Sunday, October 10, 2010

Beginner’s guide to a BarCamp

I thoroughly enjoyed leeching at the third BarCamp of my life for the last 2 days, and it kinda made me feel guilty. Everyone who attends a BarCamp more than once is expected to contribute (be a speaker/ presenter or volunteer), but I have practically done nothing. So I thought I write a small 101 post about what a BarCamp is all about.

Each time that I tell some of you that I am going for a BarCamp, I get only 2 types of funny questions:

  1. Is it like a drinking (alcohol) camp?
  2. Is it a camp where lawyers meet? (Apparently the word Bar can only remind us of 2 things – a shady place where we all drink, or uptight lawyers!)

So what exactly is a BarCamp? The official definition says “A BarCamp is an informal gathering of people interested in startups, technology, education, media, travel and popular culture. We talk about the projects we are working on and try to learn from each other”. Its what the geeks call an “unconference”.

For me BarCamp is a place where there is no agenda, nothing planned other than the venue. Then on the day of the BarCamp excellent orators, thinkers, geeks, motivators arrive from all over the world and magically let lesser mortals like me explore other things in life than the ordinary. Every thing about the camp is amazing and captivating. Frankly speaking, its not really a technology-only conference. And best of all its free!

So how does a BarCamp start? Typically the organizers (group of motivated individuals like him) put up a blog post or tweet about the event. Then everyone signs up (the last 3 BarCamps I attended have had close to 500 sign-ups each). On the day of the BarCamp, everyone reaches the place. People who want to talk or share put up their topics on a board or post it notes. Everyone else votes for their favourite topics. The topics with most votes are then allocated rooms and people interested in listening/discussing about those topics go to the designated rooms. The entire day is organized this way. Its an excellent example of how people with diverse backgrounds can come together and have a very lively discussion about topics of their interest.

And what if you voted for an idea that you thought was good, but when you actually went to the discussion you found it boring? Well, there kicks in the “two-feet” rule. If you don’t like something, you are allowed to walk out on your two feet in the middle of the discussion with no social-stigma attached to it. How cool is that?

Here is a photo summary of the event:

The BarCamp Venue

The BarCamp was held in the National Art Gallery in Singapore this time.

The topics for the morning session The topics for the afternoon session

The list of topics that were selected along with the timeslots allotted to them. We had 4 rooms titled A, B, C, D this time. Each talk was scheduled for half an hour.

The Voting stickers 

Our voting stickers. If you like a topic on the Post-It then put your sticker. These stickers were then counted to select the topics.

Interesting non-tech topic How to be a kick-ass lover!

For people who think that BarCamp is all tech, here are excellent examples of the interesting topics that people present on. The guy who founded the “Standing Sushi Bar” in Singapore told us about his experiences in operating a profitable restaurant part-time while doing his full-time job in Microsoft!

And then this guy talked about how to be a good lover :) !! He actually had researched on the types of emotions that go into love and gave an interesting scientific perspective on love!

There were other interesting talks on education, food, fun, OLPC, travelling etc etc.

And while the entire thing is going on, super lively conversations are going on on Twitter as people blog, post pictures and tweet about the event. You can still read what all was tweeted during my last BarCamp over here.

This is a short introduction to BarCamp. I hope you guys attend the next one coming near where you live! And if there isn't any, then its high-time you volunteer to start one. I can’t imagine any other place where you can get so much information on so many varied topics from so many interesting people!

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