Seeking Ideas for Conference Speed Dating

Last week, I came across conference speed dating. I immediately fell in love with the idea and wanted to try it at Web2Open. But I’m not sure how to set it up. Seeing as the Open is a community-based event, I’m hoping some of you will have stellar suggestions for making this work.

The basic idea with conference speed dating is that you have two kinds of people who’d want to meet–say VCs and entrepreneurs, or agents and writers, or farmers and chefs. You designate seats for people from the first group, and you let people from the second group meet with them for five minutes each. Then you ring a bell, and while the first group stays put, everyone from the second group moves on to another VC or agent or farmer. The whole thing lasts about 45 minutes, and everybody makes contacts that might pan out into something cool. Awesome, right?

The tricky part for the Open (and the Expo) is that we won’t have natural categories like that. So we talked about asking prominent community members to volunteer for the first group (Tim O’Reilly, consider yourself invited), but then we weren’t sure how to organize the second group. Assume we can accommodate 20 pairs at a time, and that we’ll have 10 five-minute times slots. What happens if more than 10 people want to talk to Tim? And what if somebody from the second group wants to talk to only some of the people in the first group? Or if we have way more than 20 people for the second group and they all want to talk to everyone from the first?

Is there a simple and fair way to set this up in person at the Open? Or on a Website that people can access during the conference? We have a wiki for the Open, but we don’t have a ton of programming time. (Btw, we’re cross-posting these questions to the Expo/Open CrowdVine.)