What are barcamps & what can one expect from it?

Barcamp Bangalore 2
Image by quadmod via Flickr

BarcampKolkata is scheduled to take place on the 3rd of January, 2009 & the organizers requested that I blog about my prior experiences at other barcamp events.

First off, its heartening to note that the barcamp movement has spread to east of India, kudos to the organizers for bringing it to the east! I have personal affinity towards the east & have pleasant memories as I lived in assam for 3 years in the 80s and I loved it so much that I decided to visit the east 2 years ago. The east was/is largely unaffected by the expansion that the rest of the India has seen which has its ups & downs. I hope events like these brings betterment to the people of the east, they need it! So Lets talk about barcamp!

So what is a Barcamp?

The common answer that you will hear is that it is an “un-conference”. To me, it is an gathering of people passionate about technology that are looking to exchange ideas & connect with people. The gathering is loosely structured so as to encourage ideas & discourse.

Ok.. How is different from any other conference that is organized?

The typical conference that you might have attended is usually very structured with a set agenda, a whole bunch of expert panelists or speakers and an audience that is there to absorb & be a passive participant. Usually there is also a fee associated with such conferences.

Barcamp on the other hand is anything but a structured conference & there is no fee associated with attending a Barcamp. All participants are expected to be active participants.

Hmm .. Didn’t you mention that is loosely structured?

Yes, it is loosely structured in the sense that the venue, theme & some of the topics are decided by the community. Here is how a typically Barcamp is organized:

  • Usually a bunch of folks get together & decide to organize one
  • Organizing community decides on a place, time & duration of the event among other things. This is primarily dependent on finding the space & sponsors.
  • They set up a wiki page and put their names in.
  • The word is spread and the community then add their names as participants & topics that they would like talk about to the wiki.

Interesting .. What kind of topics are discussed?

Any thing under the sun, but it is advisable that you cater it to the theme if possible. A quick look at the attendance will give you a flavor of the topics that might interest an audience. Here are some of the sessions that I have been part of

Can I be an active participant without presenting on a topic at the event?

Absolutely! Be part of the organizing team, help with the logistics (food/accommodation/etc), actively spread the word (blog/microblog/post pictures & videos) before/during & after the event. barcampChennai still was one of the best live blogged Barcamp that I have attended to date in-spite of the being the first Barcamp in India.

Great, Do I have be a geek to attend a barcamp?

Nope but you will find a whole bunch of them at barcamp. So it definitely helps if you can interact with geeks 😉

What do I get by attend a barcamp event?

When a bunch of smart & passionate people gather at an event, sparks are ignited, ideas flow! One always walks away with more than he/she came into the event. But make sure you contribute as much as you soak in.

At the end of the day its about the community, barcamps foster it!

BarcampChennai fostered so many other events – Proto.in (India’s premier DEMO event for startups) is one good example.

BarcampBangalore was so successful that there were 7 editions in the span of 2+ years.

Any tips for organizing a barcamp based on your experiences?

Absolutely! Here are few that come to mind:

  • Make sure your decide on the barcamp tag (Ex: barcampBLR) & make sure its unique
  • Please make sure the community recognizes this tag & uses it
  • Remember that the event is followed a bigger audience on the web, so do everything to make sure they get updates – be it pictures, video, twitter, etc
  • The event doesn’t end when the barcamp ends, the best part of a barcamp is the conversation(s) that happen after the event
  • Put up a board with the rooms & session timings and have post-its/markers for presenters to post their sessions.
    Encourage people to host impromptu sessions (they are some of the best)
  • Be flexible & accommodating! If you have a session that colliding with someone else consider moving things around.
  • DO NOT LET A COMPANY OR INDIVIDUAL HIJACK THE EVENT. Its about the community.

At the end of the day like anything else its the connections & the bonds that you build that you will remember & cherish!

I can personally endorse barcamps, it has helped me my company get traction & the community has been fantastic!


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