Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

Mulling Over a New Kinda Barcamp.

Posted on: April 7, 2008

Update: This post was made on April 7th, much before the recently concluded Barcamp Bangalore 6. Keep that in mind.

Barcamps, they are happening everywhere now. There are debates and raging discussions on as to whether we “interpreted” the format right, but whether or not, its still going on. Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune, Kerala, Hyderabad and maybe even more have joined that league of extraordinary unconference hosts. Here’s a random and crazy idea to mull over, debate and discuss. I can already sense half my readers getting ready with pitchforks and flame throwers, but as long as it leads to something beneficial, I am all for it. Here goes:

I know that everybody is thinking this but let me say it out loud: I think someone in India got the barcamp format totally wrong. Barcamps, as we do it in India are not conversational. They are very, and very speaker-centric. We kinda figured this out when the team in Chennai started out on this audacious project to write a book on Unconferences. The project, I believe is abandoned – or perhaps just a little dorcile, but we did learn quite a bit of stuff while we were at it, since the project brought together quite a bit of people from across the globe, including a fair bit of heavy weights. So I guess, I could say that I did hear from the source as to where we got the definitions wrong.

Contrary to Popular belief, Unconferences aren’t anything new. They are quite old actually – as old as 1970 actually. Unconferences just went by a different name – “Open Space Conferences”. It essentially meant that all the participants came together to run the conference. Hmm.. sounds quite close to the definition we use for barcamps and its sister camps I would say, wouldn’t you?

It was almost during the time when we realized that barcamps were too speaker centric, and getting diluted in content that the Chennai Team, under the Banner of TKF, decided to run with more focused verticals to drive deep into a topic. Hence, Blogcamp, Wikicamp, Podworks and the likes were born. The credit goes to Kiruba for putting the brains behind the inceptions, and the enormous energy of the team that makes it all happen.

Now that the pleasantries are over, lets get back to the topic.

Siddharth, a fellow blogger/unconference lover/startup entrepreneur and I had a discussion over our trip to Mumbai to attend the barcamp there. Its during that trip that he was discussing how he had attended a workshop on Agile Methodologies in Hyderabad which totally blew his brains out as to how “barcamps are conversational”. I must say that I agree with him. We are not doing something right.

A couple of things we could do to improve things:

1. Get rid of the Projector and the PPT. Stick with whiteboards, and even better, limit the audience of each session to 20 – 30 people max. Smaller groups are more conversational. Larger groups tend to sit back and act “audience”.

2. Small is beautiful. We need to let go of the obcession to get people signed up in the hundreds. The pain to organize an event in such a scale, is simply not worth it. In most cases I see the organizers burnt out before the morning sessions of the first day get over.

3. Focus. Focus. Focus. Pick a theme, topic and go deep into it. Don’t run topics which are as wide as “Politics. Technology. Startups”. One wouldnt know what to do with it. You arent really dealing with an uber smart audience. Most folks are spectators and the rest are there hoping to learn a thing or two.

4. Have some solid deliverables. Ten people in a room, all knowing how to count to three, cannot magically learn how to count to ten just cause they were debating, arguing and in the same room. You need to ensure that there is a mix of people who are willing to share, and people willing to learn, and even better if the sharing types are more. Lately I am getting nothing out of barcamps, apart from meeting people. And I am quite positive that I am not that all-knowing… Yet! πŸ™‚ There is definitely more to learn, with the pace at which platforms and technologies are evolving, and it would be great if that was looked into.

5. Keep everyone within the same room if possible. The law of two feet only works here, otherwise you might need cars and golf carts to carry you around πŸ™‚

6. Keep it simple. Dont complicate it by having it in 17 rooms and three more “outdoorsy” spots included to that. Goes back to point 2.

I am not sure if anyone is listening, but if you are It’d be great to have all, or atleast some of these taken care of in future plannings.

As for the title, a few of us are mulling over a very radical different idea of a barcamp. It is going to incorporate most of the above mentioned points, and most of all will require the least amount of logistical nightmares. In a day when softwares could automate, and processes could be simplified, months of prep work for “barcamps” simply cant be justified. We are hoping to make things simpler, effective, with oodles of new learning, all done in a fun environment. Now, that’s a guarantee!

26 Responses to "Mulling Over a New Kinda Barcamp."

Ive also felt that the crowd quality is a problem. But then, the motivates many to try out new stuff that they hear about in the camps. In one of the camps in kerala, there was a session on android and a few students were really interested in it. They are now developing android apps.

Thats certainly encouraging Kenney. I guess students are very less participatory in most barcamps for some odd reason. We need to bring more of them in. I agree.

Definitely agree with all the points that you mentioned above, especially the need for getting rid of Projectors and PPTS πŸ™‚

And about the crowd problem… how about if we mandate that every participant does a presentation or something of this sort so that we are sure only the serious crowd turns up.

Vinodh, we are looking at a way to solve this quality issue. Dont want to talk about it now cause i know a few people will cry foul πŸ™‚ Give me a week, will unveil! πŸ™‚


The issue of crowd is a compulsion to meet our sponsor’s demand for attendee numbers.

Certainly it’s not conversational.Something needs to be done about it.

The idea of choosing a topic and going deep into it may be controversial because each attendee has a different priority at that point of time and may feel left out.

Fundamentally, we are running a grassroot conference rather than a UnConference.

Abu, we arent exactly doing the event for the sponsors now are we? I dont think the attendees would mind if they all have to pitch in to cover the cost. I dont even think that should be used as an excuse.

“Fundamentally, we are running a grassroot conference rather than a UnConference.” – Yep. Maybe basic awareness creation, which is a waste of time for people who are running startups and people who want to learn something more than what they are already know.

Barcamp is about a equal opportunity platform. Equal Opportunity has it’s disadvantages.

“I guess students are very less participatory in most barcamps for some odd reason.”

I wouldn’t say the same about Mumbai Barcamps.

Agree with the observations. While I would not say that the “Tropicalized Unconference” is bad, after-all it is in the spirit of “Localization”, I was a bit dissapointed personally. On one had it reminds me of ‘College-Fest’ i.e. the ambience, the crowd, the hulla-gulla / shor-gol, which I enjoyed completely, but the “content”, “take-away” part — was only the ‘Coffee Mug’, I am afraid.

Speakers (largely), were just selling their “wares”, “services” or “expertise”… and in most cases, (with “expertise”), they were clearly no where near being masters of the subjet, yet “kept-the-podium-to-themself”. I don’t expect all “discussion seeders” to be experts, but atleast act smart and do “facilitation”. Encourage others to share their view-point, have open discussion. Some of the speakers selling “services”, went to the extent of almost shutting-down others who didn’t seem to speak in favour of the “need for such service”, “cost of the service”, ROI… What the heck!
Technical content, IMHO, barring a small handful, was very dismal… but then, that’s fine with me.

The best thing that I attended, the real unconference/barcamp’ish (in my imagination) session was the one of “Dating”… well facilitated, very well participated, true unconference.


we are listening. !

indeed thatnks for promptin this, i know few folks, Atul Chitnis, also provided simillar feedback.

i observed small camp (barcampMU3 was rocking),(1 room , 6o campers, ppt is only for topic discussion and not for Text to Speech !, can refer stuff at

If you do have suggestion, plz drop to mail id or blogpost ! would love to execute

Tnx Again,

Banibrata: I concur. One of these days there are going to be t-shirts out on the “… all I got was this lousy t-shirt” πŸ™‚

Raxit: Good to hear. Would love to get involved in planning a sensible barcamp. Feel free to drag me in, if you are planning one.

Hi Vijay

Guess I saw this a bit late. agree with all the points you make. We’ve agonised over them too. Finally I think we’ve hit upon the solution. Talk with some of the folks who attended BarCamp Bangalore 6. It was absolutely conversational! I loved it and so did every one who turned up. We did something simple: no registration of attendees, only session topics and talk ideas. Almost every one talked over the two days. I would like further depth in the discussion is my only crib.

BTW, no one can “drag” you into a barcamp planning. An invite for a meeting goes out on general list with approx 40 days to go. After this first meeting, meetings happen every weekend. Anyone who turns up at any one of the meetings becomes planner. Do drop in.


I do agree. It gets tough to be there for meetings, but yep, will be in the conversations.

Hi Vijay,
It was nice to read your post. I wrote something offering a different (not contradictory) perspective at

Shourya, nice read. Two things though.

1. This article was written much before BCB came into the picture, so it has nothing to do with BCB per se.

2. I think a lot has changed in BCB, so lets wait and hear results and the impact.

3. I am still hearing a lot of disgruntled voices. Actually, I was very surprised that all of a sudden an old post was picking up traffic, and i am tracing it to twitter feeds from BCB attendees saying “I agree with this post”. So, perhaps there is still some fine tuning to do.

Good read..
However, the last BCB I attended was 2.0 in ThoughtWorks, which didn’t quite seem like what you are saying right now.

Those were saner days Pavan πŸ™‚


Insightful post, thanks. All the points you have made sound logical. I am looking forward to the event you are planning.

Wish you could have been there in BCB.
FYI: There is no direct registration in BCB.

Only one thing I can say, Barcamp Bangalore always look out for Innovation and setting the example with in the ethos.

Best of luck for BCC.

The MNC Guy

Kesava: I would have loved to come, but had to head to delhi to wrap up some stuff for, since the upcoming week is startup lunch in Chennai. But it does seem like I missed some good fun. I should have skipped BCM and planned for BCB instead – oh well.

Are you talking here about an un-conference or a conference? Who has heard of rules in barcamps? Who makes those rules. Who are the organizers to tell me whether I should use the PPT or not. Or keep the room open for only 30 participants. Or keep it conversational for that matter> Or to do a demo or not. I will. I will use them if I like. I will do as I like.

Rules are what destroys a barcamp. Not make them. Its absurd to think that I’ll attend a Barcamp and abide by the rules which the un-orgnizers have imposed on me. It can never be successful.

You leave the barcampers to conduct barcamp as they want.

@Rajiv. Thanks for your perspective. It was kinda interesting to hear a very different and opposite take from Chris Messina. I guess he was the one who came up with this concept right? Oh well. Open to interpretations, I suppose.

And who said Barcamps dont have rules. Read here.

Well Barcamps are GPL’ed. You are free to modify the format, use the name and conduct as many as you want in the format you wish. And contribute the changes back to the community.

And I dont think i have to tell you about the GPL license. You’d know about it. The only rule you need to follow is to do it way you want.

Sure then, this will be a modified version. So what are we debating about here?

about rules. i dont think they make any sense.

Great. Move on.

I would strongly disagree about the takeaway being just the coffee mug as suggested in one of the comments. I have no clue how barcamps are conducted in other parts of the world or outside Bangalore, but the ones I attended in Bangalore were pretty helpful in a lot of ways.

The best thing about barcamps is that its very democratic, gives you the ease to start a session, run it and walk out of something if its not your interest.
PPTs and whiteboards shouldnt be blamed for speaker centricity. There are always a few spoilsports who claim authority on the subject of discussion, stall other smoothly running discussions, but these are very stray happenings.

Rules?..I am not sure what kind of rules can help

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