Yesterday I attended my first ever Bar Camp. The whole experience has left me very pensive, I think because I had no preconceptions about how the day would unfold, so as a result there has been quite a lot of information to process.
I am a geek and I am a girl. But I should have known when one of the attendees sent out a questionnaire before the event happened and asked are you 1) a coder or 2) a designer or 3) other, that my interest in social media/social networking/social something would not be at the forefront of the talks being delivered. I didn't know what to expect regarding the content of the talks at all, and so reading through the Board as it developed and grew throughout the day was very interesting. I attended two talks on social media, the first was a chap ostensibly marketing his new Tag Walk web interface via an interesting but necessarily short trip around user recommendations, tags and hashtags and their role in social media. I'm not sure he intended for the talk to come across as a pitch, but judging by conversations I heard later, it wasn't just me who felt it was, though the people commenting were doing so directly to the presenter and were deep in conversation about the server loads and future capabilities of the 'application'. I am glad of this, because the talk was delivered incredibly well, and whilst I didn't learn anything new, I still stayed and enjoyed what I knew being delivered to me slightly differently.
The second also suffered, I think, from time restraints but again had a delightful premise. Sociometry and social networking nabbed my attention straight away and I was intrigued. I suppose it might be less evident than I assume it is from this blog, but I have a very strong interest in the social dynamics at play within social media and a lifelong curiosity in psychology and sociology though I've never studied either, and this presentation didn't disappoint. I knew nothing about sociometry, and though timings meant I was left to draw the parellels between the thematic mapping of social interactions of real life interactions in the 60's and how it exactly mirrors how the thematic mapping of social interactioins of online interactions in the new century, draw those parallels I did, and quite happily.
Of course, life is not limited to representations in Powerpoint presentations and the sociometry was clear to see happening in the venue around me. There are leaders, hubs of their social groups, the alphas, and then there are the people who revolve around them. And then, of course, there are the people who are too damn old/independant/world weary/self assured to play such games and go their own way. It was fascinating to look around and see the sociology in action in real time around me.
Having said that, the whole experience was a very positive one. I learnt a lot, saw a lot, discussed and argued a lot and had no small amount of epiphanies. The talk about the future of reading where the speaker seemed to be intimating that the iPad was the future of reading provoked the most muttering under my breath about tools for jobs and not being able to take it to bed to read before I sleep at night, about sunlight rendering any electronic screen unreadable still in this day and age and how no one was going to mug me for my paper copy of Wired but this aside, I did have my kneejerk resistance dissipated somewhat by the demonstration of the Wired app which used neat little applets to demonstrate, for example, the mechanics of constructing a car from the ground up. I agree that this is the future of publishing, but I disagree that the world is quite ready for it yet. One for Generation Z perhaps?
Then there was the talk on genetic crypto analysis in which I discovered exactly how stupid I am. The talk on command line animation which I annoyingly missed because it clashed with sociometry. Or the Sharepoint one, the J Query one, the one on a CMS I can't remember the name of - I ended the day exhausted and I still hadn't managed to catch all the talks I wanted to.
But I did discover the existence of some fantastic tools which I will be using in the next few months. I did learn that Tag Walk might allow the tracking of PR drops, or communications being ramped up. I learnt through Tag Walk that more people interacted directly with the personal account of the organiser of Bar Camp Blackpool using the hash tag for the event than bothered to use the official account set up for that purpose. I'm still wondering if that little fact is the ground breaking and earth shattering revelation for our organisation that I think it might be. I am still trying to work out if I am brave enough to propose the ludicrous system I came up with in 10 minutes yesterday as a result of this revelation to deal with incoming interactions which are not urgent into our organisation through social media.
I learnt that other people want the same tools I do for Twitter. I learnt that some people think Twitter is only for social interaction and conversations and that they feel there is no place for companies, organisations, third sector or community groups. Until I mentioned being able to book a GP appointment by Twitter, at which point as usual, everything went quiet. I learnt that I'm not quite confident enough to stand up in front of a group of people unprepared but that I wished I had been. I learnt that people can be welcoming and interested even if their appearance says otherwise and they look clique'd and involved in their own circles. I learnt that there's just no talking to some people so fixed are they on the people they already know. And all of this learning, discussing, musing and input didn't cost me a thing, meaning that start ups, small businesses and public sector paupers alike could sit in the air conditioning for a day and worry not about the cost or the implications of being there and simply listen and innovate.
Some bits of the day were more successful than others. Some talks were more successful than others. Some people were more cliquey than others and others more welcoming than cliquey. But on the whole, my first Bar Camp experience was incredibly positive and I would recommend anyone dithering about attending one to bite the bullet and go. Nothing can compare to over 100 other people thinking in different directions and outside of different boxes to you.