This was my first Barcamp.
A Barcamp is a “democratic” conference. It is not a normal / traditional conference. A normal / traditional conference is usually put together by a committee of professors, or industry veterans, and the speakers are selected by the committee and invited to speak. Many of the speakers are “forced” upon the conference by the sponsors, and they end up droning about how cool their product is. The other talks tend to be boring “lectures” or “speeches” that you fall asleep in. Who can attend is also constrained by money (conferences fees are high), or by other means (only members may attend). Anybody who’s been to a traditional conference will tell you that the tea-breaks and the corridor-conversations are the most interesting and important part of a conference.
Think of a barcamp as an entire conference that consists only of tea-breaks and corridor-conversations. Well, it’s a little more structured than that – but not much … A barcamp is not a conference – it is an unconference. Anybody can attend a barcamp. Anybody can speak on any topic that they are passionate about. A whiteboard is put up in the morning with the available rooms and timeslots. People can write down their name and the title of their talk in any available slot. Based on this, the others can decide which talks they want to attend. That’s it. Repeat all day.
Democracy.You’ll wonder, if anybody can speak, how do we ensure quality of speakers and presentations? By the “law of two feet“. The audience in a Barcamp are encouraged to use their two feet and walk away from a talk if it turns out to be boring. People are encouraged to find and create subgroups interested in specific topics, find a room or a corridor, and start discussing – and they often do.This ensures that everybody finds something interesting, and often something unexpected at a Barcamp.
Maybe you might find the 15-year-old kid who knows more about Search-Engine-Optimization than all the “industry veterans” you’ve met. Maybe you’ll go there to learn new technology and instead find some really interesting NGOor other social work organization and join that. Maybe you’ll just land up there, not knowing what to expect, and end up finding not just your first job, but a great career. Maybe you have an idea for a company, but don’t know how to implement it, and you’ll find someone at Barcamp who’s willing to handle the technology for you.I’m not just making all of that up. Each one of the sentences in the previous paragraph that started with “Maybe” is actually a real-life story that I saw that happen during the Barcamp06.