Reflections on a Decade of Gnomedex

Last week I attended my fourth Gnomedex, the geeky science and technology conference launched ten years ago by Internet alpha dog Chris Pirillo. It turns out that this will be my last Gnomedex as well, as Chris announced that this was the conference’s final year. He cited the challenges of running the conference without a major partner to, presumably, share the risks and costs associated with running the event.

For its first seven or eight years, the conference offered a behind-the-scenes view into the inside baseball of the technology industry. The stage and audience alike were populated with the boisterous (and almost entirely male) technorati: Robert Scoble, Marc Canter, the Gilmor brothers, Jason Calacanis and so forth. There’d always be rowdy debates among the speakers and audience members. Those were both entertaining and frustrating, and if you weren’t keen to hear the bellowed exchange of views, you’d find large section so the conference kind of insufferable. Regardless, the conference was a fantastic shortcut for learning about what was hot in the tech sector. One year it was RSS, the next it was podcasting, and so forth.

A couple of years ago, Chris changed gears, and refocused the conference away from the tech sector and more on science and innovation. Most of the speakers at this year’s event had a story like “I accidentally or intentionally achieved this remarkable thing, and I’m going to tell you about it.” Whether that was experimenting with using lasers to power space vehicles or creating beautiful crowdsourced computer-based art, it made for a more diverse set of speakers. They were also varied, unfortunately, in their capacity to speak succinctly and eloquently about their topic.

In Gnomedex’s parting, I’m sad to see the end of an era. Chris built a great, gleefully geeky event, and was always a gracious and entertaining host. Back in 2005 when my fellow organizers and I were launching Northern Voice, I picked Chris’s brain for tips and tricks, and there’s no question that Gnomedex’s informality and authenticity influenced how we devised our conference north of the border.

Congratulations to Chris on a decade of excellent events. I hope he can take August, 2011 off.

For blow-by-blow notes on this year’s conference, check out Derek Miller’s site or Jeff Barr’s cool mindmaps.

Photo: Kris Krug