It’s day 3 of re:publica, and so it’s time to draw a first resume. To get it out of the way: Yes, wifi hasn’t been working well all through the conference. And no, I don’t find it as bad as you might expect. (Or as I expected myself, really.) I didn’t even bring my laptop the first two days and didn’t miss it, and had a good time anyway.
Wireless Rant? Not really. I’m somewhat disappointed on a meta leval since I had hoped that the wifi hackers of Freifunk would manage to really set a sign, to demonstrate that bottom-up, grassroots mashup networks are far superior to the mega corporate networks you get at other conferences. (Remember LeWeb? Wifi there was, if you excuse the expression, teh suck, despite Loic LeMeur spending 100.000 Euros to a large telco.) How cool would it have been if the wifi sharing community had set up this major network for 1.000+ folks and outdone the telcos? Oh well, sadly it seems impossible to really get wifi working for that mass of folks, especially with most people here bringing so many gadgets that they need at least two IP addresses at any time. And from what I heard, the Freifunk guys and the organizers went to great lengths to get the network up, but it just wouldn’t work out. Apart from that, I didn’t really mind being somewhat offline most of the time, and indeed just wondered if a dedicated offline zone wouldn’t be a nice addition for conferences in general?
Twitter, 2.0, Blogging So now that that’s out of the way, how was the conference? Most of the – in the best sense of the word – usual suspects were here, and also many new faces, which is great. This year’s official theme is “shift happens”, referring to the changes in media and society through technology. Alternatively, the theme could also easily have been “mainstreaming the social web”. Not as sexy a title, obviously. But the crowd and the topics have clearly moved out of the pure geek-sphere into the mainstream. You still hear a lot of references and jokes about “this 2.0” and “that 2.0”, but it’s more relaxed, without the hype. Without the sarcasm, even, which is refreshing to see (no matter what you think of the term “2.0”).
You noticed a lot less blog posts and meta reflection. I don’t think it’s due to less interest. Instead, I assume that the discussion has just moved on to Twitter. Nobody here doesn’t twitter. That even goes for those not registered on twitter.com: A journalists was taking notes, referring to them as her tweets. A Twitter Lecture was fueled by, well, Twitter, but also by “paper tweets”. None of this is brand new, but it’s become ubiquitous, the defaults have changed from “oh, you’re on Twitter”, to “oh, you’re NOT on Twitter?”
Food & Location Besides wireless (and content, obviously), the two traditional points of criticism at all webby conferences are food and location. There was no official catering, so that’s a non-problem here with all the restaurants around. The location was interesting: Instead of sticking completely to Kalkscheune, this time the program was distributed between cozy Kalkscheune and massive Friedrichstadtpalast, usually host to musicals. Friedrichstadtpalast (FSP) has a major stage where the audience can go up to 1.200 or so, so it’s a very classic setup. Kalkscheune has one larger room and a number of small workshop rooms. I don’t know if FSP added anything, but it certainly didn’t hurt either. Personally, I prefer the cozy atmosphere of Kalkscheune, but I think both work very well. I’m typing this, for example, inside the large room of FSP.
Content? Lawrence Lessig, Culture Flatrate, Jimmy Wales, Cory Doctorow Lessig gave a presentation that was, as always, a real pleasure to watch. He knows his spiel perfectly, and it’s all deep and his arguments well-built. It always feels a bit like a bit of a cult, sitting there, because everybody listens so intently to the guru, but hey, this is clearly merit-based. With Creative Commons, Lessig built something amazing that in my opinion changed the world for the better.
A small, but packed panel about the idea of a Culture Flatrate was interesting and had a heated debate. The basic idea is to collect a small monthly fee (say €5) from every citizen and distributing all this money to the artists whose culture we consume. There’s many, many open questions about how this could work, but the idea seems really interesting, and I’m told the German green party will announce something to that respect today. Should be interesting to watch. The system of cultural production and commercial use we have today is clearly broken.
Lawrence Lessig isn’t the only web VIP here, though. As I’m typing, Jimmy Wales is speaking, Cory Doctorow will be next. So more on that later.
But so far, since I promised a resume and ended up with a lengthy summary, my short, simple and totally subjective impression: re:publica has managed to establish itself as one of the regulars in the German conference scene. The community feel is great (certainly also because not too many marketers are around), and the workshops can still be very productive since they’re so small and cozy. If something doesn’t work here or there’s a few not-so-interesting panels, I don’t think it’s as bad as at other conferences. Whenevery you don’t find something you really want to hear, there’s plenty of cool folks hanging out to chat with, which I find much, much more important than a densely packed list of high-profile panels. The fact that movers and shakers like Lawrence Lessig, Jimmy Wales and Cory Doctorow come over to speak here is quite telling.