Thoughts on Tools of Change

by Adam on February 23, 2010

We’re into Day 2 at the O’Reilly Tools of Change conference – I’ve benefited from the ability to compare what’s going on here to both TOC 2009 as well as Digital Book World in January. There’s a lot here, but one thing I’ve seen that’s noticeably different from last year is the idea of immediacy.

Last year, we listened to Cory Doctorow talk about DRM and the need to give content away for free (and how you’ll never be able to stop pirates, because well…they’re pirates) and we all scoffed and stamped our feet and went back to the office and swept that little tid-bit under the rug (at least some of us did). We had workshops on tablets and the evolution of handheld readers and the idea that something could display in color (color? You mean 16 shades of grayscale right?) – but at the end of the day, what I came away with was a horizon of possibilities, none of which would be actionable right now (and in some ways that allowed us to stay with business as usual once back in our comfortable cushy corner offices).

Comparing it to Digital Book World back in January, DBW was so much more about right now and what publishers could do to save help themselves. We had actionable information, something to form a plan on for the next year (and relatedly, something to do now…ugh, work). And not only that, but an active and engaged community of people talking both before and after the event (and they’re still talking because these conferences aren’t the only place that these conversations should be taking place).

And so it was with that in mind that TOC 2010 seemed to make so much sense – when you dovetail both DBW and TOC together, what you get is a useful model for what’s happening now and what’s to come. In reality, what I feel we may have gotten is DBW v2 with the Tools of Change conference this year. That’s not to say that TOC doesn’t have good sessions to offer – there were many great workshops yesterday (I heard the Twitter scorecard workshop kicked butt…go tweeple go!) And Dominique Raccah’s presentation on running two businesses (hint: one has to do with digital) was another notable presentation from today. But I can’t help but think nobody was served in the process of offering another conference on similar topics a month apart. I don’t want that to seem like I’m bashing anyone here – I think O’Reilly offers great content at TOC and I’ve gotten a TON out of the networking experiences that I’ve had yesterday and today…so from that point of view, very useful.

I appreciate TOC trying to become more of an “of the moment” conference, but it shouldn’t try to be so close to Digital Book World. I felt O’Reilly took a bit of a step back to compare with DBW, when they had an offering last year that was unique (albeit many attendees weren’t pleased because of all that was missed when you’re only looking 3-5 years down the road…but we’re in a much different place now than we were a year ago, so maybe that long-view has some merit today).

A lot of folks in publishing already know enough to get out there and do it…at one point we’ll have to go out to pasture and “sow our wild publishing oats” (as a friend related to me). But, I see these conferences as a bit of a safety blanket for publishers. We’re here because while we may already know much of what we’re being told, we can use our presence as a way to say “today’s the day” or “I AM doing the right thing” – but eventually a time will come when the rubber meets the road and no session or conference or even the best speaker in the world will replace implementation and iteration. It’s our future, each of us individually and collectively and that’s something we won’t be able to get from any conference.

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