The Wealth of BarCamp

TorCamp
Photo by Sandy Kemsley

BarCamp is a community built around the tools and ideas of an unconference.

A BarCamp is an ad-hoc gathering born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment. It is an intense event with discussions, demos, and interaction from participants.

BarCamp is an interesting combination resulting in the fundamental changes in the democratization of technology, social production, and economics that has been brought on by the Internet. It would seem that BarCamp is a microcosm of the networked world. A community (or network) enabled by social, economic and technological changes to produce technology, knowledge and culture as described by Yochai Benkler’s in his new book The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom.

Benkler sets out with the fundamental changes in technology, economic organization and social production and the new opportunities brought about by the internet for exchange of information, for the production of technology, knowledge and culture.—Tina Guenther

I’ve spent the past year trying to figure out a potential economic model for participating in this community, i.e., do I continue to participate in the community because of the social gains or economic gains? What are my own motivations? Why do others participate? How do we encourage them to continue to participate without economic or social status?

Enterprise Camp
Photo by Sandy Kemsley

Trying to take the networks out of economic activity is like trying to think about a complex organism without a circulation system.—Brayden King

The only way to eliminate the economic activity is the switch to the economics of abundance. If resources are no longer scarce does this change the value of networks and people’s reasons to participate. This has been the subject of the science fiction I’ve been reading over the past few years, Charles Stross, Cory Doctorow, Neal Stephenson, Ken MacLeod and others. Henry Farrell summarizes a panel of these authors and the difficulty of using economic analyses to understand people’s struggle for social status. Farrell’s implications that if we are “getting enough in the way of material wants, they’ll find other unrequited (social) needs to squabble about, so they can vie for position”. We’ve worked really hard to level the economics of the playing field for TorCamp by making events free, publicly announcing the events in a variety of digital method (Google Group, Upcoming, and blogs). There is the perceived cost of participation but the group is open.

BarCamp is a social network. John Quiggin describes why social networks work. BarCamp is rapidly becoming a non-anonymous product. There are faces, people, relationships and reputations being built upon this community (mine included). Why then do people participate?

  • altruism
  • self-expression
  • advocacy of particular political or social views
  • display of technical expertise
  • a desire for social interaction
  • desire for fame

Historically information production and innovation has relied on markets and bureaucracies (Quiggin, 2006). TorCamp has representatives from both of these traditional groups. Individuals or corporations acting in market contexts, i.e., those with market driven benefits, there is economic gain from the activities of the group. The benefits of participation to RadiantCore, Unspace, Firestoker and others fit the traditional participation.

  • access to new talent
  • advocacy of particular technical platforms (RadiantCore – Foundation; Unspace – Rails; Firestoker – Enterprise 2.0)
  • display of technical expertise

More recently thanks to the efforts of Mark Kuznicki we’ve begun to engage the traditional bureaucracy and the role that state organizations can play in the support and development of the community. Participation by TorCampers in ICT Toronto and other city level events to support local efforts and the community. The TorCamp efforts are not the result of rational bureaucratic planning but rather a bottom-up, grassroots effort that has emerged in the community using the tools, the technologies and the social norms available.

If governments want to encourage the maximum amount of innovation in social production then they need to de-emphasize competition and emphasize creativity and cooperation.—John Quiggin

How does TorCamp emphasize creativity and cooperation? How do we highlight the expertise of our community members? What is the balance between being market-driven, bureaucratic-driven or social network driven?

Reading

2 thoughts on “The Wealth of BarCamp”

  1. <p><em>If resources are no longer scarce does this change the value of networks and people's reasons to participate.</em></p><br />
    <br />
    <p>Reading <a href="http://craphound.com/down/&quot; target="_blank">Cory's book</a> left me struggling with similar questions.</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>And further: how do organizations compete for talent in an environment where financial compensation is not people's primary motivation.</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>Many thanks for the reading list: not like needed to get anything done this weekend! ;-)</p>

  2. If resources are no longer scarce does this change the value of networks and people's reasons to participate.

    Reading Cory's book left me struggling with similar questions.

    And further: how do organizations compete for talent in an environment where financial compensation is not people's primary motivation.

    Many thanks for the reading list: not like needed to get anything done this weekend! 😉

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