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)

December GivingSpace Workshop

There were several interesting presentations at Tom Munnecke‘s December 11 GivingSpace workshop, as well as some worthwhile discussion. Some quick thoughts and tidbits:    (NA)

The workshop began with one of Paul Andrews‘s Improbable Pairs videos. This one told the story of Yitzhak Frankenthal, an Israeli whose son was killed by Palestinians, and Jawad Tibi, a Palestinian whose brothers were killed by the Israeli military. Their tales are gutwrenching, but rather than respond with hatred, the two formed a group called the Parents Bereavement Forum, a support group for both Israeli and Palestinian families personally affected by the violence. Paul filmed and edited their stories masterfully. The video was only about ten minutes, but there was not a dry eye in the audience.    (NB)

Heather Wood-Ion gave a marvelous talk on transformation. An analogy she made that stood out for me was that the mythology in nonprofits centers around martyrdom. Words like “sacrifice” and “suffering” are bandied about. The mythology in forprofits centers around heroes. There, people talk about building legacies. These attitudes explain why nonprofits are so poor at collaborating with each other. There is a sense that martyrdom and collaboration are mutually exclusive. People want to share their stories of suffering, not of what went right and why. (There was some followup discussion about this at the Blue Oxen Collaboration Collaboratory.)    (NC)

Megan Smith, one of the founders of Planet Out and currently a Reuters Digital Visions Fellow at Stanford and an employee at Google, explained the 2/3 rule: Two-thirds of every successful community on the Internet consists of conversations. Successful sites, she said, are good at gardening those conversations. Megan also described a giant LCD map of the world at the Google offices. When someone in the world queries Google, a light blinks at that location on the map. What strikes Megan is that there are entire regions of the world that are always dark, a vivid visual reminder of the digital divide. In addition to being a clear thinker and a dynamic storyteller, Megan also demonstrated a diplomat’s touch, when she very skillfully and transparently defused an exchange between participants that had gotten very heated.    (ND)

Jerry Michalski explained his acronym du jour: MADA (Memory, Analysis, Discourse, Action). MADA struck me as an excellent (better?) synthesis for what Doug Engelbart calls CoDIAK (Collective Development, Integration, and Application of Knowledge). Jerry had the line of the workshop, when he pointed to the conversation map that Megan had drawn on the white board, and said, “All that discussion without memory and analysis is like going around in a giant circle jerk.” Jerry also suggested that business are partially to blame for why we don’t have better tools for group memory. Business of culture, he observed, don’t want us to have a memory. They want us to buy what they’re currently telling us we need. (See also my previous notes on group memory.)    (NE)

Richard Gabriel talked about the Hillside Group and Pattern Languages. He said that the Hillside Group “practices an aggressive disregard for novelty.” Jerry, incidentally, called Pattern Languages “deglazed wisdom.” Jerry was on fire that day.    (NF)

We participated in a Conversation Cafe for the latter part of the workshop. The topic was, “What can we do to create self-organizing systems that discover and replicate positive, scalable, small things?” We broke into several small groups, sat at different tables in the “cafe,” and drew on butcher paper as we talked. Here’s an excerpt from a previous blog entry about one of those conversations:    (NG)

Another great example of the challenges of SharedLanguage cropped up at the GivingSpace workshop in SanFrancisco last Thursday. Six of us were discussing small, concrete steps that lead to transformation, and HeatherNewbold described how MattGonzalez? for Mayor campaign buttons had galvanized the progressive community in SanFrancisco. Four of us knew exactly what Heather was describing, because we lived in the Bay Area and followed local politics. All she had to do was mention the buttons, and we understood what she meant. The other two people at our table, however, had no idea what we were talking about. One was from SanDiego, and the other simply didn’t follow politics.  T    (NH)

Here are the two products of the conversations at our table, courtesy of Fen Labalme.    (NI)

Every time I participate in one of these workshops, I find myself paying close attention to the facilitation itself, inevitably comparing it to other experiences. Shelley Hamilton’s technique shared some similarities with the MGTaylor process, and at one point, she cited Stuart Kaufman’s work, which also inspired Matt Taylor and Gail Taylor. Overall, Shelley did a good job. I especially liked the Conversation Cafe. The one thing I didn’t like was that there was no Report Out session following the cafe. It would have been nice to have had a group session where we summarized our conversations and sought connections between those summaries.    (NJ)