The Barcamp Bangalore 4 [Collective Edition] (BCB4) was possibly the biggest autonomous public event that
I think it is the most untruthful cliché that claims that if you walk in somebody’s shoes, you know where the shoes pinch – largely because everybody has differently sized feet. So as a non-organiser, I am not even going to pretend to imagine what the organizers went through in getting through the BCB4 without dead bodies and warfare. However, from my own experience of watching some very close friends organizing the event, and from my own participation in the BCB4 (two collectives, one mock collective, a whole lot of fun), here are some of the things that you need to appreciate.
One of the questions that many people asked was “Why Collectives?” From conversations with jace (who was also the one who coined the term), I could see how much thought had gone into coming up with the idea of the collectives. As the number of participants for the Barcamp increased, the organizing team saw that a lot of time and effort was expended in just trying to gather around a particular theme or an idea. Also, large numbered collectives mean that many people might not get a chance to talk at all. The collectives, powered by group mailing, allowed for people to not only focus more on the interactive (as opposed to lecturing) element of the Barcamp but also facilitated collaborative presentations and conversations which preceded and will hopefully also succeed the Barcamp.
Many people seem to be shouting about the lack of structure at the Barcamp and are fuming in their indignation at the lack of organization. I think that we need to distinguish between these two processes. The organization – laying out the infrastructure, logistics, food, electricity, internet connectivity – for this BCB4 was more competent and efficient than most ‘professional’ conferences I have attended. It of course helped that the organizing committee were abated by a bunch of people who realised that they were as much responsible for the Barcamp as the people who had visibly taken up the role. As for the unstructured chaos – that is a part of it. The whole fun of Barcamp is to move around, to network, to move, to mingle, to join things you might not have expected to find, to discover new ideas, to expose yourself to new thoughts and perspectives, sometimes about things you never even suspected, existed. And this is exactly what the organizers managed to do: Despite the misguided attempt to glorify their ‘cause’ through heavy numbers and big presentations, the real Barcamp, as far as I was concerned, resided in the small groups and collectives, conversations and discussions, arguments and debates that flowered all around the beautifully breathtaking IIMB campus.
And let me wrap up the accolades by congratulating the BCB4 committee for their foresight. Instead of continuing with the available model of the Barcamp, they experimented with the architecture to produce a Barcamp that was more ‘organic’ and in sync with the needs of the local environments. This Barcamp was not just a tech meet or a geek camp – it was a cross section of thinking, articulate, proactive, passionate people who desired to come forth and share their knowledge. This Barcamp also became the umbrella platform for various other events and groups to form collectives and use the platform to further their ideas and thoughts to a larger and more varied audience. It requires a lot of sagacity to shape such an event and to keep it polymorphous so that it caters to the many varied contours that the participants demanded of it.
These suggestions are purely in the hope that with the next Barcamp, I will be able to help implement them. I do not presume to pronounce directives, but looking at some of the concerns that have cropped up and some of the confusion that was voiced, there are a few things which can be done to further BCB in its next avtara.
One of the things that the organizers marveled at was that a majority of the large number of people who turned up were noobies to Barcamp. Each Barcamp seems to be attracting a new audience and a very small number of people who can provide the transition links. While it is very encouraging that new people should be exposed to this particular intervention, it is also slightly disheartening that more people are not using the BCB as a platform for sustained conversation. It is time we started branding the BCB as not simply a one-time-wannabe event but come up with a way by which all the barcamps can be hooked up in historic and narrative continuity. The archiving of the earlier Barcamp and making links between the Now and Then might help.
When an entity grows beyond its original vision, it can often become confusing and perhaps threaten to implode under its own weight. With the number of people it is attracting, the Barcamp might easily devour itself, becoming like any other conference where there are proposed sessions and large audiences which are only on the receiving end of things. While the Collectives Edition helped to avoid this at some levels, it is now imperative that sharper focuses, more preparedness and thought should be encouraged from all the different participants.
At the end of my day, I spent both my birthdays (Saturday was the one according to the Christian Calendar, Sunday was the one according to the Indian Calendar) at the BCB4 and feel that I couldn’t have spent them better – meeting friends, making friends, having discussions and a whole lot of fun. If you missed out on the barcamp phenomenon, there is always the next time because BCB5 has already been announced for November. So keep an eye out on this space.