What goes on in Warkworth ...

Foo Camp in Warkworth, first two days

Great—I’ve found a spot at Mahurangi College where Telecom’s CDMA/EV-DO Rev A works and can finally blog. No fault of the organisers, the sucky broadband at Foo Camp ’09 is a sad indictment on how bad NZ digital infrastructure is in most areas. Working around that fundamental problem is, unfortunately, quite tricky, and involves a lot of trial and error and patience.

Back to Foo Camp, or Baa Camp: the third annual one is again organised by Nat Torkington, Jenine Abarbanel and Russell Brown. It’s an “unconference” that’s modelled on tech publisher Tim O’Reilly’s conferences in the US (FOO stands for “friends of O’Reilly”).

There’s no agenda from the outset, just bags of clever people being invited to create their own conference. This year, there are 160 of the best, covering a range of areas like programming, design, crafts, media, law, telecommunications, public relations, politics, blogging, art, finance and more. Big tech names like Google, Yahoo, Sun, Microsoft are represented, but this is not a geekfest and people are encouraged to set aside competitive differences. Telecom and Vodafone are lying together like the lamb and lion at Foo, basically.

Now, the big problem for a journo attending Foo is that while there are hundreds and hundreds of stories to be had from there, everything takes place under a form of Chatham House rules. So, you have to be considerate and check with the people you’re writing about before publishing anything. That’s all right though: the amazing calibre of people and the free discussions the rules engender make it worthwhile.

And, there are some excellent presentations and discussions at Foo. New, disruptive electricity retailer Powershop is coming out of beta at Foo, ahead of launching next week. Founder Ari Sargent is here, talking about how he came up with the idea behind Powershop, and how his team has worked hard to realise it—it’s much harder than it seems, with the Electricity Commission breathing down your neck at every step and existing power retailers using very confusing pricing schemes that feature loyalty discounts, that make it really quite hard to work out how much exactly you're paying per electricity unit. (We’ll have much more on Powershop in the next issue of Idealog.)

Regan Cunliffe off TV watching community site Throng and Miki Szikszai had an update on their online advertising buying outfit, Funnel, that other large online sites like Geekzone are also involved in. Funnel started up after a discussion at Foo Camp 2008, and is now close to launching. Cunliffe and Szikszai hope Funnel will provide excellent value for advertisers while giving some 85 per cent of revenue to site owners—this instead of the ad money as usual going overseas to Google and other US giants. I agree with Cunliffe that in the present climate, the more money that we keep in the country, the better, so here’s hoping Funnel gets off the ground properly.

Idealog has been covering the most interesting people, businesses and issues from the fields of innovation, design, technology and urban development for over 12 years. And we're asking for your support so we can keep telling those stories, inspire more entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and keep pushing New Zealand forward. Give over $5 a month and you will not only be supporting New Zealand innovation, but you’ll also receive a print subscription and a copy of the new book by David Downs and Dr. Michelle Dickinson, No. 8 Recharged (while stocks last).