An Unrepresentative DemoCamp

DemoCamp 9, held two days ago, was the first that has disappointed me. Disappointment #1 was the demos themselves: ConceptShare’s was great—I really want a chance to play with their stuff—and DictaBrain’s voicemail-to-text was intriguing until we learned that the transcription is going to be done by typists in India, rather than software, but the eMail Company’s form builder looked very 1999, and I’m not sure even now what the point of the InfoQ and Pursudo demos were: the guy who demo’d the first seemed to be trying to persuade us that yes, there really was some technical innovation in the site (I didn’t see it), while the second was something thrown together in three days just so its authors could demo it.

If that was as far as the letdown went, I’d be OK: I used to play a little jazz, and I know that open mike nights are always a mixed bag. But as David Crow has very courageously said in his latest post, that isn’t all that went wrong. ConceptShare is intended to help people collaborate on graphic design over the web; it lets you post images (such as advertising copy or screenshots of a new GUI), then annotate them and draw on them asynchronously, with all the logging and blogging you’d expect. During their demo, its creators used an image of a busty young woman in a low-cut dress taken from (I believe) a perfume ad. One of the guys standing behind my table made a couple of locker room comments about her breasts while the image was on screen, and another couple of guys near him laughed. They probably didn’t notice the looks on the faces of the women at my table, but I did. As the one who had invited those three women to attend, I felt embarrassed, and ashamed, and more than a little bit angry. And then the Pursudo guys started their presentation with, “The purpose of our software is get someone in this room laid,” or something very similar. I looked around at all the white male faces (at least 90% white, in a tech gathering, in Toronto—when’s the last time you saw that?): some were grinning, and the rest were carefully neutral, because let’s face it: nobody wants to be the prissy politically correct spoilsport who says, “You’re making people feel uncomfortable.” Two of the students who came with me have since said that they won’t return. I don’t think it’s because the demos were a letdown; I think it was the boy’s club atmosphere. As I said a couple of weeks ago, I think that fixing this ought to be the goal of future Web 2.0 gatherings (and others). We’ll all be better for it.