You should attend Defrag

Photo by J Philipson

The first Defrag conference was truly illuminating for me. It gave me a vast number of ideas from people I might never have run across otherwise, and some of them are fueling the work I’m doing today. This year’s Defrag is fast approaching, and so’s the deadline for the early-bird discount, (Update- Eric just sent me a code for an extra $100 off: ‘pete1’) so here’s why I think you should go:

Inspiration. Last year I sat with JP Rangaswami at lunch, heard him describe his open inbox policy, which led me to take a fresh look at the privacy challenges of sharing email. Andrew McAfee gave a compelling example of a building firm that saved half a million dollars thanks to one employee sharing knowledge through a blog post, which reawakened my interest in stopping waste by opening up all the silo-ed information in large companies. There were many other moments like this for me. I don’t know what they’ll be this year, but I know when you get this many smart people from different worlds talking, there will be plenty of them.

Learning. Karen Schneider taught me the basics of what librarians have learnt over the last 2000 years about categorizing information in her talk. Matt Hurst showed a formal way of thinking about the process of creating a visualization. Michael Barrett of Paypal warned that if we were dealing with valuable information, we needed to be thinking about security right from the start. I’m applying all of these to my own work, and I wouldn’t have known about them without hearing the talks.

Contacts. The whole world of trying to do something useful with ambient information is incredibly young and fragmented. This is the only meeting of the tribe, and I talked to more people who were looking at the same problems as me in 2 days than I had in the previous year. If you’re trying to do anything innovative with visualizations, data mining or other information tools, you’ll find people interested in helping you make progress.

Vibe. It’s actually fun! Everybody is here because they’ve made a decision to come, this isn’t a convention where everybody in an industry attends by default. That means packed sessions, people who are excited to be there, lots of smiling faces and a welcoming attitude that makes it easy to talk to strangers. It’s also kept pretty small, which means you’ll feel at home very quickly. I came out last year with a real energy boost, thanks to the atmosphere.

Participation. This year I’m jazzed that I’ll be on stage as a panel member, but nobody is just sitting back and passively absorbing information. The open discussions forced everyone to get engaged, and gave me some conversations I never would have had otherwise. I’m looking forward to what Eric has planned for this year, it sounds like he’s been getting inspiration from Seth Godin’s ideas on getting people involved.

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