Session Schedules, Barcamp and You

As Barcamp organizers, the top few questions that we get asked are:

  • What time is that talk scheduled?
  • Can I talk at <insert time of day>?
  • Is it guaranteed that talk on xyz will be delivered?
  • I cannot make it by 8 to register, can you ‘book’ my slot?
  • I came only for this session, it was mentioned on the site, but not presented.
  • Booooooooooo! Y U NO HAVE THAT SESSION?
  • I do not have a session slot but I want to discuss about this awesome thing I found

The answer to all of this: It’s not in our hands. So let’s take this one step at a time.

Barcamp is an unconference.

Yes, Barcamp is an unconference. What does that mean, you might ask? Simple. There is no set agenda for a Barcamp. We do not have themes, we do not have tracks dedicated to one topic or technology.

What we do provide, however, is a platform where anyone and everyone can participate – be it to give a talk or to get involved into a discussion without any distinctions or boundaries. Of course, we do ask people not to come to pitch and spam about their products. Barcamp is a learning experience, not a sales platform.

But why the session proposal and registrations then?

There are few reasons why we ask for session proposals and people to register beforehand:

  • Logistical reasons
  • Security reasons
  • Interest areas

I’ll get to each one.

Logistical reasons:

At Barcamp Bangalore, we give you a platform to talk & discuss. To pull this off smoothly, we need to do some pre arrangements. Like some snacks. Lunch. Coffee breaks. Maybe some freebies. Without knowing a ballpark figure, planning for this becomes a nightmare and we end up with catering to way too many, or too little people. And either situation is not good.

Security reasons

Our past few events have been held at SAP Labs, and like most IT companies, these folks take security pretty seriously and have not allowed people to walk in if their name isn’t in the list. That is why we require a pre-registration to the event. Also there is a certain capacity of the venue and it becomes difficult for the SAP security and facilities teams to manage headcount beyond a certain point. We close registrations when we are near full and provide a waiting list after to accommodate as many people as feasible based on the go ahead by facilities

Interest areas

To tell you more about interest areas and overlap of common interest sessions, let us take you on a trip back to the past, before we introduced electronic scheduling. Many Barcamp veterans will know this concept, the “Paper Wiki”.

The concept was simple. Have a paper board kept on a stand, divided into various slots. As soon as we open registrations, the presenters would write down their session details on post-its and place it on the board, at their desired time slot and room. That was a great idea initially when Barcamp Bangalore was a small event. But, as the participants increased, the Paper Wiki model raised some problems.

With the initial rush to place the sessions on the desired slots, the area near the board was soon overrun by people – presenters trying to grab the best possible time slot, participants trying to figure which session is presented when. It was a huge, colossal mess. Almost stampede-esque. Then we had further problems as we found that some people surreptitiously switched slots, causing more problems for presenters and participants alike.

So we thought to ourselves, what can we do to improve this situation? Thus, the idea of electronic scheduling came about.

Electronic Scheduling

The principle behind electronic scheduling is simple – people who wish to present would add their session and briefly write about their talk on the BCB website. All BCB participants show their interest in the talk, by clicking on the “I wanna attend” button.

To preserve the no preset agenda philosophy of Barcamp, on the day of the event, when we open registrations – we take in the first 36 proposals on a first-come-first-serve basis. These proposals are run through the scheduler, and using the interest graph data derived from the “I’m attending” button, it schedules the sessions so that there’s minimal overlap among sessions of common interest for everyone.

For all these reasons:

  • We ask the presenters to submit their session proposals on the site, before the event
  • We ask and emphasize the participants to vote on the sessions they find interesting – that really, really helps in reducing session clashes
  • We cannot schedule sessions beforehand
  • We do not know which sessions will/won’t be presented
  • We cannot take ‘advanced’ slot allocations

Yes, we realize it’s a bit tough to come over at 8 in the morning on a lazy weekend – but hey as the saying goes – no pain, no gain.

Having said that, we maintain that Barcamp is an unconference. If you weren’t able to get a session, you’re free to start a discussion session at anywhere, anytime, provided of course, the place is available. We call them Birds-of-a-Feather or Impromptu Sessions. Just find people passionate about the same thing and start talking. We more than welcome open discussion and we will help in whatever way feasible with the space and spreading the word through message broadcasts. We have seen passionate discussions happening in the cafeteria and hallways. That’s Barcamp for you 🙂

So we hope that gives you a bit of insight into the session scheduling process and answers some of your questions. Got any comments/feedback? We would love to hear from you

Drop a comment here, or contact us on Twitter, Facebook, Mailing list or our Google+ pages – we’re always listening.