BarCampSheffield (UnSheffield)

Warning this post is mainly insider baseball politics, aka its not of much interest to most people, just those involved and those who are interested in the movement of BarCamp.

So I asked Emma Persky what she thought after the whole thing had finished as few moments ago. She said, she's not made up her mind. And you know what she's right. I can't quite make my mind up about BarCampSheffield either. For a lot of people reading this, they maybe thinking a barcamp is a barcamp what is all this about. Well running up to the event, there has been a lively discussion surround BarCampSheffield. The event was officially named UnSheffield and the barcamp part dropped, but it kept the barcamp fireball logo. Jag Gill one of the organisers of the Sheffield event had this to say about the change.

BarCamp Sheffield has evolved to Unsheffield. We’re taking the technology unconference format to a broader public. We pushed some of the boundaries of BarCamps last year, and we’re continuing to do so this year under our new name, which is intended to reflect its broader content, format and appeal.

The principles of participant-generated content still remain at the heart of the event, and we’re encouraging a strong focus around the event theme – Future Users of Cool Technology. Integral with the unconference will be public workshops that create a bridge between local and regional talent and the international event and its contributors.

At the GeekUp Sheffield birthday party we laid out some of the plans for this year’s flagship grassroots digital event. In keeping with the Future Users theme, we’re looking for public spaces to extend the unconference to public workshops and symposia, thereby spreading the joy of techs to non-geeks in the city and region.

Emma Persky picked up on this and pointed out, and have to say quite rightly that BarCamp isn't exclusively about technology. And wrote this quite sting reply on her blog.

I’m fed up of people perpetuating the myth that BarCamps are just for techies. Seriously fed up. Yes, there are a bunch of technical folk who attend these events, and yes they may be the majority, but that majority is not large. Out of all of the many BarCamps I have ever been to I have rarely been to a “technical” talk, and only myself given one that was in any way technical (that was demonstrating my dissertation project and was seriously cool).

By segregating “geeks, hackers and core techies” from regular people you are only diving apart the community of people who desire to “share and learn in an open environment.” And yes, we are one community, with members from all sorts of backgrounds. Our community is defined by our desire to share and learn, and not by the types of activities we do (hack, paint, fish, etc.). Anyone, from any walk of life, any background, and profession and or any experience level should be comfortable being a member of this community.

Emma is right, but the way she says it alienates people. On Saturday there was a point when there felt to be a standoff betwen Emma and others. This doesn't help anyone let alone those caught up in the debate as such. Alistar tried to defend some of the positions of the Sheffield crew, but it was no real use because Emma was after all, right.

So how did it pan out? Well I didn't make Friday night or the Saturday welcome talk. But everything I experienced was exactly like a barcamp with noteworthy exception. One of those exceptions was the end talk/Inspired Ideas Surgery. Everyone was gently pushed into attending this session at the end of Sunday. The session was a chance for a few voted for ideas to be put forward in front of a small panel. To me this felt a little forced and to be honest by 5pm on a Sunday I had just wanted to have a couple of drinks and chat with people. Instead I started falling a sleep in the warm room. Emma also pointed out that some of the panelist were sponsors. Talking about giving sponsors room, Evernote were giving time on a Saturday to “show us” Evernote. What was funny was that, it wasn't actually Evernote, instead it was some company which works with Evernote and frankly, I knew about more about Evernote that they did.

At this point I want to stop and say, the event was enjoyable and I want to give the guys a huge amount of respect for what they have worked on and achieved. I never went to the previous barcamps in Sheffield but have to say, last weekend for me was a better described as a festival. Imran Ali created the Leeds Web Festival which included in the middle of it BarCampLeeds. This made sense, he didn't mess with BarCamp, just put it in the middle of a range of events. No one battered an eyelid. However Sheffield decided to follow suit and build/extend/evolve BarCamp which caused all the comments and high feelings. Imran's approach is better thought out and celebrates each event as a part and whole of the bigger picture. From a sponsorship/support point of view, he's also put together something which is easy to understand, follow and ultimately sponsor/support. While to support something like Unsheffield would be a hard sell. Theres a lot of value in the BarCamp brand and its a event which the BBC has supported across the UK including recently BarCampLondon6, BarCampNorthEast2, BarCampLiverpool, etc. If someone pitched UnSheffield to me, I would say its too confusing and ultimately would not benefit from any sponsorship because its a confusing message to back. Now to be fair they did secure a lot of sponsorship elsewhere, which is great but I'm just saying from my perspective looking at everything.

So ultimately I did have a good time and I wish the guys luck in there next event. Team work alone was excellent, the venue was ok if a little noisy sometimes. Food and drink was all good (cooked breakfast on Sunday morning, was lovely even if I did miss the eggs). The turn out on Saturday seemed to be quite large and diverse while Sunday was quieter there still seemed to be about 40+ people floating around. Saturday was closer to 80-90, so I've heard. The sessions were as you'd expect at a barcamp, varied and some better that others. I gave two talks of my own, one about social engineering a nd scamming, the other was titled the state of the nation, and involved a talk about the digital britain report and how to it enable it ourselves. The comments and discussion are not meant to be some kind of attack, instead I would like to help with the next one.

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Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.