Mumbai: A little less than three years ago, a group of friends in the Silicon Valley had an idea. It started as a conversation about FOO Camp, a technology event hosted by O’Reilly Media founder and chief executive Tim O’Reilly. Entry to the event, named so as an abbreviation of Friends of O’Reilly, was invite-only and participant-driven, leaving scores of people without access to it. The result: BarCamps, a series of events that has fired the imagination of technology enthusiasts the world over. Open source advocate Chris Messina, who along with “a couple of friends who’d never really heard of FOO Camp”, founded the first BarCamp in Palo Alto, California, in August 2005. Messina talks to Mint about unconferencing and the evolution of BarCamps. Edited excerpts:
Why has the concept of unconferencing, and BarCamp, in particular, proved so popular everywhere?
For one thing, BarCamp and similar models are really accessible and easy to put on. Emphasis is on DIY (do it yourself), rather than paying someone else to do it all for you. With BarCamp, you no longer have to feel obligated to stick around for content that is uninteresting or uninspiring; you can change the course by inserting yourself into the flow. That sense of ownership, and of making a difference in the event itself, is critical to BarCamp longevity.
New-age schmooze:Chris Messina
Also, even though we are increasingly hyper-connected over email, instant messaging and social networks, there’s still no substitute for meeting face to face. BarCamps keep us grounded in the real and local (world).
What was the idea when you started the first BarCamp?
Six days before the actual FOO Camp, we started planning, thinking we’d have maybe 20 friends together for a weekend geekathon. We ended up attracting closer to 300 people. There were some basic principles that we adopted when we started, like documenting everything we did on an open wiki (a website that allows users to edit content collectively), since we wanted anyone to be able to take our model (inspired by FOO Camp) and run their own.
How has it evolved since?
Nearly three years later, there’s been well over 400 related events the world over, so clearly we hit a nerve. I think it has given people a place to start when trying to foment local community. It’s simple, it’s low cost, and brings people together. So, we have seen derivatives like iPhoneDevCamp, StartupCamp Weekend, WealthCamp and so on. Because there are very few rules, people have taken the model and applied it to just about every imaginable topic.
You have been to a BarCamp in Bangalore. How do you find BarCamps in India?
Actually, the BarCamp in Bangalore was surprisingly similar to the ones I’ve been to in the US, and I think that speaks volumes for the potential of technology to bring people of different cultures together. At the time, the one difference that I noticed was that there was a little reluctance on the part of some attendees to get up and lead a session, but I’ve seen this everywhere and I think it just takes practice.