As with so many of my ideas, this could be utterly daft or genuinely interesting (or something in between). We’ll let the crowd decide…

Un-conferences, meetups and camps (BarCamp, DemoCamp, PodCamp, ChangeCamp, etc.) have become the pedestrian norm in geek and social media circles. The once-rebellious ideals of the un-conference set are drowning in the din of 50,000 cheerily whuffie-riddled, corporate sponsored echo chambers. We need to break out of this rut somehow, dammit. I’m calling for a meta-session on the future of (the future of) un-unconferences.

Call it: meta|camp™*

meta|camp will be an entirely new kind of people-formerly-known-as-the-audience collaboration experiment (in contrast to all of those other mass collaboration experiments currently clogging your over-stuffed schmoozing schedule).

Perhaps a little like the original conception of Tim O’Reilly’s Foo Camp, but even more intricately and self-consciously unstructured in falling over itself to be anarchically self-assembling and self-defining.

meta|camp would adamantly not be a series or an annual event – it would, by definition, be a one-off. This does not entirely preclude the possibility of re-runs, but only once we figure out how to add subtitles on top of subtitles to the DVD copy of the proceedings. We’re looking into the possibility of OCR’ing the screencaps.

Ingredients of meta|camp would be as follows:

  • Fill a room with conference-goers, geeks, experts, savants, neophytes, dilettantes – oh, and caterers (we need carbs!);
  • Get the contributors (not “audience”) to generate the content and direct the narrative arc of the whole session, on the fly (i.e. no sign-up board or pre-baked schedule);
  • Use the MIT Media Lab’s to “run” the session on a big screen;
  • Contributors post questions and topics in, vote on what the session should be about and ideas worth exploring;
  • Second big screen runs live tweet stream and/or group CoverItLive session;
  • Brainstorm what’s good and what’s bad about the current conference/unconference/camp/workshop/whatever world, plus ways to make things better;
  • There would have to be at least one, preferably several, catalysts (not “moderators”, panelists, speakers, or invigilators – no. The catalysts are just there to help spark discussion, trouble-shoot the tech, make off-colour remarks about the catering. Catalysts help make things happen – they don’t directly do those things and they get out of the way);
  • Everyone wears a mic (or no one does). Everyone has access to, etc.;
  • We deal with trolls by ignoring them;
  • The whole session also gets webcast live and, yes, perhaps even simulcast in Second Life (shoot me now).

What would we talk about? No agenda or set topics, except insofar as we’re there to talk about the future of (the future of) un-unconferences. So I hope we’d get into such things as:

  • Live tweeting/live blogging of conferences – useful meta information or distracting annoyance?
  • Pulling up a Twitter or IRC backchannel behind the speakers’ heads – same question.
  • Moving from monologue to true group dialogue – new ways to break the old moulds.
  • If I say the same thing as the last panelist just said, but I just frame it differently, does a tree fall in the forest?
  • Bad animations in Powerpoint – should they carry mandatory jail sentences?
  • Name badges – we don’t need no steenking badges.

Just think about the hyper-meta-lovely moebian joy of all this. To have a conference session discussing the future of conference sessions that includes a conversation on live-blogging, while some of the discussion participants are live-blogging the actual session.

Then we should have another tier of people (in the room or around the world) live-blogging the aggregated live-blog coverage. And then we feed THAT back into one of the big screens in the room and have the catalysts and contributors talk to it so that others can then comment and live-blog the commenting of the…

Of course, there’s also a very real risk we could spend the whole of meta|camp defining meta|camp (the first rule of meta|camp is…). But – don’t you see? That’s OK too. In fact, that’s almost the entire point.

I am only semi-joking about this, in case you’re wondering. Bonkers though it may seem (even to me) I really would like to stage a meta|camp at some point in the future. Even really well produced un-conferences and camps have their flaws, and I’ve whined about the conventionality (pun intended) in the past.

So let’s really do it! What the heck. Be Judy Garland to my Mickey Rooney (or… no, that’s just wrong). If we can figure out dates and a venue (and caterers, I’m all about the caterers), join me for meta|camp — where we’ll think the unthinkable, question the unquestionable, eff the ineffable and even screw the inscrutable!

[An important and necessary hat tip, btw, to the very wonderful Gary Turner who may have inadvertently seeded this idea when he meta-blogged the live-blogging of the DigitalID conference way back in 2002. You had to be there.]

*Yes, it needs to be uncapitalised. In the 2.0 world, we are all the bastard offspring of e.e. cummings. And, yes, the vertical line is part of the name. It symbolises the inextricable, inexplicable, ineluctability of the meta memetics of meta|camp and I pity the foo’ who thinks otherwise.

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