BarCamp Berlin 3 revisited

081129_mcs_barcamp_berlin_3On October 18-19, Barcamp Berlin 3 took place. It was organized in the impressive Berlin Representative Office of Deutsche Telekom. Over 800 people attended, a true bee hive of creative tech people from all walks of Internet life.

BarCamps are a special kind of conference, sometimes even called an “unconference”:

BarCamp is an international network of user generated conferences — open, participatory workshop-events, whose content is provided by participants — often focusing on early-stage web applications, and related open source technologies, social protocols, and open data formats.

BarCamps live and breathe Web 2.0, not only in what they are about, but also by adopting its user-driven style in how they are organized. There is much attention on participatory process, or, rather, on providing an overall infrastructural framework, while making participants responsible for what topics are going to be discussed and in what way.

Traditionally, BarCamps are rather small and informal events. This one was huge, and very well organized, infrastructure-wise.  It was also amazing how they managed to offer all of the considerable facilities for free. The contrast between the large scale/professional setting, with the creative/anarchistic BarCamp culture was interesting. Although some were not so amused by this, I think it’s testimony to the multi-faceted, evolving nature of the BarCamp concept, that it can live in so many different skins. I agree with the claim that “‘You are BarCamp!’ and everybody has to take part in making each edition a success”. My compliments to the organizers for getting this most stimulating, very well organized event off the ground!

An open question is still to what extent, apart from organizing the infrastructure, these  unconferences need organization of content. Personally, I think many sessions could benefit from some form of preparation, although there should be sufficient space for “emergent organization” to keep the inspiration and flow of the moment.

Dutch Innovation Seminar 2008

On October 9, a beautiful autumn day, I went to the De Baak estate, in the wooded centre of the country to attend the Dutch Innovation Seminar 2008. De Baak is a well-known training institute, established by the largest employers’ organization in the Netherlands. As their site states, it “is the place for leaders, business people and professionals in search of inspiration, motivation, knowledge and insight”. Well, inspiration abounded, plentifully.

The seminar comprised a couple of keynote addresses, as well as a number of workshops, and lots of opportunity to network in a very pleasant atmosphere. The theme of the event was “Pulverizing Borders”, about how the Internet allows all kinds of borders to disappear, borders between people, organizations, supply and demand, and so on.

Interesting to observe were the different foci of innovation approaches of large-scale, corporate organizations like Shell and DSM, and new kids on the block like Nabuur and SellaBand. Shell and DSM are mainly interested in involving the “wisdom of the crowds” as idea generators, but themselves want to keep  close control over their often very complex, long term, and expensive product innovation processes.

Nabuur and SellaBand, on the other hand, act much more as facilitators, delegating substantial control to the users of their site. Nabuur, the “Global Neighbour Network” is an NGO that mediates between villages in developing countries having concrete requests for development assistance, and volunteers, from both North and South, who are able to help address these requests, leading to long-term collaboration and relationship networks. SellaBand facilitates between beginning bands looking for investment capital to produce an album and music lovers who are willing to invest small amounts of money. Once enough money has been raised, each music lover receives a limited edition copy of the album.

An interesting question is whether the “control paradigm” is really necessary for large scale product development, because of, for example, the need to protect intellectual property rights. Or could the new business models being developed by the likes of Nabuur and SellaBand in the longer term be adopted/adapted by their larger, more bureaucratic peers? Innovation of innovation…


Mr. Community President

[The text of an e-mail I just sent to the Community Informatics Researchers-mailing list]

What a wonderful moment in  emancipatory history we have just experienced! No need to add here to the deluge of analyses of the profound impact Obama’s election is going to have on all levels of U.S. and global society. At any rate, congratulations to all American and international colleagues on this list who are so very much in need of a change of societal paradigm.

One thing some of us discussed at the conference in Prato (another great event in the series, it was, as always, good to be back) was what Obama’s election could mean in terms of boosting community informatics research and practice.  His is very much a way of community (informatics) thinking and working, both in philosophical outlook by putting community first and in practical approach, see, for instance:

In particular, community informatics researchers and practitioners have a great wealth of experience, contacts, and lessons learnt at their disposal which could become much more visible and widely applicable now that new winds are going to blow. In particular, if Obama is going to live up to at least part of the sky-high expectations, our community (through its conferences, CIRN, individual contacts, projects, etc.) might be of use for him and his team in order not to waste precious time and seize this unique moment to make the paradigm shift lasting.

We were wondering if anybody would have any idea how we as a community of social change catalysts could practically link up with the now permanent campaign for social change forming around the Obama nucleus? This could – and should – be our moment too, but we have to get our act together…