Have we really outgrown Barcamp?

Right now i'm at Eth-0 Winterlan, which i probably should have blogged more about, though the muse hasn't been striking much lately. Since it's a hacker event, we don't actually officially start until 12 anyways, so i had some time to check my email this morning before we begin. (It could be we're starting later because of the remoteness of the location. You can't get farther away from civilisation without going up north to stay with the Frys.)

I had a look through the preliminary survey results from the FUDCon we had in Toronto. I'll have more comments later about the future of FUDCon Live, but one things struck me as worth commenting on. Among the usual gripes and comments about the location, time of the year, and the colour of their wished for ponies, i saw a number of complaints and comments about the quality of the BarCamp planning. There were also gripes that FUDCon is not a planning event. I think this reflects a change in audience since the humble origins of FUDCon.

I will agree and say that it was chaotic and a bit tricky to manage. It's been this way for the past few FUDCons i've been too, owing to the sheer amount of people who have something to talk about. Furthermore, this is exactly the way a BarCamp should be, everyone should have something to contribute in one way or another. The question is, can this scale? My answer, yes it can.

At the GSoC Mentor Summit we had another BarCamp. With a few hundred people in attendance, i never felt like there was so much going on that i would miss something critical. I contribute this to a few factors. There were fewer pitches per attendant. The topics presented were far broader in scope than a FUDCon. We had two days of sessions, and finally, the true value of the Mentor Summit was being able to meet people face to face, and not focus on the BarCamp.

I think it's time to revisit the way we organise our BarCamp sessions. I'm going to start making propositions for changes on the FUDCon mailing list to see what we can do.

4 flames:

gregdek zei

It would help immensely if we actually did Barcamp the way it's supposed to be done.

Here's how it's supposed to work:
each individual goes and tapes up their sheet *immediately after they pitch*.

Our failure to follow this simple but fundamental rule costs us a half-hour or more every single time. There's absolutely no reason to write everything up on the board, and then transcribe everything, and then move everything over for sorting and then resorting.

We got away from this in Barcamp Boston 2008 because we didn't have a wall to tape sessions to, and we were *forced* to use the board. But we've needlessly done it the same broken way ever since.

There's nothing wrong with the format. We've been Doing It Wrong.

Yankee zei

This is not the issue i'm taking issue with. If anything, this is a low hanging fruit to be solved. You are right, we can do this better.

If you read the survey results, you'll see alot of complaints and issues revolve around not being able to be in two places at once. I'm trying to figure out ways to solve this problem. I want to be able to ensure that people feel like the sessions are organised so they can experience as much as they can without feeling like their time was wasted or there was that one extra session that they had to be at, but couldn't.

There's definitely nothing wrong with the format, it's just a challenge to make it scale to 300 people when 300 people have 301 things to say.

Paul W. Frields zei

I think @gregdek is recalling incorrectly -- we only used the board at the most recent FUDCon to note a few talks that were being abandoned for the BarCamp and might be held the next day. The speakers *did* run the sheets out to the hall immediately after their pitches, where we had someone waiting to help them tape the sheets to the wall.

We had two problems at that FUDCon that he didn't mention though -- 1. People showed up late despite a clearly noted start time and after repeated exhortations to be on time. Do we need a nanny? 2. There were a *LOT* of talks pitched. Over a certain number of talks, with over a certain number of people attending... things will slow down some. It's simple traffic dynamics.

...Which also points toward something I suggested to a few people already for our next FUDCon -- having two days of sessions and only one day of hackfesting. That would accomplish two goals: 1. Allow us to do more talks each day, but fewer at one time, thus minimizing the chances that people miss things they deperately want to see. 2. Increase the "fluid pressure" of the hackfest, keeping energy and motivation high.

Furthermore, I think there's absolutely no reason we couldn't relieve the traffic problem by having "pitches" in advance, so when people show up at the venue they just make their tallies, without having everyone in an auditorium for 30-45 minutes.

Paul W. Frields zei

Sorry, s/more talks each day/more talks/ .