Breaking Down Camps

    March 6, 2006

As the guy who pitched in for both BarCamp and MashupCamp, I should comment on the back and forth that happened this weekend.

I spent a lot of time with David Berlind before MashupCamp talking about open space methodology and how camps work. Note Hat Tips at the footer of the wiki homepage:

FooCamp, BarCamp, Ward Cunningham, Kwiki and the Open Space Method.

Ryan King voiced a concern for attribution and overt commercialization that had been grumbling in the community. I think conversation has settled any substantive issue. David pulled off an event, IMHO, with a good balance for commercialization. The best thing I heard him say was something like “With wikis and open space, why would people pay conference organizers to help figure out where to spend their money.” There was no cream sucked from the top that I know of.

MashupCamp did, however, extend the methodology with structure beyond open space. The SpeedGeeking rounds and mashup contest was explicitly organized, a methodology borrowed from InterOp. As a result, vendors big and small prepared demos for entry well in advance, instead of hacking happening between the start and end of open space. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, just a difference that needs to be noted.

David noted that for future MashupCamps the need for a CRM system beyond the wiki. As I explained over the phone to him last week, the reason he was overloaded with email and felt the need for traditional event management tools was how he didn’t offload enough responsbility to the group.

There is a general lesson here, the more you share control, the less cost to you and the greater value greated. Instead of having attendees confirm by both wiki and email so there is an “official” list on one guy’s hard drive — trust attendees to respect the wiki list and fall back on revision history as needed. The reason event registration systems exist is in part automation to get you a name tag, but mostly so attendees can be segmented, analyzed and marketed to. When event organizer gets out of the way and attendees are participants instead of marketing targets, the need for a transaction backbone and CRM system is eliminated.

Another illustration is how BarCamp and MashupCamp gained wifi. MashupCamp put out a call for donations, and David hesitated to include a PayPal button in the wiki (like many do, including the annual Supernova party). Not a bad approach. But with BarCamp you had a true barn raising. A couple of hours before the camp I started bitching in the IRC channel about how our DSL line wasn’t going to cut it and within minutes we had an in-kind sponsor show up to put a dish on the roof.

Jimmy Wales once pointed out that with Wikipedia people contribute more when they fail to be served. When there is goodwill to a common resource, it’s almost better to have that resource be slightly broken or unfinished. Then volunteers can direct their own contributions. As ad hoc organizations and businesses alike are learning to leverage social software — they are learning to work with volunteers. Practices that have more to do with running a non-profit organization than traditional community management for a portal. And practices that need to be shared.

When breaking down a campsite, proper ettiquite is to take only pictures and leave only footprints. Like an avalanche search party, you line people up with six feet of spacing between them and walk the ground for trash. Even if you know the next camper could be a car-camping hick replete with a power generator, camper and a cooler as big as his truck bed. The wilderness is a commons and the only tragedy is when people don’t respect it.

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Ross Mayfield is CEO and co-founder of Socialtext, an emerging provider of Enterprise Social Software that dramatically increases group productivity and develops a group memory.

He also writes Ross Mayfield’s Weblog which focuses on markets, technology and musings.