Friday, September 12 at 9 am, BearHug Camp begins. The brainchild of Dave Winer, BearHug is based on a tactic Winer used to great effect in bootstrapping coincident work by Netscape and Winer into what we now know as RSS. Recently, we’ve seen the emergence of similar strategies in the so-called micro-blogging segment that has grown around Twitter.
Enterprise micro-blogging service Yammer’s choice as the best startup at Mike Arrington and Jason Calacanis’ TC50 conference illustrates how far we’ve come in recognizing the power of Twitter-like services, and also how early this all is. BearHug Camp is designed to aggregate as many of these small and large players in one room, to identify the points of common ground and establish some rules of the road. Representatives include those from Twitter, Identi.ca, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, FriendFeed, Mozilla, Seesmic/Twhirl and a number of lesser-known but potentially disruptive engineers and entrepreneurs.
I’m especially encouraged by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s participation, coming as it does on the heels of Twitter’s stability through the conventions of both parties, a small Bay Area earthquake, and at least two major hurricanes. The firestorm over Sarah Palin’s nomination as McCain’s running mate continues unabated, and the conversation has returned to robust pre-May levels on Twitter, with the unfortunate continued loss of Track services. The apparent righting of Twitter’s ship of state, however, augurs for some interesting possibilities when Dorsey takes Twitter’s seat at the table for whatever he time he can give us.
Over on the open source Identi.ca network, Evan Prodromou has been working to solve many of the XMPP reliability problems that seemed so central to Twitter’s early meltdown. Though the scale of Identi.ca and related Laconica instances is dwarfed by the pioneering service, the conversation has become authoritative at a more engineering-focused level, around the process and politics of achieving enough scale to attract a wider, more general-focus audience. Federation services, though touted as the end game for achieving a scalable architecture without the need for massive capital investment, are immature and largely one-way at this point. But the success at building new clouds such as Leo Laporte’s TWiTArmy Laconica instance virtually overnight also augurs for some interesting dynamics at BearHug.
I hesitate to use the word “summit” in regard to this first of what I hope will be ongoing gatherings. First, Tim O’Reilly’s use of that term in organizing “summits” in a number of areas has always struck me as potentially exclusionary, much in the way that FOO Camp, although a wonderful experience for any who have been invited, also tends to make those not invited feel like they’ve been deemed not important or connected enough to have a say in the topic of the day. Also, attempts at negotiating standards are undermined when conducted behind closed doors, no matter how authoritative the guest list.
That’s why BearHug Camp is wide open and transparent. Everything will be broadcast live on the Net. I’ve even foregone using a wiki or event service (though several have been implemented by others), opting instead for using the very network we are talking about to announce confirmations and other details as they come together. The realtime nature of XMPP, track, and cross-domain bridging makes it relatively easy to find out what is going on, and the chat and live-blogging services that will spring up around the streamcast will further amplify the ripple effects of the event.
I really have no idea what to expect of this. I certainly have my own agenda, namely to encourage, cajole, and otherwise use my passion and commitment to this powerful realtime service to effect a rapid adoption of core best practices that allows all comers to participate in a level playing field. To do that, we must respect both the investment of the original creators, the power of open source community contributions, and the amazingly low barrier to entry of obtaining entrance to the party.
Who of us would have believed Bill Gates when, at the height of Microsoft’s dominance of pernsoal computing, he said that his position could be usurped at any moment by a smart, swift competitor. Yet that is exactly what happened. So too is that possible today, if in fact even more opportunistically viral than the last transition. Pull up a seat at BearHug and let’s see what happens.