Sometimes I see myself as something of a social anthropologist. I'm reallyfascinated by the social, interpersonal and individual dynamics of how peopleinteract, communicate and work together. I had a great opportunity to observeexactly that through the social networking that occurs among the networksecurity community while at Black Hat thisweek. It truly was fascinating to observe and be a part of.
At conferences such as Black Hat there is always a big push to find out wherethe corporate parties are and make sure you score an invite. Some of them can betough to get into, making getting that ticket, wristband or special invitecard a really coveted item. Wednesday evening one of the better parties wassponsored by
Core Security Breach at theCaesars Palace Shadow Bar. The VP of Marketing at Core Breach was kind enough to giveme a ticket to attend. The party was crowded and difficult to move around in butI was able to spend time talking with Rothman, McKeay, Andrew Storm, my buddy Alan and a bunch ofother friends. It was a bit crowded and kind of hard to talk so three of usdecided to head out and go to Casa Fuenteto talk over cigars in a little bit quieter environment. So three of us headeddown to the cigar bar.
When we arrive, we entered Casa Fuente's sizable humidor to pick out a goodsmoke for the evening. I had just picked out a nice cigar when someone tapped meon the shoulder and said, "I'm Ryan Naraine and I've really wanted to meet youMitchell. I'd like to buy you that cigar you've picked out." Whoa. I've probablyread a thousand tweets (Twitter messages)of Ryan's but have never met him before. Ryan is not only a prolific Twittercontent generator, he is also a widely read journalist forZDnet's security blogs. He wantsto meet me? I want to meet him. I feel like I know the guy better than half thepeople I work with on a day-to-day basis because of his Twitter feed and his writing.
Ryan and Tim join us and now the group had grown to five. Sometime soon Ryanand Andrew tweeted we were down at the cigar bar. Pretty quick Rothman andMartin left the Core party and joined us, followed soon after by Hoff, Ryan, JJ and then Mogull. The group grew 2 and sometimes 3 or 4 ata time. Everyone learned from their Twitter community that a new group wasforming at Casa Fuente. Within 45 minutes the group had grown from 3 to 40+people.
If you've been to Casa Fuente in Caesars you know it's not a huge placeso 40+ a very sizable group, enough to take over half the joint. I'm sure ourwaitress was glad to see her night's tip increase by the minute. The group was ahuman example of soap bubble surface tension dynamics at work as one table afteranother gave way its individual space and became part of our group. I felt badfor the guy next to us whose personal space was taken over faster than abiblical grasshopper plague. We invited him to join us multiple times but heresisted our attempts to assimilate him into our collective and eventually leftwhen there wasn't much left to either his space or his cigar.
The group participants ebbed and flowed, moving around to talk with differentpeople. Many of us follow each other's blogs and/or Twitter feeds but haven'tmet in person before. I met many people I've followed and whose blog I read butwouldn't recognize from their tiny Twitter picture or blog portrait. The groupmakeup was very diverse; there were people from a few independent analyst firmsand from Gartner, small and well known product vendors, consultants, four orfive different press outlets, security researchers and every day securitypractitioners. Blogging is probably something commonly shared by a large portionof the group.
I was then and still am fascinated at the dynamics that lead to the formationof this event. It wasn't one of the much sought after corporate events, it was ablogger / social networking impromptu driven event. While there are certainly anumber of vocal and well equipped leaders that could rise up to suchan occasion, this wasn't a "leader situation". No one was the group leader ororganizer, we were just our own self forming group. It didn't hurt of coursethat we had a source of capital, thanks to one person's corporate credit card.(Thanks dude, I don't want to get you in any more trouble by naming youhere.)
A number of people were letting Twitter messages fly over the wires toannounce what funny thing happened or ridiculous comment this person or thatmade. I'm sure a few iPhone, Blackberry and camera phone pictures made their wayout too. These were all part of the dynamic that helped the group form and grow,and make it attractive for others to want to come join in. Yes, people Twitteredthere's a party over here but a good bit of what likely attractedpeople to come join the group was that the Twitters communicated there was awhole lot'a friends and fun happening over here.The large group broke upat 11pm when Casa Fuente closed their doors for the evening. Smaller groupsreformed and headed out to different parts but the tweets kept happening so mostpeople knew what was happening and where for the rest of the evening.
I've been reading about some of the differences between formal organizationsand social networking, particularly about self forming groups, in the book HereComes Everybody and this situation was a great example of it. We all worrywhether cell phones, social networking and web 2.0 apps are making personalrelationships impersonal. I think the situation I've described, which is onlyone of what were likely hundreds or thousands of similar examples during theconference, shows how social networking technology lets you build relationshipswith people before you've ever met or talked in person, how it collapsesdistance, enables the dynamic formation of groups, and and continuesrelationships whether people are present together or physically far apart. I'vebeen following the conference through tweets long after leaving theconference. Taking in the whole situation is simply quite marveling to me.
One thing's for sure; social networking, web 2.0 apps and camera phones havetotallydestroyed the belief What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Iwouldn't put much faith in that saying any longer. (I'll let you find the moreincriminating camera phone pictures from Black Hat yourself, and don't ask about me about the hamster — I can't tell you. But you're welcome to follow him on Twitter.)