Through her Demo conference, Chris Shipley strands some of the most important people in tech together in the desert and forces them to pay attention to strange new ideas. It's like Burning Man without the playa dust and with much fancier drinks, or so I'm told. The experience is apparently scarring enough to bond people for life, judging by the palsy-walsy crowd of past Demo participants and guests who crowded into Palo Alto's Zibibbo restaurant Tuesday night to mingle and mix with other "alumni."

All of these parties are roughly the same, aren't they? Show up, get your nametag, politely chitchat with people while figuring out if you can use them to further your own ambitions, have a few free drinks, and then go in the corner to whip out your cellphone and send text messages to people you'd rather talk to.

But one thing made it different — the crowd Shipley attracts.

At least the Demo-alumni requirement scared off the worst of the usual crowd of hangers-on. The guests here were mostly entrepreneurs who actually have started a company or two, like Kim Polese, ex-CEO of Marimba, recently seen at last week's LinuxWorld conference, and Munjal Shah, CEO of, the latest incarnation of Riya. More than a few blogger/journalists personalities appeared, like Oliver Starr, late of TechCrunch offshoot MobileCrunch, currently with TechCrunch rival BlogNation, and new Rupert Murdoch underling Don Clark of the Wall Street Journal, who has an annual tradition of playing the Demo conference with his band.

And then there was a trifecta of Valleywag megafans: John Furrier, CEO of PodTech; Red Herring publisher Alex Vieux; and Barak Berkowitz, CEO of Six Apart. All three were delighted to see "Valleywag" on my nametag. Vieux couldn't wiggle away from me fast enough. "Ask Owen why I can't talk to you," Berkowitz snarled as he stalked away. Yet another example of Six Apart failing to engage in transparent communication, as far as I can tell.

The talk of the party, of course, was the looming shadow of next month's TechCrunch20 conference, the Demo copycat from TechCrunch editor Michael Arrington and Mahalo founder Jason Calacanis. Although I wonder if Chris Shipley and the rest of the Demo team should be as worried about the upstart conference as Arrington and Calacanis would like them to be. As one partygoer put it to me: "You know what they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Chris has a lot of imitators, like that one guy, oh, I'm blanking on his name ... TechCrunch ... Arlington, Michael Arlington."