Mashup Camp made the Merc

I am at Mashup Camp facilitating. Yesturday a San Jose Mercury News reporter came to cover they event and today we made the front page of the business section with this title – Plan-as-you-go “unconference” unleashes ideas.

I like the article (it is in its entirety in the next page of this blog post). It gets the reason why unconference really work – cause things move fast in this valley and even deciding the ‘agenda’ 2 months ahead makes for stale presentations.

How do you plan a tech conference agenda in the Age of the Internet, when everyone learns about developments in any given field as soon as they happen?
You don’t.
Instead, you give up on planning and hold an “unconference,” also known as an open space meeting.

Doug Gold is one of the organizers of MashupCamp -

he has organized traditional tech conferences, including the gigantic and now extinct Comdex show in Las Vegas. But those conferences were losing luster with the proliferation of online information.
“It rapidly became apparent that high-visibility speakers didn’t know a whole lot more than the audience.

It does a good job of describing the Open Space process that we went through to create the agenda.

The organizers simply put a big easel at the front of the room, displaying a grid with starting times and room numbers where discussion sessions could be held.
Participants wrote brief descriptions of ideas for proposed sessions on pieces of paper.
Then they lined up at a microphone to very briefly describe their ideas.
Next, they were handed a piece of blue tape and pasted their paper, with the discussion idea, into any vacant spot on the grid.
After about 20 minutes, Mashup Camp had a two-day agenda with 45 sessions.

It also trys to simplify how you “do it” In a way that is unfortunate – missing the skill and art of holding and creating space. This subtle point is hard to see. I am very glad that they do reference Harison Owen and the fact that Open Space is not ‘new’ just new to the valley.

How to hold an `unconference’

Participants decide among themselves what to discuss rather than following a pre-arranged agenda, run on principles taken from the work of management consultant Harrison Owen.

The Law of Two Feet: If you find yourself neither learning nor contributing, it is your responsibility to respectfully use your own two feet to find some place you are learning or contributing.


Also from the front page of the paper: Kaliya Hamlin walks past people putting up their ideas for discussion topics on the white board, the central organizing tool at the Mashup Camp in Mountain View


Plan-as-you-go `unconference’ unleashes ideas.
By Mike Langberg Mercury News

How do you plan a tech conference agenda in the Age of the Internet, when everyone learns about developments in any given field as soon as they happen?
You don’t.
Instead, you give up on planning and hold an “unconference,” also known as an open space meeting.
Mashup Camp, which began Wednesday and ends today at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, is one such unconference.
An audience of about 350 assembled in the museum’s auditorium on Wednesday morning to explore “mashups,” software that combines different sources of online information in creative new ways.
There were no assigned topics, panelists or moderators. Instead, participants spontaneously came up with lots of ideas for discussion. This approach seems like it can work well with any crowd that’s passionate and well-informed, but might be tougher with a less involved audience.
The organizers simply put a big easel at the front of the room, displaying a grid with starting times and room numbers where discussion sessions could be held.
Participants wrote brief descriptions of ideas for proposed sessions on pieces of paper.
Then they lined up at a microphone to very briefly describe their ideas.
Next, they were handed a piece of blue tape and pasted their paper, with the discussion idea, into any vacant spot on the grid.
After about 20 minutes, Mashup Camp had a two-day agenda with 45 sessions. By mid-day, the agenda had swelled to 55 sessions.
The topics ranged from esoteric — “API Versioning & Backward Compatibility” — to general — “New Kinds of Social Networks for Young People.”
The audience, mostly software developers with a heavy preference for T-shirts, were free to pick which sessions to attend among the six to 10 running at any given time.
Discussions were intense, because the Mashup Camp crowd is deeply involved in what they’re doing.
“I’d rather be mashing all day than sitting in a 9-to-5 job, whether I’m making money or not,” said Marc A. Mezzaca, a software developer from Madison, N.J.
For a change of pace, there was an hour of “speed geeking” after lunch. Mashup creators set up notebook computers on tables in the museum’s lounge. They gave five-minute demonstrations of their ideas and got feedback.
When the five minutes were up, a buzzer sounded and the audience moved to the next table for another demonstration.
Myk O’Leary, a software engineer from Seattle, showed off a mashup he’d just created called ChunkLove, a single Web page for searching the online wedding gift registries of multiple retailers, such as Crate & Barrel and Bed, Bath & Beyond.
This free-form approach to organizing a conference isn’t new. Harrison Owen, a management consultant based in Bethesda, Md., first began working on the idea more than 20 years ago.
Owen noticed conference participants often learned more and got more satisfaction from impromptu coffee-break discussions than from formal panel discussions and lectures.
So he began running conferences in which the group decided, on the spur of the moment, what topics to explore.
Doug Gold and David Berlind, the organizers of Mashup Camp, hope to turn unconferences into a business.
Gold has organized traditional tech conferences, including the gigantic and now extinct Comdex show in Las Vegas. But those conferences were losing luster with the proliferation of online information.
“It rapidly became apparent that high-visibility speakers didn’t know a whole lot more than the audience,” Gold said Wednesday.
Yet he knew people still value face-to-face meetings as one of the best ways to make new contacts and gather new ideas.
On a cross-country flight from San Francisco to Boston in December, Gold and Berlind, an editor with the ZDNet online news service, decided to organize an unconference on the very hot topic of mashups.
Berlind mentioned the idea on his blog a few days later, and 300 people signed up within a week — even though the pair hadn’t yet set a date or place.
The first Mashup Camp in February, also at the Computer History Museum, drew 250 attendees. The second camp is expected to hit 400 by the time it ends tonight. Admission is free, with corporate sponsors picking up the tab.
The pair have formed a company, Mass Events Labs, to organize more unconferences, including a third Mashup Camp this fall on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Gold said he’s even getting interest from outside of tech, including a request from an insurance company. Maybe future open space meetings will include Actuary Camp and Term Life Camp.

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7 Responses to Mashup Camp made the Merc

  1. Pingback: Dorai’s LearnLog » Mashup Camp2 - a Unique Event

  2. Pingback: Dorai’s LearnLog » OpenSpace and TLTF

  3. Pingback: Open Space World » OST in the news

  4. Kaliya, that’s a great article & photo (I especially like the little figure at the bottom saying blah blah blah)!

  5. Pingback: Mashup Camp 2 » Wagalulu - Top 100 Feeds » » Mashup Camp 2

  6. Pingback: (building the) Black Rock Federal Credit Union » Open Space Technology: The 4 Principles

  7. Pingback: unconference » Welcome to the Unconference Blog!

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