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I've been online since 1971 and I like to smoothe the way for everyone else. Among other things I co-founded Sympatico, the world's first easy-to-use Internet service (and Canada's largest).

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Monday, December 04, 2006

The nature and nurture of DemoCamp

Mark Kuznicki has written a great post about the nature of DemoCamp, a type of event pioneered here in Toronto that has attracted discussion about the small percentage of female attendees.

I think he’s right that DemoCamp has some intrinsically male-oriented characteristics that we can’t “fix”.

Another thing has been nagging me about DemoCamp. Often there is a show of hands of how many people are first-timers, and it’s always a lot. But the size of the audience isn’t growing, which means that a lot of people don’t come back. Clearly it’s not only women for whom the event is not appealing.

Yet there is a core group of people, including women, who go as often as they can. I think that there is a hunger for this kind of gathering, and maybe the demos are just an excuse for a community of interest to get together. Slava Sakhnenko wrote that “Most people don’t show up to DemoCamp to look at the demos”.

Having more BarCamp-style events might be nice, but they are big deals to set up and run, and as I understand it the reason DemoCamp was invented was to have more frequent events. DemoCamp has been wildly successful in achieving that goal. What other events could we have that would achieve that same goal of frequency, but without the characteristics that many people evidently find unappealing?

It occurred to me that we could just dispense with the “event” and go straight to the after-discussion at the pub, but I think it’s important to have the common starting point of “I have such-and-such comment about demo X”. It gets the conversations started, and it allows all present to have something to say without having to be “experts”. TorontoWikiTuesdays are purely pub gatherings, and as much as I enjoy them I think they suffer from the lack of that common starting point.

Finding a replacement for the demos might be difficult. They have a bunch of highly desirable qualities: they’re usually about innovations, they’re usually about projects that the presenters are personally involved in, the “no PowerPoint” rule does a lot to avoid putting the audience to sleep, the “presentation” nature allows a large number of people to attend, and the lack of BarCamp’s “participation mandatory” rule allows the attendance of those who aren’t hard-core (but who might become hard-core later). Perhaps it will turn out that DemoCamp is the “worst except for all the alternatives”. I’m very keen to hear any suggestions for alternatives to DemoCamp that could also be run monthly and would also accommodate, and welcome, such a large number of people.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Mark Kuznicki said...

Rohan, I think we're onto something here. DemoCamp is a night at the geek theatre. It is a cultural event that captivates and engages the audience. Without the theatre, a gathering just turns into another cold and heartless exchange of business cards without any real shared experience.

So whatever the future of DemoCamp and related events, we shouldn't lose the theatrical aspect that has made it successful. Any event like this needs to be compelling enough to convince one to leave the geek basement and the social comforts of the blogosphere or Second Life.

Personally, I think Dragon's Den should have been done in front of the DemoCamp audience. That would be fun!

Monday, December 4, 2006 at 1:51:00 PM EST  
Blogger Rohan Jayasekera said...

The more I think about this, the more convinced I am that DemoCamp was an absolutely brilliant invention. Oddly enough, the discussion about its shortcomings has made me even more impressed than I already was!

Monday, December 4, 2006 at 3:20:00 PM EST  

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