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)

Officially A City Guy

After nine wonderful years in the Silicon Valley, I recently moved 40 miles north to San Francisco. It’s a move I’ve thought about for many years, but a combination of circumstances finally made it reality.    (JII)

Some initial impressions:    (JIJ)

  • It’s foggy all the time. I’m enough of a Bay Area veteran to know to bring a jacket when visiting San Francisco in the summer, but I had seen enough glorious sunny summer days in the city — even in the Richmond District, where I now live — to decide that reports on the fog were greatly exaggerated. I was wrong. If two weeks is a valid sample size, then yes, it does get mighty foggy here. Makes days like today when the sky clears all the more wonderful.    (JIK)
  • Muni does not constitute legitimate public transportation. It takes an hour for me to get from my apartment in the Outer Richmond across town to SBC Park via Muni. CalTrain from Menlo Park to the ballpark also takes an hour, so there’s literally no gain there. San Francisco badly needs some form of public transportation with more comprehensive coverage than BART, but that doesn’t stop at every freakin’ block like Muni.    (JIL)
  • Of course, part of the city’s charm is sharing a bus ride with its scintillating characters. The other night, a crazy fellow sat across from me and started talking to himself. Usually, this is a sign to keep your eyes averted, which is what I did. Nevertheless, he somehow managed to engage me in a one-sided conversation where he explained that everything he had feared in life had come true, and it didn’t turn out as badly as he thought it would. You go, crazy guy!    (JIM)
  • I can see Sutro Tower from my apartment and thus get great television reception. Well, except for KNTV, the local NBC affiliate, which is based in San Jose. I don’t even get a flicker. I won’t recount the politics that led to KNTV acquiring the NBC affiliation, but I think it’s an absolute travesty that I can’t get a signal in San Francisco. The only way to get this broadcast station is via a paid service — cable or satellite.    (JIN)
  • My neighborhood is replete with tiny delis and markets of every ethnicity imaginable. Makes for great ambling and outstanding eating. I am going to have to befriend a Russian local to help me navigate some of these places.    (JIO)

It’ll take a few months before I fully acclimate to my surroundings, but sitting on my balcony on a day like this, gazing at the Golden Gate Bridge and the city skyline, I can’t help but be giddy about the move.    (JIP)

People Time

Adina Levin quotes Peter Kaminski:    (21Y)

“Time together in person is too important to spend working.”    (21Z)

Reminds me of something Paul Visscher and Jason Cook told me when I had dinner with them a few weeks ago. I was asking about the hacker community in Dayton and whether folks ever got together to do code sprints. Paul responded, “When I get the chance to see these people in person, I’d rather just hang out with them.” Jason told a story of how he went to one local hacker gathering, where everyone was in a circle, staring at their laptops, something he found rather unappealing.    (220)

To some degree, it shows how spoiled techies are in the Silicon Valley. There are so many of us here, doing code sprints doesn’t necessarily interfere with socializing. When Seb Paquet met up with me in December, he had just come from Marc Canter‘s party and was in awe of how easy it was to run into cool and interesting folks — not just techies — around here. (Hey Marc, where was my invitation?!)    (221)

Learning Dougspeak: The Importance of Shared Language

I worked with Doug Engelbart in various capacities from 2000 through 2003, and I often retell lessons and stories from those experiences. My favorite — untold on this blog so far — is how I almost wrote Doug and his ideas off early in my exposure to him. It’s a tale of one of my most significant transformative experiences and of the importance of Shared Language.    (1VF)

I had known of Doug’s inventions for many years because of my interest in Computer History, but my first exposure to his ideas about bootstrapping and organizational improvement occurred in 1998, when I attended a talk he gave at BAYCHI. I was hoping to hear stories about working at SRI in the 1960s and his perspective on usability today. What I got was an abstract lecture on organizational knowledge processes and cognitive frameworks. I walked away very confused.    (1VG)

A year later, Institute for the Future organized a day-long seminar at Stanford to mark the 35th anniversary of the mouse. It consisted largely of testimonial after testimonial from people whose lives and work had been touched by Doug, as well as hints of his larger, more humanistic goals. I was struck by the tremendous intellectual and emotional impact he had had on so many people’s lives, many of whom had gone on to do important work themselves. Both the speakers list and the attendees list read like a who’s who of the history of Silicon Valley.    (1VH)

In 2000, Bootstrap Institute organized a followup colloquium at Stanford. It was a 30-hour (over 10 weeks) seminar on Doug’s ideas, taught by Doug himself and featuring an impressive list of guest speakers. Naturally, I enrolled.    (1VI)

The first week’s session was great. Doug outlined his big picture, which was mind-blowing in and of itself, then marched out several guest speakers who provided some real-world context for Doug’s work.    (1VJ)

The second and third weeks were not as good. Doug began drilling down into some specifics of his framework, and it was starting to feel redundant and irrelevant. I was also getting the feeling that Doug was unaware of what had happened in the world over the past 30 years. “We know all of this already,” I thought. I wasn’t gaining any new insights.    (1VK)

After the fourth session, I had coffee with my friend, Greg Gentschev, who asked me how the colloquium was going. I told him I was going to stop attending, that the content was worthless, and that Doug was a kook. Greg, knowing little of Doug or his work, asked me to explain.    (1VL)

So I did. I started describing Doug’s conceptual universe. I explained his larger motivation regarding the complexity of the world’s problems and mentioned scaling effects and where humans and tools fit in. I translated some of his terminology and threw in some of my own examples.    (1VM)

As I talked, I had an epiphany. I had learned something significant over the past four weeks. I had spent 40 hours mentally processing what I heard, and when I finally had the opportunity to describe this stuff to someone, I realized I had a rich language for describing a powerful conceptual framework at my disposal. Doug wasn’t teaching new facts or force-feeding his opinions. He was rewiring our brains to see the world as he did.    (1VN)

That conversation with Greg convinced me to stick out the colloquium, which led to me getting to know Doug, which eventually led to what I’m doing now.    (1VO)

I recount this story here not out of nostalgia but because of the value it reaffirmed. Language is critical to learning, and Shared Language is critical for collaboration.    (1VP)

The first phase of an MGTaylor workshop is known as a Scan phase. It often consists of explorations of themes that have seemingly nothing to do with the topic at hand. Even worse, those explorations are often kinesthetic and quite playful. People don’t feel like they’re doing work at all, much less the work they think they’re there for. Many people get upset after the first third or half of an MGTaylor workshop.    (1VQ)

That usually changes in the end, though. That first phase is all about developing Shared Language. Once that language has been developed, the work (or “Action” phase) is highly accelerated. People are more productive working together than ever before.    (1VR)

Every effective facilitation technique I’ve seen incorporates this Shared Language phase at the beginning. Allen Gunn‘s tends to be more directed. Jeff Conklin‘s is entirely about developing Shared Language — he comes in for a few hours or a day and facilitates Shared Language via Dialogue Mapping. MGTaylor‘s is particularly effective with large, eclectic groups. However, it’s also critical that people stay for the entire event, despite their frustration. Otherwise, they miss out on the epiphany.    (1VS)

People get frustrated with meetings when they’re all talk, no action. The problem is that people then think that meetings are a waste, that they want all action, no talk. This type of thinking gets you nowhere. The problem is that the talk phase is not effective. People are not going through a conscious Shared Language phase. Once you develop Shared Language, you are now capable of acting collaboratively.    (1VT)