BarCamp: the ultimate unconference

BarCamp Vancouver
August 26/06
Workspace; 120 people registered

After partying into the wee hours the night before (ok, that was me at least) or prowling the streets after midnight on the photowander, 8:30 a.m. the next day came early. There was a great spread (!) but I’d eaten and caffeinated at Tim’s (what can I say? still a Windsor girl at heart).

9 a.m. Scheduling

This was a (very polite and low key) free-for-all. Everyone gathered at a wall covered in brown paper, which was divided into a grid. Prospective presenters looked around for the sharpie and post-it pad (likely in someone’s hands), and wrote their session’s brief title, possibly their name, on the note and stuck it to their desired time slot and room (there were various seating capacities).

9:30 Schedule Confirmation

Here, organizer Darren Barefoot called out each note, asking the presenter to summarize and pitch, in 15 seconds, their session. He would occassionally make a room or time change (in dialogue with presenter). Presenters were also encouraged to collaborate, if they had similar interests, or swap time slots, if need be.

BarCampers were cautioned to check the schedule regularly, as it was apt to change frequently, and without notice for, example, if interest in a session were misjudged.

10 a.m. Sessions begin

There were 8 concurrent sessions with a total of 12 (1/2 hour) timeslots (there was the odd exception, for example, Yoga for Geeks, was an hour-long session).

In Session:

Presenters accepted questions throughout, and sometimes asked audience members to make a mini presentation (to further explain or illustrate some point); audience members sometimes challenged or disagree with presenters, but it was all very amicable; during presentations, people were often on their computers – blogging the session, checking out websites/things related to talk, taking notes, checking their various accounts – sometimes following the presentation online (or “practicing” e.g. in photo camp – trying out tricks, tips etc.). People floated in and out of sessions as interest or time permits

There seemed to be much collaboration and discussion going on in between session, or by people sitting out a session. There was a fairly high level of excitement – certainly much more that what I’ve typically experienced at acaedemic conferences. At one point I commented to a friend that I was actually having fun.

Sessions ranged from the accessible to inaccessible to all but the geekiest, including:

– From Social Signal, 2 dynamo talks: Rob Cottingham’s “Secrets to a killer technology speech” and Alexandra Samuel’s “Tagging for world domination”
– Sarah Pullman’s tech conference mainstay Yoga for Geeks (although I did hurt my neck, ironically enough)
Lucian Savluc and Zak Greant’s pitch for their upcoming FLOSS conference, eLiberatica, in Romania
– From NewsForge Bruce Byfield’s discussion on the challenges of online journalism; you can check out his write-up for the run-down on BarCamp.

I know I’m the farthest thing from a tech but hot damn some of these cats (and yes, they’re mostly men) are hardcore geeks – computer nerd was the term I always reserved for my brother from his BBS, dial-up days.

Anyway. My presenetation, “Geeks and global justice: How tech activists change the world” was upgraded to a larger room (the Lounge) and to my great surprise, it was standing room only (the floor and chairs being taken). There were a number of questions and a back and forth discussion ensued. Of course, with a half-hour time slot (10 minutes of which were taken up by technical difficulties – the irony is delicious), we couldn’t get into it in much depth. Afterward, however, a number of people came up to me to express their interest in my topic, to tell me about their related work, or to give me their cards and/or offers of assistance in my research. This was heartening indeed. I also met one person who explicitly agreed to be a participant in my project. As I have been experiencing difficultly gathering these people into my fold, I was very pleased.

By the end of the day I was fading and took a break from a particularly geeky session, wherein I was understanding nothing, to have a cup of tea and stare out at the gorgeous view of the north shore (Workspace occupies most of the second floor of an old building in Gastown).

It was, in sum, a successful day – interesting, fun, productive. Not a bad line of work, this.

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