Barcampers shed traditional rules

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Chris Messina, founder of the BarCamp movement, sees it as a boon to the person pursuing a dream but could be cut off from cash and the needed network. “[A] BarCamp benefits the independent, those who are on their own and in the process of plotting their path.”

But despite the much touted ad hoc nature of the bar camp, there are a few basic ground rules .

The most fundamental one is there are no spectators at the BarCamp – only participants.

The BarCamp site advises potential campers to be prepared for “an intense event” with discussions, demos and interaction from attendees.

“When you come,” the site says, “be prepared to share with barcampers. When you leave, be prepared to share it with the world.”

Passionate involvement is the name of the game at these events – but this is not wrung out of participants. A vital tenet at the BarCamp is dubbed the rule of two feet: If you get bored, you can use them and walk out.

Involvement, of course, can take different forms. Attendees are can provide a demo, a session, or help with one, or otherwise contribute in some way to support the event.

All presentations are scheduled the day they happen. Presenters are responsible for making sure notes, slides, audio or video of their presentations are published on the Web, specifically for the benefit of those who could not be present.

“By using tools like social networks we can bring a lot of people with the same interests and passions together,” Messina said.

And BarCamp organizers readily say this has well and truly been the case.

“[The BarCamp] is really changing the way we do things,” said Scott Brooks of ConceptShare Inc. who is organizing one such event at Sudbury.

BarCamp Sudbury will be the hub of all BarCamps that will be held to celebrate the movement’s first year anniversary during the weekend of August 26 to 28. The meetings will be held at the Cambrian College’s eDome.

Scott hit on the idea of holding a conference in his native town after attending BarCamp Tdot in Toronto recently. He was struck by the open, communal atmosphere he encountered at the conference held at a downtown warehouse.

“It’s about building a community, bringing developers, and other like-minded souls together. It was a very sharing environment and there was no set agenda.”

Dubowski thinks the emergence of events such as BarCamp could be symptomatic of a deeper trend. “I wonder if there is a disconnect between conference holders and some attendees because the former are not able to meet the needs of the latter.”

He noted that just as blogging was initially adopted as a tool of protest , BarCamp seems to be a shout against the constriction of structured meetings and conferences.

Dubowski echoes the observation of author Harrison Owen who sometime in 1985 came up with the idea of open space technology (OST). The theory revolves around the concept that the most productive portions of meetings and conferences are when people breakout of the sessions and talk among each other in the hallways.

“They (BarCamp People) have cut into the good stuff,” said Dubowski.

Indeed Mayfield admits that OST is at the heart of BarCamp because it is at these hallway meetings that camaraderie and networks are built.

Mayfield said he tried this concept on his company Socialtext, when 30 employees from offices as far as Canada and Taiwan met in Palo Alto, Calif. Initially they had a highly structured agenda but decided to throw it out and go for a more casual approach.

“When we compared our progress with our original agenda, we found we hit all of the items and resolved issues at a shorter time period,” said Mayfield.

Perhaps one of the key factors of BarCamp is the democratizing effect it has on meetings. Just as blogs empower previously unpublished people to be authors, BarCamps have the potential to launch unheard of developers into the limelight.

One of the rules of BarCamp parodies the 8th rule of the Fight Club : If this is your first BarCamp, you have to present.

Dubowski finds it hard to predict whether or not BarCamps will one day supplant traditional conferences, but thinks they will have an effect on people organizing professional meetings and the social infrastructure.

“BarCamps will cause people to re-evaluate practices.”

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