A treat grows in Brooklyn

So then Ted Nelson says to Baratunde Thurston “What whiskey are we drinking?”

Sounds like the punchline to a joke, doesn’t it? But it’s a perfectly typical occurrence at Brooklyn Beta, the event I attended two weeks ago (my second time being there).

I hesitate to call it a conference. I guess it is a conference, but it’s a very different kind of conference. Yes, there are talks but the schedule is geared around getting people together to talk and hang out: the breaks are as long as the sessions. This year, there was also live music every day, including a performance from Ted Leo.

So it’s not really about the talks. But that said, there were some great talks.

Icon designer extraordinaire Aaron Draplin kicked things off with a rollercoaster ride of laughter and tears. Cory Booker, superhero mayor of Newark, made an appearance, as did Seth Godin. Rob—or should I say Windhammer—introduced us to the world of air guitar championships and snuck in some life lessons while he was at it. And, yes, Baratunde Thurston organised a Whiskey Friday for his hilarious presentation. The event closed with a theme song by Jonathan Mann and we all sang along.

Of course I was a complete fanboy with Ted Nelson. I could hardly believe it when I saw he was there; I made sure to shake his hand. But I was equally fanboyish with Kyle Kneath; I’ve admired his writing—particularly on URL design—for quite a while.

But I think the highlight for me was getting to hear Maciej Cegłowski give his talk. Idle Words is probably my favourite single collection of writings on the internet, and Maciej was equally brilliant in real life. Even though his talk (all about how Pinboard came to be) was in some ways the most cynical of all, I found it to be very inspiring; a refreshing antitode to the excesses of the cult of startup.

There was a thread running between Rob’s talk, Maciej’s story, and Chris’s lessons. That thread was about taking time. “Fail slowly,” said Maciej, in contrast to every other startup story you’ve ever heard. Rob made reference to the slow web by Jack Cheng (who was also there). And Chris told us, “It’s okay to miss out.”

I like that.

So if you missed out on this year’s Brooklyn Beta, don’t worry. It’s okay to miss out …but I’m glad I was able to make it.

Thanks, Chris and Cameron. I had a blast.

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