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July 25 2011

OSCON subcultures

After a weekend at the href="">Community Leadership
Summit--check out the great href="">session
notes online--I have to leap into the largest and most diverse of
O'Reilly's conferences. These are great at bringing together different
types, and much of the excitement and pleasure comes from the banter
among people with very divergent experiences in computing. Here's a
typical bar conversation.

Hacker: We stopped testing our code long ago.
Instead we have a front-end wrapper that automatically compensates for
syntax errors, routing problems, and sluggish performance.

Entrepreneur: If your development process for the
front-end wrapper is just as casual as it is for your applications, I
can't see how you can control its operation.

Hacker: Doesn't matter. Our web visitors are
accustomed to having something new and different every time they come.

Veteran: You kids abuse all the protections we've
built into the stack over the years. I've been working on a protocol
that would require visitors to popular web sites to sign up for a
multicast group. That way, servers could reduce bandwidth by using

Hacker: I'll do you one better. When visitors
first hit one of our pages, we use JavaScript to download a
peer-to-peer call-back that transmits our content directly onto all
their friends' systems.

Entrepreneur: Won't that annoy mobile phone users
by maxing out their data plans?

Hacker: Sure it will. Our ultimate goal is to
break the cell phone providers' business model.

Veteran: You don't have to consider the
infrastructure; when we were young, I did. I was in grad school before
the DNS was invented. Students had to spend hours memorizing the IP
addresses of federal agencies.

Entrepreneur: I want my system to get only the
content from the web pages I visit and their affiliates. That may be
old-fashioned, but anything else plays havoc with SEO.

Veteran: I still remember the address of the mail
server at the Defense Intelligence Agency--

Hacker: Hey! Have you been taking notes on what
I've been saying?

Community Leadership Summit was wonderful, as always. More than a
hundred people, most connected to the computer field in some way but
everybody interested in how people tick, spent an intense two days and
evening together. About half the attendees were women. We went over
all the issues that these summits conventionally cover--how to engage
users, how to deal with disruptive people, dealing with forks in
source code--and a lot of fun, oddball sessions too. I got to lead a
pretty popular session comparing Saul Alinsky-style community
organizing with techniques used now to make online social networks

Much of the content can be found in blogs and other places, notably
(marketing plug coming up) href="">The Art of
, written by Jono Bacon, the chief organizer of CLS.
So the process of sitting and engaging is at least as important as the
ideas and facts we exchange. CLS unconferences are already being held
outside OSCon, so there will be chances for more and more people to
flex their muscles as organizers of communities.

Don't be the product, buy the product!