Back at Apple in the 1980′s, we knew how to throw a party – annual developer conferences, beer bashes and new media shindigs…all served to bring together the community around the Macintosh. Then something funny happened. Macworld led to Internet World; Internet World led to Always On; Always On led to Web 2.0, and well…here we are today with lots of speakers and lots of events. All are good, but I long for something innovative, time-saving and useful.
I began attending TED Conferences in the 1990′s and enjoyed it. What has set TED apart from many other events and made it innovative: the quality of the audience was nearly as good as the quality of the speakers. TED has built up a community of innovators that enjoy seeing each other every year and use the lectures and talks to invigorate the “hallway” and break-time talk. As TED turns into a bigger production each year, the “organic” conversations become harder and harder, IMHO.
New Models, New Ways of Meeting Up
During the past decade, within the tech world, we’ve witnessed a huge range of innovative new business models, new products, new software, new services. The innovations have given rise to platforms, such as Apple, Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Webex, Groupon, and Google. How do members of these innovative companies find out about one another, meet, and create relationships?
As the tech world has become more innovative, the way in which people gather to exchange ideas has also become more innovative. Today there are a wide range of virtual and physical ways to meet up with others – the trick is settling on the ones that have the biggest impact for you.
Virtual Models for small groups
There is no doubt that WebEx/Cisco and teleportation technology have become more sophisticated in the past 10 years. This equipment, still expensive to build out, allows companies to communicate across the world as if they were in the same room. But is is limited to a small number of people around the table and still inaccessible to the masses. More accessible, of course is Skype, which is really built on a 1:1 model and is great for 2-4 people communicating but relatively unreliable in quality still and not great for a full “room” full of people. Advances in large screen monitors (soon to be WALL sized) will likely change the ability of distant groups of people to communicate.
The place where all this is mostly to change is Facebook. With over 800M people, Facebook now represents the single biggest “meet up” locale in the world. Live chat features, ability to send video, and applications that connect like-minded friends. For example, the FB applet called “Branch Out” ties together people with similar business interests.
A 2010 start-up called Plancast has also hit the Silicon Valley scene recently. Plancast.com allows you to look for events online, but also to let others know which events you plan to go to. So those on the circuit – Dave McClure, Ron Conway, George Zachary (Charles River Ventures), etc, etc. are all posting their anticipated trips and attendances. What a tool for an entrepreneur who is trying to “meet up” with (or stalk?) a particular angel or venture investor!
MeetUp is an approach the blends the virtual and the physical – anyone can start or sponsor a meeting or gathering, post it and attract like-minded local people to the gathering.
For all practical purposes, still the only way to interact with hundreds of people to meet up is to shuffle off to an event and join the party. The good old-fashioned event (conference, seminar, gathering) still exists and has wandered into some new intriguing spaces. Events and gatherings, after all, can often be the catalyst to new relationships, new ideas and new connections in the mind. And, some of these events are taking on interesting twists.
Facebook, Apple, Google, GigaOm, and TechCrunch all hold interesting events for programmers (sometimes called “hackathons”) – Techcrunch has its Disrupt Hackathon, Facebook calls its event the “Garage” . Tim O’Reilly’s Foo Conferences have also been called UnConferences. There is no agenda set prior to the meet-up, but once people arrive they determine what topics and seminars are most important to those assembled.
On the non-technical side, a host of conferences around start-ups, innovation and technology have blossomed in the past few years…many of them featuring scores of speakers and panels on a variety of today’s topics; examples include Web 2.0, Always On, and TechCrunch Disrupt and Demo. Each region of the country typically has speaker-series hosted by a regional player – in the Bay Area, the best known is The Churchill Club (features top speakers from technology, innovation on single evening topic).
A good listing of global conferences on technology can be found here.
Social and Impact Get their Turn
One of my new favorite events is SoCap (Social Capital Markets) event, held each year in SF. I’m a newbie to this, but the conference itself has been around for many years, bringing together leaders in social/impact space, entrepreneurs and The event head-quarters are located in The Hub, in downtown SF, which today is a hot-bed of social/impact start-ups. Social entrepreneurship is a hot topic these days on college campuses, at events, and in mid-life crises.
Another event for social/impact space is the Take Action! Impact Investment event – held annually in SF, and bringing together investors interested in the impact/social investment space.
A relatively complete list of events in the Social/Impact space can be found on Socialbrite’s blog.
A missing gap in all this is Application of innovation to helping others. While events like TechCrunch Disrupt and might explore technology, innovation and trends, they do not talk about how these new tools, services and platforms can be used to help the bottom of the pyramid or those who most need it. In fact, trickle-down theory tells us that it will be many many years before today’s innovations reach those most in need .
Where Innovation Meets Social/Impact
A new model for exploring how today’s innovations can make an impact on the less fortunate in the world will be explored at The Intersection, a unique one-day extravaganza supported by Pixar, WorldVision and the Gratitude Network .
The Intersection is bringing together some of the country’s leaders in innovative thinking from a variety of sections and looking at the INTERSECTION of ideas as a means of finding solutions to large social issues. Susan Sarandon (actress) & Greg Brandeau (Disney) with perspectives from Hollywood; Steve Case sharing insights from government and entrepreneurship; Linda Hill, John Hagel III and Frans Johnasson (all respected authors) on their perspective on leadership and innovation; Ed Catmull (Pixar) and Tim Brown (IDEO) with their perspectives on creativity; and Chris Pitt (World Vision) and Guru Singh with examples from around the world of social innovation.
I’ll be moderating this event on January 14, 2012. The event will be intimate with only 350 in attendance. We have been fortunate enough to be invited to hold the event at Pixar’s world headquarters and studios. So, it’s not only a great collection of activities and speakers on the topic of innovation and social change but it will be held in a unique venue (complete with surprised throughout the event). Click here for Information about applying to the Intersection.