The yin-yang of FOO and Bar

Tantek and Chris -- photo by Tara Hunt

Much has been made of the supposed sibling rivalry between FOO and Bar, owing to BarCamp’s origins last year as “an open alternative to FOO“.

What I think often goes missing from the story is that the original BarCamp was planned, organized and executed by a small scrappy group of upstarts, only one of whom had previously been to FOO Camp (and who ended up being invited back last year anyway). It wasn’t anti-FOO, it was just different — with different goals and a different raison d’etre.

In fact, I’ve personally reached out to the O’Reilly folks on a number of occasions to try to coordinate our events better and to even ask for favors. On the whole, they’ve been as gracious as anyone with as much going on as they’ve got and personally see no reason to chide them for focusing on their own business interests.

And I think Dave Weinberger‘s post is therefore useful in that he recognizes the value of socially engineered social networking while acknowledging the benefit of the “unbarred” model:

There’s value to an invitation-only party, but it’s not the only sort of party we need. That’s why I’m so happy that the original FOO Camp spurred the invention of unbarred BAR camps that are structured like FOO but are open to anyone. There’s a place for both.

Those who appreciate and have a sense for this duality — of there being both privilege in being invited to anything exclusive and those who, at the same time, can question what they have to offer and why they made the cut — get why both FOO and Bar can and in fact, should, co-exist. At FOO Camp, someone else invites you and you wonder why; at BarCamp, you invite yourself and over the course of a weekend prove why you did.

What I think Tim is still missing out on, however, is that the is very at odds with the competitive angst and jealousy that spurs events like (no offense Robot Robert, but why define your event by what it’s not? i.e. BarCamp isn’t an “unconference” — it’s an “ad hoc gathering” as it says on our homepage). And, Tim, I’d humbly suggest that you consider your own advice:

Stop worrying about what Winer thinks.

The way I see it, a year out, FOO and Bar represent the very yin and yang balance of openness and proprietariness that the open source community and its offshoot industries have struggled with since their inception (which has also been well documented in Markoff’s Doormouse). While one does not need the other to exist, that they both exist, espouse different organizing and ownership models and appeal to different people on different merits is what’s important. This is the reality and benefit of creating non-zero-sum economy where network effects and community rule the day. It’s not one other other, it’s both for one another.

Author: Chris Messina

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

18 thoughts on “The yin-yang of FOO and Bar”

  1. Hey Chris, when have I been anything but cordial and professional to you?

    You seem to be trying to pick a fight, and I don’t get it — what is your issue?

    Send an email or give a call and let’s discuss.

  2. Nice post. Re-reading my blog entry, I probably should have been clearer that I really enjoyed BarCamp and will try to attend as many as I can – but I was surprised at how un-foo it was. I had assumed it was just going to try to be foo as much as it could be – and it wasn’t. And that, too, is a good thing.

    Just as the magic of foo is being different from other conferences, part of the magic of bar is that it’s not foo.


  3. We can be professional and cordial and still disagree. In fact, intellectual rigor demands disagreement.

    So long as the attacks are on ideas and not people, I’m open for the scrutiny I dish out.

    Whatever’s between you and Tim (or not) is your business; as Sean so Southernly said, “this is between y’all“.

    I’m only making the point that Tim needn’t think that David’s post is necessarily about anything but David’s own opinions.

    And that FOO and Bar are complementary and not antagonistic.

  4. Why be anti foo? I didn’t want to create a foocamp. Just do something fun with my jealousy. While the “cool kids” are off in Sebastapol I figured I’d hang out by the fire ring with a bottle of wine and see if anyone else wanted to join me. Turned out we had an awesome time. Should I have marketed it against foo? Maybe not.

    But, lest you forget, most of us remember that BAR stands for “Bay Area Rejects.” So, even BarCamp can be tagged with marketing against Foo too. Yes, it created its own momentum and it’s something to behold.

    There won’t be another nofoo. But, I learned something very important there (that conversations with four people are — by far — better than conversations with more people involved. You’ll see that learning applied elsewhere in my life over the next year.

    Speaking of which, wanna get together for dinner? Let’s see. Chris. Tara. Maryam. and me. Makes four. I bet that’ll be an interesting conversation. We should even film it for the Internet.

  5. Chris, when you tell someone not to listen to someone else, that’s pretty personal, it certainly isn’t professional. And the stuff you said about me on Sean’s blog was wrong, and also personal, and really negative. For all you know I was at another BarCamp this weekend, or busy doing something that was important to me, or maybe I was sick? You said I’d feel differently about Foo if I had been invited, probably I would, but I wouldn’t have gone Chris, because I believe strongly that it’s wrong. That’s where you can differ and we can still be friends, but if you say I’m dishonest, that’s where the line is and I wonder what I did to make you care so little about me. Fact is, we don’t know each other very well. I have my own ideas about why you’re trashing me, but I wouldn’t presume to say what they are publicly without checking with you first. (Not that it matters that much to me.)

    If you want to talk, I’m still ready to do it, otherwise I’ve said my piece, and good luck with your new busines, and camps, etc.

  6. @Robert: Dinner sounds great and its far overdue!

    I would, at the same time, clarify your statements: the “Bay Area Rejects” nomenclature has never been adopted by the BarCamp community as far as I recall. In fact, the only Google references to it come from you and from someone who picked it up from you. I remember the acronym getting some legs last year, but again, given that the BarCamp planners were never rejected from anything, I don’t see how the phrase applies. 😉

    @Dave: My comment on Sean’s blog is pretty simple to digest. What seemed lacking from your post was an acknowledgement that there was an open alternative (two in fact) that folks could have gone to this weekend — singling out FOO Camp without point out how the market’s corrected for FOO’s exclusivity seemed disingenuous (not dishonest, as you claim I said — in the sense of being “not candid, typically by pretending that one knows less about something than one really does”).

    I’ll drop you an email to follow up. And keep in mind that I am not trashing you, but instead only pointing out the omissions in your arguments that make it seem like you’re being disingenuous. I don’t know whether you are or not — if you’ve got no axe to grind with Tim or FOO, great — it just didnt’ come across that way in your posts and comments and I was responding to it. Watch for an email.

  7. Dave,

    Why not take a xanax or something and relax? I read your site occasionally. It’s informative. However, I really don’t care about your disputes with other web personalities. Outside of a group of 100 or so people, I doubt anyone else cares either.

    Just saying…

  8. I don’t have an axe to grind, just genuinely jealous of the cool kids who get to go to FooCamp. But, my jealousy is a motivation as I create events and experiences and decide who I want to hang out with in life. As for bar not being done in reaction to foo, that’s just historical revisionism. Just cause something doesn’t exist in Google doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. The jealousy we felt last year is what motivated us to publicize the event and get it going. There was a reason it was done on the same weekend as foo — it was born out of the knowledge that we weren’t invited to something cool and so we wanted to create something even cooler. To say otherwise is disingenuous.

  9. Ok, Robert, I take your point from a standpoint of those who promoted the meme that got BarCamp off the ground. I’m just pointing out that the original organizers weren’t rejected having never been invited to FOO anyway… nor did we do BarCamp out of jealousy — we just wanted to put on a good event for ourselves and make it open to everyone.

    I see what you’re saying though and am only recollecting my own experience. Which may be revised from time to time, depending on memory loss. 😉

  10. >we just wanted to put on a good event for ourselves and make it open to everyone

    That’s not what I remember a lot of the organizers telling me back then. And, if that’s true, why name it “BAR” (Bay Area Rejects, I just didn’t make this stuff up you know) and put it on the same weekend as Foo?

    But, no biggie. It’s bigger than Foo now and you certainly have good instincts not to want to tag it with being started as a reaction to something else, but it most certainly was. Without foo there wouldn’t have been bar.

  11. Heh, ok, well, I don’t really remember anymore. 😉

    I agree with you that “without FOO there wouldn’t have been Bar” so whatever the history, it’s worth acknowledging that, whatever the original intentions, we’ve come quite a ways in the past year. Even if we started out feeling jealous, we’ve created quite the opposite effect a year on, spreading an event model to be jealous of.

    Robert, I remember your presence at and promoting the original — so one way or another — I appreciate your role in getting this ball rolling!

  12. BAR doesn’t stand for Bay Area Rejects…although it’s been kind of a gag. It originally came from the FOO BAR coding thingy (don’t know exactly, but that is how it was explained to me and how I understood it).

    FOO came first and inspired BAR…yes. But, as Chris said, the general consensus was to OPEN SOURCE FOO, not to be anti-FOO. I think FOO benefits from that as well. The entire O’Reilly team was pretty interested in hearing more about it and are very interested in participating going forward (a couple of O’Reillyians have actually been).

    We talked alot about which weekend to have it, and it seemed like a shame to have it the following weekend when there would be people around the world watching. Although…to be fair, BarCamp happens all year around and in September, there are, like 20 BarCamps…so only Earth happened the weekend of FOO.

    I, personally, think, no matter what competitive spirit has gone before, what happens now is a real ‘hat tip’ to the original. They are both very distinct events…and both a beautiful thing.

  13. AFAIU barcamp was started as created as an alternative/antidote to the exclusive partisan ( maybe necessary) conference FOOcamp. It is this very nature of openness & distributed made barcamp so very successful. I hve ranted and have been very sad to note many times in my blog that why is that Foocamp never invites anyone from India, I can’t agree that not one Indian soul does not do anything which is not cool to be invited for Foocamp. Until barcamp came out I could only rant about foocamp but with barcamp being out there it made me realize that I could go ahead and create my own version which led me to coorinate two barcamps in hyderabad. So chris barcamp might be in a cozy relationship with foocamp now but it started as an antithesis and also it is no surprise there is coziness because it isthesis + anti-thesis = synthesis.

    Slight note about the word foo and bar, well they have a history which is much much older than the camps. ‘foo’ is used in connection with ‘bar’, it is a WWII era army slang FUBAR( Fucked Up Beyond All Repair) which got later modified to ‘foobar’ .

    Always used to wonder why is it many programming books when define function name them as ‘foo’ especially the books on Perl and when I found the above history of the word I could not help but smile. 🙂

  14. Chris, Robert-

    I’m guilty. Prior to the original BarCamp, I sent email to Robert, trying to convince him to come (and to blog about it).

    I also jokingly referred to it as Bay Area Rejects.

    In defence of the first count, I just wanted to exploit Scoble for some free PR. 😉

    In defence of the second count, its funny. 😀


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