Last Tuesday (wow, the week has flown by), I attended the second Ignite Seattle event at CHAC. Much like last time the event was packed and full of geek energy. I got there towards the end of the egg-launching contest, and didn’t get to see much because of the crowds, but was able to see a little flying yolk.
And then we got to the talks…
The talks started soon after and they were a similar hodge-podge mix of deep tech, company pitches, basic primers on interesting topics, or just plain weird. Videos and copies of all the presentations should be up on the Ignite site soon. Some of the early highlights included the OpenID primer from JanRain representative, and a brief talk on power consumption of home computers. Great examples and math of how more efficient programming, and fewer processor cycles (along with evolving computer technology) are saving kilowatts and money on your electric bill. Turn off your lights when you leave the house, but also turn off the computer!
Continuing on, there were some hits and misses (a talk about good elevator pitches should not sound like Ben Stein… Beuller… Beuller…). One of my favorites was from Mr. The World is Not Flat, Lee Lefever, on how technology played an integral part of his marathon journey around the world with his wife. Social networking, blogging, videos, photos, etc. all made for an astounding trip, meeting unexpectedly connected, but entirely new people in nearly every city. The site is worth a good read. And the second round of talks also included an over-my-head algorithm talk from a Google engineer, but one choice fact jumped out at me: “The average Google project takes 6-12 months with 3-5 engineers.” Keep that in mind the next time you hear your company trumpeting how new “agile” processes will get things out faster than the “slow” 6-12 month cycle.
The last round gave us the absolute highlight of the night, Leo Dirac‘s: “Transhuman technology trends and their implications for a theory of morality” (or, “Why only geeks and hippies can save the world”). Here’s the full text of his presentation, but wait for the video for the full impact. In short: Forget about everything eco-friendly you’ve ever heard. It doesn’t matter. The Earth won’t be able to sustain life in 1000 years anyway, so we should focus all of our efforts on the human mind, machine thinking and liberating our consciousnesses from our physical bodies. Matrix, here we come.
By the end, the audience was getting more involved, along with some well-placed jokes, smart-ass rebuttals, and lots of laughter. Another engrossing talk was from Deepak Singh, calling for an open scientific future where research, papers, and most importantly the data for each can be easily shared and referenced. One last letdown was the convoluted overview of Others Online. Recommendations, behaviorally targeted advertising, and social networks are nothing new, and they certainly don’t need a toolbar to be effective. “100% Spyware Free” because we just don’t call it spyware anymore! There are better, even more transparent and useful ways to give people relevant information and advertising when they need/want it. Although I think we may see a new surge of these extension/toolbar oriented companies. Web-based services, browsers, and the desktop are all being blurred at the moment, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to revert back to relics of the early internet.
Some of the talks were on the blander, “this is my company, we do cool stuff, and we’re hiring…” side, and one audience member summed it up best in the concluding feedback chatter: “Less corporate spooge!” While I think the event has great potential for getting your company out there, most people aren’t there to listen to your pitch. Maybe a good solution is to dedicate a few tables to company/product demos and take a longer break between talks so people have a chance to check it out.
Again, like last time, I would have liked more talks on quick how-tos or case-studies on a particular project/experience. These seem like the most successful and most interesting. High-level overviews on some less-common subjects are also pretty good supplements.
Lastly, the space issue. I thought the CHAC upstairs space would be plenty big this time, but it was still standing room only (although great that so many people showed up!). Tables and chairs had been set up in clusters for teams working on the Make event, but for the talks they ended up being an inefficient use of the space. Rows of chairs, more theater-style, would have put the space to better use. Many of us had to fight for limited floor space that had a view of the screen. I think the space (with the extended section opened up) could work next time but a little re-organization between Make/Ask Later could get more of us comfortable.
All in all it was another good time, and a whole lot of curiosities and inspiration to digest.