Stone Soup

I’ve been to a lot of Ruby conferences this past year. Yet the more that I attend, the more that they seem the same. I see the same people giving the same presentations on the same topics. Sure, they add some content here, drop a slide there, or maybe add a different spin on the same subject as before. But, at the end of the conference, I find myself asking “What makes this conference different than any other conference?” There are more people? There are less people? It’s someplace different? That’s often all that I can say.

At RailsConf, Chad Fowler opened and offered one observation that I found particularly profound. He admitted that he doesn’t do particularly well in a classroom setting – and implied that conference talks are like a classroom environment.

That struck me to the core. That’s me.

At Ruby conferences, I see few people voting with their feet. However, I see many people who barely pay attention to the speaker. Instead, they are on IRC discussing how disappointed they are in the speaker, writing a Rails app or Ruby gem, or just surfing the net.

So why even go to the talks at conferences? Why have the talks? Obviously, most Ruby conference attendees would rather be doing something on their computer, social or otherwise.

Beteween games of Werewolf at Ruby East last year (my humble apologies to Charlie Nutter), Giles Bowkett and I were yakking away. Somewhat randomly, he says something like, “Man, you and I… we’re just scenesters.”

That’s exactly what I’d become. I didn’t realize it until that moment. That had never ever been me but it sure is now. And I bet that’s you too.

You go for the scenius.

That’s a Brian Eno-ism. It’s “the emergent genius of a colocated culture”. It’s that spark you get, that inspiration, that makes you feel smarter just because you’re working near and talking with the poeple that you are where you are.

I don’t see much exchange when there is a talking head, even a brilliant one, at the front of the room with an audience full of mostly silent people. Why is a group of such seemingly independently-minded people as the Ruby community willingly enslaving themselves to the words of one person after another for 45 minutes a pop? Just how educational does this really turn out to be?

“This town needs an enema” - The Joker, Batman (1990)

Why should Ruby conferences be traditional conferences? Just because everyone else does it that way? Odd. I don’t see this community (communities?) as followers.

Giles asserts that we’re a weird bunch of people. Hell, I thrive on it – just as much as I gag on the lack of weird when I return to my day job from a conference.

So why not just be weird instead of being like every other conference out there with their clearly delineated speakers, audiences, and Nascar-like corporate branding?

No I don’t mean Ruby Fringe (although I am going).

Let’s invert the process. More discussion. More hacking. Less talking heads.

Let’s make some awesome Stone Soup.

I’ve discussed this with some people around the community. The often conservative and stodgy DC Metropolitan Area may hold the first Ruby BarCamp. Does someone want to beat us to the punch? I triple-dog dare you.

Update 6/29/08: Bryan Liles pointed me at an article by Dave Winer about the “early days” of unconferences. His timing is serendipitous. Come on, people! Let’s make something happen!

Posted by evan on Wednesday, June 25, 2008

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