At BarCamp, I think participants gain one thing overall. A belief in sharing. It is a real barn raising. From event organization, volunteers pitching in, neighbors opening their doors, donors fulfilling need, speakers coming out of the woodwork, sociable hallways and sidewalks -- and mostly people sharing concepts and code for anyone to build upon. The underlying culture of the Valley, the part that powers our engines of growth and creative destruction, was definitively in downtown Palo Alto this weekend. You could hear echos of the research parks, events, bars and homebrew computer clubs that used to get people out of their garages to build something new, together.
BarCampBlock successfully scaled participation to a new level. Thanks to the people who opened their doors (Socialtext, IDEO, IFTF, Edgeio, SearchSpark, EchoSign, Princeton Review and Riviera Partners all donated, and a deal cut with Blue Chalk Cafe) -- we had room for ~1,000 participants and ~20 concurrent sessions. We had over 100 sponsors and a great way of thanking them is copying and posting the Sponsor Roll.
The block concept was borne out of a simple need to expand beyond the Socialtext office. We are lucky to have some great outdoor areas around the office that gives it a campus feel, but when we hosted Dcamp using the adjacent Princeton Review space, we knew we were at a limit of 300. We ended up with space sponsors no more than two blocks away in three directions. Blocking the street off would have been a lot of bureaucracy (permit, insurance, fire, police) and only helped for hallway space unless you added the cost of tenting.
The end vision of this could be taking over an entire downtown. But to do so would require several things, starting with more advance planning than two weeks, a better assembly area, grid and wiki use.
One thing we explored was having different spaces host different themes (e.g. a design camp at IDEO, future camp at IFTF). We decided that even if the core location wasn't themeless it could hurt the highly valued cross-pollenization and not to try the experiment this time. But I think it could help with the mental model of the space for participants and help the law of two feet. While we allowed for ample time between sessions (15 min), the law of two feet says you are responsible for your own experience and if you aren't getting what you want out of a session to go find a conversation elsewhere. I don't think people did this unless it was within Socialtext. IFTF, for example, had four rooms and very different topics at a given time. Having a theme for a satellite space I actually believe would work against homogeneity, attract more participants, enable space hosts to be more involved, but you would need time directed at main space activities.
As a main space activity I'm less a fan of is DemoCamp, because it works against the law of two feet. It asks all participants to have dedicated attention to 5 minute structured demos. My preference is for these demos to be regular sessions (with clear warnings if they will be commercial instead of conversational). Just like when we saw Flock, Pandora and other launches at the first BarCamp, the best part of it was the conversations that validated demos and feedback for presenters. That said, BarCamp has become such a big thing that having DemoCamp as an escape valve for product pitches may be good.
Also, unfortunately, the Blue Chalk space had bad audio dynamics that amplified when someone was having a conversation instead of listening to the demos. The space was good for the party and saved us for session capacity, but without booking well in advance we didn't have many other options. I am unabashedly a fan of having a big party, bringing everyone together without their laptops, and outdoors would be even better, but when planning you need to, again, give people the ability to opt out -- and find a quiet place to go hack (we kept a Socialtext office open, but it was a little distant to be ideal).
Capacity estimation is a very big problem. Eventbrite was a good tool for registration, but perhaps we could make it more granular (day 1, evening 1, day 2, etc.) and start registration earlier. When you go from 200 to 1,000 people registered in a week, that really effects your ability to reserve the right spaces.
Signage, courtesy of Yahoo!, absolutely rocked. But given what we all do for a living or interest, there is a mashup for blockmobs that needs to be made: A living map that lets you view, fast forward and rewind the schedule and geotagged twits/jaikus/wiki pages. It also needs a mobile version for the live stream. This isn't the most important thing, but it sure would be neat. It is hard aggregate and visualize such a dynamic physical and conversational space.
Having a Kid space was absolutely great. I brought my son by Sunday and it both gave him an experience and I had mine. I noticed Jyri's Jaiku that the kid space was empty when we walked by it on Sunday, which reminded me of how many people participated in Reboot in Denmark with their families. Some of it is the culture of Northern Europe, but they went beyond the affordance of a room with toys. Everyone was in a way watching out for the little ones. BarCamps are hard on families, taking that time away on a weekend should be recognized as lost potential. I would strongly suggest for a BarCamp of any decent scale to create a KidCamp -- a themed camp for not just kids, but families. Let not only babysitting self-organize, but let people bring group activities for kids, give
lectures storytime and have talks on parenting.
Lastly, to make it downtown-scale, you should involve local businesses. For example, Fraiche Yogurt offered 20% off and got more than business in return. If you scale this up to 5,000 people, which I think is possible, regardless of the appealing demographics, you suddenly have leverage in where they go to work out favorable terms with local venues and services. You could also benefit from cooperation with the city manager's office, get a common insurance policy and enable more creative things.
But there I go again exploring how to make it even bigger. Liz Henry has some fantastic and practical notes on organizing BarCampBlock. And I have to say it is absolutely amazing to work with Chris Messina, Tara Hunt, Liz Henry, Tantek as organizers and core volunteers like Tara Anderson. While I may have co-founded BarCamp by simply being a good neighbor, it is amazing how Chris and Tara have turned it into a global phenomenon. I can't thank people enough, and haven't even written about the content of the event yet, but can say I look forward to the next one.