Bangalore and Camps Without Bars

Arpit Agarwal brought my attention to a blog post by Vijay Anand on how we got the Barcamp format totally wrong. Here’s a counterpost. Not a counterpost to disagree vehemently or reject with what Vijay states (actually a part of me agrees in perfect harmony to some of the things he says), but merely to politely offer an alternate perspective. IMHO IMHO. In Barcampish style, I am offering it to all of you, not shoving it down your throat. Feedback welcome.

As Vijay wrote in his blog:

I know that everybody is thinking this but let me say it out loud: I think someone in India got the barcamp format totally wrong. Barcamps, as we do it in India are not conversational. They are very, and very speaker-centric.

D-1: An engaging interactive session at BCB6 on the durry.

I have not been to many other Barcamps in India, but I feel that Barcamp Bangalore is actually becoming more and more interaction-oriented than session-oriented with every edition. It is becoming harder and harder to find quality sessions led by “experts”, and easier to find the “durries”, “CCD” sessions where you can unchain yourself into amazing dialectics. The analogy I can draw is the predominantly Indian concept of an “Adda”. You shout, you debate, the proverbial storm in a teacup is raised. (Only that its coffee and its damn expensive nowadays).

Come, play with me in the mud

It’s fashionable to be cynical and critical. Think George Bernard Shaw. More than fashionable, it’s important. Important to the sustenance of any vibrant ecosystem. So far be it for me to hack back at what Vijay is saying. As I said, this post is not about that — mudslinging or flame-war.

Back to the point, I think it is somewhat fashionable to say “we don’t get it”. The story changes when “you” are trying to organise Barcamp. Then one starts to gain a better understanding of why things don’t work out the way exactly the way we envisage. So to anybody (including myself) who says I wish Barcamp was this way or that way, I say, “Come over for the next meeting.” Come play with me in the mud. 

Planning Committee Meeting At India Coffee House

The Barcamp Bangalore “Planners Committee” is in itself an amazing species in organizational evolution. Some come for the “coolness”, some to feel “in”, while others come in the pursuit of a certain passion which even they may not be able to clearly articulate. But they come. They spend their time, their money, their energy in putting together something.

The Planner’s Committee has no clearly documented organizational mission. No CEOs. No fiscal profit motive. No yearly appraisals. Everybody has different interpretations of Barcamp.

Varun Ram (name changed) feels we need more hardcore tech, after all, Barcamps are about technology, na? Chetan Sharma (name and gender changed) rolls his eyes in disbelief. “What ? No way Barcamps are *only* about technology”, he quips.

Ramnivas Bellandurloo wants formal press releases to inform the media on what BCB is all about. Seven others pounce at his throat crying, “No we don’t want to sell-out.“.

And I am not making this up. This is exactly what was happening in a post-mortem session at IIM Bangalore after the curtains came down on BCB6, yesterday night.Yes sire, this is exactly what happens.

Gratefulness break: Photos taken from Kushal, Arun, Jace and Ajit’s Flickr photostreams — Thanks guys, your rock !

BCB: We are our own definition.

The first Barcamp Bangalore Logo, April 2006

Barcamp Bangalore is not about technology. Its not about music. Its not about dating and its not about carbon footprint minimization. Its about tolerance. Its about giving each other a space, a  certain collaboration — to let multiple ideas and perspectives thrive harmoniously. To keep on doing what you passionately believe in whilst not snatching away others’ right to pursue their passion. And I think BCB has come a long way enough to create its own identity where we do not need to go back and look at the definition of Barcamp on the web to ensure whether we are on the right track or not. While they are all fascinating in their own rights, we do not need to “adhere” to what Munich, Minnesota or SanFran Barcamp is doing. We are our own definition. For all we care, call it “BangCamp” if you are really itchy about the name.

The Flea Market

To provide an analogy, Barcamp Bangalore is a flea market, infested with ideas. This is not your sterilized supermarket. And like a flea market, expect chaos, expect muck, expect unscrupulous hawkers and expect well-meaning astrologers. And within all this apparent chaos, should you choose to look hard enough, you will find something to take away (more than a coffee mug or tee). And what you take away is going to be exclusively yours. Maybe you’ll get a small flickr of an idea that you will start to work on as your next serial entrepreneurship endeavour. Maybe you will find a guitar teacher. Maybe you will get a better understanding of Kannada culture. Maybe you will vote this time. Maybe you will find a beautiful snap of yours flickrd by an unknown photographer, that will then be proudly proclaimed on all your social sites.

Depending on your luck, you may even take find yourself a soulmate (based on a true story).  

Don’t come with a shopping list

Chances are if you are coming with a shopping list, you may not really get what you came for or even if you do, not quite like it as much. If you came to a session on dating expecting to go back with armed with a “trophy”, what you take away is the satisfaction that people who apparently seem real cool (and hot) have not the faintest clue as to matters of the heart. If you came to meet an angel investor to fund that stupid little idea of yours, what you will take away is that it’s not easy to be an entrepreneur (particularly if all you have are stupid little ideas).

I don’t know what you will get. But like a flea market, there’s always something for somebody.

Wrong is the new right

Maybe we will never get Barcamps right. Maybe there is no right. Crushed between the survivalist needs for a larger audience and the reality that quality density is inversely proportional to the number of people (beyond a low threshold), I think its written in our predestined stars that we keep on struggling to find the right formula. And opinions like Vijay’s will stay forever valid and pertinent (and fashionable 🙂


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  1. Shourya, nice read. a couple of things though.

    1. This article was written much before BCB came into the picture, so it has nothing to do with BCB per se.

    2. I think a lot has changed in BCB, so lets wait and hear results and the impact.

    3. I am still hearing a lot of disgruntled voices. Actually, I was very surprised that all of a sudden an old post was picking up traffic, and i am tracing it to twitter feeds from BCB attendees saying “I agree with this post”. So, perhaps there is still some fine tuning to do.


  2. Nice post.

    As you rightly said — looking up ‘Cola’ on Wikipedia doesn’t help. At the end of the day, you can have ‘Coke’ or ‘Pepsi’ and coming with a pre-set notion of a particular Cola doesn’t help. You might even get “banta” instead, and like it as much or more.

    Unquestionably, a lot of effort, time and energy goes into planning these sessions. Kudos to those (oft-unsung) heroes. In a democracy, those who do not vote, should not complain about governance. If I get the message right, then it means — If you want to change things, come join the planning sessions, and see if you can influence. Fair enough.


  3. Vijay, Thanks for the read.

    I am not sure that the fact you wrote this post 14 days back makes *much* of a difference. Most of the things I said carries over from BCB4/5 actually.

    Disgruntled voices will always be there…even has detractors 🙂 I am not sure if you have come to BCB yet. Do drop in for BCB7 if you get a chance, that should be around August. We could talk some more.


  4. Banibrata ! Did you say “Banta” ? Aaah. The way Bangalore weather is shaping up, I’d pay a kings ransom in dimes to have one !! You just made my day !

    BTW, Missed you at BCB6. Were you there ?


  5. @Shourya,

    Been to three BCBs so far actually. And I agree with the ‘disgruntling” voices 🙂

    I would echo Banibratta, hats off to the unsung heroes.


  6. Shourya,

    Nice sense of humor man.

    Basically, I am fine with the way BCBs are showing up in Bangalore. I don’t completely disagree with Vijay when he talks about numbers and speaker centric talks. But eventually, how the participation turns up is completely a function of the crowd. If the crowd wants to listen, they choose not to speak. If the crowd wants to discuss, they quickly shut the speaker up. I don’t think its necessary to dictate how a BarCamp should be. So long as it is democratic enough. It will turn out to be the way the crowd wants it to be.


  7. Amit has told the basic stuff. !,
    Barcamp is audience centric !
    Actually , Speaker centric, but audience driven !



  8. Hi Shourya,
    A very thought provoking post 🙂

    I, along with many others, was of the opinion that BCB6 wasn’t actually up to the mark, and was not very enriching – in any sense.

    And I even blogged about what I felt was quite bad about BCB6, and could be improved upon.

    But thoughts like these –
    [quote]If you came to meet an angel investor to fund that stupid little idea of yours, what you will take away is that it’s not easy to be an entrepreneur (particularly if all you have are stupid little ideas).[/quote]

    [quote]Its about tolerance. Its about giving each other a space, a certain collaboration – to let multiple ideas and perspectives thrive harmoniously. To keep on doing what you passionately believe in whilst not snatching away others’ right to pursue their passion.[/quote]

    – are making me introspect my own thoughts, and am now pondering whether BCB6 was as bad as I thought it was.

    Finally, I have come to the conclusion that many felt bad, and felt that it was quite inactive due to the absence of bloggers. Myself, being a blogger, was devoid of active company – with the bloggers community drained of all energy and enthusiasm by non-engaging sessions, and other distractions. And with this un-enthusiasm from the bloggers side, most of the semi-geeky sessions, which usually border between geekiness and morality, disappeared – thus deleting an essential element from this edition of BCB. What remained was the highly geeky sessions, and a lot of other “light” sessions. This, coupled with the low participation, and the less number of geeky sessions, thwarted semi-geeks, like me, and thus resulted in the disgruntlement.
    (I think I’ll also add that the crowd had a very less percentage of old timers?)

    [quote]And within all this apparent chaos, should you choose to look hard enough, you will find something to take away (more than a coffee mug or tee). And what you take away is going to be exclusively yours. Maybe you’ll get a small flickr of an idea that you will start to work on as your next serial entrepreneurship endeavour. [/unquote]
    Interesting. I’m still thinking over this little piece of advise. I hope I can make it for the next planners’ meeting – not that I can make a difference, but just to experience a piece of the pie.

    However – here’s the question I put forth. How does the disgruntlement depend upon the Planners? As far as I could see, the planners had done a wonderful job of organising the whole event! Of course, a few slight hiccups were present, but then, what event passes without these hiccups? The causes for the disgruntlement could be chiefly put upon the un-engaging sessions, and the lack of participation. Like is echoed every now and then, BCB is YOUR and MY event. Every single person attending the event is responsible for how the event turns out to be. The planners have a job of facilitating the meeting, but they cannot make sure that the event is rewarding for all. That’s a job for each and one of us.

    Still thinking on how planning can effect the “rewardiness” level…


  9. nice post. i agree completely. and i hope you bring down more and more barriers and make it as un-restrictive as possible. the idea of “collectives” though very thoughtful, had built up some barriers. this format where anyone is free to put up any session in any room is much better.

    i’ve always held the view that the best discussions happen in the corridors. i felt that missing in BCB4. i skipped BCB5 but BCB6 has put the faith back into me. i am so happy that BCB is back to its original format. proves that simplicity works.

    it was a great event. the credit goes to you un-organizers and the campers.


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