Ten Steps to Organizing a Barcamp

by Crystal Williams

Update: 11-02-13 -Well, it's the future now. I took down my old site after tiring of Wordpress maintenance and assuming that maybe this was all too far in the past for anyone to notice it had gone missing. This page is proof that I can be shamed by a random ping from Facebook into looking up the page on the Wayback machine (yes, I do have a mysql backup of the old site as well), copying my old text, and putting this new page up at the old url on an overcast Saturday morning in Berkeley.

The world is obviously quite a bit different now. Most of the links below likely won't work and several of the tools and resources mentioned no longer exist. Twitter, which had just secretly launched in SF at the time of my first writing this, is now a favored tool of large corporations and news outlets. Upcoming.org is gone and nothing ever replaced it. The geeks and web makers are no longer the outliers in most cities around the globe. What we saw, who we met, and what we learned in the middle of the last decade has shaped me forever and I'm grateful to have been a part of it. So if some part of the framework below helps you build the next generation of connecting the outliers, go forth and build. -CW

Update: 3-18-08 -PBS.org linked to me! This makes me realize I need to make some serious updates here since I've thrown three more camps since even the last update. More soon, folks. :)

Update: 7-15-07 – Since writing this nearly a year ago, I've learned a lot more and gotten some great feedback from people who’ve used this as a starting place for what is really a pretty daunting task. Thank you to everyone who’s written to me about their experiences organizing camps in their own cities. I'm still so happy to be a part of this wonderful worldwide community.

Helping to make things a bit more global, Franz Patzig, Sacha Lemaire, Nick Ellis, and Aleks Clark have been generous enough to translate these guidelines into German, French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Russian.

Ten Steps to Organizing a Barcamp

  1. Admit that you want to organize a barcamp, despite not having the spare time, the right contacts, or even any idea what *your* session would be. Go ahead and set a target date (about 6-8 weeks away) after checking www.upcoming.yahoo.com for conflcits. It can be changed if there are good reasons later, but no amount of collaboration is likely to pick a better date than you choosing what is convenient and reasonable for you. People will want to know when the event is and it’s much more convincing if you can give them a clean answer.
  2. Lay the groundwork for collaboration.
  3. Get your graphics straight. Create a logo for your Barcamp (your logo can be as simple as a color treatment of the traditional barcamp logo, or you can do more fun regional things with it if time and creativity permit). Have this artwork in Vector format at 6-8 inches wide (for your t-shirts). From that version, make a web banner version and 1 or 2 flavors of blog badges (170 pixels wide).
  4. Tell others that you are organizing a Barcamp. This includes the following, plus any special regional considerations: Post your event to the front page of www.barcamp.org, linking to either your barcamp.org page or your separate event website. Post your event on www.upcoming.yahoo.com. Try to get linked (or better, interviewed) by any local or industry-savvy online publications. Contact all the bloggers you know, give them the standard boiler plate about “what is barcamp?” the date, and your ready made blog-badges (and tell them where to link to). People will be much more willing to help you if you make it easy for them to do so. ———- The above can be accomplished in a weekend, unless you get too fancy with the site design or the graphics————
  5. Network aggressively with the people who respond to the postings. Assign tasks quickly to those who say they want to help. Be direct, be open, and be thankful for their help. Allow people to self-select their tasks as much as possible, but when necessary, a little private encouragement goes a long way. By all means, be genuine about these things, but kind words do tend to ease the way.
  6. Assign the following tasks:
  7. Get a venue. Yes, it seems like it should come before these other things, but likely, it will have. You’ll most likely find your venue through a personal contact of an organizer or an active/excited participant. If no options have emerged, now is the time to pursue this aggressively. Office spaces seem to be the most popular venues, but it’s important to find a good fit. You need a venue sponsor who “gets it” about Barcamp and who recognizes what they have to gain from exposure to the Barcamp audience. (Therefore the venue sponsor really should have something to gain from exposure to the Barcamp crowd.) You also need to get this space for free. No doubt about it, having to pay for a venue (beyond some extra insurance costs or cleaning fees) is something you really don’t want to mess with.
  8. Once you have a venue, release the blogs! Make second announcements with the excuse that you have a venue confirmed. Be shameless about this, finding good people is the most important thing about organizing a Barcamp.
  9. Make lists of all the minor things you need to round up: Projectors, paper, markers, pens, nametags, paper towels, garbage bags, toilet paper, surface cleaners, kitchen gadgets for breakfast/lunch, ice chests, garbage cans. etc. Put the list on the wiki and try to get people to bring or donate as many of these as possible. Borrowing is way better than buying whenever possible.
  10. Prepare for lift-off: Send out reminder emails 3-5 days before the event and also the day before the event. Ask people to unsubscribe if they’re not coming so you have an accurate headcount. Attrition ranges from 20-30%. Make sure *you’re* well rested before the event. At least for the first half of your opening party, you’ll need to do some hustling around, introductions, and generally making sure people get to talking. Once the ball gets rolling, though, it’s out of your hands – Enjoy it!

Other Notes: