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
- 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.
- Lay the groundwork for collaboration.
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).
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————
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.
Assign the following tasks:
- Create a page on www.barcamp.org (or a separately hosted wiki if necessary). See this list for a list of wiki engines and make sure you get some text markup extensions installed (for basic styling of links, lists, images, and headlines). The only necessary pages are: Main page, Registry Page, Planning Page, and Sponsors page.
- Create a googlegroup (or other) mailing list for collaboration between the organizers.
- Set up a method of collecting and organizing email addresses. We’ve used a shared gmail account as a method for people to register, a master list for email addresses, and a way to send out announcements and reminders to everyone registered without it being from our personal email accounts. Update!Google spreadsheets now allows you to take in info via a form. Since we had an attendance cap, we used this to manage the “official” sign-up list. It was about as easy as this kind of thing is going to get. Remember to take in First and Last names, email, website, which days attending, shirt size, food pref (for vegetarian or vegan) and whatever else is relevant to your venue.
- Lastly, I recommend setting up a Skype or IRC chat. Very useful for real-time collaboration without the hassle of in-person meetings
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.
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.
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.
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!
- Sponsor wrangler: Drafts a message to send to potential sponsors, follows up leads from others for potential sponsors, collects info, logos (in vector format), and money from sponsors and also sees that receipts (if necessary) are issued at the end. This is your accounts receivable person and it’s a key thing to get right.
- Food Czar: It’s not completely required for a Barcamp, but it’s definitely the standard. You have x number of people to feed for 24 hrs, including a pre-party, a basic breakfast, and a lunch. Obviously, you can only pay for as much of this as you have sponsor money for. See that breakfast and lunch get taken care of first, and then pay for as much of the pre-party as possible. Best to keep the meals simple (but good), have some veggie options, and try to keep costs down. This will be your biggest expenditure.
- T-shirt Master: Not only do people like shirts, but they’re possibly your biggest offering to sponsors since it’s a shared promotional item. Basic shirt is your barcamp logo on the front, all the sponsor logos (tastefully) arranged on the back (I recommend in 1-color only). The range of shirts out there is enormous, but people will appreciate a good quality, non white (or black) colored, well-fitting shirt. It’s a bit more expensive, but providing some women’s shirts (not just unisex smalls) is a really nice touch. (I recommend American Apparel or Bella fine-jersey t-shirts – not the super tight fitted kind). Try to have t-shirts ordered (quanities decided and artwork submitted) 2 weeks before your event. 10 days at ABSOLUTE minimum. Remember, weird things happen in the supply chain. Check in with your t-shirt vendor often if you want to see your shirts on time.
- Wi-Fi Guru: People are going to want wi-fi, and may even need it for their presentation. In order to provide this, you’re going to need a decent internet connection and several routers to handle the traffic. Someone needs to set this up and keep it running during the camp.
- Logo – Remember that every color you have in your logo is an extra screen and set-up charge for your t-shirts, which drastically raises the price. Think about this when designing your logo.
- In-person Meetings are overrated. Unless you all need to view the space or exchange something in person, keep it online.
- Respect your fellow organizers. Can’t say it enough. Respect their time, and appreciate what they contribute to make this happen. You’re all volunteers.
- If you’re not a details person, put one in charge.
- Speaking of details, don’t forget to have multiple people assigned to trash duty and general clean-up the day of the event. Yes, it’s unglamorous, but it has to get done.
- Don’t over-complicate things. Don’t let other people over-complicate things. This is surprisingly hard. People have lots and lots of cool ideas that they want to execute to make your Barcamp awesome. That’s great as long as it doesn’t sidetrack the organizers. Try to get things accomplished in the order in which they are absolutely necessary. If you have a location, shirts, food, sponsors, etc locked down, then people can go nuts with the extras.
- Don’t get anyone’s company books involved. Too messy. Either deal in all cash or get a special paypal account. At the end of the day, you don’t want to be holding extra money. Best to get people to sponsor things like chair rentals, a meal, etc, and never touch the money yourself.
- Announce the official flickr tags at the event so it’ll be easy to see everyone’s photos afterwards.
- Encourage everyone there to get involved and stay involved.
- Don’t get too slack about the “everyone must participate” rule. It’s not just about attendance, it’s about knowledge transfer. Make sure people don’t think that it’s just a tech thing – creative talks are well received as long as they’re well thought out.
- Don’t forget to enlist people to help set-up and clean up afterwards. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from the general attendance. Spread the work and it will go much quicker.
- Remember: this is supposed to be fun. Keep it that way.