One likes to leave NECC with a nice tidy theme resonating in one's mind. This impulse isn't quite healthy, as it reinforces the "one damn thing after another" nature of ed-tech, and it inherently excludes trends like free software, which grow steadily over decades.
Nonetheless, I dub this the Social Networking NECC. Of course, conferences are inherently about social networking. That's why they exist, basically. Blogging is bigger this year, but not dramatically so (as will be the case every year for the foreseeable future), and is certainly "social software" (as is, arguably, email, IM, etc.). But Facebook, the ning's, WOW2, Worldbridges, etc. and other more explicitly social networks have become prominent in the past year. Twitter's popularity at NECC is a further extension of the trend. It seems more clear than ever that most people prefer to speak to a smaller group of friends than to the entire internet.
People were and are excited by the physical manifestation of a cohesive, globally distributed social network at NECC, but I feel less certain then ever about what the point is beyond networking, or for that matter, meta-networking (a network about networking). I felt like some of the conversations I had in bars after NECC were indistinguishable from conversations I would have had fifteen years ago in a bar after an indie rock show. The names have changed but it is just another "scene." And not to say I didn't enjoy the gossip now and then.
One reason I'm feeling like things are a bit vacuous is that "the conversation" feels much more separated from the rest of the world than it needs to be. That is, there is a larger ongoing institutional and academic discussion of (and much action on) education reform, much of which is just as radical, if not moreso, than the "School 2.0" etc., discussions. When I talked to Greg DeKoenigsberg and Steve Hargadon and Mike Huffman about free software at NECC, we were doing a little person to person networking, a little discussion of a grassroots movement, a little sharing and strategizing about how Red Hat, CoSN, IBM and the state of Indiana are playing things, and still more discussion of how these fit together. There was news. Hopefully, in the future we'll have social networks around school reform which are more deeply engaged in the national discourse on and process of school reform, and more news on that side as well.