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Barcamp Bangalore 2008:The spirit of the unconference

Barcamp Bangalore 08 was interesting. This was my first full time, two day participation at the two day event and I reached on Saturday, 19th April at around noon. The earlier than it should be legal morning flight from New Delhi to Bangalore can be quite unsettling as I discovered and upon arrival at the massive IIM-B campus, it was time to start scouring for interesting sessions.

Barcamp Bangalore 08 was interesting. This was my first full time, two day participation at the two day event and I reached on Saturday, 19th April at around noon. The earlier than it should be legal morning flight from New Delhi to Bangalore can be quite unsettling as I discovered and upon arrival at the massive IIM-B campus, it was time to start scouring for interesting sessions. Barcamp Bangalore is widely considered to be the best edition of the global unconference format in India but we’ll offer our take on that after Alootechie attends the rest of the editions. I found the SMS session alert feature at the event very useful though. It would faithfully let you know about the sessions which were happening now or about to start so one could start sprinting around.

My initial reaction was “what’s going on here?” but then at barcamp, you go with the flow. The two day action was located in one of the clusters of campus but was liberally spread across classrooms, under the stairs and all over the stone steps. Six sessions took place simultaneously at any time over the two days and I had to pick and choose. I picked the non technical ones over some technology heavy ones so my coverage may suffer from under representation of the latter kind. Apologies about that.

Notable observations:

No free t-shirts this time around. Instead, free steel mugs and free wi-fi. It was not a bad deal but the lack of free t-shirts was lamented upon by many.

Sessions that had absolutely nothing to do with the online/mobile/startup/technology space were the most popular and widely attended. I particularly found this to be confounding but was assured that at Barcamp, this happens all the time.

Startups and their founders are torchbearers of passion and hope and there is no better place to observe this than at a barcamp.

Lunch was from the IIM canteen and it was great.

Yellow post-its define the spirit of the unconference. Sessions are knocked out and speakers reshuffled quite often and yellow post-its are integral to Barcamp.

The lovers of technology, both in a professional and personal capacity meet and greet with amazing enthusiasm and their conversations are peppered with acronyms that often encourages the non techie among them to quietly slip away or stand there with no conversation from their side required whatsoever. It may be possible that this happened to me a few times over these two days.

Some of the sessions I attended on day one were a couple of product demos, Kwippy and Lifeblob, a very insightful session on death of PR, a bit of the famed Kamasutra session, one which showcased Common Floor, a startup that Alootechie has covered earlier, a viral marketing session that ended in almost fist fight and a session introducing RIA’s or rich internet applications. This one I was able to understand by and large but then it continued on to sessions on RIA platforms like Flex and Silverlight among others and that’s when I decided to find greener pastures.

First up, I caught a bit of the Kwippy demo session. Kwippy is a micro blogging platform that builds on the trust that a user shares with the members of his or her instant messenger list. A user can send a kwip to his or her friend list, invite two strangers from this list onto a same thread and it also aggregates a user’s status messages onto their Kwippy page. I’m going to give this a spin and understand what differentiates them for Twitter. I think the session brought that up but I barely made it so I caught up with the founders later and heard them out.

I personally enjoyed the Lifeblob demo. The three founders were present and kept the banter up while they demoed LifeBlob. LifeBlob lets a user create a timeline of their life.

Through the ability to document events in a person’s life through perspectives of place, people and time an event occurred in, a user can put his or her life on a timeline. Through interconnected timelines of multiple users, a network is created. An event can be made public, shared or private and as far as cross platform integration went, photos can be imported from Picasa and Flickr as of now.

The team is trying to resolve the problem of duplication and clutter that is bound to occur when the same event is recorded through different tags. Collaborative event sharing is also in the works.

As I snaked my way to lunch, I was glad to bump into Sean, he runs Babajobs and Babalife, a social network which truly does live upto the social tag. I saw him intently listening in the education for the girl child session so caught up with him later.

The startup helps job seekers like maids, cooks, drivers and other such unorganized workers to connect with employers looking for them. He has written a piece for us about social networking for good and we chatted about the instability of the Opensocial platform and he shared his thoughts on a Trip Advisor for schools that he is toying with.

Blogathon India officially started on 20th April and there was a session on the same. It ends on the 25th and bloggers can post about one given socially relevant topic a day. The posts are judged by a jury but there are no monetary awards. This raised some eyebrows and during a VOIP session, I overheard one of the Blogathon volunteers mentioning the frequency of posts was not encouraging.

I ended up missing a session on startup pains and the one on girl child education in the quest for a wow moment during the demos and learnt that both went quite well. So much for not missing out on the action! But then, this is a call one has to take as knowledge is imparted in the spirit of collaboration and one tries their best to run around and absorb it all.

Now, here is what I found to be the most striking occurrence of day one. A gentleman, Mr Shashi Kant found the undivided attention of many strapping young men and women during his two hour long session on the unknown but relevant aspects of the Kamasutra.
He detailed 64 arts that the eternal book of love lists for making one’s self popular among peers and society. The crowd went wild as they say. While I was inside one of the classrooms attending a very interesting session on the slow yet painless death of PR by Pinstorm, I could hear manic laughter and constant clapping and hooting just outside where the PR session was taking place. A friend that I had gone with for day one became an instant and lifelong devotee of Mr. Kant. I’m convinced he is not the only one!

Another much revered session under one of the steps was on dating. Yes, that’s right. Dating. What to say, what to do, tips, tricks, rants and more. I did not stick around for long but participation was voracious and someone even had to moderate the angry young men as they attempted to understand women, as one of nature’s most curious creations. The author of “why men can’t listen and women can’t read maps” and other such literature must attend ad hoc, 40 minute gender dissecting conferences like these for ideas on their next bestseller. This session along with the one on KS stole the show from all other sessions put together. Much amazement for me but I did wonder what speakers who happened to be taking sessions during this time made of the five listeners per room going rate!

The RIA story (rich internet applications) sessions continued for much of the day and was perhaps was the most organized track of the event. Building rich applications through Adobe Flex and AIR, MS Silverlight and other technologies were part of this series and saw very enthusiastic participation among the techies. If I keep repeating that word to any undesired effect then that’s not the intention but I’m part of the others and till the twain meets, techies is the most appropriate nomenclature I can think of.

One of the last sessions of day one was on viral marketing and the buzz effect. I was busy taking pictures from all over so walked into the last ten brainstorming minutes of this one. Well, this one took the credit for being the most opinionated session of the event. As an owner of a startup which allows sharing of independent music asked for ideas to market his service, he found himself defending his service to some members of the audience. It was a hairy situation but the moderator was able to prevent any significant damage.

Day one was a day of discovery and really soaking in the typical atmosphere of a barcamp, which is characteristically marked by a bit of confusion but I loved the enthusiasm. The organizers and volunteers really do the best they can and there is cheerful support and criticism for every argument made in almost every session.

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