Barcamp Tampa: Understanding the “un-conference” (with video)

I still have very fuzzy memories about the morning this happened. It was September 2009, and I had been wrangled into speaking at something called Barcamp at the Tampa USF campus by my friend Julia Gorzka. She’d signed me up for a panel to talk about media, marketing, changes in the industry, whatever. Another day, another panel. I was assured it was no big deal, “in and out.”

Was I ever in for a goddamn shock.

My chauffer (Ms. Gorzka) and I arrived at the lobby of the Business building around 8:45 a.m. (a good 15 minutes before we were supposed to “go on”) only to find there were no session names listed anywhere at eye level. No speakers’ photos on display on flimsy wooden easels. No moderators assembling their notes and tending to their panelists. No sense of order whatsoever. Worse yet, my name and photo was not on any programs, collateral materials, table-top placards or imprinted plastic lanyards that I could take home and hang on my bookshelf. There was no catered breakfast or VIP area for the scheduled speakers. There were no speakers, there wasn’t even a schedule. I was in a tailspin. Julia had lied to me!

“What is this place? And what the hell is going on?,” I thought.

The unwashed masses – the public, for God’s sake – were simply being allowed to sign up (first come, first served) and create topics of discussion on the spot, organizing panels on subjects ranging from iPhone development to e-commerce to online publishing with whomever happened to be hanging around. It was a fucking uprising! I’m not even going to talk about the “hula hoop thing.”

Here’s a video from that morning, obviously taken before I’d had my morning coffee. (I’m at around the 4:42 mark).

Barcamp Tampa Bay 2009 Intro from Gavin Stark on Vimeo.

Barcamp calls itself the “un-conference,” a sort of open-source approach to workshops, allowing panel discussions to self-organize around attendees (a typically healthy showing of marketers, developers, programmers and designers). The events originated in 2005, as an answer to Tim O’Reilly‘s stuffier, invitation-only “Foo Camp.” (Foo. Bar. Fubar. Get it?).

Barcamp 2010 will be held at K-Force in Ybor City on September 25 and 26. Attendance is free. And a word of warning, for those accustomed to the conference scene, don’t come to Barcamp expecting the speakers to drop a bunch of knowledge on you from their wooden risers and plastic podiums. Come prepared to take notes and participate in an open discourse with your fellow tribe members, community peers and a group of natural leaders. You might just “un-learn” something.

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2 responses to “Barcamp Tampa: Understanding the “un-conference” (with video)

  1. Word up, Andi. Grab me if you need any help. That is, if I’m not hula-hooping in the hallways or raiding the bowl of cereal bars! 😉

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