I want to distill some of my general observations about Gnomedex down to a couple of themes that upon reflection were the main takeaways for me.
Geek Social Networking - The attendees at Gnomedex were very high on the geek quotient. By geek I mean less Dungeons and Dragons than I mean really smart people. Although certainly there was a D&D feel without the chain mail. The first night party felt like there was a club of power geeks and some other tribes in attendance although they felt smaller. There were certainly a handful of media tribe types, most of whom I know from previous functions and interactions.
Although I felt that the first night was going to be a pre-cursor to an us and them conference dominated by the geeks, it was very open and cool and ultimately I think that anybody present was having a good time and enjoyed the interactions. I know I did. The only thing that I would add is that I think more diversity is better. There was a mortgage business person who made some comments on the last day that showed a big disconnect between the super brains in the conference and real/normal/smart people who aren't developers. I think bringing those two groups to the table would be a good thing.
What I find when I hear some of the great ideas presented, and when I see the products that rollout (Share Your OPML, People Aggregator) is that the ideas are extremely powerful but that the products aren't broadly adoptable by normal people. At least in my opinion. It's like that Myspace thing. What an ugly site that 10s of millions of people use. :-)
Open Everything and Users in Control - This was a big theme across many areas. Canter talked about the ability to move your data between social networking and other community sites. Making it easy for users to move things around as a benefit and not some artificial lock in. I though that his comments to Jeremy Zawodny were spot on as I have said in previous posts here.
Steve Gilmor talked about the Attention trust and taking control of our click data and using that to our own benefit. I think this was the most powerful idea presented although some people made some snarky comments about the discussion. I hope to do a long post about this shortly.
Kaliya/Identity Woman did a session on Open Spaces which as a discussion made sense but I didn't understand or was familiar with the overall meme. The idea of empowering non-corporate users with social tools is a good idea and it's good to see people focused on mainstream users.
Orthodoxy - There was an overall feeling that there had to be orthodoxy around certain ideas or points of view. It is probably because the audience was homogeneous in general. Examples to me were that it was assumed that nobody has a contrary position on network neutrality. Certainly there were no wireless carriers or telco people in the room, or at least none that spoke up.
It was generally assumed that everyone was on the progressive side of the political spectrum. In chats at the table there was some Republican grumbling regarding the Edwards non-political appearance and it has to be said that I think that it is very rare that you will find a politician who in a public setting would conduct themselves as anything other than a politician. I don't think that is necessarily bad, but it is the way they are wired in my opinion.
There was a heated exchange between Winer and Blake Ross that was resolved later offline but I was struck by one particular comment that Dave made that really embodied the orthodoxy and made me think of this as a big item. Dave commented that back in March he had blogged about his concerns about how Firefox would avoid becoming evil. There was an exchange in the session and Dave said that Blake should have commented on his post or sent him an email. There is an underlying assumption that Blake does/should read Dave's blog. This may or may not be the case, but the assumption that anyone should have to respond to something other than a direct conversation with that person was very surprising to me and felt like something that normal people would find fascinating.
Media - I won't say much about this but media was certainly a big and recurring theme as evidence by the session by Dave Dederer and Ethan Kaplan. Both very good sessions that covered territory that us media whores know well. The only comment that I will make though is that I find it really funny who people demonize the large content companies for exercising their rights with respect to copyright would be enraged if people took their blogs and other related IP and did what they wanted with it. There, I said it yet again. The good news is that as people learn more I think the anger has gone down from a boil to a simmer.
Good times - The balance of sessions and breaks combined with evening functions made this an excellent experience. On the one hand I would encourage any of the non-geeks I know to make the trip next year as I think it would be very rewarding, although on the other hand, I would be worried that a conference of this type has to by it's nature remain as small as possible. I am certainly going again next year provided it doesn't occur over a holiday weekend.