Me at Times OpenLast Friday I attended the second half of the Times Open conference. The NYT put on the event so developers could "spend the day with industry leaders, learning about applications, data resources and the trends that will shape the way you work." Our hosts were incredibly gracious and I had a chance to see the tour the art floor (thanks Khoi and John!). Unfortunately, the event itself was disappointing.

While I can't speak to the morning sessions, the afternoon was spent getting an overview of the various APIs and attending "breakout sessions" with the other attendees, save for Jacob Harris' interesting talk about the interactive newsroom. The overviews would have been more useful if the breakout sessions had some structure. Instead of going to various rooms (that went unused) to discuss a specific topic, folks milled about, chatting with each other. If you consider the breakout sessions as just breaks, the 8 hour conference had only 4 hours of presentations.

My goal at the conference was to get my hands dirty with the APIs, discuss the implications of a news organization opening up its data and to meet some interesting people. I did get to meet a few interesting folks, but the conference didn't help me on the first two points. The lack of small group breakouts meant I walked away with fewer practical concepts and interesting questions in my head than I would have otherwise.

I don't feel too bad about being a debbie-downer because the NYT developers all were quite interesting and I am genuinely excited by the stuff they're building. In fact, I've got a couple more NYT-related posts floating around in my brain. Still, I do hope they'll take my advice next time and provide some more structured breakouts. An active backchannel may appear to be a positive, but I'd much rather the attendees be focused on the event and engaging with each other in real life.