BarCampEarth Toronto – "Post Mortem"

So BarCampEarth Toronto has come and gone (well at least the first half, the BBQ is yet to be rescheduled).

First the thanks…
First off I want to thank everyone who came out and made it a success – for the second last weekend of summer it was great to not only hit our capacity for registrations but also have the vast majority of people actually show up!. A rough count of unclaimed badges at the end of the day puts us at the 50-55 mark in terms of participants.

Thanks also to the rest of the team who made it possible – Maria, Ryan, James, Dave & Dmitry. Bryce Johnson was also a huge resource to us as an organizer of previous BarCamps.

And of course the sponsors – with their support we were able to feed & hydrate everyone for the entire day as well as provide a free T-shirt to all attendees (and also provide food & drinks for the upcoming BBQ):

Bonasource, Clay Tablet Technologies, Navantis, Names at Work, Peter Dawson, Radiant Core, RedFlagDeals.com, RMail, Tucows, St. Louis Bar and Grill (Oakville), and Wireless Toronto.

What worked/What didn’t
I’d be very interested to hear people’s feedback on what did and didn’t work for this instalment of BarCamp – the best way is through blogging but you can also email me via my profile or the email posted on the wiki page.

Personally, if I were to do it again, there are a few things I’d tweak:

  1. Scheduling: Having not been to a BarCamp before I’d had “the grid” explained to me but after having gone through the experience now I would have tightened up the time in the morning for populating the grid and tried to get at least one session in before lunch. By doing lunch before hand it just felt like it took too long to get to the sessions. Although I have to say it was surprising when a room full of people who had just all been chatting and networking for 90 minutes flocked into one of the first sessions called “Networking for Introverts” – I think you’re all better at it then you realize.

  2. Session Length: I think an hour was a good length but we needed a mechanism (whistle/bell/timer) to put some kind of a hard stop on the sessions. I felt bad during the day moving about and encouraging the presenters to begin to wrap up but Sacha Chua made a really great point to me while we were all out for drinks and I think it’s actually worth trying to incorporate into the BarCamp body of knowledge. Her view is BarCamp is about starting conversations, not finishing them. It’s a concept I’d be inclined to push quite heavily on the day of to encourage people to take what starts in a session beyond even hallway convo’s to their ongoing relationships outside of BarCamp.
  3. Size/Structure of Organizing Group: I went back and forth on whether or not we had enough chefs, or too many in the kitchen when organizing the event. After this experience I think I would sit in the camp that I wouldn’t want to have a group any bigger then the one we ended up with – even at our size it was almost impossible to get everyone together on a call (the group as a whole exceeded Skype’s free conference limit – which is a consideration). I think it’s also important to identify early on what everyone’s goals are in addition to what effort they can/are willing to put in. We didn’t set those expectations at the beginning and I think it contributed to a bit of wheel spinning as we tentatively tried to feel out what everyone was thinking. Maria found some past BarCamp feedback that suggested the “Decision Owner” owner concept – once that person got decided on (me) it seemed like things started to fall into place and progress really started getting made. People seemed to loosen up and appeared to be less concerned about stepping on other people’s toes etc.
  4. Venue: I personally think the venue worked out really well – as much as a pain in the ass it was to have to scramble to find some security guards they actually worked out well as they handled getting folks in and out of the locked building and office – it meant all the participants/organizers could truly be involved and not have to worry about doors etc. MSN’s receptionist was also fantastic and she went well above many expectations in terms of what she organized with the building security etc.
  5. Tools: I highly recommend that anyone who tries to organize one of these gets up to speed on the various online collaboration tools that are available now. Skype, Writeboard and the BarCamp wiki were invaluable – towards the end we also started using Google Spreadsheets as we could all be on a Skype conference call and everyone could see spreadsheet updates in real time. WildApricot worked great as a registration tool but in retrospect (note for DemoCamp guys…) we should have just added another event to the existing setup that was done for DemoCamp8 rather than setting up a whole new system. That way everyone who had already registered for DemoCamp8 could have just used their existing account rather than registering again.

That’s about it for now – if I get more feedback I’ll update this post.

We’re getting put to shame by Vancouver in terms of Blogging & Flickr Photos from the event. So if you had a good time (or didn’t – good to hear the bad too) please consider blogging about the event or at least publishing your pictures. If you do blog or share pics please tag them “BarCampEarth, Toronto”

I look forward to seeing everyone at the next BarCamp.

– Ryan


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  • /pd

    Hey Ryan,

    just some feedback

    1) Scheduling : dont move the stickies across the board –regardless of what happens !!! :)-

    2) Session Length: The Person who leads/ chairs the session, makes an open call to the particapants /session attendees for a time keeper.

    3) Size/Structure of Organizing Group: Yes, thats quite the challenge. I have to agree that you and Ryan did a good job. We could not have asked for more. I have to agree with Maria- ownership is the critical thing. Once that’s established, then that’s the person who rallies the forces and makes the decesions . Coumminty should honor ownership. We can’t and *should* not fingerpoint at indivuduals. Isssues should be managed as part of the community discourse thru goole groups/wiki updates.

    3) Venue: Personally speaking, I had back chatter on this aspect. It seemed that venue seemed to be a something our community has to contend with. Getting it –is difficult- we still need to foster a working group that can build the relationships with the companies that are willing to help out the community. I think this is one of the main challenges that is being faced by various Barcamps all over the world. If we have a core group that is dedicated to working the downtown companies for venue, then it becomes easier for the working chair to schedule and do other stuff and focusing on the details of the event.

    4) Tools : – “we also started using Google Spreadsheets ” – interesting –how what was your experince with GS ? How did you use this ??

    Your “Post Mortem” is an excellent post and kudos to you for getting this event organized.

  • Ryan

    Thanks Peter,

    As for Google Spreadsheets we just started using it right at the end. We used it to lay out all the tasks that had to happen in the last couple of days leading up to, and at, the event. Because we could see in realtime as changes were made we all got on a Skype call and worked through it to assign who was doing what & when. It saved time sending meeting notes/tasklists out because it was right there, built & agreed to during the meeting.

    Ryan

  • Ryan *M*

    The one thing I heard and have heard at every BarCamp/DemoCamp/TorCamp is “I didn’t even know this was going on until yesterday” which leads me to believe there is a general problem of distributing information. Moving forward we really need a centralized way of getting the word out about new events. It’s not a good idea to assume that everyone is going to constantly check the wiki or reads certain blogs. While it’s great that we have lots of new people every time, I’m sure there are lots of past attendees who are missing these events just because they didn’t hear about them until it was too late.

    RyanMck

  • Ryan

    Agreed.

    I think there’s a couple of challenges.

    1. I’m not sure people entirely understand how the wiki works. We should work hard at helping people understand that the http://barcamp.org/TorCamp page is the central spot to get info about upcoming events. (the next three DemoCamps are listed with “TBD” for dates – I’m sure it’s the first place David will update when the date is defined. Maybe a TorCamp RSS feed for events/announcements? I know there is the edit feed on the wiki but that’s a bit “rough” I think.

    2. These things tend to come together at the last minute. BarCampEarth couldn’t be confirmed until the week before the event because the venue wasn’t nailed down yet. So I can understand and sympathize with people feeling like they’re only learning about the event at the last minute.