There is something about unconferences I find extremely attractive. I have been to uncounted meetings, workshops, conferences and events. Most of them are presentations of slideshows, filled with programs, shows and the firm idea of someone trying to sell you something.
A BarCamp sells ideas, and more than you can handle. It does this without trying. That is its secret; it doesn’t sell products, it provides humus.
From the moment I heard about BarCamps and its underlying unconference format, of which I read just prior to my first encounter of them, I was intrigued. It fits so well with with my nature, or let’s say my view of nature. Put a random number of people in a room, let them reflect their experiences, let them ask interesting questions, let them be skeptical, suspicious, curious and, most of it all, eager to learn. What you will get is what makes a BarCamp work.
I should be clearer about this: You don’t preselect, choose or guide it in any way. In fact, you don’t have any influence on what will happen. You provide structure, space and resources, but you let go of the power to organizing content. Its general topic will attract the right people. Those who can, will speak up. If you only let it happen, a great amount of creativity and inspiration may emerge. It may not always work smoothly, but give it some space let the smart minds wander, and the flaws will be minor in relation to what you gain.
You have the power to fill it with what you care about. The passion, thoughts, ideas and reflections you carried up on that hill to ETH Zurich. I wouldn’t be overly enthusiastic about this BlogCamp, but take a look around on the Web in Switzerland. These are real people, Switzerland on the move, our minds crossing borders. How could this not be a good thing? In the end it doesn’t matter what you call it, if you only make it happen.
All sessions I attended were held in English. With most people I met we spoke English. Stephanie Booth declared at some point, this was a Swiss-German blogger meeting, but coming from the German language side, I didn’t experience it quite as drastic. From Bruno Giussani I learned about Bondy Blog, a unique case of French young people, who started to move French politics, backed by Swiss journalists. Stephanie Booth’s session about language and bloggers being bridges made me think deeper about what borders we really have on the Internet today. Dannie Jost’s session connected straight with previous thoughts I had but couldn’t formulate properly. Gabor Cselle’s session opened up basic blogging questions I hadn’t thought about before.
Only when I returned home, a full day later, I grasped that BlogCamp Switzerland had effectively demonstrated what Dannie’s session was all about. Blogging is not about blogging, the Web is not about the Web, and we underestimate the Internet if we reduce it to what we see in it.
What makes the Internet really work is the people using it. People want to express themselves because it is in their very nature. It’s refreshing to experience that those borders we built over generations only last in the backpack of our education. Lose that backpack for a day, and you will feel how easy you can walk without it. You might even cross a bridge to a different culture and language.
All in all, the sessions themselves weren’t all equally resourceful. Some open ends remain, some things I’d like to explore more deeply and learn more about. No clear answers were provided. I think that is what makes this work so well.