Unconference round-up

This evening I received this email:

Dear Jay,

my name is Johannes, I am a journalist from Germany and participate in the pro-am crowdsourced journalism project “NewAssignment” (without getting paid). If you want to find out more about the project, this article gives a short outline:


or the page itself, which is

I am covering the topic unconferences for Assignment Zero, and as you have quite some experience with it (I read your short article on it), I wanted to ask you some questions. If you would like to answer them personally by phone, it is fine with me. Already thank you for your help!

BAR Camp #1

(Ten questions followed)

Thank you very much for your time and help – we would also be very pleased to get you on board for NewAssignment.net – over 700 people already contribute to it.

All the best,

Johannes, NewAssignment

I checked the web references and decided to throw 30 minutes of time into the pot. My reply to Johannes:

Johannes, newAssignment.net sounds right on, so I’m happy to lend a hand.

Regarding your questions…

0.How many unconferences have you attended and where and around when was it?

I attended the original BAR camp in Palo Alto and have been to the last two Gnomedex events in Seattle. I’ve also joined in a few very loosely structured sessions in San Francisco that were sort-of unconferences. And I have conducted un-workshops. I’ve received un-invitations.

1.How did you learn about unconferences and how has the “format” changed during the last two years?

I learned about unconferences by attending them. The moment I saw the web post on Dave Winer’s blog announcing BAR Camp, I was ready for it. Reserved a motel room in Menlo Park.

2.What were good, what bad experiences with it? It would be great if you could describe the history a bit…

The good is that the events are structured for the needs of the participants. There’s a feeling of “we’re all in this together.” After sessions like this, it’s tough to be lectured at during a standard conference.

3.Your article said something about “private unconferences” – can you say something more about it?

I’m not certain which article you read, but private unconferremces abound. I’m setting up one right now on the topic of mobile learning. This one is private in that I’m not announcing it on the net. I’ve hosted unconferences inside companies, too.

4.For which problems that occured during the conferences was the crowd as a whole helpful, for which problems not?

The “crowd” are all participants. Look up Open Space Technology. Whatever happened is what should have happened.

5.How was the discussion culture? Did you also experience inappropriate behaviour that was not sanctioned because nobody was “in charge”?

Quite the contrary. I find that when you trust people to do the right thing, then live up to expectations. There’s a comraderie among the “unparticipants” that takes hold. Self-organization works — if you get out of its way.

6.You talk about setting up a conference in one week is no problem – in Germany we have experienced different things, here it takes months because nobody has time at the same date?

Well, it’s not just Germany. In the U.S. it’s nearly unimaginable how BAR Camp was put together in no time. Remember, however, that this was a particular subculture. When I read the notice on Dave Winer’s blog, my first comment on the net was “Where’s the wiki?” Everyone was quite comfortable coordinating things via wiki.

Leaving the first BAR Camp, someone said “We should do this next year.” The response: “Great. We don’t need to begin planning for another 50 weeks.”

7.What would you do better if you organised an unconference yourself?

The critical aspects are (1) the invitation and (2) summoning a group with shared passions.

8.Are there differences between the formats (BarCamp,FooCamp)?

BAR Camp was open to anyone who wanted to come. FOO Camp was invitation-only. They have different DNA; it’s not that one is good and the other, bad. See the BAR Camp story at http://internettime.com/?p=472

By the way, do you know where the FOO and BAR come from? FOO is Friends of O’Reilly because it’s Tim O’Reilly’s private show. BAR comes from an old Army expression: FUBAR.

FUBAR = Fucked up beyond all recognition.

9.Which different fields have used unconferences? Were there any examples were you say “perfect- for these people it works” or “this is not the right way for those people”?

Now there are unconferences on wine, tagging, social media, etc., etc., etc. I haven’t attended enough to say what works.

Here are a few references:

    my article in CLO on this topic:: http://informl.com/?p=634
    reports on Gnomedex: http://informl.com/?p=568 & http://informl.com/?p=653 & http://informl.com/?p=582 & http://informl.com/?p=362
    Social Media Club, http://informl.com/?p=647

    See also my wiki page on unmeetings: http://internettime.pbwiki.com/unmeetings

Viel gluck. Wo in Deutschland?