Of community conferences, camps, pits; blowing things up

Bar Camp DallasYeah, it’s nearly 3am, but I figure I need to jump in and post a few thoughts that I’ve been sitting on or else I’ll never get around to it. Helps to have some inspiration, tired as I am.

So Saturday was Bar Camp Dallas, something like the 5th Bar Camp ever. The day after, yesterday, we decided on the spot to hold the second ever Mash Pit. Both events were resounding successes, as have been the previous Bar Camps — and we’re continuing to explore models for effective geek collaboration from the ‘Pits.

So the thing is this. The conference industry doesn’t make sense any more. At least to me. I know that some people make their livelihood running conferences, and that’s fine — really. Keep on keepin’ on. That’s your thing, I ain’t gunna knock it. But what conferences are supposed to offer, in my experience, can now be had cheaper, better, more intimately on the local community scale than what you might expect from the 1000+ person mega-conferences.

…which remind me of Disney World when I was a kid: that hot, sticky, popsicle-drip-drip, crying-babies, broken toy, long lines, sunburn kneecaps, are-we-there-yet, why-is-this-line-so-long kind of thing.

Yeh. You can imagine why that doesn’t sound so happy-happy-joy-joy anymore.

So let’s break it down. Benefits of a conference? Travel, meet people, hear things, say things, collaborate? Oh, and party. Ish.

So let’s focus on those for a minute. How can we bring those things to you today given what we’s gots?

Well, let’s make the whole thing free and more accessible (still need to work on universal access, yes yes). Then let’s make everyone a participant and responsible for their satisfaction with the event, during the event. If you don’t like it, you can fix it. Remember, you’re a participant, not just a passive attendee. (It’s free right? Set your expectations accordingly and then adjust as you see fit!) There are any number of roles to take on at any given point: presenter, documentor, collaborator, eater, feedback-giver, conversation-maker, realist, hacker, coordinator, wiki-editor, design-printer-maker, IRC-chatter, fucker-of-shit-up, and so on. Improvise. Surely your special brand of somefing-foo can come in handy!

Given that, find a medium-sized venue, pick a date, toss in wifi, food, alcohol and coffee, whiteboards, markers, projectors, rinse, lather, repeat.

There you have it, the special sauce that makes the community micro-conferences we’ve been running since August work. Amazing, sure, but they work.

Oh, and it helps that we’ve designated the mark of the event as belonging to the entire community so that you don’t have to ask permission to when starting your own event (you can use the mark however you want, but it’s wise to stick within the rules of the road if you want community support). So y’know, just go to the wiki, grab a page and start editing. Instant fame and riches comin’ up.

. . .

A couple other things. Owing to the generosity of the sponsors (who were capped @ $250 or a meal each) Bar Camp NYC ran a surplus. Yes. A free conference ran a surplus without whoring out the whole experience. The shirts were even sponsor-logo-free. I keep tellin’ ya, it ain’t about the money, man.

So does it scale? Hells yes. Know why? Because these are local community-sized events. They’re run of, by, and for community members with the remote participation from anyone who wants in. Infinite scalability via IRC… and things we’re still inventing…

Yeah, one last thing before I doze off… we’re building the tools to make these events easier to start, easier to run, and easier to participate in. Which means lower total cost and less effort necessary to stage future Camps/Pits/Unconferences.

If not already, consider conferences exploded soon. Very soon indeed.

Author: Chris Messina

Head of West Coast Business Development at Republic. Ever-curious product designer and technologist. Hashtag inventor. Previously: Molly.com (YC W18), Uber, Google.

5 thoughts on “Of community conferences, camps, pits; blowing things up”

  1. It reminds me of scientific conference and journals… Researchers have to pay editors to be published, and then to buy the proceedings from the editors to read their collegues’ work!

    Scientific publications also need some freedom from the big editors (Springer and the rest).

  2. Perhaps you haven’t heard of this last and final (or?) type of camp.
    Dan found it some time ago:
    Camp Gone to the Dogs

  3. Depends on the type of corporate conference. Certainly big trade shows like CES aren’t threatened, but stuff like http://www.nofluffjuststuff.com/ (which is actually kind of fun) are certainly going to have to do some serious thinking. The realization that the people doing the work are the best ones to talk about it (as opposed to pseudo-expert celebrity commentators), and will talk at length for free if you just give them a venue, leads to some interesting consequences.

  4. Pingback: Like It Matters

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