What is a DevCamp?

DevHouse + BarCamp = DevCamp

While the event is still fairly fresh in my mind, I wanted to take a moment to extract some of the elements that I think made iPhoneDevCamp such a success. I’d like to put down my thoughts on how others can emulate our model towards yet another extension of the community-run, grassroots-driven event known as BarCamp — into a new style of event that shall be called DevCamp*.

You’ll note that in the original logo deliberations for iPhoneDevCamp I was very intentional about not including iPhone-specific artwork in the mark, instead choosing something more generic to the idea of building or construction. Fortunately Louie Mantia pitched in and was able to help me refine some of the ideas that I had and we ended up with the logo above — which you can download in vector form.

Anyway, getting back to the event itself…

First and foremost, the event set out to capture the spirit of four successful event models before it: SuperHappyDevHouse, BarCamp, Mash Pit and Mac Hack. It helped a great deal to have had experience running those events before and we relied on our collective instincts to keep the event flowing and ensuring that the participants were both enjoying themselves and contributing to the overall atmosphere of the event.

Equally important in the success of the event were the people involved. It was a rare privilege to work with such dedicated and passionate folks and I really can’t say enough how much the model of selflessness Raven Zachary, Christopher Allen, Dominic Sagolla, Blake Burris, Whurley, Jerry Murray and countless others portrayed over the weekend. First time participants eagerly volunteered their energies to improving the event for others in incremental but crucial ways. In all my experiences with BarCamps, DevHouses and DevCamps, the lesson is consistently that these events are all about the people who come together for each other — and go out of their way to improve the experience of their fellow campers.

It’s truly remarkable to see, but I’ve seen it over and over again and I think it’s at the heart of what’s been called the “Spirit of BarCamp“. iPhoneDevCamp was no different and carried forth a tradition that’s come to define our community and the events that we host.

Moving right along…

An essential aspect of this event, like the first BarCamp, was implicitly “embracing the chaos” as we like to say. The first BarCamp was organized in six days and catered to nearly 300 people. iPhoneDevCamp was planned in only three weeks and catered to nearly 400 (if not more). We were able to cobble together an incredible venue stemming from a simple tweet. We pulled in over forty sponsors who provided. When Raven originally put out the call to Whurley and me about throwing this event, we had no idea how it might turned out — and embracing that uncertainty and being transparent about our progress lead us to be open to the twists and turns along the way that ultimately resulted in an incredibly worthwhile experience.

In fact, Christopher Allen’s participation didn’t materialize into much later into the event planning process. His desire to rekindle aspects of the original Mac Hack that he chaired in 1993 lead us to step back and encourage Chris to take the reigns and bring his experience to bear. Sure enough, he did a fantastic job of guiding the Hack-a-thon and presiding as master of ceremonies. He was able to deftly get people on the same page and describe how we were to work with one another and really join in the spirit of collaboration and learning.

It was this aspect of education that I hoped would resonate most with participants — and that with an open atmosphere where no question was off limits, we’d see some really interesting and inspiring thinking about how to embrace the constraints of the iPhone as an opportunity palette — and to really push what might seem conventionally possible with just a cell phone with an internet connection and a web browser.

I would argue that it was the imposition of external and topical constraints that lead to such enormous focus and productivity. I’d add to that the utter necessity of having a widely diverse assortment of skilled participants in attendance in order to be able to approach problems from multiple perspectives and skillsets and to not accept simple technical limitations as barriers to executing on a vision. As Kent Bye put it:

Twitter / KentBye: DevCamp model of connecting teams of IA/Designers, coders & UI testers to create projects is a lot more productive than BarCamp-style demos

Again, I think this underscores my point that is a good thing, simply because it enriches the fabric of the intelligence available for solving problems in new and unexpected ways. It’s no surprise that Tilt, one of the favorite apps of the camp, was developed by a small but diverse team made up of a game designer, an artist, a couple developers and a documentary filmmaker.

So the best design pattern that I would extract from this event comes, historically, from Chris Allen’s experience at Mac Hack and deserves something of a brief retelling:

On Saturday morning, the organizers were huddled in the ops room reviewing how to most appropriately award the incredible schwag our sponsors had donated. We had a bunch of iPod and iPhone add-ons, a number of tchotchkes and other ephemera, but we also had a couple iPhones, a couple Adobe Creative Suite Design Premium packs and various other top quality prizes… but we wanted to make sure that we had an equitable way to distribute the prizes. We started brainstorming:

“We could do a raffle.”

“We could have a hack contest for best app.”

Chris Allen broke into the discussion and told us that instead what they used to do at Mac Hack was reward participation and helpfulness. He proposed that staff get 100 or so total “special tickets” that we’d pass out throughout the event to people who were being the most helpful, the most constructive or generally contributing something to the event that didn’t necessarily directly benefit themselves. These special tickets were the ones that would be used for the big prizes drawing — the iPhones and Creative Suites — and the regular tickets would be dispensed as people arrived as an incentive for sticking around for the entire event.

By focusing on helpfulness and enculturating a spirit of coopetition, we avoided zero-summing the event by encouraging and refocusing energy on sharing, co-educating and building things collaboratively. Eventually people were having so much fun doing pure experimentation and hacking that they forgot all about the prize tickets… providing the perfect opportunity to swoop in and reward their participation. All in all, this approach worked extremely well and is a pattern, again, that I think should survive iPhoneDevCamp and carry forth into other such DevCamps.

To bring this all together — what I’m most proud of out of this event is how it brought people together to solve (or at least hack on) some pretty challenging and vexing problems and to do so with utter abandon, wearing one’s passion on her or his sleeve. It was an opportunity to learn in an open environment where diversity and raw talent were at a premium. There was no room for posturing or pretentiousness. And I think for folks not familiar with the camp community, like Michelle Quinn of the LA Times, this was a novelty and not something that she’s used to at conferences or events.

And I think it’s a testament to those involved and those who helped organize the event that we’ve set the bar exceedingly high for subsequent iterations. Like BarCamp and SuperHappyDevHouse before it, DevCamp offers a free, compelling, low-cost event model for organizing people around their passions. While there is already talk of subsequent iPhoneDevCamps, there is also interest in extending the model already. I’m excited to see how people can take this original design and stay true the values of openness, diversity, education, and the passionate pursuit of ideas and expertise.

came before Raven’s creation of the iPhoneDevCamp name. I believe Raven coined the name independent of the prior event but seems like a good idea to extend the name outward, while we have momentum.

Mac Mash Pit/CocoaDevHouse tomorrow at Obvious Corp

Mash Pit logoJust in case you’re still in town and your fingers are itchin’ to push some pixels or get some code out, tomorrow there’ll be a Mac Mash Pit at Obvious Corp’s offices in South Park from noon till late afternoon. If you’ve got an hour or two to spare, it’ll be a great chance to meet the folks behind ODEO and Twitter and to get a little hacking done.

Rumor has it that Larry from Ma.gnolia will also be there as well as R. Tyler Ballance from the infamous Bleep Software and Blake Burris, the host, from CocoaRadio.

What’s a Mash Pit? Well, historically they’ve been day long events getting together multi-disciplinary and talented folks to work on projects that focus on problems described in human terms, like, how can you make it easier for folks to send contact info to each other. And so on. Recently, Mash Pits have become more theme-driven, with a number of OpenID Mash Pits popping up. So, it only seemed appropriate that while MacWorld was going on to bring the event to Mac developers and designers.

Hope to see you there tomorrow!

Event In a Suitcase and Running Remote S5 Presentations

EventInaSuitcaseContinuing the tradition of the “Event in a…” meme, we came up with the notion of “Event in a Suitcase” at the most recent Mash Pit.

The idea is pretty simple: make it easy to walk into a room and make a presentation.

Well, among the five of us, we came to the conclusion that there’s nothing really that makes it easy. There are tools, both hardware and software, that make it possible, and writing them down was a good place to start from. But there really isn’t an open source or free workflow that gets us where we want to be… where everything is affordable and fits in a literal suitcase.

So anyway, we documented our work and could use more help. If you’ve got ideas, tools, solutions, workflows or whatever, add them!

·   ·   ·

So, one of the cool hacks that we brainstormed and that Kevin Marks was actually able to implement before the day was out involved Eric Meyer’s public domain slideshow format S5. Essentially he made it possible for people watching an S5 presentation, like Tantek’s excellent Building Blocks for Independent, to see the slides change as the presenter changes them.

Of course bringing this awesome hack together with a Gizmo call-in means that people can at least watch and listen remotely as presentation happens — and participate in IRC. So voila, it’s like NetMeeting, but open source! Anyway, Kevin’s code is in Twisted and now that I’ve blogged this, hopefully he’ll be incented to clean it up and publish it!

MashPit by day, Microformats by night

Mash Pit (color)Today I’ll be hosting the third Mash Pit in San Francisco at the Wharton West, downtown at 101 Howard Street, Suite 500. Things kick off at 10am and go until 5pm (not 6pm, necessitated by the facilities and the fact that we’ll be hungry!).

What can you expect? Well, it’s pretty simple. The goal of the day is work on mashups — particularly ones that work on solving “human problems” — like making it easier to find wifi cafes in the city or autotag your photos based on your Upcoming or EVDB account (which, by the way, is really about making it easier to help folks find your photos later).

Tara and I came up with the agenda this morning. We’ve got a bit of experience now, so we’ll see how it goes!

And of course, after this is all over, tonight is the Microformats 1-year Anniversary Party at 111 Minna. We’re pretty excited about how far this little fledgling community project has come in the last year and want to celebrate! It gets going around 8pm — and, if you can’t be there, you can always order a shirt!

Ah! And before I forget, a big thanks to Tara, Tantek, the Supernova folks (especially Kevin and Jeanne!), and Mozes for helping make Mash Pit possible!

For the rest of the month

iCal icon…there will be nothing but events. I kid you not.

  • June 20, 2006 – 10:0018:00 MashPit San Francisco III – at Wharton West, 101 Howard Street, Suite 500, San Francisco, CA
  • June 20, 2006 – 20:00Microformats 1-year Anniversary Party – at 111 Minna Street, San Francisco, CA
  • June 2123, 2006 Supernova 2006 – at The Palace Hotel, 2 New Montgomery Street, San Francisco, CA
  • June 2324, 2006 BloggerCon IV – at CNET, 235 2nd Street, San Francisco, CA
  • June 23, 2006 – 19:0024:00 BarCampSanFrancisco Kick-off Party – at Microsoft Offices, One Market Street 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA
  • June 2325, 2006 BarCampSanFrancisco – at Microsoft Offices, One Market Street 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA
  • June 29July 01, 2006 Gnomedex 6.0 – at Bell Harbor International Conference Center, 2211 Alaskan Way, Seattle, WA

(And yes, you can add these events to your calendar easily.)

Oh, and cool sidenote, Senator John Edwards will be keynoting Gnomedex. Guess if you can’t get the inventor of the internets, you can at least get a running mate.

Someone tell me

Which is better? The new Google Web Toolkit or Yahoo’s UI Library?

And I don’t mean just in terms of capabilities… but how about:

  • how well they interoperate?
  • how good their licenses are?
  • how responsive their communities are?
  • how they compare with other open source alternatives

I’m not much of a developer, but come the next Mash Pit, I’d like to know which framework or toolkit I should be betting on.

Personal blog assistant

Now that I’m back and jet lagged from Bangalore (where Barcamp kicked mighty ass and with three more in the country to come) I’m realizing that I have a tonne of stuff to blog about, not the least of which concerns things that I’ve personally instigated and have an obligation to report on.

The problem, however, is how to be involved with everything, actually execute and still have time to blog about it. Admittedly I end up being a tad verbose at times, so cutting my Average Word Count Per Entry down would help — as might treating my blog more like a public email repository… returning back that “Four Readers” focus that encouraged informality and brevity over details and loquaciousness.

Anyway, the matter remains that I’m countless blog posts behind and barely able to keep up with the off-topic rants I’d like to get to, not to mention follow all the threads going on meanwhile.

So wouldn’t it be great if we put all those soon-to-be-displaced journalists to work as personal blog assistants? I mean, a PBA could have multiple simultaneous clients — indeed, they could cover a local sector of a given topic (like beat journalists — beat bloggers?). Or, perhaps they could be “topic writers for hire”… For example, how cool would it be to have someone that the community endorses to attend events and report back for them? I’d love to have a Barcamp or Mash Pit PBA go out and attend each event, providing specialized reports that matter to, oh, say, 2,500 people worldwide.

I mean, when Tara reports that “The World is Mega Uber Bloody Flat” she reveals a whole new realm of reportage that the MSM will simply never see as economically viable (or perhaps even interesting) (even though, historically, that’s where local papers made their bread and butter).

And yet the experiences and people involved in these worldwide camps are extremely interesting to me — as I’m sure they are to many others in our community. But, as it is with blogs, they are fairly poor at really capturing what went on, at least in comparison to the way a dedicated journalist who sees the continuous threads of the story might… and indeed, those threads of continuity are what make the Barcamp story so compelling.

So what I’m proposing is this: blogs are a great mechanism for communities to talk amongst themselves or for independent voices to gain an audience, but they are not entirely a substitute for a unified perspective that can connect the pieces and reassemble a complete story. The role journalists traditionally played was to tell stories that interwove diverse and contradicting views in the interest of keeping the public informed. Of course, this was before the advent of subliminal product placement and expressing everything in terms of stock prices and market valuations.

But as usual, I digress.

…which a PBA would not — or at least not without good reason and good measure. Anyway, I’m not going to stop blogging for myself… it just would be highly interesting to have someone follow the topics that are interesting to me and report back about them. The way that only a human can. The way that journalists are supposed to.