19 Aug BarCampMilwaukee promises a tech-focused event
Milwaukee, Wis. – To say that BarCampMilwaukee will be a free and informal gathering of technology professionals is understating things. When “campers” gather on the last day of September, they won’t know everything about the agenda of presentations, demonstrations, and networking that await, and organizers prefer it that way.
The only thing they promise is that Wisconsin’s first BarCamp will be a 24-hour, tech-focused event. To illustrate how it will be the antithesis of a formal conference, the agenda isn’t likely to take shape until right before the campers get together.
“Most of these things don’t get decided until the day of the event,” explained Justin Kruger, head of Fireseed, a Milwaukee-based casual think tank of technological risk takers. “Everything is kind of in flow until the weekend of the conference. Everyone is supposed to be a participant. Nobody is supposed to watch.”
Billed as an ad hoc gathering for technology lovers to share and learn in an open environment, the camp will be held on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, at Bucketworks, a self-described “fitness center for the brain” located in downtown Milwaukee. Attendees will have the option of camping overnight in sleeping bags or staying at local hotels, but some don’t plan to sleep at all.
“A couple of guys are planning to stay up all night and play video games,” said organizer Pete Prodoehl of 2XL Networks, a Milwaukee-area web design, development, and hosting business.
Prodoehl plans to lead a session on video blogging, but said the agenda would be driven by “whatever people are passionate about in technology, and what they want to share.”
No bars to technology
BarCamps are a relatively new phenomenon, originating on the west coast and spreading closer to home. BarCampChicago, attended by Kruger and Appleton businessman Bob Waldron, was held in July, and the fun they had reinforced their determination to hold a camp in Milwaukee.
While Kruger looked forward to the Chicago event, he expectations were low, but he was pleasantly surprised with what transpired. “I just expected to meet geeks,” said Kruger, who is working to create a social network web site for event management. “I didn’t expect much, but it wasn’t just the geeks, it was the entrepreneurial geeks.”
Waldron, who plans to make a presentation at BarCampMilwaukee (topic to be determined, of course), couldn’t wait to get to Chicago, and he had a blast. Waldron owns two Fox Valley businesses, myDigitechnician, a computer services company, and the consulting firm Abba Makolin Waldron & Associates, and his enthusiasm for BarCamps could be infectious.
“I want to hold one in northeastern Wisconsin, but there are even fewer tech people in northeastern Wisconsin than there are in Milwaukee,” he said.
The BarCamp that set the standard, in Waldron’s view, was the Seattle Mind Camp, a content-rich gathering of geeks that has spawned both a 2.0 version and what Waldron called a must-see video.
“In my mind, everyone interested in technology should watch that video,” Waldron said.
While BarCampMilwaukee has adopted an open format, that’s not to say the event will be a complete mystery. Organizers have established a web site and a Yahoo discussion group (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/barcampmilwaukee/) for participants.
Roughly 15 people have confirmed their attendance, but the ideal conference size will be between 100 and 150 guests – just enough to allow for small-group sessions. If Waldron has his way, the BarCampMilwaukee will not be Wisconsin-only affair.
“One of my personal goals is to get a few people involved in BarCampMilwaukee from outside Wisconsin who are highly passionate about, and involved in, technology,” said Waldron, who is looking to attract sponsors to pay for the travel expenses of long-distance visitors. “Getting that outside tech blood to come to Milwaukee area will help generate some wild-and-crazy new ideas and make the event more fun.”
If things work out, BarCampMilwaukee could become an annual event, and smaller, more focused camps could be held periodically. Kruger, for example, is interested in exploring a video game BarCamp.
There were some initial doubts, however. Prodoehl wrote a weblog post that openly wondered whether Milwaukee, given the disjointed nature of its tech community, could successfully pull off a BarCamp, but he’s now working to make it a reality. Prodoehl believes the event’s attendee-centric features could make for a successful camp.
“It’s based,” he noted, “on what the participants want.”
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