An event called OpenTech took place last week in the UK.
The conference didn't receive a lot of press on these shores, despite the fact that key executives from Yahoo! and the BBC were on hand. Perhaps this was because some of the other attendees might be perceived as anarchists or at the very least dismissed as antiglobalization twerps by those who didn't know better.
But tossing out the baby with the bathwater is always a bad idea.
The "baby" in this case is open source. And it's no longer a baby. It's more like a kicking, screaming, bratty 5th grader. About ten years from now it'll be a college grad and entering the workplace. And when that time comes, there's a very strong probability that open source will be behind many of the tech tools and applications we'll want to use. Sure, Microsoft will still be around. And Google. And Yahoo!
But maybe not MapQuest. Why? Because there will be Open Source Maps. Maps you can customize on the fly. Maps where you can plug in all the features you want attendees to know about. You'd be able to add official hotels, shuttle routes, Kinkos, or whatever else is important to your show. Exhibitors could add venues of their exhibitor parties. Staff and/or attendees could add locations of their favorite restaurants, bars and jogging trails.
You're seeing some of this already. Most of you are well aware of the Linux operating system and the Firefox browser. Some of you already know that RSS is replacing email as the preferred delivery method for newsletters and custom content. We're now seeing events built on wiki platforms. And of course there is open source blog software.
There are also successful open source solutions in the database arena (MySQL), in business intelligence and reporting (BIRT) and in web development (PHP and content management systems). Anything you can do with proprietary software you can do with open source, including security and commerce applications.
Without getting too geeky, the idea behind open source is that developers can take what's written and add to it. This can be accomplished through using existing code that is under a GPL (General Public License) which means that modifications must be published publicly, or through a BSD (Berkeley Software Distribution) agreement whereby some proprietary code may remain proprietary. In either case, the idea is that you can customize software to your needs.
The tradeshow world is pretty small and we don't have the luxury of an army of skilled coders and hackers working on our behalf. But if we did (and we still may) you'd likely see open source competitors in registration and attendee management, floorplan management, exhibitor lead management, speaker management and possibly even hotel block and FBO management, although those last two are a bit trickier since they involve third-party hotels.
The impetus to develop open source solutions does take into account that there is a certain amount of "antiglobalization" fervor. You can probably blame Microsoft for that.
This is what the organizers Tom Chance of the Acrewoods Collective summarized the experience of OpenTech 2005 and suggests where the event's future may lie:
"If there is a single message to take from OpenTech 2005, it is an obvious one: the future should, and most probably will, be open. The efforts of the free software community are influencing major content providers, who are using open technology to provide open content.
Despite the barrage of legislation and litigation from advocates of closed or proprietary technology and content, many felt that we were at a turning point in the politics of openness. Though many technical, social, and political issues remain, there was optimism about the future, perhaps because the conference gathered those who believe passionately in that vision, and those who have a stake in it unfolding.
But if those with the awareness and expertise can redouble their efforts to improve, promote, and protect both open technology and content, these conferences may become simply a trade show for the community and industry rather than a talking shop for activism and advocacy."
In other words, Open Tech will know it has fully crossed the chasm when it's considered just another trade show.
I'd have to imagine whomever that show organizer is had better be using open source.