BarCampAfrica: What Didn’t Work

As I mentioned on Saturday, I was as BarCampAfrica over the weekend. It was the first year for the event and as is natural, things were hit and miss. In this article, I want to hit some of the things that were a miss. In the next article, I go over what was a hit.
First and foremost on my list and pretty much where all of the problems arose was the fact that a conference format was trying to be mixed with an unconference format. Basically, this is like trying to mix wet and dry in that you end up with some kind of soupy thing. Such was the case with what ultimately ended up being a couple of sets of moderated panels mixed up with breakout sessions. They ended up trampling on one another and it seems that most people gave up on one or the other and just mingled in the common spaces.
Early in the day, I was bringing up a couple of serious concerns with one of the organizers who just shrugged them off and told me, “Well, that’s how it’s working, it’s a BarCamp.” I think that this was what really irked me in that a great many people there didn’t know what a BarCamp was. They had heard this buzzword and loved to say it, tossing it around freely, but didn’t understand that BarCamp are organic beasts which are self-organizing for the most part. Despite their being unruly, there are no moderators and “big names” to them. Sure, there can be and it’s fine to not know what a BarCamp is, but to try and fight the format while at the same time calling it a BarCamp was doomed for failure. And it wasn’t just me that felt this way. A great many people I chatted with expressed frustration with how the organization of the day went.
But ultimately, in the true spirit of what a BarCamp is, it somewhat organized itself. Like I said, people just started to meet with one another. This came about largely due to the rooms Google provided (who were excellent hosts by the way) being far-flung and hard to find. People just wanted to talk. A lot of us will rarely make contact with each other as San Francisco is generally 24-36 hours of travel away from most regions in Africa. And even though it may have hurt Guy Kawasaki’s feelings that we weren’t all rushing in to hear his moderating of a panel, it was for the better that people were chatting and coming up with ideas in the true BarCamp intent.
BarCampAfrica: What Didn't Work