Around 200 BBQ munching digerati invaded the Lowcountry Innovation Center for the first annual Barcampchs "un-conference" on Saturday. Billed as an "ad-hoc un-conference," the event was a gathering of mostly techy types who wanted to share ideas and solidify what's normally a virtual community.
The crowd ranged from the usual cadre of local bloggers, tweeple, and coders to small business people wanting to branch out. There were a few "tie guys" walking around, as well as a few multi-tasking lone wolves looking forward to getting reinserted into the Matrix later that night.
What set it apart from a traditional conference or something like Pecha Kucha is that the actual content of the conference wasn't pre-determined. They made it up on the spot that morning. It may sound dubious to people used to top-down tech conferences, or passive audience get-togethers like Pecha Kucha, but it ended up being an effective and highly successful approach.
Anybody could have been a presenter or anybody could attend any presentation. There weren't sign-up sheets or the need to check in at a desk somewhere. It was pretty common to see someone present and then be sitting next to you in the audience at the next one.
The morning started out with a brief introduction and then a stream of potential presenters who had 30 seconds to pitch their ideas. The titles were written on giant post-it notes and then attached to a large board with different times and locations. People checked out what was where and basically chose the conference they wanted from the variety of presentations available.
If you wanted to go nerdy, you could pick from "Real-time applications with XMPP" or "How to fix an XBOX360." You could have done the social media route with "Storm Chasing with social media" or "Building Strong Communities with Social Media." But, there were plenty of diversions to choose from like "Belly Dance 101" and of course "Baconcamp," which featured — you guessed it — lots of bacon.
Many of them were fairly involved with info slides and prepared video clips. Some people weren't as used to presenting as others and took a few minutes to get going, but they usually shined during the Q&A part.
Conspicuously absent were any presentations on "How to make money on xyz." The emphasis was much more on "How to do things with xyz." That was definitely the vibe of the event as a whole.
There was also a kind of "main hall" where people hung out and watched Team 342 drive around a ball spewing robot they created for a national robotics competition sponsored by NASA. Most importantly, the hall was where a giant spread of BBQ from the nearby Barbecue Joint was laid out for lunch. In the arts room, a few local artists got to show their work and share the processes for making it.
The Lowcountry Innovation Center was an ideal venue. With lots of conference rooms and large common areas, the layout encouraged interaction and allowed for variety of things to do and see.
It needs to be said that the event itself was masterfully executed. That's a testament to the highly involved volunteers who got together to make it happen. There wasn't any one person "in charge." There was a small group who knew what was going on, but everything was handled in a really de-centralized way. It's been tried many times before, but rarely pulled off in such a smooth way.
For more information:
Barcampchs.org, the main site for the event, has many links to other Barcamp events and more information about the mission in general.
barcampchs.wikidot.com Shows the final list of presentations from Barcampchs.
#barcampchs The Twitter hashtag for the event. Collects lots of barcampchs related tweets.
For many more photos, check out the Flickr collection.
Barcampchs on Collecta