Bar Camps are "ad-hoc gatherings 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." The name is a play on Foo Camps,which are invitation only events; Bar Camps are open to anyone. Most have been focused on tech, but now the idea is being applied to social and civic issues. At the Toronto Transit Camp, 100 people are giving up their Sunday to gather at the Gladstone hotel to talk about improving our local transit system, the TTC. Bar Camps do not have fixed agendas, team leaders or work like any conference we have ever seen; people line up to list issues to be discussed and they become the agenda. After all, the rules are:
1 We are equal individuals in an open community.
2 Leadership can emerge from anywhere.
3 We are all participants. (If you are not participating or learning, Leave!
Toronto Transit Camp grew like Topsy from a blog post by TreeHugger friend Robert Oulette of Reading Toronto in January, complaining about how wretched the TTC website was, ("an information architecture disaster") and inviting new TTC chair Adam Giambrone, to bring in the blogging and design community to help out. Adam is young enough to understand the power of the medium and welcomed the challenge, and even came today to the camp, along with Councillor Joe Mihevc; credit is due to them both.
This focus on the TTC website created the interaction between the tech community and the social activists, the website geeks who have been plotting TTC routes with Google Maps and reinventing TTC mapping, often with TTC lawyers chasing after them to cease and desist. And they showed up with their laptops, ready to rumble. (we found it interesting that among the computers used by this gang of young, cutting edge, web media and design types, the Mac's outnumbered the PC notebooks by six to one; I use a PC and felt seriously old-school.)
Bar Camp organizers Jay Goldman and Mark Kuznicki started the event by inviting participants to come up with topics- the audience is creating the agenda. (note that they are wearing bar camp T-shirts. The heat is not working in the room the outdoor temperature is 0 degrees F and inside it is not much warmer.)
The ideas are put up on a grid and we go off to our sessions. However at the same time, the information is being placed online in a wiki, the schedule is being updated instantaneously, The titles of each of the seminars is being added to the wiki as we move to the appropriate locations and minutes are being added to the wiki as people speak, pictures are being added to flickr, and a gossip/ communications backchannel is opened on skype chat. We have never seen so much web technology in action.
It appears that for the morning sessions the different topics coalesced into two groups, the techies and the non-techies. The tech session was impressive; people like Ian Stevens who were actively writing applications , respectful and diverse speakers who knew what they were talking about. We found the non-tech session to be dominated by one or two people, and suppose that is what happens when the bar camp system is designed to have no real structure or moderation.
I went up to Pete Forde (third from left) and said "hey, I wrote about your Hummers are Bummers T-shirt on Treehugger and have never seen one!" and he moved away quickly.
Before lunch there was a presentation about subway parties by Kevin and Lori of Newmindspace, who we have raved about before for their campaigns to make the city a fun, livable canvas where we can all participate.
The most remarkable thing about this event is not just that people will come out to contribute their uninvited ideas to a City bureaucracy that may not even listen to a word that they say, but the medium, this bar camp idea where so many diverse people of all ages and skills come together to exchange them, and use web tools like wikis, blogs, skype and flickr to disseminate them instantly. Let's bring these Mac-toting wiz kids back together to look at global warming, green design, urban form, a host of other issues affecting a larger audience than users of the TTC.
Unfortunately, your correspondent has been coming down with a cold, and after three hours in a room with no heat I was shivering and feeling awfully sick, to the point that I did not even take the TTC home but hopped in a cab. However while I am off to bed you can follow progress at the ::Toronto Transit Camp Wiki
or ::Reading Toronto
UPDATE: Watch City TV and Amber MacArthur.