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February 23, 2006 » 2:50 am

The Price of Openness

By many accounts, Mashup Camp was pretty cool. But there were elements of the event that were most definitely uncool.    (K83)

Ryan King, one of the instigators behind the original Bar Camp, said it best:    (K84)

On news.com.com.com.com today, there’s a pretty silly puff piece about the camp, focusing mainly on David Berlind, one of the organizers (who happens to work for the same company as the publication who published the article).    (K85)

The article talks about the unique nature of Mashup Camp, how it was somewhat free-form, where the attendees created the experience as the event unfolded, rather than having it all planned up front. And the article makes it sound as if David Berlind invented the concepts.    (K86)

That’s bullshit.    (K87)

It most certainly is. Other Bar Camp instigators, such as Chris Messina and Andy Smith, expressed similar sentiments.    (K88)

These folks have every right to feel annoyed. Hell, even I’m annoyed, and all I did was attend the first Bar Camp. But my annoyance is tempered by the following knowledge.    (K89)

First, you pay a price for openness. People often talk about how credit is currency in the Open Source world. That may be true, but there’s no guarantee that anyone gets paid.    (K8A)

For example, given the sudden interest in these so-called unconferences, you would think that Harrison Owen would be a household name. But he’s not. Who is Harrison? He invented Open Space, and rather than trademark it or try to own it in other ways, he gifted it to the world. Most of these gatherings are using some form of Open Space. Has Harrison gotten his due reward for this great gift?    (K8B)

Second, in the end, the cost of openness is worth it, because authenticity always wins.    (K8C)

I stayed away from Mashup Camp, because it didn’t feel authentic to me. That’s not to say that it wasn’t valuable, or that there weren’t great folks involved. Quite the opposite. They did a lot of the things that are critical for throwing great events. And if you examine the Wiki, they credit Bar Camp and Open Space. For all of that, I applaud them. And if other types of gatherings do the same, we will all be better for it.    (K8D)

But what most people fail to get is that you can’t just steal the name and the format, slap together a Wiki, and expect to replicate the spirit of the original event, just as you can’t just slap an Open Source license on a piece of software and expect the hacker community to shower you with love. You need to be authentic.    (K8E)

The original Bar Camp organizers were motivated by the beautiful things that happen when brilliant people gather to share their knowledge and passion, unencumbered by traditional boundaries and hierarchies. Not unexpectedly, some folks saw their success and saw dollar signs. Bully for them. That’s what the market system is all about, and I’m a capitalist through and through.    (K8F)

But retaining the original spirit can be a tricky thing, and it’s impossible if it’s just not in you. And if that spirit is not there, then you lose something critical. Maybe that’s not important to some, and in the short term, it may seem even less so. But in the end, authenticity always wins. For every Mashup Camp, there’s a RecentChangesCamp, gatherings that not only embrace the original spirit, but take it to new heights. If I were a betting man (and I am), I’d bet that the gatherings that capture that original spirit are the ones that will be around five, ten, twenty years from now, in some form or another.    (K8G)

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One Response to “The Price of Openness”

  1. Hi Eugene,
    Actually, the commercial side of things may need open space much more than those of us who are open space believers right now.. they are far from open and have a lot of trouble with it.

    Also, the camp had incredible energy, greater than we imagined it could be in our wildest estimates. I think a lot of that was due in part to it’s authenticity.

    One thing, open space is open for anyone to participate in, and that means the folks that originally used it early on may not have control over later events. I think it’s really important to distinguish disappointment over a loss of control of a meme or the only perveyors in town of a particular thing, from disappointment that an event didn’t work. Mashup camp worked really really well.. but it was a different group participating in this style of open space gathering. I’m sorry that some people didn’t like it, who didn’t attend. But to say they didn’t like it because it wasn’t authentic is both untrue, because it was very authentic in the room, and sounds a little like disappointment over loss of control of the meme and activity.

    Are you sure that’s not what’s happening with bloggers who are upset with mashup camp? If not, I’d love to hear why mashup camp didn’t seem authentic from the outside, because inside it was very authentic, high energy and satisfying, which is what people spontaneously volunteered who were there, and actually, very similar in tone and activity to what you run in the Open Source Usability Sprints.

    Thanks,
    mary

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