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BarCamp without a drink

E-government BarCamp, Wellington, NZ

I attended my first ever BarCamp today and there wasn’t a drop of alcohol in sight.

As I headed towards Queens Wharf early this morning I was uncertain about what this was all about. After a week of some pretty intense learning in my new job about the technicalities of deploying broadband this should have been a doddle – circulating amongst the geek fraternity of Wellington. In reality I felt like a fish out of water but I was keen to learn as much as I could from the experience and got stuck in.

Very early on I heard the term ‘unconference‘ and immediately I understood what a BarCamp was all about. Organised spontaneity seems to work without minimal input from any kind of committee. For most of those participating this was a first time experience and things just seemed to happen. After all we were all adults on a mission.

It was interesting watching the programme get developed. Topics were written on post-its and they were put by presenters into timeslots on a big schedule sheet. There were three half hour timeslots for each room for each time period (e.g. morning tea to lunch). The session post-its seemed to self organise into related topics in each room/time period, without any overt coordination of this.

There was open access to wifi so there was a fair amount of live blogging on the event … Here’s my mindmap of the event.

Julian Carver’s blog

Conversation flowed and I met some amazing people. I got a good insight into many technical aspects of web development which made me realise why I had personally decided to focus on the user end of things.

There was one standout highlight for me – a presentation by Tom Beard, Mr WellUrban himself, who spoke on the topic of Space, place and the meaning of “where”. He spoke about what geography means for you and me, and explained why space does not equate to place. Tom commented that people have an imagined map that is not based on cartesian coordinates but rather on things such as experiences, memories, history, connections, their senses and so on. He referred to the work of ProjectX and in particular ZoomIn maps.

As I sat and listened to Tom my mind started racing with possibilities in relation to human geography, places, and stories.

After people themselves, places are the topics on which the greatest number of us have something to say.
Malcolm McCullough, from Digital Ground

I was reminded of Joe Lambert‘s work on StoryMapping which focuses on the link between narrative and place.

StoryMapping is a call to action. We are taking the lessons learned from more than a decade of work in Digital Storytelling, and integrating it with an emergent tool set of digital mapping technologies now available to the broad public.

Whether it is geo-tagging images on Flickr, building story-based GoogleMaps, developing Windows Live virtual tours, organizing local cell phone walking tours, or the permanent imbedding stories into locations to be received by Bluetooth and other wireless information, we can now create maps that share stories about the places that matter to us, and place our life stories in countless geographic contexts.

One other thing that Tom talked about was defining community. He pointed out that community is not about proximity, nor is it administrative. Community is about connection! How true this is.

There were many other interesting speakers. I found the discussions relating to social media and government thought provoking. There are so many grey areas where social media is concerned in relation to how we can use it in our work lives. Issues relating to privacy, accessibility, and the need to remove fear around social media internally within government departments were discussed. The importance of trust was also emphasised.

I also picked up some interesting sites I wanted to explore further:

UpStage

UpStage is a web-based venue for online performance; it’s is an open source server application. UpStage V2 is currently in development with funding from the Community Partnership Fund of the New Zealand government’s Digital Strategy.

Online audiences anywhere in the world participate in live performance events by going to a web page, without having to download and install any additional software.

Players (logged-in performers) have a variety of tools at their disposal on the stage, which allow the manipulation of avatars, backgrounds and props which have been previously created and uploaded. Avatars’ speech appears as speech bubbles on stage and is spoken aloud by text2speech functionality. Players can also draw directly onto the stage in real time.

Docvert

Docvert takes word processor files (typically .doc) and converts them to OpenDocument and clean HTML.

At the end of the day we were asked for a three word summary of our experience. Here are mine:

how to apply

I made unexpected connections. I had some interesting conversations. I have come away really glad to have had this experience. All in all this was not a bad way to spend a Saturday.

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