This week I'm at the Open Source Convention in Portland, aka OSCON. First impression, before showing up: it seems all focused on big business. Big ticket price. Lots of enterprise-related topics, and sponsors. Not really the meeting of geniuses and thought leaders as years past--or so I thought.
Second impression: Tim O'Reilly asking Brian Aker and Monty Widenius about the importance of various proprietary companies: Sun, Adobe, Microsoft. Their answer to Microsoft? Irrelevant. And Tim came back apologizing to the Microsoft sponsors. This just after the presentation that talked about the open source "tribe", and introducing Tim as the leader of the cult. Was feeling a bit like I may have made a mistake, plopping down cold hard cash to support the cult of O'Reilly.
Fortunately, that thought was momentary. The rest of the event has been extremely rewarding, and very worthwhile.
At home, in my usual networks, I'm the token Linux guy. Beyond our company and some family I've converted to Linux, almost none of my friends use open source, and in business circles, I'm the resource for not just Linux, but web technologies, programming, system administration, and most anything computer related. I come to OSCON and I'm a mere end user, still damp behind the ears. There is true genius wandering the convention center. And suddenly, I'm one of the least technical people in the room, though still listened to for my experience trying to bring these projects to the small business world, identifying pitfalls and areas for improvement.
A few years back, I came to OSCON and it seemed that the worse dressed a person was, the higher up in the ranks of alpha geek he was. This year people looked much more presentable. That might be as far as the influence of corporate culture went.
I met R0ml at that previous OSCON I attended, at a BOF session led by Doc Searls. A "BOF", if you're not familiar with software conferences, is a "Birds of a Feather", a mini, informal discussion about a particular topic led by anybody who puts an idea for one up on a bulletin board. I doubt R0ml remembers me, but it was an interesting discussion we had that evening that paralleled his talk today about elevating open source development from the realm of Techne to Praxis--from mere "making" of stuff to "doing" something to influence and lead people. He took issue with the assertion in an earlier keynote about Franklin and Jefferson being our founding geeks--mainly because while everybody needs a geek these days to make computers do their bidding, that's a useful, technical, thing that puts us squarely in the realm of Techne. What Jefferson and Franklin really were, according to R0ml, were Polymaths, and that is also a better description of open source practitioners. We're Renaissance people.