Thinking More About Foo Camp

Rogers (via a comment and this post) and Stowe disagree with me about Foo Camp.

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I am deeply anti-gatekeeper and highly interested in inclusion for all in the blogosphere. Some tease me that I am talking my position, and that’s both fair and funny. But my position has been generally consistent regardless of my position on blogger’s hill.

Having said that for the record, Rogers and Stowe make some good points that I want to address.

My comment this morning was not intended to be a defense of Dave Winer specifically as much as a denunciation of cliques and exclusionary tactics that I honestly believe are better suited for kindergarten playgrounds than a medium populated by right-thinking adults. But Rogers’ explanation and Tim’s prior explanation make sense to me- at least with respect to Dave. I’m sure Dave would tell a different version of the story, but thus far I have not been able to get Dave’s side of the story beyond what he posted in the open letter that kick-started this conversation.

I would point out, however, that you can exclude a troublemaker without making your party an invitation only event. The exclusivity issue and the Dave issue are connected, but distinguishable.

Nevertheless, Stowe makes a good 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?”

My answer is yes they can, as long as they don’t embrace, directly or indirectly, the implied flag of importance and exclusion that some attendees will proudly fly. To put it in another context, I am perfectly fine with the fact that rich people belong to exclusive country clubs, at least until they wave that fact in my face over and over. At that point the value of the club is not that they are in it, but that I am not.

When a Foo Camp invitation becomes the Black American Express Card of the blogosphere, then something is amiss and needs to be fixed. The card members don’t see it as a problem and so the criticisms have to begin from without. Can that sound like sour grapes? Absolutely. Is it? Probably yes in some cases and no in others.

The other, perhaps unavoidable, problem is once you decide that only certain people get invited based on subjective criteria, someone has to (or more often, gets to) decide who’s in and who’s out. It’s another example of the “who decides who decides” dilemma that I have written about. With the privilege of deciding comes both the responsibility to decide fairly and the opportunity to not.

The question becomes, given the theoretically open nature of the blogosphere and the potential for misuse, is it wise or even acceptable to continue to have exclusive conferences, or should the conferences be open to the public, with the adoption of rules to prevent disruption.

Stated another way, is it better to throw out the bathwater with the baby in the name of a cry-less experience for the lucky invitees, or is it better to address the baby and the bathwater separately?