I was in Boston this weekend to help out with BarCamp Boston, the sixth such event to take place there. It took place on Saturday, April 9th and Sunday, April 10th at Microsoft’s NERD Center (NERD is short for New England Research and Development), located in Cambridge on One Memorial Drive, nestled comfortably by the MIT campus and close to the high-tech and bio-tech companies surrounding Kendall Square.
A BarCamp is an “unconference”: a conference in which the normal rules are turned on their ear. Normal conferences have their agendas set in advance by the conference organizers, and the conference sessions are typically lectures featuring one or a few speakers and everyone else acting as the audience. In a BarCamp, the agenda is set by all the attendees, the sessions are less like lectures and more like open discussions, and in lieu of the traditional presenter is a discussion facilitator. (I’ll explain a little more about how this works later in this article.)
BarCamp Boston 6 was sponsored by BarCamp Tour, a group of five startups who actively participate in BarCamps taking place across the U.S. and help BarCamp organizers ensure that they’re holding the best possible events. The startups that make up the BarCamp Tour are:
If you’re planning a BarCamp for your city and would like the backing of BarCamp Tour, which comes with money to help run your event plus other goodies like arrangements for the after-party, you should contact them! Drop them a line via Twitter at @BarCampTour and be ready to explain to them why they should support your city’s BarCamp.
BarCamp Boston 6 started off in the big space that takes up the 10th and 11th floors at NERD. It’s an airy space with lots of places to sit and lots of windows providing a gorgeous view of the Charles River and downtown Boston. It served as the breakfast, lunch and dinner room, as well as for the opening “unkeynote” and the after-party.
The big room at NERD features banners that feature both nerdiness and “local colour”:
The local organizers welcomed the crowd enthusiastically:
…and by “crowd”, I do mean crowd. There were a number of people down on the floor, with more people watching the opening talk from the balconies:
…and a good number more caught the talk from the combination staircase/stands that connected the two floors:
Once the event had been properly introduced, we all made out way to NERD’s first floor, which contained all the conference rooms and meeting spaces where BarCamp’s sessions would actually take place. It was now time for the participants to set the agenda.
Step one was to propose topics of discussion. Attendees were encouraged to propose topics by writing them down on large Post-It notes and stick them on the “Ideas” wall. In the meantime, people would vote on those proposals by placing checkmarks on those proposals they’d like to see:
There were a lot of topics proposed. Many were about programming, the web and technology, but a number were about self-improvement, cooking, being an entrepreneur, being active in your community, music, philosophical matters – just about everything that might interest the sort of person who’d spend an weekend at a BarCamp.
Once a proposed topic got a sufficient number of votes, the person who proposed the topic would then take the Post-It note and place it somewhere within the schedule grid. The schedule grid divided the weekend into equal-sized time slots, and it was first-come, first-served.
Click the photo to see it at full size.
Click the photo to see it at full size.
Once the schedule grid started filling up and the start time for sessions drew near, people started picking out the sessions they wanted to attend:
And then it was session time! Sessions took place in all sorts of settings. Some took place in NERD’s larger lecture halls, while others took place in the “clusters” that are scattered about NERD. NERD is rich in all sorts of little spaces designed for collaborative work, which makes it an ideal location for a BarCamp:
NERD also has a number of smaller “salon” style rooms that are perfect for comfortable round-table discussions. The room shown below was a great place for the Mobile UI discussion; large enough to accommodate the crowd, but small enough for people to pass around phones to show off their mobile UI projects:
The smallest rooms were perfect for discussions that required a closer look, such as this session on Arduino projects:
With the participants responsible for putting together the content for a BarCamp on an ad hoc basis, what’s left for the organizers to do? Simple: create the conditions that make BarCamp possible in the first place! That includes getting a venue in which to hold BarCamp, providing the basic structure around which BarCamp takes place, and of course, providing food. With the sponsorship of the companies that make BarCamp Tour as well as Microsoft, there was food and drink aplenty for breakfast, lunch and dinner:
Saturday’s sessions ran from 11:00 to 6:00 p.m., with a break for lunch. The sessions were followed by dinner, then PowerPoint Karaoke, and then a performance by the local band Ribs:
I was only able to attend the Saturday of BarCamp Boston 6, but it went quite well and I had a great time meeting, sharing ideas with and playing accordion for a lot of people while I was there. I hope to catch more BarCamps over the next few months, so if you want BarCamp Tour to sponsor your BarCamp, contact them on Twitter!