Social software author ‘not miffed’ by conference shutout

Control freakery

Down in Santa Clara this week O'Reilly Associates are hosting something called an "Emerging Technology" conference, which began life two years ago as the P2P conference, back when Peer-to-Peer was the rage.

O'Reilly are the good guys, well-loved and with good reason: their excellent editorial judgement and good taste has put high quality books in front of the high quality geeks who need them. Tim O'Reilly himself showed his vision and marketing nous by helping to "rebrand" free software as something much more cuddly and understandable, called "Open Source". This has drawn the ire of free software purists such as the FSF, but it has, we reckon, added to the greater common good immeasurably.

So it's odd, when you peruse the Emerging Technology Conference agenda, to get the sense that you're staring at a scene that resembles the Scientology cult. It achieves this spooky effect by pandering extensively to a tiny part of the idea spectrum and excluding not just important historical figures with rich contributions to make, but emerging entrepreneurs and researchers, too. Cults begin by excluding behavior that doesn't fit the norm: that's the very definition of a "cult".

Omission is not forgetfulness: an omission is an exclusion. Who's out of favor at this "Emergent Technology" conference? Who is Emerging, but not deemed worthy of inclusion?

One candidate could be the leader of the British Antarctica Expedition, a Swiss-based polymath called David Mantripp. David submitted a paper to the O'Reilly conference on MMS usage patterns.

At first, he got an enthusiastic response. Rael Dornfest, who headed a three-man technical committee that included Clay Shirky and trivia-blogger, cum blog-celeb Cory Doctorow,. Dornfest told him that "this is exactly what we want". But David hadn't counted on Clay Shirky's monomaniacal exclusion policy. Because his paper dealt with a picture messaging protocol (MMS) that had been agreed upon by the incumbent operators, it didn't fit with Shirky's simplistic agenda for the future of wireless: and "wireless" is a term he has decided to ethnically cleanse. It doesn't include incumbent wireless operators: in Shirkyland, the slate must be wiped clean.

The agenda, remember, is that the incumbent operators will be wiped out by people-powered WiFi. So the agenda, in this case, assumes that wireless carriers are evil, and must die, so Mantripp's paper was gently sidelined.

Two months later, Mantripp got the bum's rush. Official.

Would he be attending, we enquired?

"The agenda is so boring that I just can't be bothered,' Mantripp told us, reflecting the European response to the lobbyists.

Wireless, O'Reilly style, excludes all the interesting bits, and specifically excludes the "last yard" Internet that is being grabbed by proximity server and PMG vendors. Social software to the last bit, except, if it doesn't fit the patten, it can't be included.

Clique

Instead the O'Reilly Conference, which depends almost exclusively on Shirky for its intellectual ballast, has been given over to a curious clique of webloggers. Late last year, Shirky held a private "social software summit" whose attendance list was remarkable by its omissions. It excluded social critics, the inventor of FidoNet, and many other historical figures of importance, although it included Danny O'Brien (and wife) of NTK and Rusty Foster of Kuro5hin.org: two coruscating critics whose withering wit could have sunk this vanity exercise before it had the chance to leave harbor. And so far, these are two critics who are in the tent, but are conspicuously failing to piss out. Or even acknowledge that there's a tent at all. Which is a significant omission. These omissions add up.

Only last week we received an invitation to an "Emerging Technology" party at a campsite that appears to be hosted in Danny O'Brien's backyard. [Full disclosure: your reporter is acquainted with the above, and wishes them nothing but good fortune.]

Can you imagine a campsite of bloggers?

Even with such fine wits as O'Brien and Foster in attendance, it's hard to imagine that this won't break down into a consensual circle-jerk. Such is the world of blogdom, which relies heavily on its own, synthetic consensus.

And in anycase, Emergent Intelligence has to take a back seat to Real Life.

We'd love to attend, only the long awaited documentary on the MC5 and the Detroit scene will, alas, take up a valuable portion between 3:30pm and 5pm on Wednesday afternoon. There isn't any Social Software that can match the potency of the MC5, or this crucial period in American social history, which saw promised a vital revolutionary link between the Black Panters and the White Panters, which MC5 manager John Sinclair founded. Suspicion lingers that this was a proto-Malcolm McLaren stunt. We shall see.

Either way, given the choice between shorthairs talking about their blogs, and longhairs talking about "fucking in the streets", which would you choose to see?

Really. ®

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