Posted on May 1st, 2009 by Neil Crosby. Filed under Blog Posts.
It’s been almost a week now, so I thought I’d better write down my thoughts about Social Media Camp London ’09 now before they all vanish from my head.
I didn’t go to last year’s Social Media Camp. I only heard about it a couple of days before it was due to happen, and frankly at the time I was dissuaded from going by the general murmurment of my peers that anything to do with social media would be “gash”. That said, the blog posts that I read afterwards sounded like the talks and presentations that happened would have been very relevant to my interests, so I made a promise to myself that I would do my very best to go next time.
So I went.
Now, Social Media Camp London ’09 was only the second *Camp that I’ve been to that was focussed around a niche subject (the first was GameCamp – I hope there’s another one of those this year). One of the things that I loved about SMC was that there were very few people there whom I already knew. I like to try and talk to new people at these events, which can be a bit of a problem when everyone already knows each other. No such problem here!
The talks themselves were universally great, with each one offering their own insight into an area that the speaker felt strongly about. I must admit, I felt really quite bad about my “How to make awesome broken biscuit cake” presentation — whilst the cake was well received, I didn’t think the presentation fit that well into the topic at hand. If I’d made more of the “if you offer people something, they will come” angle, then I’d have been happier with things — as it was, the presentation felt like it would have been more at home at a standard BarCamp.
But enough with the self-flaggelation…
There were two things which stuck out at Social Media Camp as “not good” things — the number of no-shows and the number of empty slots on the grid.
As Vero pointed out in her post, there were a lot of no-shows. She did the sensible (but scary) thing of overbooking the event, but there were still a good few spaces available on the day. No-shows are something that happen at every *Camp, and it’s been talked about many times before. People not showing up means that other people that would have liked to have come couldn’t, which is no fun for anyone. That said, I personally liked the numbers at this event — it didn’t feel overly crowded, but likewise it didn’t feel too small.
One of the important things to note about Social Media Camp was the number of people there who’d never been to a *Camp event before. From experience, I know that they can be a nerve-wracking experience the first time. “Will people like what I have to talk about? Will I get jeered off-stage? Will everyone already know what I have to say?” I signed up for the first two London-based BarCamps, got a ticket, and then handed it back a few days before the events for those very reasons. It was scary. I finally made it to BarCampLondon3 though, presented, and loved it. I’ve now been to pretty much every BarCamp I’ve been able to get to, presenting at each one. That first hurdle is a difficult one to get over, but once you’re over it you feel great.
So, with all the newcomers to *Camps at Social Media Camp it was unsurprising that there would be a few people who felt unconfident to present. That’s okay, but there are some extra things that could have been done to help combat this (Kat has written a post about this already, and the excellent comments are well worth reading through).
The first thing that could be done (which Vero says happened more for the first Social Media Camp than this one), is to educate about the presentations before the Camp itself. By making a firm but friendly assertion that everyone should present, that if no-one presents there will be no *Camp, and by giving examples of a range of different presentations that people have made in the past the whole thing can be made a lot less scary.
The other simple thing to do is to provide a slot for lightning talks (5 minute talks, rather than the normal half-hour slot), and let people know about it before the event. This then gives newcomers who are less confident about their presentations an easy way to contribute something small and less scary than a full half-hour’s amount of material. At most of the BarCamps I’ve been to recently, someone has taken it upon themselves to take over one of the rooms for a session or two to run lightning talks. Unfortunately, I only remembered about this towards the end of the event this time, when it was far too late to do anything about it.
One other possible way to combat non-presenters that’s been mooted is to have a special room that’s just for newcomers to give them a “safe area”. My only worry with this suggestion is that it could lead to a feeling of segregation and that newcomers have to present there, rather than it being a place they can present if they want to.
Overall, Social Media Camp London ’09 was a great event. I’ll definitely be back next time. I met a whole bunch of great new people who I just wouldn’t have met otherwise, and I came away feeling re-invigorated. Roll on the next one.
Which reminds me — I haven’t actually answered the question in the title of this post — why did I go?
It was pointed out to me a couple of times during the day that I am primarily a developer. In my day job I don’t try and build communities, and I don’t interact with users. At home though, I very much do (or at least I should). I run The Ten Word Review, a site where you can review anything you want as long as you do it in exactly ten words. Usage of the site has primarily grown organically, and I’m obviously interested in looking after the community that’s grown around the site. So that’s why I came, and I’m glad I did.
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