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 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)

Coworking Open House, November 21

Lots of folks have envisioned a world where the future of work is like the movie industry today. People form teams to tackle a task, then break up when the task is over, only to reform in new teams later. We’re very close to this vision becoming a reality in a geographically dispersed way. In my three years at Blue Oxen Associates, I’ve worked with different folks all over the world, and I have yet to meet all of my clients face-to-face.    (K1I)

That to said, there’s something lost when you’re always working in a distributed fashion. Tools and online community prevent you from being totally isolated, but there’s a beautiful energy that usually only manifests itself in a face-to-face setting.    (K1J)

Folks generally compensate for this deficiency by creating their own local communities. Most of my work is remote, but I still manage to see lots of folks face-to-face, and the benefits are immeasurable. I’m lucky enough to be in the Bay Area where we have a disproportionate number of brilliant, passionate people doing amazing things. That said, building this local network took a lot of work and time and a bit of serendipity. I have to be proactive about maintaining face time with good folks.    (K1K)

Rather than be individually proactive about working with folks, many people have created communal spaces for the like-minded and like-spirited. This is a long-standing practice among many communities. Brad Neuberg recently started such a space in San Francisco, which he calls coworking. He’s holding a free open house next Monday, November 21, 2005. I met Brad at one of Chris Messina and Andy Smith‘s barbecues this past summer. He’s doing interesting work, and he seems to be in the center of an interesting community. If you’re a free-lancer or remote worker looking to spend some quality time with other good people, I encourage you to check it out.    (K1L)

BAR Camp 2005 Redux

Thoughts on BAR Camp. Yeah, yeah, a little late, I know. Less late than the rest of my Wikimania notes, though.    (JQX)

Many Hats    (JQY)

The most bizarre experience for me at BAR Camp was the number of people I knew from different worlds. My brain was constantly context-switching. It made me painfully aware of the number of different hats I wear, all in the name of Blue Oxen Associates.    (JQZ)

  • Purple Numbers guy.    (JR0)
  • Wiki geek.    (JR1)
  • Identity Commons contributor.    (JR2)
  • Doug Engelbart translator.    (JR3)
  • Usability guy!!! Obviously because of the sprints I’ve organized, but awkward for me, since I have no actual background in usability.    (JR4)
  • Pattern Language hat. I’ve been doing the collaboration Pattern Language dog-and-pony show the past few months, and some folks who’ve heard me speak on the subject were there. I’ll be doing a lot more of it too, so stay tuned. Patterns are damn important, useful, and interesting.    (JR5)
  • Facilitation / event organizer hat.    (JR6)
  • Nonprofit hat. The lack of nonprofit contingent was disappointing, but I had a good conversation with Ho John Lee, who’s done some great work in that space. (We were also both wearing our Korean hats, along with Min Jung Kim, a rarity at events like these.) I also met Phil Klein, a nonprofit guy who also participated in our usability sprint the following week.    (JR7)
  • Ex-DDJ hat. Some fogies, young and old, remembered me from my magazine days.    (JR8)

All this was testament both to my ADD and to the job Chris Messina, Andy Smith, and the other organizers did in only one week. Three hundred people walked through the doors over the weekend. Amazing.    (JR9)

Talks    (JRA)

The best part of the event was strengthening familiar ties and building new ones. I met lots of great people, including folks I’d only known on the ‘net. I wasn’t blown away by the talks for the most part, but some stood out.    (JRB)

  • Ka-Ping Yee did two talks, one on voting methods and another on phishing. Sadly, I only caught the tail end of the latter, but the Wiki page is fairly complete. I’ve never seen Ping do anything that I didn’t find interesting or, in many cases, profound, and these talks were no exception. (I’ll have more to say on Ping’s latest work in a later blog post.)    (JRC)
  • Xiong Changnian presented some interesting quantitative analysis of the Wikipedia community. I didn’t have as much of an opportunity to talk with Xiong as I’d like, but for those of you who have interacted with him, try not to be turned off by his bluster. He’s doing some good work, and he seems to mean well.    (JRD)
  • Rashmi Sinha and I did a roundtable on Open Source usability on the first night. Afterwards, we both agreed that we didn’t learn much new, but simply having the conversation and especially listening to a new audience was valuable. One unintended outcome: A participant (who shall remain nameless, but not unlinked!) complained about Socialtext‘s usability, which I dutifully reported on the Wiki. Adina Levin and Ross Mayfield quickly responded, saying they’re looking to hire a usability person. If you’re in the market, let them know.    (JRE)

I was so busy chatting with people, I also ended up missing a bunch of good talks: Rashmi’s tagging session, Rowan Nairn on structured data for the masses, and Tom Conrad‘s Pandora talk, which seemed to generate the most buzz at the camp.    (JRF)

Throwing Great Events    (JRG)

I toyed with the idea of doing a techie session, but in the end, the talk I should have done was one on patterns and throwing great events. BAR Camp was great, and as with all great collaborative events, there were some common patterns:    (JRH)

  • Food. One of the most critical and, amazingly, most overlooked element in an event. Lots of credit goes to Kitt Hodsden, who made sure there were enough snacks to feed a small country, and the sponsors, who kept the beer flowing and underwrote the party on Saturday night.    (JRI)
  • Introduce Yourself. The organizers borrowed the FOO Camp tradition of saying your name and three words to describe yourself, and they did it each day.    (JRJ)
  • Shared Display and Report Out. Folks did a great job of documenting on the Wiki and on their blogs and Flickr. BAR Camp owned the foobar Flickr fight.    (JRK)
  • Backchannel. I’m not a big fan of IRC at face-to-face events, and there were definitely times when I thought it detracted from the face-to-face interactions. But, it was there, and it was useful. It wasn’t logged, though.    (JRL)
  • Permission To Participate. Lots of Open Space techniques were present — again, borrowed from FOO Camp — like the butcher paper for scheduling sessions. Lots of this was also cultural, though. I think this is the hardest thing for folks who do not live in the Silicon Valley to get — the spirit of sharing that comes so naturally to folks here.    (JRM)

I’d do two things differently at the next event:    (JRN)

  • Incorporate a ritual for new attendees to make them feel welcome and to avoid clique-formation.    (JRO)
  • Add slightly more structure. Now that the organizers have done it once, they can use it as a template for the next event — for example, publishing the time slots ahead of time, and actually enforcing them, at least as far as room usage is concerned. Also, I like scheduled Report Out sessions.    (JRP)

In the postmortem, we talked a bit about what BAR Camp is supposed to be, and I really liked how Chris positioned it: As a model for organizing grassroots, free (or very cheap) alternatives to more expensive gatherings. I’m toying with the idea of incorporating BAR Camp-style alternatives to complement some non-free events I’m organizing.    (JRQ)