Warning: Parameter 1 to wp_default_scripts() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/public/wp-includes/plugin.php on line 571

Forking BarCamp Vancouver

This is going to be the first of two posts I’ll have with my recent thoughts on BarCamp, unconferences and the fascination I have for watching this movement unfold.

The slight hubbub on Twitter yesterday was Joe Bowser’s post announcing BazCamp, an “anti-“BarCamp of sorts. His announcement came with some strongly-worded critiques. I’ll draw your attention to these passages particularly:

Anyone can attend, BUT to give a talk, you have to actually do one of the following:

  • Show something that you made (Video, Craft or Hardware Hack)
  • Write some code that actually runs

If you can’t do one of those two things, you’re out. You also can’t say “I make Companies” or “I make Buzz” or anything that’s not quantifiable. This is strictly about turning down the suck and cranking up the awesome. It’s time that Vancouver did something cool instead of puking in the toilet that is the Echo Chamber.

This is particularly interesting for me to read in light of my recent interest in diversity in Open Source. Joe later says that if you can’t make something physical or virtual, if you can’t “sling code, wires or art,” they are not welcome to speak at the event though they are welcome to attend. I find this interesting: the mechanism within open space that’s designed to keep people true to the will of the crowd is the Law of Two Feet. Joe Bowser’s two feet kept him out of most sessions at BarCamp, he said, and if we are to believe that everyone else at BarCamp followed the rule, others got enough value from the other sessions to stick around contributing to other conversations. I personally don’t think he needs to make that big of a deal that his two feet are removing him from BarCamp altogether. Saying it needs to change by referencing his own sense of suck and awesome is, as Zak pointed out, narrow-minded, because what BarCamp is or will be is not up to a single person, even those in the organizing committee — but only if the crowd is willing to self-organize, facilitate, and take responsibility for shaping their experience of the event. So maybe that means inviting a friend to make space for a conversation you want to have, or blogging your idea publicly ahead of time to gauge interest from other attendees.

I do think it’s also an interesting point, when you consider recent conversations I’ve also been involved in regarding diversity and inclusivity in open source. Joe’s comments reinforce the already-prevalent view: that you are valuable and interesting and worthy of speaking (at his conference) only if you make things. Whether he intends it or not, or believes it or not, this is blatantly what he is stating. It is his right, as it is also our right to disagree by describing the benefits that we as BarCamp attendees get in nurturing and respecting diversity.

From generalities come new specialities, says Jane Jacobs. The history of BarCamp is that FOOCamp (meeting now, incidentally) led to BarCamp, then BarCamp led to camps of all different purposes and forms, which adhere more or less to open space principles and convene members from different communities to solve myriads of problems. It struck me while reading Joe’s post that the event he was describing sounded like a CaseCamp to me – which I enjoyed thoroughly when I attended one in Toronto. Meanwhile, Toronto’s also had its own trials with figuring out what and who its DemoCamps are for.

My personal thoughts on forking is that I have no problem with it. I don’t quite understand why it has to be done in an antagonistic manner (I suppose human nature dictates that it’s a convenient and ready mechanism for action), and I agree with Kellster in their comment on Joe’s post (no comment permalinks, alas): BazCamp stands better as an alternative to BarCamp than an anti-BarCamp. I salute Joe in his attempt to nurture the values he wants to see and promote through his event, and direct a pinch of “Live and Let Live” his way.

5 Comments

  1. barcamp vancouver does need a reformation. i don’t really want anyone to feel excluded… but i do really think we should step it up and make sure that our events in vancouver are more than just social and that we actually make stuff and break stuff too! :) i hope joe still comes to barcamp and i also plan to get more involved in the stuff he and others from VHS and beyond are doing. that’s where it’s at! :)

    Posted August 28, 2009 at 4:14 pm | Permalink
  2. Kris,

    Thanks for weighing in.

    It’s hard to be in the position that you’ve described being in (on your comment at Joe’s post), because in my perspective, what you’re really advocating for is to keep the environment innovative, and a diverse organizing committee will naturally have disagreements on what precisely that means, bringing what they do from their everyday context.

    What I completely forgot to say in my post (I’ll take any and all accusations of blogging through the comments :D) is that I think there’s a time for being broad and big-tent, and letting the cross-pollination between disciplines occur. And there’s a time to be insular, nurturing your strengths and doing deep-dives into the thing you’re focused on. I think we need to be clear in communicating our expectations to event audiences in what each type of event looks like and is for. For instance, I would never confuse a hack night with a BarCamp. If we want BarCamp to be more maker-focused, or look more like Toronto’s DemoCamps (10 minutes, no PowerPoints, working code or something to demo), let’s have that conversation in the open.

    I’ll go hunt for the BarCamp Vancouver organizer’s mailing list and join up. I probably can’t get in the trenches to actually help organize, but I can surely heckle worth a damn ;) respectfully, of course.

    Posted August 28, 2009 at 4:42 pm | Permalink
  3. About this:
    “that you are valuable and interesting and worthy of speaking (at his conference) only if you make things.”

    I’ve long had a dilemma in my opinion of the open source world. The rules of inclusion and crowdsourcing say that any contribution, no matter how small or intangible, is valuable. I’d like to be able to believe that.

    But my cynical side—fuelled by years of experience—says that nothing derails an open endeavour more than aimless, spontaneous chatter without result. That is, if you feel the need to contribute questions to a discussion, you should contribute at least as many answers. If you don’t do so, then you’ve increased, not decreased, the distance between “where we are” and “where we need to be”, and your contributions have had a net negative effect. This effect might be temporary and cause someone else to pick up the negative slack, but more of than than not, such negative contributions stack up and quickly demoralize the people who are actually doing the work.

    For someone who is technical and geeky and makes things, it is hard not to see a lot of social media as being incredibly unproductive in this way. Sure, everyone might feel better just by talking and spreading awareness, but ultimately, until people sit down and git’er done, you haven’t accomplished much. In fact, quite often, the blog/twitter crowd sees the act of raising awareness about a particular topic as a goal unto itself, and feel satisfied that they’ve contributed equally just because they’ve tweeted about it. And yes, I realize the irony of lamenting this in a comment on a blog.

    More to the point, I do believe we’ve reached a tipping point in the BarCamp-landscape. The first participants of BarCamp were shamelessly techie ‘makers’ because of how the event came to be—techie people were the creators and early adopters of the models that inspired BarCamp, and they brought a sense of focus and enough shared interests that made the first BarCamps such a success. That initial audience has now grown into a more general one. That’s a good thing for inclusiveness and getting a wide variety of topics on the table, but it’s really bad for focus and for in-depth idea manufacturing. It leads to an event where you are expected to seriously participate in a dozen different disciplines, which is a bit unrealistic.

    So, I don’t interpret the call for a more “maker-oriented” event as a snobby, exclusionary move. I think what Joe is really saying is that for an event as general as BarCamp, we should place an emphasis on things we can see, touch, hear, feel and interact with, rather than ideas we need to talk about for 30 minutes before people understand what it’s about. That way, we can go home after BarCamp enriched with answers rather than questions.

    For more abstract kind of discussions, I think you are better off going to or organizing a specific event (TransitCamp, ChangeCamp, etc). That way, you can accumulate a critical mass of people who can take the inevitable initial flood of ‘net negative contributions’ that you get from any presentation, and organize a working group where everyone figures out the answers to the questions raised. Something like that could of course also happen at a BarCamp, but I’m not sure it should happen there.

    Posted August 29, 2009 at 1:08 am | Permalink
  4. 2 3 months after the fact, as BazCampYVR draws near, I want to address part of Steven’s comment and part of the discomfort I have around the conversation.

    I don’t interpret the call for a more “maker-oriented” event as a snobby, exclusionary move. I think what Joe is really saying is that for an event as general as BarCamp, we should place an emphasis on things we can see, touch, hear, feel and interact with, rather than ideas we need to talk about for 30 minutes before people understand what it’s about.

    Ah, so this is really at root about hating on academics. :D

    Perhaps this is the BarCamp version of the guiding principle at TransitCamp: namely, solutions playground, not a complaints department. It is a qualitatively different beast with transit, since transportation modeling takes a little longer than a one-hour session; but the thrust I’m getting from what you are saying, is what the founder of Architecture For Humanity once said of his organization: that all objections end (or at least change) once you build it and show that it works.

    The rules of inclusion and crowdsourcing say that any contribution, no matter how small or intangible, is valuable. I’d like to be able to believe that. But my cynical side—fuelled by years of experience—says that nothing derails an open endeavour more than aimless, spontaneous chatter without result.

    I would say that this would call for finding ways to help those who bring the “chatter” you speak of, to direct their enthusiasm in ways that enhance their capacity, skills, etc. that can still be of peripheral value to both project and individual, and to have this transparently communicated/negotiated. This seems preferable to saying, “You are the weakest link; goodbye” (exaggeration, but comparable to the vibe I’ve been getting).

    My re-visitation of this thread is prompted by my thought and instinct that there is a very slight — perhaps too slight to be doted upon at any length — effect of trait-gendering, i.e. talking being lower down on the hierarchy of making. I understand the creative/collaborative creation process as you’ve described it, Steven, and I’m not one to demand that all processes proceed morally, especially when the task at hand is to bring about something that didn’t exist before. The dismissiveness of it guts me, perhaps, because I personally haven’t been able to get past psuedo-coding for the past year — not because I can’t, but because I know my core competency lies elsewhere.

    (And just to bring the gendering full circle, an attempt at metaphor: I don’t relinquish my right to ask for less salt, just because I happen not to be the one cooking tonight. But maybe you just don’t want me hovering and mouth-breathing looking helpless in the kitchen while orchestrating a three-course dinner.)

    Again, on the flipside, I can see how a maker-focus exists in contrast to, say, the situation in many corporations, where technical people are often exploited and shoehorned into processes that aren’t conducive to their creative process. I’d be at BazCamp, but — ha ha — I’ll be at an academic conference on interdisciplinary approaches to the city.

    Posted November 4, 2009 at 6:33 am | Permalink
  5. Interesting response Karen, thanks for taking the time to write it. A Google search for “trait gendering” comes up blank, but I think I get what you mean.

    I overheard something the other day (by Waterfront) as I passed a couple of 20 somethings. One person was saying that they’d gone to BarCamp and that people there had asked him “what his Twitter was” and that people seemed shocked when he didn’t have one. He added “I mean, heh, I don’t even *want* that shit now.” to the amusement of his companions. These people did not strike me as particularly geeky/nerdy—though I admit I only overheard a small piece of conversation.

    I bring it up because Joe Bowser mentioned his dislike for the “social media echo chamber” as one of the reasons for wanting something different. My own feeling is that people in the blogotwittersphere don’t realize how much of a niche activity it still is to participate in these things constantly, especially with a public persona (as opposed to just hanging with your friends on Facebook, which is what most people do). The techie angle is probably a bit different than the “non-convert of social media” angle, but in both cases it seems people are saying “I don’t want to be part of your conversation because I don’t think you’re saying much meaningful.”

    Whether that is just a perception or matches reality is up for debate, but the perception is there nevertheless and drove at least this person away.

    Now, when it comes to matters of the creative process, it is not my intention at all to lift up programming as the holiest of crafts or anything, and I think you’re projecting my specific background onto the point I was trying to make. If someone wants to teach knitting at BarCamp, more power to them. And they can talk about online communities, yarnbombing, etc while they do it. But that’s very different from just talking about “how hobbyists are using the web to connect and make an impact”, which is the academic angle. I think the latter will have a much harder time engaging the audience, and hence will result is more “net negative” contributions than “net positive” ones.

    And hey, I don’t hate academia completely, I did spend 5 years on a degree myself ;).

    Posted November 4, 2009 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

*
*