Barcamp Berlin

November 13th, 2007

Before moving to London I used to be a boring student hanging out with student friends at student events (not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you). Once in London I discovered a whole different world with engaging Dinners and Camps to go to. For me, it started when a couple of months ago Cristiano went to Barcamp London, came back completely enthusiastic about it and dragged me to a London Girl Geek Dinner (LGGD). I really liked the LGGD, but wasn’t really that sure about the Barcamp from what I heard about it. At the time I just thought that it wouldn’t be something for me. Then Cristiano dragged me to Barcamp Brighton (the dragging isn’t as bad as it sounds like) and I really loved it. The atmosphere and dynamics of the event were just so inspiring and interesting, I even held a last-minute presentation myself on emotion recognition (which to be honest wasn’t that good).

When Cristiano suggested we should go to Berlin for the Barcamp and the Web 2.0 Expo, I was initially not too sure about it. I mean, it’s in a different country with a different language. I know, I know, I’m Dutch and should be able to speak German, because we get it at school, but I only know how to read German. Listening and speaking? Nope, not my forte at all. Anyhow, in the end we did decide to go and so last Saturday I found myself at the Cimdata Medienakademie for Barcamp Berlin.

BarCamp Berlin 2

Overall Impressions

Compared to previous Barcamps, the Berlin one had a very different feel to it. I may have only been to the Brighton one, but other more experienced BarCampers also claimed the atmosphere was slightly off. It wasn’t that it was a bad event, but it didn’t have that feeling of a BarCamp to it. In part, I think this came through various circumstances.

For starters, the event wasn’t overnight, forcing you to go back to your hotel, which created the option of sleeping in. The second day I got up at 11:00 and arrived at BarCamp only at 13:00, missing the first 2 sessions. Yes, that is my own fault, but with an overnight it definitely wouldn’t have happened. Further, the overnight generates a more relaxed and informal environment, creating a great atmosphere for burgeoning friendships, hack sessions, last minute presentation mashups and a string of Werewolf games.

Next to that, the food organization was a bit weird; there was bread and toppings available for lunch on both days, but no dinner at all. I did hear though that with previous German BarCamps they did provide more food, but because of no-show-ers they had to throw a lot of it away.

BarCamp Berlin 2

Day 1

The first session I went to was about how game mechanics could be applied in the design of web community sites. They gave a list of 10 principles that were used within games and showed how they could be used for web communities. My problem with this presentation though was that most examples weren’t that convincing. With some the connection to game design seemed forced, as if the presenter was seeing a game design that wasn’t there. With others, they didn’t use the strongest examples available; I don’t remember it all exactly (unfortunately), but I came up with a couple more powerful examples.

BarCamp Berlin 2After that I went to a presentation of Kathrin Grannemann about procrastination. Most of the techniques she showed I had heard about already and it would have helped a lot if she had used slides. What I found most interesting was that most people there had never or only just recently heard of the term “procrastination” before. Some wanted to know who made up the term and when it first appeared, as if someone just recently invented it. It’s a fracking normal English word!

I then went to see a presentation about OAuth, a web-based protocol for API authentication. The idea is that most APIs (Flickr, Facebook, Upcoming) all use different authentication methods, while there should be an open standard used by all parties. I had heard about OAuth already before at the Future of Web Apps, so I was interested to know some more about it.

Cristiano then held a session about how he created a lifstream with Yahoo Pipes. Most people though didn’t know what Yahoo Pipes was, so it would have been more interesting to do just the presentation about Pipes. FYI, Yahoo Pipes is an online service that let’s you combine, filter and edit different feed types, creating personalized feeds. I haven’t tried it out myself yet, but I have some RSS-feed problems that could be solved with this.

BarCamp Berlin 2

After all the sessions were over it was announced that an hour later the games evening would begin, including the BarCamp favourite Werewolf. So together with Cristiano, Reinier, Alper and Eelke, I quickly went in search of some easy dinner; I couldn’t risk missing Werewolf, especially because we wouldn’t be able to play whole night (like normal BarCamps). We ended up getting Doner Kebab at a cute little snackbar, where the sweet guy behind the counter gave us free tea (cool and weird at the same time, right?). After that we hurried back to the BarCamp where Ian was organising and explaining the rules to all the newbies of Werewolf. We had a couple of fun games (3 if I remember), one of which was the weirdest game of Werewolf I ever played.

Although there wasn’t any official food, some people had the idea to order pizzas. Great idea, only it took more than an hour for it to arrive. Slightly before 12:00 when we were supposed to be kicked out, the pizzas finally arrived and everybody quickly wolfed them down.

BarCamp Berlin 2

Day 2

The second day didn’t start out that well, waking up at 11:00. Add to that the difficulty of finding a coffee place open in the morning on Sunday and the general hassle of getting up, dressing up, getting ready and getting there, we only arrived at the BarCamp venue at 13:00, missing the first two morning sessions. I was actually planning on holding a presentation, but to my surprise (and a lot of other people’s surprise) the whole day was booked! Every single session slot was taken! Anyhow, I’m definitely going to have a session at BarCamp London 3, you can count on that.

That day I first went to a discussion session about which Mac Apps you use and recommend to others. I had a lot to say, because I was one of the few which knew which apps worked under Leopard and I have a lot of obscure little apps. I like this type of session, but only once the “usual” stuff has been handled; they always mention the obvious apps, like Quicksilver, Twitterrific and TextMate. I’m thinking of doing a similar talk at BarCamp London 3, but adding some kind of twist to avoid all those boring apps.

BarCamp Berlin 2

I then attended the discussion session about fostering Barcamps over Europe, led by Nicole Simon. She explained the problems they had with organizing the Berlin BarCamp and the reasons why it couldn’t be like a “normal” BarCamp. Some people mentioned future BarCamps they were planning and I am glad to see the BarCamp wildfire is raging everywhere.

As my final session of BarCamp Berlin, I went to the Librarian session by Patricia Hanrahan. I didn’t really know what to expect; I mean, librarians, they’re those stuffy old people with books, right? Who uses books nowadays anyway? (Just kidding, if you know me, you know my obsession with books. I’m the type of person who loves the smell of old crumbling books) Patricia explained though that librarians use a lot of digital techniques; heck, they’re the ones who invented tagging! There’s a problem though with the mindset of the younger librarians versus the older (stuffier) librarians, with the older ones not fully embracing the digital era.

BarCamp Berlin 2

We ended BarCamp with a great party at St. Oberholz, meeting a lot of great people (*waves at Patricia, Nicole, Frode and Nav). I’m really looking forward to BarCamp London 3 now; so many people I know are coming, it’s sure to be great!