BarCamp Toronto, Anyone?

It’s Time for a Toronto BarCamp!

barcamp toronto anyone

Creative Commons photo by Paul Bica.

While we hold the record for DemoCamps (tonight’s will be our 29th), it’s been a while since we’ve had a BarCamp in Toronto, and there’s a great opportunity available. Jonathan Kay of Grasshopper, one of the companies behind the BarCamp Tour (of which Shopify, the company for whom I work, is a member), would like to see a BarCamp in Toronto and so would I.

If someone in Toronto can organize a BarCamp sometime between now and the end of November, the BarCamp Tour will sponsor it, and you’ll get my able assistance to boot!

What’s BarCamp?


BarCamp is an unconference: a gathering that turns the notion of “conference” upside-down by having the attendees drive it instead of the organizers. The organizers are still needed to get a venue, handle the logistics and help the event run smoothly, but when it comes to stuff like topics and speakers, it’s the people attending the conference who are in charge. “There are no spectators,” the BarCamp philosophy goes, “there are only participants.”

While BarCamps vary from city to city, BarCamps are typically built around a schedule grid, which cross-references time slots and rooms. If you have an idea for a session (typically 40 or 50 minutes), you find an open time slot with an available room and put it in the grid. The schedule grid is usually a low-tech affair (one of the great maxims of tech is to do the simplest thing that works) using paper, Post-It Notes, tape and marker pens; I’ve included some examples below:

barcamp grid 1

barcamp grid 2

barcamp grid 3

At smaller BarCamps, you can simply come up with an idea for a session and claim a room and time slot on the grid. At the larger ones, you may have to first get a minimum number of votes for your session before you can put it on the grid. Either way, the end result is a conference where the agenda has been set by the attendees.

Things are a little different from the standard conference even if you don’t come up with a session or present it. Sessions are meant to be more like dialogues; while the person at the front of the room is acting as a facilitator and often speaks at the beginning to kick things off, the audience is expected to participate more than they would at an ordinary conference. Once again: there are no spectators, only participants.

I’ve seen sessions of all sorts at many BarCamps. Yes, there are the usual sessions on software and technology, but I’ve also seen people talking about bicycling, liveable cities, cooking and baking, making your own beer and wine, making music and art, reforming government, education and health care, philosophy, improv theatre and more. If you’ve got a topic you’re passionate about, it’s fair game for a BarCamp session!

What’s the BarCamp Tour?

barcamp tour

Just as BarCamp turns conferences upside down, the BarCamp Tour turns conference (or more accurately, unconference) sponsorship upside down. We don’t just simple throw money and swag with logos at a gathering like most sponsors would. We also follow the “no spectators, only participants” rule. We assist the BarCamp organizers in putting together their events, actively and enthusiastically join in sessions, we help organize the before- or after-party and do what we can to help make each BarCamp we sponsor a success. In return, we get exposure and a chance to meet up face-to-face with people who might want to use our software and services.

The BarCamp Tour is made up of five startups:

  • Batchbook – the social CRM for small businesses and entrepreneurs
  • Grasshopper – the virtual phone system designed for entrepreneurs
  • MailChimp – the easy do-it-yourself tool for email newsletters and campaigns
  • Wufoo – the easiest, fastest way to build forms for your websites
  • and the company for whom I work, Shopify – helping you build awesome online stores

BarCamp Toronto

democamp 28

Creative Commons photo by Andrew Louis.

In a mere handful of years, Toronto’s tech scene has gone from moribund to legendary. All credit has to go to the people, who six years and 29 DemoCamps later, are still attending events by the hundreds, organizing their own meetups, pub nights and hackathons, and getting the word out. We work hard, we play hard, and we unconference hard.

“We need a BarCamp in Canada,” my teammates on the BarCamp Tour told me. “Since you’re the Canadian in the group, and you’re from Toronto, can you see about getting a BarCamp in Toronto together?”

And that’s where you come in.

I’m in Ottawa for the summer, immersing myself in my new company, Shopify. I will return to Toronto in the fall, where I will continue working for Shopify remotely. I’m looking for someone to run BarCamp Toronto, and I will assist you, both as a member of the Toronto tech scene and as the representative of the BarCamp Tour (and yes, that means sponsorship money).

Are you this person? Let me know. Drop me a line and we’ll talk.

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.

One reply on “BarCamp Toronto, Anyone?”

[…] A couple of weeks ago, I put out the call for help in getting together a BarCamp in Accordion City. We haven’t had one in four years and I think it’s about time! The other folks on the BarCamp Tour, most notably Jonathan Kay of Grasshopper who absolutely loves “Toe-RON-toe”, have expressed interest in having one in Canada and are willing to be a sponsor. […]

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