Last weekend (including Friday) we were part of something new and groundbreaking: the <head> conference was the first fully interactive conference held on the internet with 73 speakers in numerous countries, each of which didn't have to leave their homes to talk to the attendees. The following is a screenshot of the conference organizers inside Adobe Connect (the technology the largest part of the conference relied on):
This was possible because of two factors: dedication by the organizers (especially the father of the conference Aral Balkan) and not being afraid to push technologies to its boundaries.
The amount of technical effort and bleeding edge technology was impressive: the web site consuming the streaming data and allowing the audience to chat with the presenter was written in Python and fully hosted on Google App Engine. There was a pre-party in Second Life and a song performed on stage and broadcast into Second Life.
The London hub
As conferences are much more than just listening to amazing speakers, the Yahoo Developer Network also sponsored a hub in London that allowed people to meet in real life and witness the start of the conference.
The location was reflecting the magic of what was happening here - the magic circle is a members-only club in the centre of London that showcases all of the great magicians coming from or performing here. The stage with the speakers was a real old-school stage with red velvet curtains and an aura of mystique went through the whole building. Think of the sets in the movie The Prestige and you get a good idea. Luckily we did not set off any trapdoors by accident and lost speakers but on the other hand we didn't have Scarlett Johansson either.
The overall line-up of speakers at the conference was impressive and the London hub had a wide variety of talks ranging from accessibility over working more efficiently via saving the world by monitoring our energy identity up to using cloud computing in a safe manner via open standards.
The highlight of the hub was Tim O'Reilly chatting with a very star-struck Aral Balkan about what the future might bring and where O'Reilly is heading with it.
Apart from several minor technical glitches that can be remedied the conference went remarkingly well. I was not too sure when Aral approached me a year ago that talking to my computer would make for a good presentation format but it seems that my talk went down well and it was easy to answer questions of the audience asked in an online chat. I would have liked more video conferencing going on but I am sure we already pushed the system to the limit with three parallel conference rooms.
I am looking forward to next year and where this can go. From a "green" perspective and in terms of saving money (no travel cost) the conference style is a real winner in these days of cost cutting.
Hats off to Aral and team for making this happen! We'll keep you updated when the videos of the conference are availlable and you can find the slides by following the tag "head2008" online.
Yahoo Developer Network.