BIL 2008: The Successes

It nearly started out as a complete failure; a stillborn endeavor that would have alienated all those who wish for it to succeed. A last minute update to the site for BIL stated that due to fire marshal restrictions, only 150 people would be allowed in to view the conference and those of us who hadn’t signed up (despite there being no requirement to sign up all along) were out of luck. See you next year! Ta ta! Thanks for your interest! But no, Number One Fan and I had already rented a car and were going to crash at my grandparents who live a mere hour away from Monterey, so that we could attend. So… we went anyways and found that this initial flurry was just to make The Man happy and no one was there with a clipboard checking names.
To back up a bit, what is BIL? Simply put, it is the proletarian answer to TED, which is a very exclusive conference that has been growing exponentially in popularity in recent years. The main thrust behind TED is that it exists to spread good ideas by hosting talks by some of the most interesting people in the world today. They have recently started to post videos online for folks to watch, which has made many of us even more interested in TED.
So, why didn’t I go to TED? Two reasons. The first one is that attendance requires paying a $6,000 membership fee. Sure, it’s good for a year, but until last year, TED has only had one conference a year (TED Africa started in 2007). The second issue is that you have to be invited and while a great many things I do are kinda interesting, none of them are [yet] at a level that warrants TED letting me in the doors.
Thusly, TED begot BIL, which is being dubbed, “the unconference”. The idea was to follow the format of TED, but essentially do it in a free-form, organic way with no true organizers and no fee. Given these guidelines, BIL was an extraordinary success. I would warrant that around 250+ people showed up for this conference. There were constant talks that lasted for 15 minutes, starting at 11 and ending at 6. There was a space provided with seats, PA, and electricity to power all our laptops. Coffee, donuts, pizza, and snacks appeared magically by people interested in making this first conference a success.
Two very surprising things that came out of this were the free BIL t-shirts. They’re American Apparel shirts, which are stupendous t-shirts and I’m pretty jazzed to have one. The other amazing thing was the fact that while the space had no internet access, there ended up being wifi before the first speaker even came on stage. This proves a new modern law of nature in that if you put enough geeks in to any space, inevitably wireless internet will spontaneously arise.
Amazingly, for the talk being free and not paying speakers, some really interesting folks showed up like Chris Phoenix, Aubrey de Grey, and KV Fitzpatrick. A fellow named Nikhil Nilakantan showed up breaking down the statistics on how BIL got heard of and came about, which is something that I always love.
Overall, BIL happened and BIL was good. The fact it is planed to continue next year is good news. Naturally though, it wasn’t all perfect, which is the next article
BIL 2008: The Successes