This is a real red letter day. It’s a day when I come out in defense of a Tim O’Reilly event, rather than the opposite. I’m sure it will be appreciated about as much as my criticism, which is to say not. Regardless, it is the fair thing to do.

The event is Foo Camp, and there’s some folk unhappy because they weren’t invited. Among these are Russell BeattieMarc Canter, and Om Malik. Surprises me a bit because these guys are already part of the ‘insiders’, the people who are connected, those at the top. Is it that they want to be more in, more connected, and even higher?

In the past I’ve been concerned about invite-only events such as these, because women, strangely enough, usually don’t get invited. And though the numbers at this year’s camp are pretty weak, there are women attending. Could do better on the representation, but if O’Reilly is really only concerned about marketing to men, that’s the company’s decision. Besides, looking at the women invited, quality more than makes up for quantity.

I didn’t get an invite, but wasn’t expecting one. Was invited once, and had to decline–didn’t have the money to make my way over to the coast. Even if I did have an invite and did have the money to go, I wouldn’t. Something like this has no appeal to me, and if the only power of the event is for it to be known that you were at the event, then this doesn’t have much appeal for me either.

Two hundred and fifty people roughing it in tents, sharing showers, involved in a saturation campaign of connecting with as many movers and shakers in the tech community as possible? Not my thing. A quiet dinner meeting up with folks and having a chance to talk, now that sounds fine. Time to meet with folks and talk over an idea sounds good; a frenetic run from event to event, tossing frisbees along the way does not.

Oh, it does concern me that I’m out here in St. Louis, cut off from ‘action’ so to speak, and adrift without the networking that seems so necessary to my biz. However, being cut-off also means that I have a clear perspective on much of the noise coming from the coast and much of it is noise, make no mistake. In the last five years most of the jumping up and down that’s occurred has been about concepts with no technical feasibility; technologies that are five years old but new again; and concepts that seem really great, but which we soon tire of like a kid with a Christmas toy.

There are the winners that slip in, and it would be nice to meet up with those who create the works that are solid, and you know will last. But I don’t really have to travel to California, and sleep on the ground with 250 people who are virtually strangers, while standing in line at the toilet in order to experience their creativity. I’d rather get to know the people through their work, when I can go to the bathroom anytime I want. As for the boosts to career and being part of the insiders, well, if my words and ideas and code here and elsewhere can’t sell me then nothing I’ll say in person will really make a difference.

But enough about me and my less than geeky attitude: I was particularly impressed with Tim O’Reilly’s discussion in Om Malik’s comments about how the choices of who to invite are made, especially the reasons for the 4th cut:

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.)

Foo Camp is to benefit O’Reilly the business, and as such, O’Reilly the business should have a right to invite the people it wants. Upfront, and honest, and I can respect that.

The real issue, though, and the main reason for much of the hurt feelings, is that Foo Camp is seen as the ‘it’ event, to use Tim’s rather eloquent words. Why is Foo Camp the ‘it’ event? Because Tim O’Reilly is a damn good marketer, that’s why. Want to have a session with the movers and shakers in the industry? Don’t have a meeting and let people invite themselves — no one will show up. No, you invite the folks, imbue the event with an ever so delicate scent of exclusivity, and the best will beat at your door begging to be allowed in. Brilliant. Mark Twain would approve.

Bottom line, though, and pushing aside much of the myth, FooCamp is nothing more than a fun and active party with some pretty smart people, not unlike many others that happen over the year. We make it exclusive by wanting to go. Stop wanting to go, and it’s no longer exclusive; it’s no longer the ‘it’ event, it’s just ‘an’ event.

There’s a lot of good people going to FooCamp who I would love to have a long chat with sometime, and maybe I will in the future. But I’d like to meet them one or two at a time, not cramed in amidst all that good old American summer camp goodness.

(I will miss the beer, though. Haven’t been to a good kegger in the longest time. )

Most importantly, if the purpose to go is to network, then you have to ask what the value of our online connectivity is if we feel we have to meet people in person in order to be successful. I mean, the people who are selling the whole “online experience” thing are the same ones who are running around from conference to conference, meeting to meeting. Either this is all new, in which case the old style of networking doesn’t matter; or the people who are networking about how this is all new are propagating a lie.

I’d like to think this is new, and it doesn’t matter how many ‘it’ conferences you go to, as long as you got the goods. So, to Tim and friends, have a lot of fun, take pictures, and write lots of reports. And to those who are doing the BarCamp thing, I hope you have fun, too. As for me, well, I’m thinking of creating Atom 2.0 and seeing if I can get on Slashdot.

Better yet: Eve 1.0, the syndication feed developed exclusively for women. Cool. And I didn’t even have to stand in line for the bathroom to think of it.

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