The How and Why of Barcamp

We’re on our final approach to next month’s Barcamp Vancouver which is shaping up nicely due to the contributions of many volunteers and a list of wonderful sponsors. But one thing bothers me – any time I mention Barcamp to most people I get one of two perplexing responses:

  1. “What’s that?”
  2. “Why would I want to participate?”

This post is designed to answer these questions for people in Vancouver.

To answer the first question: Barcamp is an unconference – this means that the participants determine the content. If you head on over to the topics, you’ll see sessions that various people want to present and moderate during Barcamp. In fact, the first thing you’ll notice is that you probably don’t know a single speaker. There are no rockstar presenters, à la TED; Al Gore will not be dropping by prior to heading out to save the whales.

Instead, the speakers are ordinary people – just like you! They’ve got something they’ve built, started, been involved in, or are generally passionate about that they want to share with other people who might be interested. They bring something unique to the conference for people to explore, understand, and comment upon. That’s it.

Which brings us to the second question: why should you participate? Well, in a nutshell, because you can. Everyone has something they’re working on that they should share with other like-minded individuals. Sharing is scary, but sharing makes it real; sharing not only validates what you’re working on, but also gives you a great opportunity to tap into the passion and expertise of a whole community.

Back in 2005, I gave a talk on SVG v. AJAX (creatively titled “Ajax-Schmajax”) at the first Barcamp. In honesty, I almost didn’t present until Scott Beale (of Laughing Squid fame in San Francisco) prodded me into presenting over a cocktail at the pre-Barcamp party. When I pointed out that I wasn’t sure why anyone should care about my topic, his advice was simple: “It doesn’t matter what your topic is, all that matters is that you share it with the others and see where it leads. That’s how we do things in Silicon Valley.”

So yes, I was peer-pressured into presenting at an unconference. And now this is me pressuring you to present at Barcamp: get your session on the list of proposed topics (and not living in Vancouver is not a barrier – sign up for a remote session). Let’s make the Vancouver technology/maker/tinkerer community a “share by default” community.