What makes a great tech conference? I’ve been to more conferences in past few years than I can remember, but as time passes they all blur together, and few stand out as particularly impactful. I was lucky enough to attend Defrag 2011 this year, on the conference’s 5th anniversary. After two intense days of sessions, networking, and manning the FullContact booth, I can honestly say that Defrag is one of the best tech conferences I’ve attended.
At Defrag ideas and passion take center stage. 20 keynotes are given over 2 days with 1 hour of additional breakout sessions each day. Attendance is capped at 325 and conference sessions are never streamed. The conference started in 2007 as an event for exploring information overload and building tools for the web. Recently the focus has shifted to things like enterprise collaboration, social media and big data. This year, conference organizer Eric Norlin chose not to limit the topics to a set list, so that speakers could talk about the ideas they’re most passionate about. This opened up the discussion to new topics and ideas that won’t be found anywhere else.
My Defrag 2011
My Defrag story began a day before the conference, at API Hackday in Boulder, Colorado. After Hackday, Bart and I walked down Pearl Street to Brasserie Ten Ten, an excellent French restaurant, for one of the the pre-conference dinners. I got to sit at the “Developer Evangelist” table with John Sheehan from Twilio, Brandon West from SendGrid, and Jessica Goulding, a senior social media analyst at Collective Intellect.
The next morning, I arrived at the Omni Resort in Broomfield, Colorado to setup the FullContact booth. The conference kicked off at 8:30. As with any Eric Norlin event, you can expect an impressive intro video, and this year he did not disappoint. The almost IMAX-sized screen in the main conference room faded to a panning shot of outer space, with the words “A long time ago in a tech world far, far away…”, and the conference began.
Tim Bray gave a talk titled “The Mysteries of the Web”, where he touched on the concept of the internet as a tool for human communication, and the responsibility that experts have to preserve their niche expertise in Wikipedia for the greater good. Roger Ehrenerg of IA Ventures gave a talk titled “Creating Competitive Advantage Through Data” and the author James Altucher spoke about how “Success is a Sexually Transmitted Disease”. Other speakers included Robert Stephens, the CTO of BestBuy, Adrian Cockcroft of Netflix, and Brad Feld, managing director of the Foundry Group. Bart Lorang, CEO of FullContact, gave a break out talk titled “Social Caller ID”, where he discussed the history of communication and it’s relation to identity resolution.
Defrag as a Think Tank
During my two days at the conference, I had the pleasure of meeting many of the top people in the tech world. Interesting conversations were easy to come by. Mark Kelley, our head of business development, told me at one point that “Defrag feels like more of a think tank than a conference.” I couldn’t agree more.