BarCamp Tour Update: Seattle This Weekend, New Orleans Next Month, and Toronto…Soon!

BarCamp Seattle

seattle barcamp

This weekend, I’ll be in Seattle for BarCamp as part of the BarCamp tour, a cross-North-America sponsorship put together by five startups: Batchblue, Grasshopper, MailChimp, Wufoo and the company for whom I am representative, Shopify.

BarCamp is an unconference – a gathering that turns the traditional notion of a “conference” upside-down. Rather than the content being determined by its organizers, it’s determined by the attendees. At the start of the conference, any attendee can propose a session topic, and if it’s accepted by the group, that session gets put on the schedule grid and assigned a time slot and a room. Sessions themselves are somewhat different from sessions at a traditional conference: while there’s still roles akin to a “presenter” or “presenters” and an “audience”, the line between the two is considerably more fuzzy. They’re closer in spirit to open discussions rather than lectures.


BarCamp Tour are not your typical sponsors. Just as BarCamp is an unconference that turns the notion of a conference upside-down, you might say that we’re “unsponsors” doing the same to what is traditionally viewed as sponsorship. Yes, we provide funding to various BarCamps, but we do something that most sponsors don’t do: we show up and participate. We help out the organizers with everything from putting together parties to helping move furniture and clean up. We take part in the sessions, sometimes as participants in the “audience”, sometimes as “presenters”. While we do promote our companies, it’s not in a hard-sell way, and often, we do it by listening to and learning from the people there – after all, they’re potential customers, partners and even hires.

BarCamp Seattle takes place this weekend on Saturday, June 24th and Sunday June 25th at the Adobe Conference Center in Seattle’s Fremont neighbourhood (801 N 34th Street). Saturday is a full day with check-in starting at 8:00 a.m. and the unconference kicking into full swing at 9:00 a.m.; Sunday is a half day with check-in starting around 8:00 a.m. (emphasis on around; there’s a party on Saturday night) and the unconference resuming at 9:00 a.m..

BarCamp Seattle, like all BarCamps, is free but you need to register. To register, visit BarCamp Seattle’s EventBrite page.

BarCamp New Orleans

barcamp new orleans

My next BarCamp will be BarCamp New Orleans, also known as BarCamp NOLA. I’m rather looking forward to this one for a few reasons:

BarCamp New Orleans takes place on Saturday, July 16th and Sunday, July 17th at the Launch Pad coworking/startup space (643 Magazine Street, Suite 102). Registration on the Saturday is at a very civilized 9:30 a.m. with the unconference getting into full swing at 10:00 a.m. and running until 5:00 p.m.. Sunday is a “Hack Day” with registration at 9:30 a.m., start at 10:00 a.m. and running until 5:00 p.m..

Like all BarCamps, BarCamp New Orleans is free but you need to register. You should register soon – only 76 spaces remain as of this writing!

BarCamp Toronto


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.

A great collection of people have stepped forward and volunteered to help. I’ll be meeting with them online very shortly (I’m in Ottawa for the summer, but I return to Accordion City in the fall) to discuss what happens next, but know this: the first step toward bringing BarCamp back to Toronto has been made.

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.


Going to Toronto for Ruby Job Fair and Portland for BarCamp

Airplane wing

Some of the Shopifolks are travelling this weekend to some interesting events.

rspec::table, a.k.a. The Ruby Job Fair (Friday, May 20th)

Rspectable employment

If you’re in the Toronto area and looking for a job, you might want to drop by rspec::table employment, otherwise known as the Ruby Job Fair. Our friends at Unspace are holding this event, where Rubyists seeking employment can meet with potential employers.

It’s the third such event put together by Unspace, and it’s specifically aimed at those programmers who’ve eschewed more mainstream programming languages and frameworks for the Ruby, Rails and other Ruby-related goodies because, let’s face it, they’re fun. And hey, we believe that if you’re going to spend your working life — half your waking existence — doing something, it had better be fun, don’t you think?

Have you considered developing for Shopify? Think of it: we’re growing start-up that’s actually profitable, and that was before we secured that Series A funding. We’re in the business of helping people sell stuff online, a field whose growth is strong and steady. We’ve got some killer coders in the shop; I feel like the dumbest guy in the room when I’m around them (I’m okay with that — it has its advantages). The perks of working here are great, from the people to the gear and welcome swag to the location — not some soul-draining industrial park, but in Ottawa’s ByWard Market: central, and the liveliest part of town.

If you’d like to get a job with us and in on some of this action, come on down to the Ruby Job Fair this Friday, May 20th at Unspace’s office (342 Queen Street West, Toronto, east of Spadina, above LuluLemon) from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. and say hello to the Shopifolk who’ll be there: Brittany, Edward and Julie!

To find out more about the Ruby Job Fair and the after-party, visit the Ruby Job Fair site.

BarCamp Oregon (Friday, May 20th – Saturday, May 21st)

BarCamp Portland logo

Shopify is one of five startups that makes up the BarCamp Tour, a group helping sponsor BarCamps all over North America. Thus far, we’ve been to BarCamp Boston and MinneBar (a Minneapolis-based BarCamp serving all of the state of Minnesota). This weekend, we’ll be at the third BarCamp on the tour: Portland, Oregon, affectionately known to some as Portlandia:

BarCamp Portland is an unconference: a conference whose topics, sessions and schedules are determined by the attendees. On the start of the unconference day, people will propose session topics and set up a schedule, after which the unconferencing will begin. We’re expecting geeks of every sort to show up: not just the hackers, but artists, engineers, hobbyists, writers and poets, jokers and journalists, entrepreneurs, cooks and bakers, people who till the land or help neighbourhoods take shape, and anyone else who likes create.

Shopify, along with our partners on the BarCamp Tour — BatchBlueGrasshopperMailchimp and Wufoo — isn’t your typical event sponsor. Yes, we’re each throwing in money to help BarCamp organizers hold their events, but we’re also there at the conference, actively participating, joining in the discussions, providing food and drinks, and even helping carry stuff or clean up. We’re also there to promote our companies, but not in a hard-sell way — we’re there to meet people who want to use our software and services, have questions and get to know the creative, inventive, ambitious people who attend BarCamps!

I’ll be there, helping out, facilitating sessions, answering questions about Shopify and playing accordion (of course). If you see me, please say hi!

To find out more about BarCamp Portland, visit the BarCamp Portland site.

If you’re interested in finding out more about BarCamps, watch this video, taken at one of the first BarCamps in San Francisco:

This article also appears in the Shopify Blog.


BarCamp Portland: May 20 – 21

BarCamp Portland is This Weekend!

BarCamp Portland logo

If you’re in the mood for some geeky activity this weekend in the beautiful city of Portland, Oregon, you’ll want to hit BarCamp Portland 5! It’s taking place this weekend at the Eliot Center (1226 SW Salmon Street)…

Eliot Center, as seen from the street

…on these days:

  • Friday, May 20th: The Opening Social, which starts at 6:30 p.m. and runs until 9:00 p.m.. The idea behind this evening is to get everyone primed for the main event on the following day.
  • Saturday, May 21st: The Main Event: the actual unconference, with the big scheduling scrum happening at 9:00 a.m. and the sessions running from 10:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m..

The BarCamp Tour

I’ll be there, because I’m representing Shopify, one of five startups that make up the…

Barcamp tour logo

…BarCamp Tour! Along with our friends BatchBlue, Grasshopper, Mailchimp and Wufoo, we’re sponsoring BarCamps across North America, and not in the typical way, either! Yes, we’re each throwing in money to help BarCamp organizers hold their events, but we’re also there at the conference, actively participating, joining in the discussions, providing food and drinks, and even helping carry stuff or clean up. We’re also there to promote our companies, but not in a hard-sell way — we’re there to meet people who want to use our software and services, have questions and get to know the creative, inventive, ambitious people who attend BarCamps!


Register! (Finger pressing space bar on a computer keyboard)

Best of all, BarCamp is free-as-in-beer to attend. That’s right, it’ll cost you no money to come and participate. We do ask that you register at BarCamp Portland 5’s EventBrite page, and if you do fee like throwing in a little money to help cover the costs, you can do that too.

What is BarCamp?

BarCamp is an unconference: a gathering that turns the usual notion of a conference on its ear. There is no set agenda, no topics are pre-set and no speakers are pre-ordained: you, the attendees determine all that! On the start of the unconference day, people will propose session topics and set up a schedule, after which the unconferencing will begin. We’re expecting geeks of every sort to show up: not just the hackers, but artists, engineers, hobbyists, writers and poets, jokers and journalists, entrepreneurs, cooks and bakers, people who till the land or help neighbourhoods take shape, and anyone else who likes create.

As the BarCamp Portland site puts it:

Bring a demo or an idea and you will find people to talk about it with, but think of it less as a presentation and more as a conversation. Rest assured that you will exchange a lot of knowledge about your topic and many others with a lot of interesting people and come away thinking big thoughts.

If you’d like to get a little more background about the origins of BarCamp, check out an article of mine from 2006 titled BarCamp Explained. You might also want to watch the BarCamp San Francisco 2006 video below  to get a feel for what BarCamps are like (note: some salty language at the end; it might not be suitable for your workplace):

See you at BarCamp!


Scenes from MinneBar 2011

Minnebar logo

Note: This is a looong article — you might want to get a beverage!

Last Saturday, North America’s largest BarCamp ever took place in Minneapolis: the 6th editon of MinneBar. MinneBar is organized by Minne*, a group of Minnesota-based techies and designers who’ve come together to hold events and build a community. Their mission is to ensure that Minnesota continues to be a great place to have a tech- and/or design-based business.

And the BarCamp Tour is here to help them.

The 2011 BarCamp Tour

Barcamp tour logo

MinneBar is the second city on the 2011 BarCamp Tour, a North America-spanning tour where five entrepreneur-focused startups — Batchblue, Grasshopper, MailChimp, Shopify and Wufoo — travel far and wide to sponsor BarCamps. As our site says, we aren’t your typical sponsors; we don’t simply just write a cheque and paste our logos on the walls: we dive in and help out. Sure, we provide funding, but in order to make the event even better, we help out in all sorts of ways, from leading panel discussions to actively participating in sessions to helping move boxes and haul stuff around and even providing accordion backup for the band at the pre-party! We’re also there to meet people: developers, designers and business types in various cities’ entrepreneur communities.

Barcamp tour sponsors

As Shopify’s representative on the tour (all of us are in the picture above), I’ve been to BarCamp Boston (see my earlier writeup for that city) and now, MinneBar. Our next cities on the BarCamp Tour are Portland, Oregon (May 20 – 21) and Seattle (June 25 – 26). There are more coming up after that, and the cities we’ll be visiting next will be determined by you! As we say on the BarCamp Tour site:

We can help your city’s BarCamp. We encourage you to apply to be a part of the BarCamp Tour. Sell us on why your entrepreneurial community is bursting at the seams and we’ll get back to you. If selected, we help you as the BarCamp organizer with some of your biggest pain points, like funding and promotion. We want to help you take your BarCamp to the next level. Oh… did we mention we throw really amazing after parties?

Go ahead, apply! We’d love to come to your city and help make your BarCamp awesome.

Minnebar Pre-Party

The pre-party took place on Friday night at Old Arizona and featured free local draft and the Como Avenue Jug Band, who invited me to join them on accordion. I had my hands full either playing or chatting, so these were the only photos I managed to get:

Jug band 1

Jug band 2

Jug band 3

Minnebar Begins

I was stunned when I heard that 1,200 people had registered for Minnebar. Luckily, there’s a venue in the Minneapolis area that’s capable of handling that many people, when gathered en masse or when they break off into different sessions: the corporate headquarters of geeky mega-retailer Best Buy, located in Richfield.

Alas, it’s a place where you can’t pack heat:

Best buy bans gun in these premises

It takes a good while to get over 1,000 people into a place, confirm they’re registered and give them their “Hello, my name is…” sticker, unconference schedule and T-shirt:

00 line

In spite of the large number of people they had to process on the way in, the volunteer staff did so cheerfully, and the intake went rather smoothly.

01 line

It’s not a tech event without a T-shirt, and MinneBar was most certainly a tech event. The “Early 1960s Pop” look of the design might’ve been something that Don Draper would’ve approved, and it’s got a certain hipster appeal:

04 barcamp t shirt design

A quick point of information: there is no BarCamp Tour bus, in spite of what the graphics on our site, stickers and the sign below say:

02 barcamp sign

It’s a symbolic bus; we’re not living together on a bus travelling from BarCamp to BarCamp, MTV reality-show style, amusing as that might be (if it ever becomes the case, I want to be our answer to “The Situation“). Between BarCamps, we’re back in our respective cities working away at our jobs.

Hello, Minnesota!

Pictured below are Rob Stephens, CTO of Best Buy (and creator of Geek Squad), and Luke Francl, one of the three people who organized MinneBar. Rob deserves our thanks for opening up Best Buy’s HQ on a Saturday to over a thousand random nerds.

03 rob stephens and luke francl

With the lion’s share of the attendees registered, it was time to get the conference rolling with a quick set of opening announcements. They were made by the organizers: Luke, Ben Edwards and Adrienne Pierce:

Adrienne ben luke

[Creative Commons photo by Jamie Thingelstad]

Everyone gathered for the opening session at Sandy’s Place, the name of the dining hall at Best Buy HQ. Hanging above the tables are a number of postcards in the “Greetings from” style showing the names of various cities, including Original Accordion City:

05 greetings from toronto sign

Adrienne, Ben and Luke were kind enough to thank all the sponsors, both in their opening remarks as well as on the big screen behind them:

06 barcamp tour on big screen

The Sessions

MinneBar deviated from the standard BarCamp formula: all sessions were determined in advance, with pre-specified speakers and topics. This arrangement is closer in spirit to a more standard conference, but the speakers either left plenty of room in their presentations for dialogue or made their sessions more like workshops or open discussions, allowing for more back-and-forth exchanges. People were also free to claim any unused space and start their own sessions, although I didn’t see any central schedule board where people could find out where and when such sessions were taking place.

Since MinneBar took place in a single day and the process of suggesting, vetting and scheduling sessions in a unconference takes the better part of the morning, the decision to use a more standard conference format probably helped buy more time for sessions. The number of people involved may also have been a factor. Still, it would’ve been nice to have some slots open for more unconference-style ad hoc sessions, and Luke said that he’d like to see that at next year’s event.

I spent my time bouncing between sessions in order to get photos as well as a better feel for what this particular city’s BarCamps were like.

One of the first sessions of the day was Six Reasons to Open an “Offline” Store (Especially if You Sell Online) and How to Do It Right, led by Daniel Kent:

07 offline store session

Here are my notes from that session:

  1. Perceived Risk
    • Landlords are giving lots of money to prospective tenants to open physical stores
    • And there’s no giving up of ownership to raise funds
    • This doesn’t happen online — getting money always means handing over some ownership
  2. Perceived Barrier to Entry
    • The perception is that it’s easy for anyone to set up a site
    • It seems to be tougher to set up a physical store
  3. Competition Management
    • You know who your competition is
  4. Supply Costs
    • The more product you move, the lower your costs and the higher your margin
    • The Nerdery: online, but they have a robust physical location
      • Lets them identify talented people (lower cost and increase results from recruiting)
    • Refactor: Recruiting and B2B opportunities
  5. Different Type of Customer Feedback
    • With a site, you can do analytics (doesn’t capture everything) and surveys (low return rate, doesn’t capture everything)
    • Offline offers a glimpse into customer reactions that you can’t get online
  6. Opportunity for Margin
    • When I want something online, I don’t care about how pretty the site is; I care only about price
    • Offline, it’s not all about price: ambiance, convenient location, condition of goods, harder to leave
  • How do you build a relationship with your customers?
    • If it’s just tube socks, I’ll go to Amazon and go for price
    • If it’s my tea shop, I can do more
  • Steepr doesn’t even have a site up yet, but they’ve got 40 people signed up
    • Thanks to their Mall of America store
    • Potential for using the online store as a way to find locations to own physical stores
  • Their model: the place where people want to go
    • They have DJs on Friday and Saturday nights
    • The 16 – 24 crowd loves to hang out there
  • Brick and mortar vs online
    • Does having an online presence affect your banking deal?
      • Banks see that the site hasn’t made money yet (in progress), cut different deals

The next session I caught was Startup Tools, a review and discussion of software tools that are both free (or relatively cheap) and indispensable to startups, led by Colin Tuggle:

08 free apps session

The third session I caught was a panel discussion featuring some of my fellow BarCamp Tour bus-mates (and remember, it’s a symbolic bus) — Amy Ellis, Stephanie Bullis and Michelle Riggle-Ransom, talking about brands in BrandCamp @ BarCamp: Bootstrapping Your Brand

09 branding session

My notes from this session:

  • Michelle:
    • I wanted to start a family-friendly work/life balance company
    • Brand attributes: authentic, transparent, helpful, engaged
  • Stephanie:
    • There’s no point to stating that trust and reliability are your core values: that should already be built in!
    • These are our core values:
      • Go above and beyond
      • Always be entrepreneurial
      • Radically passionate
      • Your team
  • Amy:
    • In the beginning: our brand was based around our mascot, “Freddy von Chimpenheiser” [I had no idea the MailChimp mascot had a name! — Joey]
    • Challenge with mascot — many “professional” companies don’t like cute mascots
      • Created “Party Pooper Mode”, which turns off the mascot for humour-impaired corporations
  • Stephanie:
    • Original name of the company was Vmail
    • Had to spell it out; everyone thought we were saying “female”
    • The “Got Vmail?” slogan was misheard as “Got female?” — sounded like an escort service
    • Changed to Grasshopper in 2009
    • Sent chocolate-covered Grasshoppers to top 500 influencers, from Chris Brogan to P. Diddy [Joey’s note to Stephanie: He’s called Diddy Dirty Money now.]
  • Michelle:
    • Thinking up a name for the company:
      • BatchBlue comes from batch processing
      • From Rhode Island – nice tech community – blue is the ocean
      • Similar names caused confusion: BatchBook is the product, BatchBlue is the company
      • Rolling out a new product without the word “Batch” in it
  • Amy:
    • Strongly recommend open API; it’s MailChimp’s strength
    • They have no outgoing sales department
    • Instead, they increase customer base by integrating well with other applications
    • Instead of stacking your sales team, build a great API (85% of app functionality is available via their API)!
  • Michelle:
    • Get all the names: not just the URLs, but also misspelled URLs, Twitter handles, etc.
  • Stephanie:
    • Even if your idea is in its infancy, get those names before someone else does
  • Amy:
    • Got malechimp, mailchimpsucks, etc.
  • Stephanie:
    • To track your brand, you should set up Google alerts
    • Not just for your name, but also misspellings!
  • Q: Abstract branding vs. clear naming?
    • Abstract does not commit you to a market
    • “Salesforce? You shouldn’t have to force someone into a sale.”
    • Me: “Apple is not about fruit, Microsoft is not about erectile dysfunction”
    • Guy: GISrangers: Not many people know what GIS is, and they end up asking “What’s a jizz-ranger?”
  • Amy:
    • You need a good product to back up your brand
    • A brand is more of a feeling…and a hug
  • Q: Core Values
    • Are you going to have to start worrying about who your customers are? Say, the Klan?
    • Amy: Another reason we don’t have a sales team
      • Email between members of the KKK — okay, that’s free speech
      • Spamming or propagation of hate speech — out
  • Q: Casual Brands
    • Amy: Our brand worked for the sort of customers we were seeking when we we starting out
      • Our tech was better for small companies, not suited for large ones
      • That’s changed
      • If our company culture doesn’t match what you want, it happens — we’re not the best solution for everyone
      • Founders: consultant — hated being reliant on an 80% client and having to compromise their values
  • Q: Iterating – easy with tech, harder with a brand
    • Stephanie: Sleeker logo – not different
      • Based on what they believe their customers will respond to
      • Once you get a core base, you can play with the look and feel
    • Michelle
      • When you make a change, everybody freaks out, then they forget about it
      • Don’t be afraid to evolve your brand
      • Amy: It’s an opportunity
      • Getting customer buy-in helps — let them have sneak peeks
      • Have brand evangelists!
      • Happy customers are our best sales force
      • Putting in a customer rewards program
      • Handwritten thank-yous, gifts [thank you economy]
      • Make them feel that their input is valuable
  • Q: Tactic to make yourself snowball?
    • Michelle: Buy coffee for your local chamber of commerce
      • Donate time or free product
      • Take advantage of the smaller networking opportunities
    • Stephanie: Traditional marketing was about reaching out to many to reach one; now you reach out to one to reach many
      • Take them out for coffee
      • Go out on Twitter: “There’s people out there, and they want to give their opinion”
      • You never know where that one conversation will lead
    • Amy: Like building the biggest BarCamp, it’s a slow and steady process
      • It takes time and legwork, don’t get discouraged
      • Ben would buy customers coffee
      • Provide value! To customers, to the community
      • You can’t hop on Twitter and get thousands of followers
      • Work on your product
  • Q: Biggest mistakes?
    • Michelle: The name thing
      • Reined in fights with competitors on Twitter
    • Stephanie: Chargify – pricing fiasco with freemium model change: got bad press
      • Founder replied with “We messed up”
      • Very human about it, explained decision: “No way to be profitable using our current model”
      • Got better customers in the end; ditched the free riders
      • Lesson learned: don’t do what we did
    • Amy: Launched SocialPro last year
      • Did not forsee WSJ article on Facebook exposing data (also visible via SocialPro)
      • Be human – don’t be defensive, don’t put up a wall
      • People like it when you fess up to a mistake
  • Q: Employees who project brand?
    • Me: Shopify spiel
    • Stephanie: 
      • Hire for fit, train for skill
      • Happy people are productive people
    • Audience: Company culture at Disney
    • Amy:
  • Q: Company brand vs Product brand?
    • Michelle: You have more than one product
    • Stephanie: Product brand: tangible
      • Company brand: More about empowering entrepreneurship
  • Q: Transition to bigger clients – internal changes? It terrifies us
    • Amy: We’re not going from DIY to enterprise
      • We do have large companies interested in using us
      • Have to tell customers we don’t have account reps, phone support, etc
      • Finding larger companies who are willing to do those things themselves
  • Q: What was the biggest success with your branding?
    • Michelle: Selling to small business web
      • Having Google call us and sponsor a panel at SxSW
    • Amy: Open, robust, well-documented API
    • Stephanie: Support for entrepreneurs
      • Got Obama to support National Entrepreneur’s Day

10 branding session

When one of the audience members asked about creating a culture that supports the brand, I stepped in and brought up a couple of points:

  • Follow Zappos’ example. At the end of Microsoft’s MIX Conference in March, the Windows Phone 7 “Champs” team (of which I was a member) went to Zappos headquarters for their legendary tour as well as a culture consultation. We started with the tour, which was run by the very enthusiastic members of their culture team, where we saw the day-to-day operations and dynamic. They’re very clearly a group of people who enjoy what they do and care about customer service. Afterwards, we were gathered into a boardroom for a presentation and discussion of starting a great company culture. I told the group that they should pick up Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s book Delivering Happiness, and if possible, go to Zappos HQ and get the tour and culture consultation.
  • Provide guides. I pointed to the US Air Force’s rules of engagement for social media and Shopify’s employee handbook (pictured here); both are great examples of documents that help shape an organization’s culture. (I’m going to write about the Shopify book in an upcoming post.)

11 branding session

Some of the sessions were in meeting rooms designed for a dozen or so people; others took place in larger amphitheatre-style rooms:

15 theatre

In my last job as a developer evangelist for Microsoft Canada, I did a lot of work promoting Windows Phone 7 to developers, so it’s a topic that’s near and dear to my heart. Besides, I have the only Windows Phone 7-branded accordion in existence! So I made it a point to catch Scott K. Davis’ sesson, Windows Phone 7 – What You Should Know.

17 wp7 session

Bonus: we had a Microsoftie in the audience — she works on the testing team for Expression.

16 wp7 session

I’ve been in the blogging game for nearly ten years (the 10th anniversary of The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century is in November), so I couldn’t resist Joseph Reuter’s session, Why Don’t You Blog More?

18 blogging session

My notes from this session:

  • See Clay Shirky’s talk on cognitive surplus — blogging is one such outlet for that surplus
  • Publishing has been democratized
    • It’s amazing: tons of huge success stories
    • Publishing combines content and distribution
      • Content: idea and creation (draft, edit, approve)
      • Distribution: print and non-print
    • In the publishing world, there are editors
    • Editors provide, through their vetting, a sense of confidence
  • What is blogging for?
    • Shooting from the hip – catharisis? “No one’s going to read it, anyway”
    • Professional aims
    • News releases
    • Brand building
    • Journaling
    • Fun
  • No one seems to have been taught how to write
  • Content strategy vs. Confidence strategy
    • What are you looking to get from blogging?
      • Without an aim, it’s likely that you will succumb to your perception of what other people want from you.
      • Therefore, successful blogs have a content strategy, or put another way, a confidence strategy
      • That strategy may or may not be explicit
  • In blogging, sequence does not denote importance
  • Bloggers have an edge
    • They have access to:
      • Information
      • Perspective
  • Q: People who try blogging and get turned off because it’s just writing?
    • Example of Gary Vaynerchuk and video
  • Improve the system?
    • Problems with distribution:
      • Audience size limited by blog visits
      • Audience size limited by number of interested visitors who also understand RSS and reading behaviour
    • Problems with motivation satisfaction:
      • Need others to see what you’re doing
      • Dan Ariely: Books, stories and recognition
    • Problems with rhythm
      • We watch a lot of TV and read news but as an aggregate population, we don’t write
      • Hence we don’t have rhythm or tricks or confidence to write
    • Problem with time
      • Our perception: if we have something to say, it takes too much time to make a blog post bullerproof or ready for public consumption
  • Solutions
    • Twitter:
      • Problem: Blog posts are too long and hard to write
        • Solution: Posts are 140 characters, max
      • Problem: Jumping around to blofa is hard for readers
        • Solution: Twitter has a built-in reader and follower counts
    • Posterous:
      • Problem: The process of making a post is too hard
        • Solution: Posterous championed mailing it in
  • Few people willing write for no readers
  • Ways forward:
    • We read and have opinions – find ways to share them
    • We care what other people think – Have a content/confidence strategy
    • We care that our work is recognized – find a way to get others to share what they’re thinking when they read your content. Find good analytics software.
    • Structure ways to how they are engaging with your content in a way that is meaningful to you. Get those metrics automatically delivered
  • Hawthorne effect and blogging
  • The single best way to engage with Facebook:
    • Comment on other’s people stuff
    • Creators need to be commenters, commenters need to be creators

19 blogging session

Joseph ended his session with the slide in the photo above: “Who is this guy? What’s his story? Unless he writes it down, we’ll never know.”

The final session I caught was Jeff Lin’s The Missing Web Curriculum: What Every Web Professional Should Have Learned, in which he talked about addressing the disconnect between higher education and real-world web development:

22 curriculum session

A couple of Jeff’s observations that stuck out for me were:

  • “Instead of spending 80 bucks on an outdated textbook, I had the students spend 10 bucks registering a domain name.”
  • A poke at Dreamweaver and similar web design tools: “WYSIWYG is short for ‘WhY don’t you juSt learn to write code and stop Wasting Your enerGy on learning bad tools?'”


At the end of the day, we reconvened in Sandy’s Place for closing remarks and copious quantities of Surly Beer. I also worked the room, talking to people about their work, and telling them about having recently joined Shopify.

The organizers decided to get together with some of their friends at Bryant-Lake Bowl and invited me along. That place is many things: hipster diner, bowling alley, fringe theatre and all-round fun place:

24 bryant lane bowl

We had dinner (that’s a Walleye Po’ Boy pictured below):

Po boy

Of course, we went bowling:

26 group

Sharp! Perhaps I should get a pair of these, just for walkin’ around:

25 bowling shoes

Here I am, on my way to a killer spare:

27 9 pins

After bowling, I joined Casey Allen and some of his local entrepreneur friends for tasty beverages:


There’s something about whiskey and entrepreneurship — they go together like peanut butter and chocolate, or bacon and everything.

Other Takes on MinneBar

When it comes to tech and design, Minnesota punches well above its weight class, and thus I wasn’t the only one chronicling Minnebar.

A number of sessions were recorded — you’ll find these recordings at The Uptake.

Here are the blog entries and articles on Minnebar that I could find. If you know of one that isn’t in the list below, let me know in the comments and I’ll update it!


In Transit

Me holding an Air Canada safety booklet and the Shopify Employee booklet

I’ve been travelling quite a bit this week. On Monday, I moved to Ottawa for the summer, spending the better part of the day on the road in miserable weather. My first week at Shopify was a short one, running only from Tuesday through Thursday because I spent all of today in transit, flying from Ottawa to Minneapolis by way of Toronto. I took the above photo earlier today on the Ottawa-Toronto leg. (I will have to write about the Shopify new employee handbook sometime; I’ve never seen anything like it at any of my other workplaces, or at any of my friends’ workplaces.)

As I write this, I’m in Minneapolis, getting ready to go to the MinneBar pre-party to catch up with my fellow BarCamp Tour representatives as well as a number of Minneapolis-based friends. The actual MinneBar event takes place tomorrow at Best Buy Headquarters, after which I’m sure some form of mayhem will ensue. I’ve been shooting pictures like mad on my new camera (a Canon PowerShopt ELPH 300 HS, and it’s a pocket dynamo) and along with the photos will a lot of blog entries.

Speaking of blog entries, my article That’s Not OCD, You’re Just a Slacker racked up 79,000 hits on Global Nerdy yesterday and 47,000 today thanks to StumbleUpon. The comments have been quite interesting — the photo on which the article is based might as well be a sort of Rorschach test based on the variety of responses.

This article also appears in The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century.


Where to Stay in Minneapolis (May 6th–8th)?

minneapolisCreative Commons photo courtesy of Sri Dhanush.

I’m helping out with BarCamp Minneapolis, a.k.a. MinneBar, which takes place on May 7th. The event takes place at Best Buy’s headquarters out in Richfield, and we out-of-towner helper-outers are staying downtown. If you know any good and reasonably-priced hotels in an interesting but not sketchy part of downtown, please let me know in the comments or drop me an email!

This article also appears in The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century.