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The "Attention Economy" Explored at the 2006 O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference

March 28, 2006

Sebastopol, CA--Geekdom's collective intelligence gathered earlier this month in San Diego, California at the fifth edition of ETech, the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference. Just over 1200 technologists, CTOs, scientists, researchers, programmers, hackers, business developers, and other interested parties came together to debate and discuss meaningful new technologies loosely coupled around the theme of the "attention economy"--a new order of tools and services to help us sort through the flood of digital data inundating our lives.

As in past years, ETech explored not just cool "blue-sky" ideas and projects, but tools and technologies destined to have a lasting impact on the computing landscape in the very near future. Just a few of the conference highlights included:

  • NYU's Jeff Han gave an eye-popping demo of a multi-touch computer interface
  • Ray Ozzie of Microsoft introduced a universal web clipboard that uses RSS beneath the hood to act as the bridge between web sites
  • Linda Stone, formerly of Apple and Microsoft, gave an incisive discourse on how we now only pay "continuous partial attention"
  • Jon Udell of InfoWorld unsheathed his attention focusing strategies that included multi-modal communication, visualization, and naming conventions
  • Revered sci-fi author Bruce Sterling presented an elegant and blistering vision of the coming "Internet of Things"
  • Kathy Sierra built on her concept of guiding technologists towards creating passionate users
  • Eric Bonabeau of Icosystem unveiled the "hunch engine," which uses interactive evolutionary algorithms to help users navigate large spaces
  • Amy Jo Kim, a game designer, focused on the mechanics of game design and how these concepts can be extended to other non-game systems and applications
  • Boxxet founder You Mon Tsang discussed how to amplify participation in the social web through the use of bionic systems
  • Cal Henderson gave an all-day tutorial advising people launching and scaling new web services
  • George Dyson presented thoughtful examination of the current state of the digital universe
  • Clay Shirky detailed the building of a pattern language for moderation and beyond
  • The Make Fest, a hands-on, science fair style demonstration of DIY projects by and for geeks, was hosted for the second consecutive year by Make magazine
  • Over 100 participants brought their Etech experience to a close by queuing up to test-drive hydrogen fuel cars provided by the California Fuel Cell Partnership
  • ETech once again brought together a wide range of communities, affording unexpected connections. The ever-stimulating "hallway track" (which this year took the form of geeks camped out in small knots on the swanky Hyatt carpeting just outside the ballroom) was abuzz with inspiration and introductions, abetted by after-hours games, birds of a feather sessions, and late-night parties hosted by Yahoo!, Adobe, Adaptive Path, and Krugle.

    Several notable announcements and launches were made at this year's event, including:

  • Laszlo announced the planned extension of its advanced Ajax application development platform, OpenLaszlo, to support the delivery of applications in browsers with or without a Flash plug-in
  • Microsoft unveiled its web clipboard and Windows Live Search, an enhanced version of its search engine featuring a new image search service, a redesigned user interface, and new tools to refine query results. Microsoft also introduced a new test version of its MSN Toolbar called Windows Live Toolbar
  • New APIs were announced by Yahoo! that interface with Yahoo! Photos, Calendar, MyWeb, and Shopping, and browser-based authentication that allows third-party developers to authenticate users via Yahoo’s authentication service
  • MapQuest launched the beta version of MapQuest OpenAPI, a free program which makes many of the core MapQuest capabilities, including mapping, geocoding, and routing, available to developers in a single, integrated toolkit. MapQuest also announced an OpenAPI Developers Challenge, asking developers to build the most creative mashup that leverages the mapping and routing functionality of MapQuest OpenAPI
  • Foldera presented its free, open, and web-based Organizer and Messaging/Collaboration Service
  • Salesforce.com announced the AppExchange Developer Network, a new web site that provides the community, tools, and resources to let developers build new applications for the AppExchange
  • ThinkFree Office announce that it will allow users to add photos from Flickr to Write, Show and Calc Documents; as well as additional enhancements
  • ROOT Markets premiered ROOT/Vaults, an "attention banking service," to store, manage, and share personal data
  • Winners of the eBay Developers Challenge were divulged: The grand prize went to Eric Smith for UnWired Buyer; first place winner, AuctionContact by Alexander Stankovic; honorable mentions include Gumshoo by Craig Villamor, AuctionWatch GD by Ty Kroll, and Auction Monitor by Christopher Wong
  • Also announced at the conference were the dates for next year's event. ETech will be back at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, San Diego, March 26-29, 2007. The conference will take place in a slightly larger, more centralized space within the hotel next year; however attendance will again be limited. The call for participation is scheduled to open in August; registration will open in December.

    ETech's exhibit hall was also its largest ever. Sponsors displaying their wares at this year's event were: IBM, Windows Live, eBay Developers Program, iNetWord, Sxip, Yahoo!, Adobe, Aggregate Knowledge, AOL.com, Attensa, California Fuel Cell Partnership, Foldera.com, Google, Intuit, Laszlo, Mapquest, ROOT, RSSBus, Salesforce.com, sms.ac, TechSmith, Thinkfree Office, Tibco, and Zimbra.

    As program chair Rael Dornfest summarized, "Just how it is we're going to be able to cope with information overload, build applications and services to hone our attention, and systems to route more signal and divert more noise is still up in the air. We gave the subject a good start and I look forward to hearing how it has manifested itself in what you're working on in the coming year."

    The O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference features a range of technologies that are growing just below the horizon of commercial viability, placing a spotlight on the projects, people, and business models likely to become very important to the future of internet computing. From peer-to-peer networks, person-to-person mobile messaging, web services, and weblogs to big screen digital media, small screen mobile gaming, hardware hacking, and content remixing, ETech pries open the transformative new technologies destined show up in the products and services we'll take for granted in the not-too-distant future.

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