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Wisconsin to host technology BarCamp USA

Madison, Wis. - Ken Rheingans' most immediate focus is next weekend's BarCamp Madison, but his long-view lens is pointed directly at BarCamp USA, the state's first national technology “unconference.”

Wisconsin has the honor of hosting the national BarCamp, which will be held August 23-26 on the Jefferson County fairgrounds.

Rheingans, director of consulting services for Stratagem, said organizers would like to draw 5,000 technologists to the 90-acre site, which is near a fiber optic route that winds through Wisconsin.

With the promise of fiber optic service at one of the newer fairgrounds in the state, and the opportunity for informal, peer-to-peer exchanges on technology between people from Canada to Singapore, it's an opportunity to showcase Wisconsin's technological prowess.

“It's a national event as the name implies, but we expect people from around the country and internationally,” Rheingans said.
During BarCamp Madison, another Wisconsin technology consultant plans to enlist help to build a viral Youtube video to spread the word about the national camp. Paul Stillmank, an executive with WHITTMANHART's Milwaukee office, said such technology collaboration is one of the unique features of a BarCamp.

“With this rapid evolution in technology, I think BarCamps will be a great place to stay on top of that,” he said.

The unconference

For Wisconsin technologists, BarCamp Madison, just as BarCamp Milwaukee did in 2006, should offer a glimpse into the technology camp experience. Up to 400 people will attend the free camp, which will be held March 3 and 4 at the Inn on the Park Hotel, and there still is room for more participants.

Organizers refer to BarCamps as “un-conferences” because of their informal structure. They are designed to be more fun than fundamental, more power dialog than Power Point.

However, they still are technological tutorials where technologists can catch up on what's new in their industry. Everything is done in peer-to-peer formats, with anywhere from 20 to 40 people in most sessions, and sessions lasting for 30 to 60 minutes.

The format is considered a natural filtering mechanism that attracts people who are more outgoing and more willing to share what they know about technology.

“It's less structured, so consequently it's more informal than a traditional information technology conference,” explained Rheingans, who is coordinating the Madison camp. “If you come to a BarCamp, the thing that makes it unique is that everyone is supposed to participate.”

Camp craze

The BarCamp craze actually began in 2005 on the West Coast, and spread to the Midwest last year with camps in Chicago and Milwaukee. Rheingans, who attended the Milwaukee event, said Madison BarCamp participants would not know the agenda for the Capital City event until they arrive.

“As people check in, the schedule is getting filled out,” he said.

Content could include everything from starting a technology company to electronic game development to Java. About the only sure thing is that social activities will be part of the mix, as will musical jam sessions and something called a “LAN party” where a high-speed network is set up, people bring their desktop computers (with graphics cards), and play virtual reality games.

According to Rheingans, the guest who is traveling the farthest to attend BarCamp Madison is Robin Tippens, a video blogging aficionado who works for Intel in Virginia.

Stillmank plans to share his knowledge of how to convert digital photography into streaming video, video clips, and other formats. He said BarCamps are part of the social computing dynamic, which is a big part of the attraction, but the opportunity to share technology knowledge - new technology knowledge - is too good to pass up.

“Part of the interest,” he said, “is just staying on top of it all.”

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