MinneBar 2007: Results
MinneBar 2007 was fun, interesting, full of opportunities and different than previous barcamps in Chicago, Milwaukee or Madison.
This technology unconference was fun and interesting because of the general atmosphere created by several hundred geeks and tech enthusiasts congregating in one location for an evening (Friday) and a day (Saturday). Although each person participating in the event had their own agenda and reasons for being there, everyone present agreed that technology is a Good Thing. When you have a group of people passionate about the same topic, it generally results in an enjoyable time for those present. The event was also fun because of the chance to learn new things about computers, technology and the web. It was interesting because the large number of sessions meant that all day long there were topics which I wanted to learn more about. One fun aspect which I encourage BarCampChicago and other tech unconferences to focus on was the pre-event mixer on the evening before the event starts. There were probably fifty or more people at a local watering hole and there were some pretty good conversations started at the mixer which continued into the next day. Having the event at a place with open wireless was a beneficial component, because having a bunch of geeks gathered around various laptops enabled and initiated interesting discussions.
With over 300 tech people gathered in one location, the opportunities to connect with new people and expand your network were fantastic. I've got more follow-up items based on conversations I had with people at MinneBar than I really have time for. Although there is no way to track all the opportunities created by the discussions people had at MinneBar, they must number in the thousands. Some of those opportunities may have happened even without MinneBar, but most of them were a direct result of the event. The efforts of Ben, Luke and Dan, as well as everyone one else who organized the event and sponsored it, were absolutely worthwhile and much appreciated. Anyone who came to MinneBar and didn't find any opportunities in it for them should read "Never Eat Alone" or another book about networking.
MinneBar 2007 was different from the previous three barcamps in which I participated. It was likely different from the first MinneBar, which was held in 2006. Because each barcamp is organized by whoever is interested in working on it, because the agenda is driven by the people who sign up to lead sessions, and because of the low-cost approach to the events, each one will be have a different look and different pros and cons. And, as with any event, the pros and cons will be viewed differently depending on each participant's needs and attitudes.
One difference between MinnBar 2007 and my previous three barcamps is that the main event took place within one day. The event started around 9:30 am on Saturday, and by 6:00 pm the tech activities were finished. For the other barcamps there was a 24 hour component where hardcore tech people could stay up all night, doing multi-player gaming, code mashups, or whatever other activities people wanted to do. Because of difficulty in finding a venue that allowed overnight activities and because of lower participation on the second day of the 24+ hour events, MinneBar was scheduled for just one day. There are benefits to both approaches, but many of the people who had been involved in a 24+ hour barcamp felt like the one day event was missing a valuable part of the tech unconference experience.
Another aspect of MinneBar 2007 that was different for me was the more highly structured approach to a tech unconference. The MinneBar agenda was determined prior to the start of the event. The agenda was based on session topics which people posted online during the weeks before the event. There was no OpenSpace aspect of organizing the agenda during the beginning hour or so of the event. A few slots were open in the session agenda, and there were Ad Hoc rooms labeled as such where people were encouraged to have side sessions. But having the formalized agenda defined before the start of the event appeared to limit spur of the moment sessions. The prepared agenda also seemed to encourage more of a presentation mode for the sessions rather than an open multi-participant discussion on the session topics. Most sessions appeared to have people asking questions, but it was often only two or three people talking out of a group of twenty or more people. In one session I "went to", the presenter quickly answered each question during the session but didn't encourage discussion. It felt like he had a two hour presentation, and he wanted to make sure he got all that info into a fifty minute space. The MinneBar sessions tended to feel more like presentations I attended than interactive sessions in which I participated.
The final aspect of MinneBar which was different from the previous three tech unconferences was the number of people at the event. The other three had between 100 and 200 people and seemed to support the concept that 150 - 200 people is the largest size a group should be to allow optimal interaction. When you have less than 150 people, you lose out on diversity of opinions, knowledge, skills and personalities. When you have much over 200 people, you start to feel like less a part of the overall group and only a member of a subsection of the larger group. I would highly encourage people planning tech unconferences to consider setting a limit of 200 people, as I think this enables good interaction between most people at the event.
Overall, I was very glad I went to MinneBar -- met some interesting people, sat in on a couple good sessions, had a chance to co-lead a session on the FireSeed Streaming Supercomputer project, and had a good road trip with my business partner. It would have been good to have the 24+ hour component to the event and to have had fewer people at MinneBar, but each event has it's own strengths and benefits, and MinneBar was no exception.
Once again, a big Thanks to Ben, Luke and Dan for making the event happen! Go Twin Cities!!