Keith Sibert

The XOXO Internet

The week of September 10th held host to two large conferences on the West Coast: the Techcrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco and the XOXO Festival in Portland. They both thematically covered the same ground, disruption. They are both conferences about individuals and companies disrupting the status quo. Both put technology at the center of their conferences, showcasing the people making and the people using these technologies to overthrow old systems and paradigms. But philosophically, these two conferences could not be more different.

It struck me as important that these 2 conferences happened back to back because they represent two parallel movements happening on the Internet right now. The Techcrunch Internet is the one that puts a premium on funding and scale. Is your idea good enough to get money? Can you execute to get scale to realize the money you received?

The XOXO Internet puts a premium on passion and quite frankly, love. Do you love what you do? You can now find others who love what you do and will pay you to do that. The XOXO Internet puts a premium on sustainability not scaleability.

The XOXO Festival was divided into 2 days. On the first day, we heard from “the artists” the people who were pursuing their dreams on the XOXO Internet. The second day dealt with “the platforms” that are enabling the XOXO Internet.

Andy Baio kept reiterating throughout the conference that “there is something going on here… something we are just in the beginning stages of”. While media attention is firmly focussed on the Techcrunch Internet, it was clear, over the weekend, that Andy’s sense of a second stream is accurate.

Again and again, we heard stories of those who were primarily motivated by passion or obsession of the thing they loved to do, not money. This culminated in Dan Harmon’s keynote where he was clear that money was not only the root of all evil, it killed anything good. Andy McMillan (one of the co-founder’s of the event) approached Dan and said that he thought that what he meant wasn’t that money killed great ideas or things but that greed did.

This is, more accurately, the tension that exists between the Techcrunch Internet and the XOXO Internet. The tension between passion and greed. The Festival is not arguing that the only acceptable outcome of the XOXO Internet is to eek out a subsistence existence off your Etsy store. In fact, many in the high wattage audience are quite financially successful Instead, what the XOXO Internet says is that financial motivation is lesser than passion.

The Internet is a large enough place that there is room for both the Techcrunch Internet and the XOXO Internet to co-exist. The Venn Diagram definitely overlaps. Etsy, one of the power platforms of the XOXO Internet, exists because of the Techcrunch Internet.

Matt Haughey of Metafilter said that “money is the most uninteresting problem” he’s faced in 14 years of running Metafilter. To me that is the exact divide between the Techcrunch Internet and the XOXO Internet. It’s not that the Techcrunch Internet is wrong or subjectively bad, it’s just uninteresting.

Etsy’s CEO Chad Dickerson, quoted Robert Kennedy in his presentation:

Gross national product … does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play, the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages. . . it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

Let’s not focus on the term sheet but on our terms.

At the end of the conference Andy Baio and Andy McMillan were moved to tears as the crowd gave them a standing ovation. For me, that summed up the whole weekend. The Festival itself was a sheer act of passion. They created this out of passion, about passionate projects, for passionate people.

I’m pretty sure the organizers of TC2012 did not stand on stage weeping joyfully about what they had accomplished. And that is why I love XOXO.

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