The Story Arc of Gluecon

By April 18, 2009glue conference

If you talk to me long enough, you’ll hear me use the words “story arc” with regards to a conference. As if, somehow I’m “writing” actors into a drama that has an underlying tension, an arc and a resolution. Of course, that’s not the case. In truth, though, I do spend a considerable amount of time thinking through “the story” that we’re telling at a conference. By that I mean, I look at what sessions are where, get a sense of the topic spread, and try to arrange things where — as people walk through the story, there’s some sense of cohesion at the end. Silly, right?

Let’s take a look at Glue.

The earliest beginnings of the Glue story start in the prequel — Defrag.  I had been reading Brad’s blog, and saw him writing about a theme he was calling (at the time) “intelligence amplification.” A couple of conversations later, Defrag was born — where the premise of Defrag was that the fragmentation of data online was creating a need for tools that helped individuals and groups accelerate the process of insight (hence, Defrag’s tagline — “accelerating the ‘aha’ moment”).

Fast forward: After a successful initial Defrag event, I kind of looked at Brad and said, “what else are you smart guys thinking about?” He came back with this idea of “glue” — roughly, the idea that there were going to develop all of these different kinds of tools/services that sought to “glue together” things happening between web applications. I immediately flashed to the enterprise application integration problem of the late 90’s/early 00’s, and we began brainstorming (publicly) ideas around what constituted “glue.”  We knew it would deal with web platforms, but what I don’t think either of us really knew then (or even know now) was the sheer size of it all. [note: maybe Brad and Seth did, but I certainly wasn’t aware.]

With that context, take a gander at the agenda.

The story begins with a point of tension; what is seen by many as a brand new “stovepipe” — Facebook. Facebook serves to open the discussion because it brings into contrast a lot of the big threads: Is it open or closed? How does integration occur? Where does identity fit? What about transferring context from Facebook to other “applications?” Can I build on this platform, or do I lock myself in? The session itself will have Facebook providing their answers, but the real “push” from it should be a whole lotta questions (hat tip to Zeppelin).

From that high ground, the story begins to draw out the “characters” in our little drama: web oriented architecture, identity, data portability and services, platforms, etc. And we do it rapidly — you’re not going to “know” the “characters” — you’re just going to meet them. And then we pause (any good story has a nice set-up pause after the opening scenes), and ask “what are we missing?” That’s where you come in.

After a break for discussion, we bring in another component of the big themes – social glue for business processes and data. And then we’re off the races — breakouts.

The breakouts are meant to begin answering questions (or, even better, begin forming new and more in-depth questions) – and there’s plenty to choose from. Your individual path through the story could have you exploring data portability, or OAuth, or cloud infrastructure, or platforms, or XMPP — but, as with all good interactive (ie, non-linear) stories – you must make choices. Those choices bring different questions your way.

At the end of day 1, the story comes to it’s midpoint, as we talk about one of the big “archetypal” themes: how to harness the cloud. And then we get intermission — where intermission is the chance to catch your breath, have a laugh, dive in more deeply, and get some sleep.

Day 2 begins, and you’d think you’ll be thrust right back into the plot, but we’re not done introducing big themes. Mitch Kapor will look out past the current confines of the story; to remind you that what we talk about in this story isn’t the story itself. And Phil Wainewright will give you a larger sense of the themes (a reset for the day, if you will). Then it’s back in the mix.

The breakouts on day 2 are even more varied, with new technologies, ideas and protocols: cloud databases, web hooks, event processing across web apps, context aware services, social networking, XRDS, etc. Yep, we’re building tension.

We coalesce again around the leveraging of APIs, dive more deeply into cloud infrastructure, hit on identity one more time, and close with a high-level discussion of what kinds of platforms open up innovation (versus closing it down).

As with any good story, there will be a sequel. After all, we haven’t really resolved anything –we’ve just fostered some emotional and intellectual attachment to the characters involved. And, most importantly, we’ve found out that the truly critical characters in the story are the participants at the conference (i.e., you).

One important thing to note about a new “story” like Glue: With Defrag, you’ll see that after two years, I can pretty succinctly tell you what our overall theme is (“the fragmentation of data online is creating a need for tools that helped individuals and groups accelerate the process of insight”), while I can’t do that with Glue. That’s the beauty of coming to a new conference when it’s young, and growing up with it. You get to build out that theme with everyone else there. Three years from now, I’ll sum up Glue in a sentence, and we’ll all nod and say, “yep, that was obvious.” But it wasn’t. Nothing was obvious until we gathered, argued, pushed, pulled, laughed and collectively wrote a story.

And if you don’t come, the story gets written without you.

Ahhhh…..I love the smell of Gluecon in the morning. 😉