March 17, 2008

SciBarCamp summary & impressions: Friday

I was at the inaugural of the SciBarCamp all this past weekend and I have to admit that I'm just starting to recover from all the fun, networking and stimulation! The conference ran from 7pm Friday until about 5pm Sunday, with the attendance peaking at around 100 on Friday night and Saturday afternoon.

Overall, it was a great event with a couple of minor growing pains-type issues with scheduling.

It was an unconference, so the program was collaboratively set by all the participants, starting on Friday evening.

Actually, before going much further, I should probably just summarize the conference starting on Friday. We all arrived at the conference venue (Hart House at the University of Toronto) Friday evening with a cash bar and some snack ready for us. Once we had a chance to mingle a bit, the organizers introduced the event and told us how we would proceed with setting the program. First of all, every one gathered in a large 100-person circle and introduced themselves for 30 seconds or so, saying who they were and what they were interested in (this went surprisingly well, BTW, with almost no one rambling uncontrollably). Then, everyone that wanted to present on Saturday was invited to get one of the Session Description forms lying around and fill in some details about what they wanted to talk about.

Once that was done, people needed to paste their forms on one of the easels dotted around the hall. After a while, we were told to vote on the sessions that we wanted to see by filling in little circles on the forms. As opposed to trying to judge "quality," this gave an indications of what people wanted to see and an idea of which room to assign to which session. The organizers promised that they would try to let everyone that wanted to present to have a chance during the weekend. After the voting, the organizers did take a minute to try and figure out what the first session would be at 9am Saturday so a) the presenters would know and b) people could judge if they were interested enough to come in that early. They also emailed the complete Saturday schedule at some point early Saturday morning so we could check it out and print it off before coming in.

This whole process worked relatively well. It may have been a bit more involved than it needed to be but the plus side was that the session building exercise also worked great as a way to get people to mingle and discuss.

So, that's Friday.

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