Focus of the Next ETech

etech logoI let my hair down a bit with Marty Graham of Wired News last night, talking about the future of ETech, and sharing a bit of my nostalgia about seeing some of the ideas that originally fired the conference “grow up,” drawing marketers and people looking for practical business advice as well as hackers and entrepreneurs. This morning I saw that Dylan Tweney posted a slightly misleading blog post on the subject, based on my conversation with Marty. Entitled “The End of This Idea,” the posting seemed to suggest that I thought that the ETech conference had run out of gas. Far from it.

What I did suggest to Marty was that Web 2.0, which was still a focus of many (but far from all) of the conference talks, should no longer be central to the conference, as it’s an idea that’s gone from emerging to mainstream. What’s more, we now have not one but two other conferences, the Web 2.0 Expo in two weeks, and the Web 2.0 Summit in the fall, that are completely devoted to Web 2.0.

ETech began its life as the Peer to Peer and Web Services conference back in 2001, with a focus on what I called “building the internet operating system.” We’ve been pushing the edges of that idea as a major focus of ETech ever since. It was still a major part of this year’s ETech, with talks like Werner Vogels on Amazon’s platform services for “web-scale computing”, Sun’s Virtualizing the Data Center with Project Blackbox, danah boyd’s Incantations for Muggles: The Role of Ubiquitous Web 2.0 Technologies in Everyday Life, Duane Nickuls’ Web 20-20: Architectural Patterns and Models for the New Internet, or my own panel on Web 2.0 and Wall Street.

But the essence of ETech is our idea that you often see the seeds of the future in places where people are having fun with technology. New markets often start with enthusiasts rather than entrepreneurs. (This was the focus of my own keynote at etech, which tried to put some of the emerging themes we are seeing now into context.) The personal computer pioneers didn’t think they were creating a new industry. Neither did the first snowboarders or today’s kite-surfers. Where is that edge of fun? We see a lot of it now in the pages of Make, so we’re now paying a lot of attention to hardware hacking.

But we also see a lot of totally transformative stuff coming out of science. There are breakthroughs coming out of the labs that are heading for commercialization, and enthusiasts are starting to become entrepreneurs.

When we started ETech, the idea of the web as platform was one of those “new edge” type of topics. Now, it’s entirely appropriate for it to be the focus of the Web 2.0 Expo, which focuses on practical, how-to education, and the rollout of new companies and products, and the Web 2.0 Summit, which focuses on the business side of this new internet economy.

So what I was suggesting to Marty is that in next year’s ETech, attendees should expect more talks like Andy Kessler’s Silicon is Invading Medicine or Quinn Norton’s Body Hacking, or the “from the labs” sessions held by Microsoft and IBM, talks that focus on edge topics that aren’t yet as mainstream as Web 2.0. That doesn’t mean that we’ll completely abandon Web 2.0-type topics. There’s still a huge amount of innovation that has yet to happen before we fully realize the potential of pervasive computing and the internet as platform. But we are clearly looking for new frontiers.

So let us know what you’re hacking on today, the stuff that seems to you to have no conceivable commercial use but is just insanely cool. What makes you really excited in futures you imagine but don’t yet know how to reach? That’s what we want to feature in next year’s ETech!