorts of asolescent things once they grew up, started having kids of their own, and made their mark in their profession, but some haven’t, I suppose.

  25. Every social group has its backchannels, and they’re often semi-private. Presentation aside, it’s just a chance for a bunch of people to hang out with each other and talk – and, I suspect, for Tim to experiment with social environments. Both public and private events are found in human social interaction.

    I think it’s a brilliant idea to respond to Foo with Bar – but it need not be powered by fighting. We’re all on the same side here, right?

  26. Please don’t stop. This is great entertainment. Free reality-TV online: a mashup of “Geek Survivor” and “The Apprentice.” Does Tim O’Reilly have great pectorals or bad hair?

  27. > Or should say, attempted to leave those comments, but
    > the O’Reilly system excluded them. How fitting.

    You not only left them, you left them twice. Nice move.

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  30. This difference happens in the music scene too.

    Some headliners at musical shows feature a special guest, by invite only (Foo Camp.) It can be difficult from all the musicians that performer knows which to include. Professionals who wanted to be part of it yet weren’t invited may wish those who were well, and indicate willingness to help out in the future. Rejection is inevitable in any business, and how one handles it can speak volumes.

    Then sometimes, that very headliner features a jam night. Anybody can sign in on the guest list with their instrument and play 1 or 2 tunes with the “star.” While there is always the possibility that some players will be lousy, the real reason people go is to see new talent in the making. Some people have been discovered this way. Some people who also want to switch lines of music or are out looking for work also go to jam nights.

    Incidentally, maturity (or lack thereof) can be found at both formal gigs and jam sessions too. Some people take their jams very seriously regardless of their age or time in the music world. Maybe that can be transposed to the technology world too.

  31. The bozo filter is idiotic. It is *impossible*, thanks to the classist attitudes of Tim and his social network, to pass that filter while doing genuinely good work. It’s thanks to Tim and his ilk that there is such a high degree of class “warfare”.

  32. btw — the *original* definition of “bozo filter” goes back many many years and refers to the *delicate* process of handling outright schizophrenics and psychotics when in a position of leadership. The diff between that and Tim’s definition is telling.

  33. I am getting quite a kick reading this whole meme. It seems to me that many are a little too touchy about the whole subject. The underlying assumptions do make a lot of sense. There is more than enough place in the world for FOO and Barcamp and anything else. But if it becomes a game of one upmanship, that sort of defeats the whole purpose of the exercise.

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