Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

Barcamps, Barcamps, and…*Yawn*

Posted on: March 17, 2007

The concept of “Unconferences”, single-heartedly goes to the web2.0 camp, who are trying to remake the good ole days of 1999 and to recreate the next bubble – mostly out of monetary ambitions, but also with the desire to revolutionize the web. Let’s, for the sake of all the beauty pageants who wish for world peace, assume that it was and is the case of the latter and for the common good. Still, where does barcamps lead to?

I am sure it was quite an earth-shattering decision when a group of folks, who were absolutely certain that they were as knowledgeable as anyone else was left out of a “invite-only discussion”, decided to start a club of their own. Barcamps they called them. The defining concept of this model was named “unconferences”.

Let me start with a bit of a disclaimer: I was responsible and involved with the organization of more than one barcamp, and with quite a geographical distance. I did enjoy it. Now back to the proceedings…

But I am afraid that its being overdone, and the point is getting lost. There is too much chaos, absolutely nothing new shared and it is all swept under the big, huge, heavy carpet of “unconferences”

A lot of people quote to me that “the collective knowledge of the audience is more than the knowledge of the speaker”. Well, I would agree, disagree and might even try to do the horizontally-vertical nod to depict “maybe”. Let me try to explain this:

A group of folks get together under a roof and decide to learn french. Everybody knows about two words and some grammer in french and they decide to put all that knowledge before the group. End result, you probably know a bit more french, than what you went in with. You also probably figured out that half of what you thought was french, wasn’t french. That, would be a typical unconference-style barcamp for me. You learnt something, and got some feedback on your assumptions, and that’s awesome.

The point is that, there are two conditions here. People are participatory. and Everyone attending has some “more than average” knowledge of the subject matter at hand.

But, what seems to be reality is that, there is an increasingly number of barcamps organized, on topics unknown to them or their forefathers, and still playing the tune that somehow the knowledge of the crowd is greater. Well, if you none of you can even spell french, you are probably not going to get out with anything more than that – and if there is only one person who knows french and everyone else is learning those two words out of him, well then thats your typical conference.

I am sure there is an angry mob waiting outside my door by now.

barcamps are vital. But they should remain small. They should be elitist. They should cater to a focused group and it should be about growing exponentially with radically different ideas shared during that moment. None of which will happen with an open door and audiences that you are not even going to say hello to.

Barcamps are personal to me. Every meeting that I have with my close friends and associates and the intense debates and discussions, are what grows and expands my horizons. And I long for barcamps where 90% of the audience would know what they are talking about, and are the kind of people who are pushy, daring, radical explorers and can come up with as crazy ideas as possible. Trust me, even those 10% who are around them, will catch that crazy flu!

I propose this. Actually, I dare this thought to the next group which is planning a barcamp. I dare that you organize a group that is small and personal. Take the effort to introduce people who are attending the event ahead of the event and get some discussions flowing. Share your backgrounds, the work you are involved in and what your pet peeves are – with the warning not to ever go near them. Show me a barcamp where the partipant to speaker ratio is close to one. I challenge, dare, and I would use any word that comes close to carrying the meaning of the word “urge”, that it will be the best discussion and time of your life you’ve ever had.

Credit: I agree with Atul chitnis, along the very same lines of thought of keeping barcamps small, simple and effective.

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