It took a couple of brave souls to get up and launch some ideas, followed by some prodding by Berlind, and then suddenly the floodgates opened and the grid filled with some 25 sessions that would fill the next day-and-a-half. The ideas ranged from creating a video charity experience with Sky TV to asking for feedback on the notion of painting on the Web, to sharing experiences about gaming on the Web, to a discussion about starting a business with a thousand pounds or less, to how to become visible (led by the only male attendee wearing a kilt).
Some attendees planned sessions around staffing and expertise, especially in areas where they weren't an expert (like on technology); running a successful online marketplace; shared hatred for HTML template systems (and other similar technical issues); protecting your ideas; doing Internet business in Poland; advice when thinking about the exit; and cool stuff (Web apps, Web 2.0 apps, mashups). Berlind creates two guiding designs on the disscusions.
First, his "Principles of Open Space: Whoever comes are the right people. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened. Whenever it's over, it's over. Document your session."
Second: "The Law Of The Feet: If during the session you find you're neither learning nor contributing, you should walk to a more productive space."
These sessions worked as advertised. In fact, many of the attendees have asked us to come back; some talked about less formal, but structured gatherings on a monthly basis. In one of the many sessions I attended, Dennis Morrison of Zzizzl films led a discussion about the classic problem of finding experts in areas where you have no expertise, asking how to assess whether they truly were experts and not just optimistic underachievers who overpromised. Dennis' challenge was to create an engine for his site where independent films could be downloaded for purchase, but his developer kept missing deadlines and in the end couldn't get the job done, costing Dennis money and time. Dennis got plenty of advice from people who'd been where he is (and there was plenty of advice).
The conference ended with the Best Startup Contest, with 19 entries, voted on by the attendees who get pitched for five minutes on each and vote for one winner using wooden coins provided at sign up.
The winner (which I'll cover elsewhere, including linking to a video) was Fav.or.it, a site that aggregates independent blogs. Second place went to WebCanvas, a very cool program (which I'll also cover elsewhere, including linking to a video) that lets the Web community paint on an infinite canvas. Third place goes went to Mapness, an interesting travel journal site. The prizes were pretty cool. First place garnered a Sun Server, second place a Sun Workstation, and third got an Apple iTouch.
It doesn't end there. Berlind's team created a Wiki for the attendees (and anyone, really, by going here). Here we've put the agenda, conference, and session notes, and allowed the conference byproduct to live on. After all, this is the place where Web and live events intersect.