Quick note this is not my usual technical post, this is about Conferences and Camps. I have been trying to get some thoughts down on paper and here seemed a good place to do it. Second note this post is not edited by my good friend Angie who normally edits posts for me given the nature of it I really wanted it to be my words, so sorry for grammar and spelling in advance.
What is a Unconference
Last weekend I was at WordCamp UK it was described as an “unconference”, I spend most of my weekends at “unconferences” and Hackdays, I’ve helped organised them I consider myself a BarCamper though perhaps not quite to the level of my friend Alistair! In my mind WordCamp UK wasn’t an unconference the schedule was pre-determined with gaps to be made up by “adhoc” sessions.
Wikipedia described an Unconference as “An unconference is a facilitated, participant-driven conference centered on a theme or purpose.” I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that definition I like to think of them as simply attendee driven conferences. The problem is that while Attendees could start a session, they did hit a few barriers in organising them the board was hidden, and went more or less un-promoted indeed the board could best be described as…
“But the plans were on display …”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a flashlight.”
“Ah, well the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a
locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the
door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’.”
Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy
As a Barcamper where the board is the focal point of an event and the spirit of it this was very depressing, I loved some of the talks but I couldn’t help think I would have liked to seen more then Buddypress , buddypress again etc and if the board had been the focal point I strongly believe adhoc sessions would have appeared to counter this. I went with the intention of running a session, but left having not.
This isn’t a rant about WordCampuk otherwise I would ask questions like where the money go etc, but it highlights that peoples ideas are different, I’m sure the organisers have been to a barcamp and see how “we” do it, they chose a half way house at it didn’t work.
Can Conference and Un conferences work together?
I think they can, if you have a 2 day conference, I see nothing wrong with have structured tracks on day 1 and unstructured on day 2, likewise in a 1 day conference simply run a scheduled and unscheduled tracks. The key though is treat them as different tracks, keep the focal point “the board” and don’t be afraid the community won’t deliver, I have been to barcamps where I have looked at the board and around the room, and realised there were more slots then people. Those have been some of the best camps I have been to, all the slots filled, people step up if your a traditional conference organiser its frightening to not know who speaking before the day but thats the point trust your attendees!
So about the controversy at WordCampUK
To sum up, a suggestion was made by Jane who represented both wordcamp.org and Automatic the company that the UK had reached the point where it perhaps had reach enough mass to break out into regional and city level camps much like Barcamp has and if this was to happen a central camp maybe harming this, or creating a hierarchy. I had left but it was quite disgusting watching the tweets and for Jane to describe herself as near to tears is just not acceptable. That said, let’s take a look at the Barcamp model, there have been dozen of barcamps every year here in the UK, London is the biggest, some appear, some go, but year on year they have grown both in number of camps and in number of attendees. Each barcamp is organised independently there are “campers” who will be found at most of these volunteering and helping out, but their is no formal structure organisers just pick it up and run with it.
In contrast their are lots PHP user groups, PHPLondon use to host a conference it was nice, then PHPNW ran a conference, suddenly Londons conference became PHPUK it was a mess, this year wasn’t much better. There was no need to attach the UK monkier, or try to get a larger venue, from the outside it just came across as vain and silly.
WordCamp is a great idea, what’s more there is plenty of sponsorship out there, really if someone wants to run WordCamp Leeds (and I would love to do that) I don’t think it should be looked down on, if it only gets 8 attendees (and I do believe that there are more users then many give credit for) then so what! If they learn something new, enjoy themselves and go away having had a good time what does it matter if it was small?
As for the UK one as an outsider it doesn’t appear to work it came across as having ideas of grandeur which fell flat, focused on a small organising team who have done a hard job but really saying it’s time to discuss disbanding or rebranding is not a bad thing it just proves their success.
One thing I find about a barcamp is that its a greater leveler, they work best when egos are left at the door, and you roll up your sleeves and muck in, maybe thats the lesson that needs to be learn’t to that end if their are WordPress users in Leeds and the surrounding area, let’s talk