February 21, 2006 4:00 AM PST

MashupCamp--a new kind of get-together

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MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.--It's 7:54 a.m., and I'm nine minutes late for MashupCamp.

No matter, though. MashupCamp--two days of discussions about the custom applications that come from the merger of application program interfaces--isn't like a normal conference. So showing up a few minutes late? Par for the course.

Photos: At MashupCamp

Given that the event has drawn representatives and sponsorships from many of the titans of technology, including Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Adobe and the like, it may not be immediately apparent how it's different. That is, besides the fact that the main topic of discussion involves applications--such as Paul Rademacher's HousingMaps, a blend of Google Maps and Craigslist's geographic rental listings--that are generally available to the public for free.

But soon after I came through the doors of the Computer History Museum here, which is playing host to the event, things started to become clear.

For one, there was no schedule yet. Or rather, there was a whiteboard with a grid of times and rooms on it that was entirely empty. For another, the attendees had paid nothing to get in to this nonprofit event and their only barrier to entry had been to sign up on the event's wiki before space ran out.

At around 8:30 a.m., most of the 300 or so on hand here filed into an auditorium where co-organizer David Berlind proceeded to invite anyone in the crowd with a mashup they wanted to show off to step forward and introduce it. One caveat: They got only 30 seconds to explain their projects. It was like Demo on crack. (Berlind is executive editor of business technology for ZDNet, which is owned by CNET News.com parent company CNET Networks).

But come up they did. In all, 40 people made their way up to the stage and, yes, in less than 30 seconds each made a quick pitch for their mashup.

For example, one company talked about a mashup it was developing that aims to mix mapping software with data marking the locations of trees planted by San Francisco's Friends of the Urban Forest.

Another talked about plans to make it easy for dating sites to integrate astrology data.

The race for space
The mashup that the event's producers now dealt with was the little matter of the empty schedule and a whole lot of two days left to fill.

So, in a distinctly nontraditional way, Berlind once again invited the participants to make the event happen. In this case, that meant asking anyone who wanted to lead a discussion to come up, explain what they wanted and then claim a spot on the schedule.

Click here to Play

Video: MashupCamp brings minds together
David Berlind, a MashupCamp organizer and ZDNet editor, demonstrates the ins and outs of mashups from the floor of this year's "unconference for the uncomputer."

And since the various meeting rooms here differ significantly in size, it was important for sessions to be in the right size rooms. So each session leader concluded his explanation--and it really was a whole lot of "his," since out of 28 sessions Monday, 27 were led by men, and out of almost 300 attendees, no more than 15 were women--by asking how many people were interested in participating. If a lot of people raised their hands, he would claim a larger room. If not, a smaller one.

For an observer, this was one of the best parts of the whole experience: Watching what had been an empty schedule fill out quickly and in an orderly, sensible fashion. There would be few sessions of 15 people in a room for 100, and few begging for more space.

The nontraditional format was a major reason many of the people showed up Monday.

CONTINUED: "The law of two feet"…
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Until Money Happens
People in general are good. Until money happens. Again, the software industry is mimicing the music industry. Once there are real offers in terms of large dollars, baser instincts override the forebrain and seize the speech centers.

Don't believe it? While there are numerous examples, the most current is the RSS shootouts over who controls the evolution of the specification.

Helping others is a healthy activity, but until you know yourself well enough to know what you really want, knowing what you want for others is hard to do. We are far too gifed at hiding from ourselves what is so transparent to others. So one has to be determined and steely about this: be sure what you want for yourself because
unless you are, you will never be sure what you want for others.

In a technical list extolling the virtues of technologists or technologies, most will consider this philosophy, but it is the best business advice I can give.
Posted by Len Bullard (454 comments )
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Until egos happen...
The real problem, as we were discussing at the SuperNova Pre Pre Party last week, is the ability of people to get along with one another and collaborate effectively. This is the ultimate aspect of creating value in the knowledge economy. It is why startup teams are usually a bunch of engineers who used to work together, and why they seldom bring in the other team members who understand real people and the needs of real people. Or, as Robert Scoble calls them, the 'contextualizers'.

Even within the engineering tribe, and particularly among the standards groups, I see a wave of egomania preventing us from achieveing true progress. It has to be this way or that, with most people never bothering to resolve their different perspecctives to get at what works best. Don't get me wrong here, the competition of ideas is still good, but how many brands do we need touing slight variants on the same functionality, with few brave enough to tackle the real solutions that are needed?

So yes, when money gets involved, things start to change - but ego is already involved and that has changed things quite a bit already.
Posted by ChrisHeuer (5 comments )
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True Statement
True statement, Chris, and the same for bands. Put enough talent in a band and you get the same ego issues. Put well-recognized talent in the band and it happens faster. Money is a little different. It isn't just an accelerant; it acts like LSD in the punch. The behaviors become bizarre fast because with the talent and the recognition come the insecurities, a squirmy form of fear, and as Herbert wrote, "Fear is the mindkiller."

The web generation also suffers the backwash of being Reagan's Kids: greed is good; we are the chosen ones, and the whole rotting mess of self-absorbtion.

Did ya really think Mosaic was a 'good' browser or just a 'free browser'? Did ya really think that any of its predecessors were just 'experiments leading to the main event'? That is the next problem: no true history, just myths and self-promoted legends, therefore, no learning curve and experience to discipline the members.

What you will see is that as more of these folks experience the dry mouth of failure, some will begin to examine their own motives for actions and learn how to handle success and failure. These people will go on to found great companies and do good things for others with technology. So an old lesson from Hindu philosophy: know your reason for giving a gift because if you don't, it fast becomes rotten as dead flesh.

It isn't news; it is good advice.
Posted by Len Bullard (454 comments )
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Informal yet useful
It is definitely a good move. The results would probably start showing once some of the Mashed up Products evolve and take the market by storm.
In the article i read that there was an idea to mash up dating site with astrology site information, but already in India i feel some of the matrimonial sites offer this kind of service. I would be glad if these kind of Camps are held in different parts of the globe. I would also be glad to organize it in India.
Mashup Camp - Where Master Minds Meet....
Posted by itispals (56 comments )
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