#TOC: The Conference that Gives You Information Overload!

From Read the Spirit:

A freelance journalist and author sitting near me in one session pointed at the podium in the big ballroom, where a TOC O’Reilly logo is prominently displayed.
“How did a publisher of computer manuals like O’Reilly wind up becoming the rallying point of this big change? Why isn’t this kind of meeting of the minds in publishing convened by Publishers Weekly? Or the New York Times? Or Newsweek?” she asked.

As I sit here trying to sift through my experience of the O’Reilly Tools of Change conference that I just attended for three days I realize how much information was shelled out. To think, I not only listened to three days worth of conversations about the digital media but followed every person who was using twitter at the conference getting all of their opinions and links out to reference sites, it is no wonder my head is buzzing.


I’ll start with the bad newsmy disappointments. My biggest disappointment of all was with some of the keynote addresses. Not all of them, but a large percentage, too large for a conference of this caliber and cost, were just atrocious. Maybe it was the echo chamber - people saying the same thing over and over, or the disconnect from the publishing communitybut some of the big name presenters (Jeff Jarvis you shall go named) were insulting to the communities intelligence. As one tweeter stated, “Publishers are often, somewhat unfairly, accused of being Luddite, but they are not that Luddite.”

Okay with that out of the way, I can also say some of the keynotes were absolutely awe-inspiring. People who brought their A-game to explore the present and future potential of an industry that is undoubtedly experiencing a major shift, (Nick Bilton you shall go named).

The Big Picture

My biggest take away from the conference did not have to do with the tools; DRM, ebooks, ereaders or XML. Although the technology and the access questions are often driving operational change the real shift to me seems to be the social network and how readers are becoming empowered. The lesson that underscored everything for me is being learned in almost every media now, and in this regard books are no different: community, community, community. It is silly to even say it. Retailers have known about this from the start, but now the democratization of high quality production tools for culture and the accessibility people have to content means they want in. They want a say and will have a say in the what and the how of the product.

Here is how this was expressed during the conference:

  • The ideal ereader is a device that allows for content portability and social networking.
  • The number one way that writing and reading is changing is through collaboration. Writing gets help from the collective and reading gets helped through annotation and dialogue.
  • The number one way companies are going to innovate and become what Tim O’Reilly thinks of as the head of the long tail is through community engagementlistening to your community through twitter on social networks. Allowing input and giving great service. By the way this means you need a team who is responsible for thisit isn’t a job for an intern.

These insights were substantiated through research by various companies for a variety of reasons. Everything from what happens to print sales if I give away ebooks, to what feature should we build into our next release of software. I listened to metrics on building social communities, I did workshops on how to bring about change, I watched demos of software that will bring efficiencies and provide unique ways of thinking about books that we have never thought of before.

I have to give it to Tim O’Reilly who really knocked it out of the park with his keynote when he said stuff like:

‘Guttenberg didn’t foresee Jane Austen let alone James Joyce. He could not have imagined what would become of the text after his invention.’

Now in the style of my favourite event at the conferenceThe Lightning Roundhere are my top ten (or so):



  • @Doctorow
  • @timoreilly
  • @katmeyer
  • @lizadaly


Favourite Quotes

  • online communities grow thru shared experiences. Give your community something fun and terrifying to do together” Chris Baty NaNoWriMo
  • If content is a river, DRM is a urinary tract infection, delivering the flow in a painful drip” Cory Doctorow on twitter

Biggest Regret

That I didn’t get a copy of the Best of TOC book from the Espresso Book Machine. (But I have since grabbed the ePub and have it on my ipod touch, in bookworm and on Adobe digital editions)