Have you been to an unconference?

Posted on March 15, 2011


unconferenceNot only is technology changing the way we do work, but it’s also changing the way we think about everyday things. A current trend is for unconferences, or camps. The goals for these events are: sharing knowledge, helping others and having fun. The attendees are the experts and there are no formal panels. Unconferences can be about anything from technology to blogging to marketing.

How they differ from regular old conferences:

1. Much less structure.

Speakers are added during the event itself, not planned weeks ahead. Anyone can offer up a topic and the attendees vote on which ones they’d like to hear. The picture above shows a typical start to the unconference; post-it notes are used for topics and people put checkmarks next to those topics they like.

2. Much less cost.

Something almost magical happens at these events. Because you haven’t spent a lot of money, you don’t feel like you have to run around and meet all the “important” people, so that you get your money’s worth.

3. Much more fun.

The onus is on you to make the most of the event. If you don’t like a speaker, it’s expected that you will get up and move to another session that’s more to your liking.

4. Neat event venues.

My favorite place for these events is at the Cambridge Microsoft New England Research and Development Center. This place is aptly nicknamed the Microsoft NERD Center.

My second favorite place for these events is any place on the MIT Campus. I feel smarter whenever I’m at MIT!

5. Interesting people.

I’ve met some wonderful people at these events. I’m very much of an introvert and find it almost impossible to go up to a complete stranger and start a conversation. It’s easy at these events.

6.  Delicious food.

Okay, maybe the food isn’t the healthiest, but it sure tastes good. Think donuts, muffins, cookies, candy and plenty of coffee. This point is thanks to my husband, Ken, who is very particular about such things. 🙂

Some upcoming Boston camps:

1. ProductCamp Boston– April 2 at Microsoft NERD.

ProductCamp Boston is a collaborative, user-organized unConference, focused on product management, product marketing, and development processes. This year’s theme is “Innovation” – product, process and personal innovation to win in a competitive market. Selected by participants, topics will include product development (for both software and non-software products), product marketing, product launch, usability, entrepreneurship/startups, customer & partner engagement, career development, and more.

2. BarCamp Boston– April 9 and 10th at Microsoft NERD.

BarCamp Boston is an unConference, organized on the fly by attendees, for attendees. There is no registration fee, but you don’t just attend a BarCamp — you can participate in discussions, demo your projects, or join into another cooperative event. BarCamp Boston topics include: technology, marketing, cooking, startups, sci-fi, social media, gadgets, communities, design, hardware hacking, UI design, entrepreneurship, AJAX, open source software, robotics, art, mobile computing, bioinformatics, RSS, social software, programming languages, the future of technology, and much, much more!

3. WordCamp Boston – July 23 and 24th at TBD.

WordCamp is a conference that focuses on everything WordPress. WordCamps are informal, community-organized events that are put together by WordPress users like you. Everyone from casual users to core developers participate, share ideas, and get to know each other. WordCamps are open to WordPress.com and WordPress.org users alike.

Boston isn’t the only city where you can find these. If you google any of these (without the word “Boston”) you can see where else they’re held.

So what has been your experiences with unconferences? I’d love to hear from you.

A thank you to my fellow marketer, Gail Ferreira., whose email to me sparked the idea for this blog post.

Photo courtesy of jdlasica’s photo stream under Creative Commons licensing.