ann arbor’s “barcamp-esque” non-camping non-barcamp

Have you heard of BarCamp? It’s like a big nerd slumber party. At least that’s how I’ve always envisioned it. The first one was in Palo Alto in 2005. A lot of intelligent folks came together for a day to discuss open source technology, emerging web-aps, and the like. It was, by all accounts, a great community-building exercise, and it grew. Other BarCamps started popping up around the world… Well, it looks like An Arbor is finally joining the club. It’s just been announced that what they’re calling ArbCamp is going to be held on October 27. It’s $15 for the day, and another $50 if you want to hear the keynote… That’s right, unlike most other BarCamps, participants are expected to pay. (They’re typically sponsored events, free to those who pre-register.) And, as you might expect, that’s rubbing a few in the local tech community the wrong way. Following is an exchange lifted from the ArbCamp entry on ArborWiki:

Angry Person 1: How did this turn into a for-pay corporate marketing event? This sucks! Where are all the geeks doing the technology show-n-tell? Marketers, poets, businesspeople? WTF! This is not “barcamp-style”! Someone set us up the bomb!

ArbCamp Marketing Person: Well, we have to charge admission to meet fixed costs for the event, which is basically food. Hopefully after a success or two it’ll be easier to line up enough sponsorship and related energy to make the next one free; all part of the difficulty of importing cool stuff into this geographic area. Free is the price point I wanted, too… but $15 for bunch of people and food and a day of happy hacking isn’t a bad deal, IMO, either. And yes, we are looking for a more diverse group of people than is typical for barcamps; this comes out of the success of the RecentChangesCamps in attracting techies AND people that use the tech to do whatever they do. That’s why it’s not ‘just’ barcamp Ann Arbor. If you want to organize a barcamp Ann Arbor that better fits what you are looking for I’d very gladly attend :) Thanks for your thoughts.

Angry Person 2: Hrm – for some reason other BarCamps and Open events have managed to not charge a fee for pre-registered attendees. How does charging a fee bring together a more diverse group? Can people opt-out of food for free attendance? BarCamp doesn’t just mean that it is a free event (in fact, that is debatable as it’s perfectly fine to charge a small fee to ensure attendance), but it should mean that there is NO PREVIOUSLY SET SCHEDULE, and NO ‘STARS’ (i.e. hierarchies are forbidden, it’s an open grid, which means that your keynote can come and fill his own session in with everyone else). As well, sponsorships are limited at actual BarCamps to prevent corporate takeover. If it is BarCamp or BarCamp-like, it needs to be about the community. This may be very loosely inspired by BarCamp’s outcome: people gathering around technology. But that isn’t what BarCamp is about. It is about chaos and grassroots. This conference appears to have neither. WTF? I completely agree with the above… This event is completely counter to the spirit of inclusion, diversity, openness and equality of every BarCamp I’ve attended. If the organizers of this event want to hold a for-profit corporate event with an old fashioned stand-and-deliver style, “he’s more important than you” keynote speaker, that’s cool…but don’t try and leech off the good name of BarCamp- it’s deceptive. I find it hard to believe that cities all over the world have been able to summon the creativity and resourcefulness to organize BarCAmp meetings with no admission fee- but not Ann Arbor. For shame.

ArbCamp Marketing Person: In response to the cost issue, you can now attend for a nominal $5 fee if you want to BYOFD to the event. We also added Student pricing; full day conference w/ the Jaffe talk is only $35 for students. If a business wants to sponsor students they can: Send a Student to Arb Camp…

I’m not a techie, so I should probably just shut the fuck up, but the criticism in this case seems valid. Marketing a for-profit event as “BarCamp-esque” and suggesting that it needed to be done in such a way because Ann Arbor, for whatever reason, can’t support a legitimate BarCamp, seems to me to be weak in the extreme. And the planners of this event should have known better. I’m curious to know what my technically-inclined readers think.

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  1. Posted October 10, 2007 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    Having attended BarCamps and DrupalCamps in NYC, and helped a bit in organizing DrupalCamps, I have some respect for the amount of effort it takes to organize a *Camp. I think I could forgive the $15 for the main event if the organizers really did find it impossible to find enough sponsors to cover food & space expenses, since it really is nice to have food on site to keep the flow going all day. The $50 keynote, however, is obnoxious and entirely antithetical to the spirit of BarCamp and similar “unconference” events. Lame.

  2. Tbor
    Posted October 10, 2007 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Dropping the price to $5 for those who bring their own food was a good move. That’s reasonable. Also reasonable was the inclusion of non-hackers. The expensive keynote on marketing is enough to turn me away though. It makes the whole thing stink of shit.

  3. Bonnie
    Posted October 10, 2007 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    This sounds much more like a con – like U-Con or Comic-Con or whatever- than a *Camp. All its missing is merchant booths.

  4. mike_1630
    Posted October 10, 2007 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    Yea… if you can’t host a free barcamp, like *everyone* else, then don’t host one. Keep looking for sponsors, or host smaller events at cafes’ and restaurants.

  5. Jon P.
    Posted October 10, 2007 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    Barcamp is by and for geeks, techies, hackers … period. If it isn’t about sharing ideas on technology, it’s not barcamp. ArbCamp looks like a straight-up marketing conference run by a marketing droid. This is not the camp you’re looking for.

  6. Posted October 11, 2007 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    I’d like to have a booth selling knockoff cap’n crunch whistles.

  7. mark
    Posted October 11, 2007 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    I thought that I should share the fact that Jon P has a “” email address.

  8. Edwards Fan
    Posted October 15, 2007 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    The man behind ArbCamp responds.

  9. Steph's Dad
    Posted October 15, 2007 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Wow! Seth Godin even weighed in (in the Connect Ann Arbor comments) to say that we’re “trolls” for pointing out that this event is antithetical to the BarCamp movement. Guess whose book I’ll be returning tonight? Nice going, Seth.

  10. Robert
    Posted October 16, 2007 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    You might as well all be posting in Japanese, because I have absolutely no idea what any of you are talking about.

  11. Samantha
    Posted October 26, 2007 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    What a bunch of haters. Seriously. Who cares who did what first and if this is like the other….blah blah. It’s a forum for sharing ideas, etc. It’s not about who did what first and where and how.

    For goodness sake.

    I’m going and look forward to it.

  12. Posted October 27, 2007 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    We had an awesome time, good to see people there and sorry if you missed it.

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