They do things differently there

At Tools of Change in New York, they do things differently. The front six or so rows of the auditorium have tables as well as chairs. They’re for the MacBook Pros of delegates who Twitter, live-blog and online-network their way through the conference. O’Reilly, the organisers, live-stream every keynote from their website. Delegates can also friend and contact each other via the site.

The format of the speeches is different, too. I’m speaking about automating catalogue production at the Ignite session. The rules restrict the speaker to 20 slides, with 15 seconds per slide and no notes on stage. Brutal. Geeks of all description pack the halls: publishing geeks, font geeks, hardened old-school IT managers, nu-wave social media types, developers, the lot. And all of us are flat out, eager to catch every new idea at the world’s most progressive, most necessary, publishing conference.

This is a different sort of conference, which inspires as much as it educates. There are major speakers here: Arianna Huffington of the eponymous online newspaper; William Paltry, counsel to Google; Jeff Gomez, c.e.o. of Starlight Runner Entertainment; and the futurist Ray Kurzweil who chats with Tim O’Reilly on the stage and predicts that “in five years everything will be on the web including our minds. In 20 years our iPhones will be in our brains making us healthier, smarter, more versatile. We will be the cloud.”

And the audience is receptive - which, of course, you can tell from the #toccon Twitter feed as much as from talking to people in the halls.

Last year, the TOC at Frankfurt came under fire: Tim O’Reilly couldn’t make it because of an accident. And the anti-DRM message ruffled the feathers of publishers who are banking on making a living from charging people the way they’ve always charged them. It ran for a single day in a location where the wi-fi was rubbish.

TOC in New York is an entirely different beast. It’s slick, organised, and sold out. You get the feeling that it’s for digital grown-ups. Little time is spent arguing whether DRM is a good or bad thing - the debate has moved on. People aren’t simply worshipping at the O’Reilly altar—there’s plenty of critical debate. But there are certain truths universally acknowledged—and that lifts the discussion of information, ideas and innovations to a
higher level. 

It’s a packed and exhausting schedule. There’s only so much the as-yet-non-enhanced human brain can absorb. In the Twords (yes, I just coined that) of @charabbott: Enough already, I want a drink! #toccon