What is BarCamp?

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  • Written By: Sheri Cyprus
  • Edited By: Sara Z. Potter
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2019
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BarCamp is an international organization of unconferences that focus on internet technology and culture. Unconferences are known for being democratically run, planned by volunteers, free to attend, and participatory in nature. BarCamp is known for being an event where geeks of all shapes and sizes can teach, learn, and develop new ideas.

BarCamp gets its name from Foo Camp. Among programmers, foo, bar, and baz are "words" commonly used to take the place of any word--these are called meta-syntactic variables. Foo Camp started in 2005 as an annual invite-only conference hosted by technology publisher Tim O'Reilly. As a reaction to the exclusionary event, interested individuals established BarCamp. Now, Foo Camp continues to happen every year in the San Francisco area, while BarCamp happens nearly every weekend in a different part of the world. For example, the first weekend of June of 2007, there were BarCamps planned in San Diego, CA, Seoul, North Korea, Sacramento, CA, Toronto, Ontario, and Raleigh, NC. Both events continue to be participatory in nature, though BarCamp allows any interested person to participate.


BarCamp participants are diverse, though there are specific interests that bind them together. Using the internet and new technologies is always a huge theme, but what brings BarCampers together is where that theme crosses into other areas. Individuals using the internet not just for business, but also for art, design, hobbies, engineering, environmental responsibility, social responsibility, organizing and socializing will find there is much to teach and to learn at BarCamp. In the broadest sense, anyone who builds or uses the internet is a part of the culture that drives BarCamp.

The unconference-ness of BarCamp is pervasive. Each event planned separately by an ad-hoc group of volunteers local to the area that will be hosting the event. Budgets are formulated and sponsorships are sought to pay for simple meals, internet access, and other logistical needs. On the first day of the event, participants will register, attend a meet-and-greet, and then schedule the session that they will be moderating on a huge timetable chart in the common area. This schedule will be continuing to change and grow as more attendees register and schedule their talks. BarCamp has few rules, but the biggest one is that everyone is expected to contribute something, whether it be planning, teaching, or throwing away empty pizza boxes. To add to the experience, BarCampers are usually invited to literally camp over night at the venue.

For participants, BarCamp is often an engaging, exciting experience. Finding like-minded geeks, learning new things, and building better practice are all end results of having attended a BarCamp. The collaborative, easy-going atmosphere is often supported by a keg of beer or several bottles of wine, and participants find that attending BarCamp holds as many professional advantages, in networking and learning new technology, as social ones.


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