My Picks from the Emerging Technology Conference

by Marc Hedlund

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I've always had a great time working on the conference committee for the Emerging Technology conference, and at the conference itself. It's not a super business-y conference, nor too academic or impractical. It's a fun look at the stuff that will either make it into the mainstream technology business in a couple of years, or will flame out spectacularly. Either way, good sport.

This year seemed to bring out a bunch of great session proposals -- more so than the last two years. Here are my favorites from the conference program:

Creating Passionate Users - Kathy Sierra
I saw this talk at Foo Camp last year, and it was fantastic. A clear, well-presented session on how to involve people in your product and make them very excited about it. Kathy talks about how the "Head First" book series (which came into a very crowded Java book space and jumped to the front of the market) was developed, but her ideas apply to many kinds of products.

Endangered Devices and How We Can Save Them - Wendy Seltzer, Jason Schultz
Wendy and Jason both blog about their work for the EFF, and their talk proposal looks great. The general problems they discuss affect anyone looking to develop technologies that threaten existing markets -- you know, all emerging technologies.

Building Communities with Software - Joel Spolsky
You've probably read Joel's blog and maybe bought his greatest hits book, which is well worth owning so you might beat your managers and co-workers with it when needed. (The engineers at BigBook, responding to their CEO adding more and more bodies to a late project in order to speed it up, bought him 20 copies of "The Mythical Man-Month" so he might read it 20 times as fast. Joel's book could easily be put to similar use.) I think Joel is a little around the bend with his whole "Social Interfaces" kick, but that's okay -- part of the strength of his writing is taking a clear viewpoint and fighting for it like the devil. I'm looking forward to heckling.

Lessons Learned While Building Basecamp - Jason Fried
I attended the day-long "Building of Basecamp" seminar run by Jason and the other guys at 37signals, and it's amazing. Basecamp is a beautiful example of a small application done incredibly well. In under a year, they've completely remade project management software in a new and better image, changing the terrible Microsoft Project mental model into something usable, flexible, and cool. Jason is a passionate and clear-headed proponent of their model, and his ideas about building Web businesses apply very broadly.

Hardware Hacks from the Far Side - James Larsson
Holy crap this sounds amazing -- I had to look twice to make sure Gary Larson hadn't just parodied an ETech talk with this submission. Make a fly zapper out of an old CRT monitor? I don't know if this is emerging tech or emergency room tech, but I'm looking forward to seeing the sparks fly. (Sorry.)

Re:MixMe - Lawrence Lessig
I've seen Larry speak several times over the years, and after giving one of the best talks at the first-ever ETech, he just gets better. At Web 2.0, he had a crowd of CEOs and venture capitalists roaring and stamping their feet in support of reduced copyright powers. How does he do that? Larry has his own PowerPoint template and a great preacher's intonation. Oh yeah, and the content is vitally important to our world, too. Bonus.

I'm also talking, about how to raise a VC round if you're a geek (with some digressions on why and whether to sell your soul for a donut -- see also Joel Spolsky and Jason Fried, above). It's a slightly prettied-up version of a talk I give all the time to entrepreneurs over coffee, except this time I'm not buying the coffee. Should be fun.

You can save $300 by registering "early-bird" before midnight on Monday, January 31st. You can also get another 5% off by using the discount available on BoingBoing (which still applies after Monday). Obviously I'm biased but I recommend it highly -- it's my favorite conference of the year.

Looking forward to any of the ETech sessions in particular?