One of the joys this year was that my two favorite panels were the two I moderated. I expected The Future of Online Community to be interesting and free-wheeling, which it was, but The Ephemeral City took me by surprise -- not just in how much fun it was, but in how much I learned.
In particular, I was surprised at how *different* the examples were. We had two people representing Pennsic, one from Burning Man, and one from the Rainbow Gathering. (About which I had known little.) To my amusement, Pennsic was by far the most *conventional* of the three.
We think of ourselves as weird and different, but by and large we don't tend to challenge the mundane status quo. Indeed, Pennsic is by now deeply intertwined with the area it is embedded in -- we bring a huge amount of money into the local economy, work with the local medics, and so on. By contrast, Burning Man exists somewhat uneasily with the mundane world around it, and the Rainbow Gathering is quite the serious challenge: since it doesn't really recognize the legitimacy of the authorities (or the mundane economy), it sounds like it rather pisses them off.
The result was a fascinating discussion at a higher meta-level than I'd expected. I had lots of topics planned (as usual: I like to go into panels with a list of ideas, in case things slow down) on subjects like how their bureaucracies run, and how the economy of the city functions. Instead, we wound up spending a lot of time talking about whether to have a bureaucracy at all (Burning Man apparently has one, although it's lighter-weight than Pennsic's; Rainbow is very intentionally anarchic), and both of the others more or less forbid the use of mundane money on-site.
Neat stuff, and a good reminder that there are lots of other kinds of good weirdness in the world. Sometime I really must check them out...