This past Saturday I hopped over to Seattle for Bar Camp Seattle 2009. I wasn’t able to make it to last year’s event, and since we haven’t had many Bar Camp’s in Seattle, I wanted to see what was happening. As usual, there was a wall where the schedule was developed as the day went on.
I was happy to see that there were a number of people involved in organizing the event. Those folks were easily distinguishable by their red and yellow propellor beanies.
The Bar Camp / Foo Camp structure for a conference is pretty liberating when compared to the usual pre-planned, eyes forward conference. However, it’s not enough to guarantee a good event. I’ve attended a number of these kinds of events, and in my view, who actually turns up is just as important as how the event is structured. Bar Camp Seattle had a lot of people who were interested in talking about various social media related topics. I have no idea if any of those sessions were any good, because I didn’t end up going to any of them. I ran into and met some developer type people, but not as many as I hoped to. Despite the use of Pathable’s cool registration / attendee matchmaking system, I didn’t find it that easy to make use of the information printed on my badge. I would have loved some clever mixer based on the badge labels or something along those lines.
Brian Rice and I (but really mostly Brian) ran a session a session for people interested in programming languages. I was pretty happy because the session was very interactive, but the session length of 30 minutes made it hard to get very far during the allotted time.
The best session that I attended was a session that was literally and figuratively off the grid. Brian Dorsey put up a session for sitting outside under the nearby bridge. The weather in Seattle was really beautiful last Saturday, so it really begged for being outside. There were about 9 or 10 of us who wandered out and sat talking about a wide range of topics. I enjoyed the sense of flowing from topic to topic, shifting naturally with the flow of conversation, the changing of roles of various participants as the topics changed, and so forth.
I think that I am at a crossroads as to the value of these generic, unstructured events. I helped organize the first Seattle Mind Camp, and I am glad to see that there is now a Bar Camp in Seattle as well. At the same time, I’ve frequently left these events feeling unsatisfied. Beforehand I am filled with excitement at the possibility of meeting new people from other tribes / fields and somehow stirring the pot of creative juices. Most of the time, I end up leaving without that stirring having occurred. If I look back over the last four or five years worth of conferences that I’ve attended, only a handful of “unstructured” events really stand out. Those events were Foo Camp and the Scala Liftoff, and in both cases, I would say that the particular sets of people involved made a huge difference.