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Ignite Boulder lit my fire

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Infotainment.

That chestnut of a neologism was originally coined, if I recall correctly, to describe cheesy CD-ROM products designed to entertain and educate. Later, it was used as a pejorative description of A Current Affair-style journalism. But for my money, there's no better word to characterize the experience of Ignite Boulder, a bi-monthly gathering where people give five-minute presentations using twenty slides, each displayed for fifteen seconds. Sound boring? It's not. In fact, it's the most entertained I've ever been while learning something new. Hence, infotainment.

Despite being a pretty low-tech endeavor, the idea came from the tech community, and it's an event the exemplifies geek culture. The potential topics are unlimited and determined by the speakers' passions and by attendees' votes (with the odd intervention by the organizers). At last night's event, Boulder's seventh, I learned the basics of BASE jumping, the advantages of cast-iron cookware, the history of social media, how to start my own country and other fascinating, odd and esoteric subjects, all in sometimes funny, sometimes inspirational and always fast-paced presentations.

The format is tight and keeps things from ever getting boring: If a speaker isn't doing it for you, you grab a drink, and by the time you're tipping the bartender, the next person is up. The crowd is raucous and engaged, encouraging with hearty yells and interjecting the occasional laugh with a well-timed retort. The results are impressive, even to those thinking the whole thing sounds like a colossal bore. I cajoled my fiance into going with me, and she went from a suspicious "Can we leave early if it sucks?" to an enthusiastic "When is the next one of these?" in the space of just over a dozen presentations.

What's particularly impressive is that the event managed to sell out the Boulder Theater, the city's largest venue, with no advertising push -- it's basically promoted and organized solely via Twitter, Facebook and the Ignite Boulder website, with the occasional mention in papers like this one.

That's partly the power of social media and largely the strength of a simple idea, well-executed, to take on a life of its own. I'll definitely be back as an observer and, if I can come up with a suitable topic and the courage to stand in front of almost 600 people and speak, perhaps someday as a presenter.

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