MashupCamp--a new kind of get-together

Nearly 300 people show up for a celebration of custom applications and a new-model technology conference. Photos: Techies gather at MashupCamp

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.--It's 7:54 a.m., and I'm nine minutes late for MashupCamp.

No matter, though. MashupCamp--two days of discussions about the custom applications that come from the merger of application program interfaces--isn't like a normal conference. So showing up a few minutes late? Par for the course.

Photos: At MashupCamp

Given that the event has drawn representatives and sponsorships from many of the titans of technology, including Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Adobe and the like, it may not be immediately apparent how it's different. That is, besides the fact that the main topic of discussion involves applications--such as Paul Rademacher's --that are generally available to the public for free.

But soon after I came through the doors of the Computer History Museum here, which is playing host to the event, things started to become clear.

For one, there was no schedule yet. Or rather, there was a whiteboard with a grid of times and rooms on it that was entirely empty. For another, the attendees had paid nothing to get in to this nonprofit event and their only barrier to entry had been to sign up on the event's wiki before space ran out.

At around 8:30 a.m., most of the 300 or so on hand here filed into an auditorium where co-organizer David Berlind proceeded to invite anyone in the crowd with a mashup they wanted to show off to step forward and introduce it. One caveat: They got only 30 seconds to explain their projects. It was like Demo on crack. (Berlind is executive editor of business technology for ZDNet, which is owned by CNET News.com parent company CNET Networks).

But come up they did. In all, 40 people made their way up to the stage and, yes, in less than 30 seconds each made a quick pitch for their mashup.

For example, one company talked about a mashup it was developing that aims to mix mapping software with data marking the locations of trees planted by San Francisco's Friends of the Urban Forest.

Another talked about plans to make it easy for dating sites to integrate astrology data.

The race for space
The mashup that the event's producers now dealt with was the little matter of the empty schedule and a whole lot of two days left to fill.

So, in a distinctly nontraditional way, Berlind once again invited the participants to make the event happen. In this case, that meant asking anyone who wanted to lead a discussion to come up, explain what they wanted and then claim a spot on the schedule.

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Video: MashupCamp brings minds together
David Berlind, a MashupCamp organizer and ZDNet editor, demonstrates the ins and outs of mashups from the floor of this year's "unconference for the uncomputer."

And since the various meeting rooms here differ significantly in size, it was important for sessions to be in the right size rooms. So each session leader concluded his explanation--and it really was a whole lot of "his," since out of 28 sessions Monday, 27 were led by men, and out of almost 300 attendees, no more than 15 were women--by asking how many people were interested in participating. If a lot of people raised their hands, he would claim a larger room. If not, a smaller one.

For an observer, this was one of the best parts of the whole experience: Watching what had been an empty schedule fill out quickly and in an orderly, sensible fashion. There would be few sessions of 15 people in a room for 100, and few begging for more space.

The nontraditional format was a major reason many of the people showed up Monday.

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