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Tim O'Reilly's Guide to the P2P Conference


There are more than 90 speakers in three days of the O'Reilly Peer-to-Peer Conference, with keynotes, plenaries, a technical and business track - plus lightning talks, in which companies not speaking in the sessions get to present information about their companies in an abbreviated fashion. To help get a handle on the conference, we talked with O'Reilly CEO and conference organizer Tim O'Reilly and asked him to point out a few of the highlights from the conference.

The O'Reilly Peer-to-Peer Conference takes place February 14-16 at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. Visit the conference web site for more information

The P2P Conference is quite a different animal from previous O'Reilly conferences like the Open Source Conference. "There's a lot of material for hardcore geeks," O'Reilly says, "but it's not a tutorial conference. It's more of a place to see where the bleeding edge is, how competitors stack up, which ones are credible, which projects are interesting. And because of this, there's a lot more material that will be of interest to a business audience (investors, entrepreneurs, and corporate IT decision makers) as well as to developers. Mostly, we're trying to stimulate interesting conversations with thoughtful people. ... The conference will have an enormous concentration of people who are out on the edge of the next wave - we want to give them enough visibility so people can find them and follow up."

Each day opens with a keynote speech -- Clay Shirky on "Lessons from Napster" on Wednesday, Sun cofounder and chief scientist Bill Joy on Thursday, and Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig on Friday -- followed by plenary panels on big-picture topics. These panels are designed to educate everyone about the players, the opportunities they see, and the problems they face.

"On Wednesday, we'll follow Clay's keynote with a conversation between Clay, Ian Clarke of Freenet, Gene Kan of Gnutella, Johnny Deep of AIMster and Ray Ozzie of Groove about what makes P2P unique, and the kinds of applications that may be transformed by it. Following that, we'll have a conversation on P2P in the Enterprise, with Ray Ozzie again, but this timespeaking with Eric Schmidt (CEO of Novell), venture capitalist Bill Burnham of Softbank Ventures and Jonathan Hare of Consilient.

"We're trying to have conversations that will make people think and spark opportunities for follow-up. Wednesday afternoon, after David Anderson from SETI@Home speaks, we'll have a CTO panel on distributed computing, in which David compares his approach at Seti@Home and United Devices with that of Nelson Minar at Popular Power, Jamie Bernardin at DataSynapse, and Andrew Chien at Entropia. It will be a chance to find out what these companies do differently, what they do similarly, what they see as the issues, and how they solve them."

O'Reilly is especially looking forward to computing visionary Bill Joy's keynote on Thursday, February 15. "Sun is cooking up a web services strategy. Hopefully, by the time of Bill's talk,they'll be in a position to open the kimono about their thinking."

Following Joy's talk comes what may be one of the the event's highlights, a plenary panel on web service featuring representatives from Microsoft, Sun and IBM, as well as Xdegrees' Michael Tanne and WorldOS' Lucas Gonze. This should be a no-holds-barred session as the panelists discuss the relative merits of Microsoft's .NET, and Sun's and IBM's strategies.

On Friday, Stanford law professor Larry Lessig will deliver a keynote on the legal and social implications of peer-to-peer. "Lessig's book Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace is one of the most thought provoking books I've ever read," says O'Reilly. "It completely changed the way I think about the relationship between technology, laws, and markets."

And, says O'Reilly, it's not all happening in the plenaries. In the afternoons, the conference breaks down into separate technical and business tracks, with dozens of detailed technical and business presentations each day. Where possible, the individual talks may be clustered into groups, with topics such as P2P on Devices, or The Two Way Web. This makes it easier to understand where different companies and projects overlap and where they complement each other. Other sessions focus on issues, such as security and trust.

Some of the talks that O'Reilly himself finds most interesting include:

Overall, O'Reilly notes, the chance to evaluate companies and projects is a theme throughout the conference. "There are a lot of really interesting companies and technologies that you've maybe heard a little bit about. And here they are all in one place at one time. In one day, you can do a huge amount of due diligence. That will appeal to the business crowd but also to developers. There are a lot of choices developers are going to have to make. A number of people are offering frameworks. Which ones are real?"

Beyond the content of the sessions, the conference will also serve as gathering place for previously virtual communities. "A lot of the key Freenet and Gnutella developers will be there and some of them will meet for the first time. It's an opportunity for some of these communities to get together. This is one of the most exciting things about O'Reilly conferences. They draw the technical elite, and real work gets done in the hallways. They aren't just marketing shows."

"In some sense, this is literally a peer-to-peer conference in that we're bringing peers together and letting those peers check each other out. It's a lot about hallway conversations, about companies and developers and investors making contacts, making connections, opening horizons."

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