O’Reilly’s Tools of Change conference in New York City this week was highly successful, both inside and outside the walls of the Marriott Marquis. The sessions were energetic, well-attended, and–on the whole–full of excellent insight and ideas about the digital trends taking a firm hold of nearly all sectors of the publishing business. Outside the walls, especially on Twitter, online communities were humming with news and commentary on the the conference. (You almost could have followed the entire conference just by following the #toc hash tag at Twitter and accessing the online copies of the presentations.)
But if you had done that, you would have missed the fun of being there. There were some superb keynotes and some excellent general sessions. Notable among the keynotes were Tim O’Reilly himself, Neelan Choksi from Lexcycle (Stanza), and Cory Doctorow. The general sessions covered a fairly broad spectrum of topics but were heavy on eBooks and community. Because of my own and my clients’ interests, I spent most of my time in the eBook sessions. The session eBooks I: Business Models and Strategy was content-rich. To begin with, you heard straight from senior people at major publishers with significant eBook efforts (Kenneth Brooks from Cengage Learning, Leslie Hulse from Harper Collins Publishers, and Cynthia Cleto from Springer Science+Business Media). Along with their insight, the speakers–and moderator Michael Smith from IDPF–assembled an incredibly valuable wiki of eBook business and technical material to back up their talk. I also really enjoyed a talk from Gavin Bell of Nature, The Long Tail Needs Community, where he made a number of thoughtful points about how publishers need to think longer and harder about how reading engages and changes people and specifically how a publisher can build community around those changes and activities.
There were a few soft spotsin the schedule. Jeff Jarvis’ keynote, What Would Google do with Publishing?, was more about plumping his new book (What Would Google Do?) than anything else, but was also weirdly out of date, even though the book is hot off the presses, with 20th century points like “The link changes everything” and “If you’re not searchable, you won’t be found.” (Publishers are often, somewhat unfairly, accused of being Luddite, but they are not that Luddite.) There were also a couple of technical speakers who didn’t seem to make the necessary business connections to the technical points they were making, which would have been helpful to those members of the audience who were less technical and more publishing-product and -process oriented. But these small weaknesses were easily outshone by the many high points, the terrific overall energy, and the clear enthusiasm of the attendees.
One question I have for the O’Reilly folks is to ask how they will keep the energy going. They have a nascent Tools of Change community site. Perhaps they could enlist some paid community managers to seed and moderate conversations, and also tie community activities to other O’Reilly products such as the books and other live and online events.
O’Reilly has very quickly established a very strong conference and an equally strong brand around the conference. With the publishing industry so engulfed in digital change now, I have to think this kind of conference and community can only continue to grow.