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Where geeks get together

They are open agenda, open participation hang-outs for geeks. Read on to know more about BarCamps



STAYING CONNECTED Networking is the watchword of this community

Qualified as both non-geek and non-techie, I walked into Wi-Fi facilitated rooms at the Ramanujan Computing Centre at Anna University, a little nervous. The young audience was either deep in Web 2.0 thought, blogging furiously (the event was covered live on blogs), or clicking away recording the moment on digital cameras. Spyked up from a place twelve hours behind was Sujatha Jagannathan of Podbazaar just wrapping up her talk on `Podcasts: On the brink of a new media revolution.'

Next were Moyeen and Aswin Anand, students from JPR Engineering College. Two minutes after the two burst forth with great enthusiasm into their acronym-filled explanation of their final year project mSync, an email client for mobile devices, I was thinking "Run, idiot! Run!"

But you can't possibly run away when two young students were courageously handling questions and comments from a room full of pros. And you couldn't possibly run when BarCamp seemed such fun.

BarCamp came as a fallout to the strictly-by-invitation annual un-conference of computer book publisher and open source activist, Tim O'Reilly's FooCamp (Foo for Friends of O'Reilley). These open agenda, open participation hang-outs for techies and geeks (discuss cars or Frisbees if you please), like all ingenious ideas, caught on. And how! A little more than six months after the first event in Palo Alto, California, in August 2005, Delhi hosted the first Asian BarCamp early this March. In early April, Chennai and Hyderabad, followed by Bangalore, hosted their own events. Mumbai's BarCamp is scheduled for May 13.

Knowledge sharing

Kiruba Shankar, India's leading blogger and Associate Director, Sulekha, who organised the Chennai BarCamp explains, "It's a lot better to have a hundred intelligent people than listen to just five experts, as is usually the case in conferences. Here, there's not only phenomenal knowledge sharing in an environment where everyone is treated equally, but also great camaraderie. It's the most democratic event." Volunteers took responsibility for everything — someone found sponsors, someone else booked the venue, and a third person arranged caterers. "The enthusiasm just goes to show that on a free run, people have genuine passion for technology," says Dr. I. V. Gopal, Assistant Professor, Department Computer Science and Engineering, Anna University. "I have a captive audience here at the University, and even then I cannot, without any formal agenda, get students to attend a seminar."

The success of BarCamps could be a reflection of the social life (or the lack of it) of techies. "There are several areas of technology, particularly in research, that are extremely lonely. You may have 30,000 people working on databases, but in your specific area of research, you could be the third person in the world, with the other two sitting on the other side of world," says Dr. Gopal.

But the raison d'etre for BarCamps are not social, nor are the anti-Microsoft jokes that are shot into the air like poison-tipped arrows a warning of people's war on tech turf. Atul Chitnis, Consulting Technologist responsible for the annual Linux Bangalore convention which has evolved to become FOSS.IN (Free and Open Source Software) event, says, "This is just to meet and exchange ideas. The truth is geeks like to communicate, it's the non geeks who desperately need to learn to communicate." A geek, he tells you, won't hesitate to interrupt a session to ask a question. A non-geek will be shocked at the impudence.

BarCamp wasn't just a place to learn about setting up a successful Web product, mobile computing, entrepreneurship, python (not a reptile) or ruby (not a gem). If you attended venture capitalist Karthikeyan S's talk, it was also about how to get smart ideas funded. Priceless advice: Network (get a guy on your team with a rich uncle in the U.S.), Network (study at BITS Pilani, IIT, or IIM and make use of the alumni), Network (get invited or gatecrash a TIE, and take your minute with Sabeer Bhatia), and Network.

A fortnight later:

Having received considerable encouragement, Ganesh of rupya.com has decided to invest more time and money into his stock blog.

Open adventure

Kiruba Shankar (http://www.kiruba.com) and K. Shyam (http://shyamk.blogspot.com) have cycled down from Bangalore to Chennai, and in true BarCamp spirit it's an open adventure and you're free to join them. "I've since become a big believer in collaborative work," says Kiruba. "I was authoring a book on social media and blogging and now I am convinced that the only way this book should get written is by the community itself."

Moyeen and Aswin have been asked to give a demo of mSync by their external examiner. Aswin who met Shyam at BarCamp, now gets regular tips, advice and encouragement one of the lead developers of YahooPOPs, an open source initiative that mSync depends on.

Amit Ranjan of Uzanto is probably happily listening to music on the Ipod Shuffle he won for the best review of Arjun Ram's news Aggregator Taazza.

Abhinav Goyal writes about a new life (http://abhinavgoyal.blogspot.com). "Something somewhere having shifted," he says, and credits the transformation to the positive "energy of the people at BarCamp Chennai." And he writes "Secondly, there was the beach.... I think what I gained this weekend was a formula to beat the mindlessness that the daily routine sometimes brings along with it. ... and this weekend, I learnt how to just wash it all away with a smile in ankle-deep water."

MEERA MOHANTY

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