A week of Camps – Toronto Tech Week in review

As I’ve posted about in the past, Toronto Tech Week took place last week. While the official calendar only showed it as a Monday to Friday affair, the TorCamp community managed to stretch it out to a full Saturday-Saturday event which included no less than three “unconference” format events – BarCampTTW, EnterpriseCamp & InteractionCamp. Being a glutton for punishment I helped organize the BarCamp and attended the other two (thank God for an understanding wife). I skipped the Mesh conference this year as I couldn’t come up with anything compelling enough that would justify it as a work related conference but I was sure to get out to the Mesh social on the first night of the event- will have to figure out how to get there next year.

So, for the interested, a quick recap:

Saturday – BarCamp Toronto Tech Week
I posted about this camp earlier. All in all it was a great event – it was the fourth BarCamp proper that TorCamp has put on (TorCamp ran 20+ related events in 2006) and I think we’re all starting to get into the groove of how they work. Certainly preparation gets easier and easier every time, this past BarCamp was really assembled and organized in the week prior to the event – as with any event, it’s finding the space that’s the hard part, great people/participants make it a great event.

Thanks again to the sponsors: Idee, Microsoft, Hyndman Law & Tucows

Tuesday – EnterpriseCamp (a.k.a Enterprise 2.0)
TorCamper Tom Purves took the initiative to get this camp up and running. Disguised as a more formal, traditional conference Tom was aiming to pull some of Toronto’s business leaders into the mix and start some conversations around how to use “Web 2.0” technologies in today’s enterprises.

The keynotes were delivered by Anthony Williams, co-author of “Wikinomics” and John Bruce, CEO of iUpload, both of whom provided some interesting insights into where they felt the market was headed and ideas on how to help promote new technologies within the enterprise.

Following the keynotes there was a few hours of sessions delivered by various members of the community in two streams, Technical & Organizational. I did a quick discussion on Translation & Localization centered on options and considerations for pushing your product/content out in multiple languages (see slideshow below). I think it was well received and we had some interesting discussion following the presentation.

Sandy Kemsley live blogged the event and her coverage of some of the sessions can be found here.

Wednesday – Mesh Social
Wednesday night was the Mesh social which they held over at the Boiler House in the Distillery District this year.

There was no real agenda here, just an excuse to have a few drinks, some food and mingle with the Mesh attendees & (eventually) presenters. Now Drinks + TorCamp always equals a fun time but the challenge with the event was that the Mesh organizers also held their sponsor/speaker dinner at the same time in the next restraint over so it was roughly eleven before the two groups were able to mix and mingle.

From talking with a couple of the guys I don’t think it’s elitist or deliberate on the part of the organizers – logistics means that there’s really only one night when they can get all of the right people in the right place, and dinner for 30-40 people can take quite a while to get through. They know it’s unfortunate that the timing works out that the two groups can get together after the majority of people have called it a night and they’re trying to find solutions. I still appreciate that they make a point of having an opportunity for people to mix and socialize.

Timing aside it was a fun night and I ended up having some great conversations across the evening.

Saturday #2 – InteractionCamp
A few weeks ago, after VizThink2, I was talking with Kaleem Khan and he suggested I come out to InteractionCamp, which he was helping to organize – he wondered if I might want to dust off my VizThink1 presentation and suggest it as a session. Since we weren’t headed up to the cottage that weekend I asked (read: negotiated with) my wife to get out of the house for a few hours to check out the Camp. It was my intention to go for the morning, check out a session or two, do mine and then head home – I ended up staying most of the day.

Like the BarCamp the week before there was a really good mix of familiar and unfamiliar faces in the crowd and a whole raft of interesting sessions. The camp was held at the Critical Mass offices here in Toronto (I believe they also picked up the tab on lunch). As is my usual trend at these events, I tended to shuffle around from session to session throughout the day, tuning into whichever conversation/discussion peaked my interest as I caught snippets. I’m a horrible note taker, but thankfully we had some good ones out at the camp and their notes can be found here.

Thanks also to the sponsors: Critical Mass, Microsoft, nForm/CanUX, TechSmith & Usability Matters

In Conclusion
All in all I can safely say it was a successful week for the TorCamp community. Across the three events I’d estimate we had roughly 200 unique people come out and participate including a lot of new faces (a call for a show of hands for first time *Campers @ BarCampTTW resulted in HALF the group raising their hands).

Was Toronto Tech Week as a whole a success? Hard to say – there was a bunch of other events across the week. Mesh was a huge success but it was there long before the week was planned (Tech Week was actually set for this past week largely because of Mesh). All in all my concern with Tech Week was it was using a Field of Dreamonomics approach – the dates were declared and made a program, but aside from that it seemed there was very little co-ordination effort across all of the events to present a consistent brand etc. – a “build it and they will come”.

I found the event was also all but invisible within the city – unless you were already involved in the tech community here in the city or worked for Toronto Economic Development you probably had no idea it was even happening.

Certainly it’s an event worth continuing but in future years I think the scope of the week needs to be expanded. The week certainly demonstrated we have an active tech community/cluster here in Tor
onto but aside from that it offered very little to show people why they (or their employees) would want to live in or relocate to Toronto, not just work here. The schedule for the most part was Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm. This meant the two weekend BarCamps weren’t on the schedule but it also meant we weren’t showcasing any of the other “things” Toronto has to offer.

Where was “Techlicious”? Theater packages? Other “see the city” promotions? It wouldn’t have taken a whole lot more to work to try and get some meal specials around the city in the spirit of Summerlicious/Winterlicious. We’re a theater capital – why not show it off? And so on and so on…

Hopefully next year the city can take what they’ve learned and build out a better promoted, consistently branded and broader focused week – we’re a good looking city when it comes to tech, now we need to show we’ve got some personality.