Old Dog, New Tricks

At my time in life, you sort of become settled into old, comfortable habits, and that’s okay. However, moving from Munich to Boston to set up our new US office has shaken a few things up. And as if that wasn’t enough, I flew out to the Bay Area a couple of days later to attend IIW ’11, which the organizers, Kaliya Hamling (a.k.a. “identitywoman”), Phil Windley and Doc Searls put on at the Museum of Computer History righ around from NASA’s Ames Research Lab at Moffet Field  in Mountain View – and boy did that give me a dose of culture shock. I mean, we at KuppingerCole have quite some experience putting on an event like the European Identity Conference, and so I know how much backbreaking labor and painstaking detail needs to go into creating, among other things, a three-day conference program.

Only it doesn’t.

It took the assembled hundred or so hard-core members of the Identity Gang about 20 minutes to assemble a complete, gilt-edged program covering just about all the really hot topics in the identity space today, and they did so by simply standing up, saying what they wanted to discuss, and going over and hanging a sign on an “agenda wall” telling people when and where to meet.

This format is called a “unconference”, only it isn’t, either. It is a full-fledged symposium divided in to hour-long blocks – that is, unless someone wants to do into extra time, in which case, that’s fine. In fact, anything is fine. That’s because there are no rules at IIW, or at least nothing that resembles a rule in the understood sense of the word. Instead there are some guiding principles that sound like something straight out a Doug Adams, or maybe some of kind of secular geek ashram (which it isn’t, really). Just take these few samples:

  • “Whoever comes are the right people”
  • “Whatever happens is the only thing that could happen”
  • “Whenever it starts I the right time”
  • „When it’s over, its over”

Sound strange? It is, at first. But once you get into the spirit of things, it becomes perfectly natural to wander around a large room filled with tables and chairs that keep shifting around to form islans of people talking, listening to someone who is showing PowerPoint slides or giving a demo where 20 people crowd around a tiny laptop screen, craning their necks to get a glimpse of some code or gadget that will transform the world, or possible only solve some tiny piece of the great puzzle that is Digital Identity.

And this is not just a self-improvement exercise, either. Some of the things scrawled on whiteboards or jotted down on lined pads will wind up in the standards being developed by bodies like Oasis, 3WC, IC, IDF or the Kantara Intitaive.They will shape the products that come out of companies large and small that millions or even billions of people around the world will use to surf theW eb, buy stuff online, interact with others and do their daily jobs. Because the people in the room just happen to be some of the most influential individuals in the identity business.
They are also really nice guys (and gals). I mean this: Somebody should set a few graduate students to studying how working on digital identity makes folks more cordial, more cooperative and more fun to be with than almost any other subset of humanity I have come across in my six decades of existence. Where are the misfits, the sociopaths, the nerds? (Okay, they’re all nerds in a way, but a different kind of nerd.)

I’m an old dog, but I must admit: I learned a few new tricks in Mountain View. And I enjoyed myself intensely. It just might become habit forming, too. I feel comfortable with that.

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