On Foo and Elitism

There has been quite a bit of buzz recently about whether Foo is too exclusive and elitist. After attending my first Foo this year, I have been amazed by the controversy that Foo generates. Yes, only around 200 people are invited; however, keeping the numbers small helps facilitate the self-organization of the conference and allows us to fit (barely) within the O’Reilly campus. The reality is that companies all over the world hold invite-only events where they gather people together to hold discussions on topics relevant to their business.

From Tom Coates,

Everyone who attends FOO feels honoured to be there, but let’s be clear – invitation-only events happen all the time in the tech industry. There are more conferences and seminars happening in and around Silicon Valley than there are days in the year. And any individual or company is free to start their own event and invite whomsoever they choose. (Quote from Tom Coates on plasticbag.org)

Stowe Boyd makes a similar point:

But, candidly, I don’t get it. Why can’t we have closed meetings? Can’t a company like O’Reilly invite a bunch of people to get together and talk about issues that are important to the company’s future business? Does everything they do have to be open to the public, just because they are influential? (Quote from Stowe Boyd on /Message)

Foo just seems to generate more attention than other invite-only events. It may be a result of the breadth of the topics that O’Reilly is interested in discussing. O’Reilly Media is focused on cross-pollination between industries drawing on the idea that we can be smarter and more creative if we broaden our horizons … maybe this explains the popularity of the Werewolf games at Foo. People from across a broad swath of technology industries are invited to Foo, and with the 200 person limit, this means that many really smart and insightful people are not invited. Foo is also an amazing event, and attendees rarely if ever leave Foo with a negative impression, which means that many people naturally want to be invited. I was lucky to be invited this year, and I hope to be invited to attend next year; however, I will not have any hard feelings if I am not invited. People should be able to accept Foo for what it is … a great event where people share amazing ideas. Nothing more, nothing less.