I just returned from the 2010 Code4Lib Conference in Asheville, NC, and what a time I had with 250 library geeks. I can’t think of another conference that is quite so simultaneously energizing and draining.
Energizing because of the amazing content presented, the many opportunities to participate even if you aren’t on the program, and seeing old friends and making new ones. Draining because it is a whirlwind of activity that doesn’t end when the conference day ends, but continues in both planned and ad hoc social events where yet another channel of information (and often the most important) is created and consumed.
For those of you who haven’t been, Code4Lib is a single-track conference for library software developers. It grew out of what began as a mailing list and IRC chatroom, and has since spawned not just a conference, but also a well-regarded journal as well as other activities. The watchword of the conference is "no spectators", which means extra effort goes into planning a variety of ways people can participate. Time is set aside for "lightning talks" that are strictly kept to five minutes each. Time is also set aside for breakout sessions for "birds of a feather" get togethers. Participants can sign up for both lightning talks and breakouts at the conference.
This year Dan Chudnov suggested an "Ask Anything" session that was a total hit. The premise was that you could get up and "ask anything", such as who knows about a particular technology, or to briefly state a problem and ask for potential solutions, or really anything tech related. In about 45 minutes numerous questions were asked and answered in an open and yet well-managed session ran by Dan. No doubt this will become as much a fixture as lightning talks and breakouts have become.
At my place of employment (OCLC), we talk about "amplifying" conferences in various ways — video, audio, twitter, etc. As you might imagine with a tech conference, Code4Lib was and will be amplified in a variety of ways. Certainly the IRC chartroom was a constant "backchannel" for the conference, but so was Twitter. A few post-conference tweets help to illustrate what people felt they got out of the experience:
"gave overview of #c4l10 to my supervisor. didn’t realize just how many ideas/opportunities from the conf i got until i was telling her" – @L1bN3rd
"I can’t wait to try out the innumerable APIs featured at #c4l10. A killer app is in there somewhere." – @jimsafley
"#c4l10 is at an end…sad. Great conference. I highly recommend it even if you’re not a librarian. Great tech, great people, good ideas." – @bigbluehat
There were over 1,600 tweets during the conference, which can be found in at the TwapperKeeper site. For a conference that has been predominantly male, the number of females this year seemed substantially increased, with more female presenters and the top three twitterers.
Perhaps one indication of the level of success that this conference has achieved is that the Digital Library Federation felt it necessary to send a "spy" (said with tongue firmly in cheek) in the form of Eric Celeste to see what it was all about. It is to the credit of both Eric and Code4Lib that he was quickly sucked into participating in the conference in typical Code4Lib style (you want something done? then do it!). His account of his experience and perspective is worth reading but even better would be to experience it yourself. I have now, for several years running, and it just keeps getting better.