I commented extensively on Skippy’s post about ELTU – so extensively, in fact, that it seems worthwhile making it into its own posting. I hope it doesn’t come across as overly critical of the work that folks did on the FooCampApache, or whatever it was called, that was done at ApacheCon in Amsterdam earlier this year. I have to admit, I simply don’t get the concept, and didn’t get much out of it. But almost everybody else that I talked to about it said that they loved it, and that it was a raging success. Maybe I’ve just been attending traditional tech conferences for too long.
I’ve been fairly skeptical of the entire concept of unconferences, for a number of reasons.
The main one, of course, is that I’ve never seen it done in such a way that I personally found to be useful. It seemed like a lot of people waiting around for something to happen, and then saying how successful and energized it had been, when nothing happened. Seemed like a huge waste of time and floor space.
The other one is that I would personally be very reluctant to send an employee to a conference (whatever cool or hip meta-foo-bar-un label was put on it) when I couldn’t tell what, if anything, they might get out of it. Perhaps if they were closer to home, that would be less of an issue, but being so isolated from the tech centers of the country, these things are never here.
I’ve been involved in a number of local tech user groups, and several of them eventually devolved into a situation where a very small subset of the group had to come up with topics each week/month in order to keep the group functioning. It strikes me as highly improbable that a room full of random strangers will spontaneously organize itself into useful conversation – primarily because I’ve never seen it happen.
We did an unconference at ApacheCon this year, and other than a lengthy argument over whether it was a *camp or a foo-something or bar-something-else or unconference, I never saw much discussion about how to actually do it effectively. There seemed to be a perception that if you just have a room, Good Things Will Happen. This was not my experience. What I saw was people giving talks that were rather less well prepared than they would be at a “real” conference, because they somehow expected discussion to pick up … which it didn’t.
Turns out, however, that we did most of the things wrong that you (See Skippy’s post) point out. Closed doors. Separate small rooms. Designated speakers. Pre-determined schedule with not much flexibility for later change. Specific facilitators who seemed to feel the need to instruct us on How Things Should Be Done.
One of these days, I’d really like to attend an event like this that is well done, so that I can observe it being done, at a conference for which *I* am not responsible.
On the other hand, maybe it *was* well done, and I’m just so steeped in the formal conference mindset that I can’t see it.