The power of the unconference compels me to write this post.
It's been a week and I don't think anyone will argue that FutureRuby was all sorts of win. The talks, the organizers, the people (comrades) and the parties kicked ass. A lot will probably be written about the various speakers and complete run-downs will no doubt exist soon (for a great start, check out Andrew Louis' or Ron Evans') and what you'll no doubt find is people saying that more conferences need parties like FutureRuby's. And while that is undoubtedly true, the question is: Why?
"Free booze r0x0rz!" I can hear you screaming and yes I agree, free booze does, indeed, "r0x0rz" as you say but there's something more to it. And that's this:
All the people who conferenced together, partied together.
Pete Forde and Meghann Milliard did an outstanding job with the entire conference but where they really got it right was in keeping the conference small enough to have everyone in the same venue for both the talks and the major events. This allowed people to constantly run into each other without any real effort.
I went to the first party at Unspace having met literally no one there in person before and walked out with almost a dozen new friends (for realz). And while at Pravda the next night, not only did that number grow but what I'll call "the cross-pollination of friend-sets" occurred, allowing those disparate people I had met previously to be introduced to one another, splinter off, interact and then be introduced to their new acquaintances.
And the only good reason I can come up with for this was our proximity to each other. Simply being "trapped" (for lack of a better term) in the same venue together allowed everyone to eventually run into everyone else. And having everyone in the same sessions helps reinforce this proximity during the day as well.
Now it's entirely possible that some of us could have acted as individual social attractors, inadvertently bringing separate groups together but I really find that hard to believe. It seems that simply allowing everyone to congregate in a specific location for a specific amount of time really broke down barriers.
So while I don't want to detract from the awesomeness that was the conference proper, I hope that anyone planning a smallish conference realizes what can make or break an experience for people. It's not necessarily free food (it helps) or free booze (also really helps) but it is definitely giving your attendees a place to interact, outside of the conference venue, where at the very least the majority of people will be. From some of the conversations that I overheard and was a part of it's clear that good things will happen when you do this. Friendships will be forged, business plan hammered out, philosophies created, revolutions begun.
Given the right circumstance geeks can be social. Give them the opportunity to be, and cool shit will happen.