Podcamp Boston Feature – Version 2

August 31, 2008

This is the second version of the Podcamp Boston feature I prepared for a client earlier this summer.

Forging Connections in New Media – the value of Podcamp Boston
by Jeff Cutler

Steve Garfield couldn’t stop talking about meeting a woman from his neighborhood at last week’s Podcamp Boston 3. Both are photographers from Jamaica Plain.

Podcamp is an unconference built on the premise that hallway conversations are as important as session content. Garfield might have never have crossed paths with this woman at a traditional tech conference, but the unconference model encourages attendees to make connections and educate each other.

As with any conference, there were planned sessions. But that didn’t stifle collaboration in the hallways or regular posts on Twitter (a group text-message service) during the show.

Some messages alerted podcampers to room changes or speaker adjustments. Some broadcast what was going on in the room where they sat. During the keynote, most tweets (the 140-character messages carried on Twitter) were quotes of the speakers or requests for the location of other attendees.

According to Garfield, the relationships that come from Podcamp Boston are valuable.

“What I get out of these Podcamps is meeting new people and making new relationships with new people,” said Garfield. “And also making existing relationships I have with people stronger.”

For all its free-form stylings, the podcamp product does have six rules. These are:
1. All attendees must be treated equally. Everyone is a rockstar.
2. All content created must be released under a Creative Commons license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/
3. All attendees must be allowed to participate. (subject to limitations of physical space, of course)
4. All sessions must obey the Law of 2 Feet – if you’re not getting what you want out of the session, you can and should walk out and do something else. It’s not like you have to get your money’s worth!
5. The event must be new-media focused – blogging, podcasting, video on the net.
6. The financials of a PodCamp must be fully disclosed in an open ledger, except for any donor/sponsor who wishes to remain anonymous.

And an unconference can have its bumps. A room change at the last minute left attendees scrambling to find the right room. And some equipment challenges stalled the beginning of a session. But the podcamp audience is versed in using technology to solve problems.

Half an hour into this year’s event, Jim Storer of Burlington-based Mzinga used Twitter to ask if anyone could find portable speakers for a session that was happening in room 214.

Room and speaker changes were also broadcast to all attendees using the Twitter tag #pcb3.

That on-the-fly use of technology underscores what co-founders Christopher Penn and Chris Brogan hoped would happen when they started Podcamp Boston in September 2006. They wanted an event where the people were the essence of the conference. Where the experience and knowledge a person had would enrich the lives of other attendees.

Penn, Chief Technology Officer at the Student Loan Network, explained the unconference model as a “conference put on by its participants.”

Since Podcamp Boston 1, there have been 41 podcamps worldwide. So why do the same people keep attending?

The unconference bug bit Phil Campbell after he attended a couple podcamps. This geek from the United Kingdom decided Brogan and Penn had come up with a formula that worked.

In less than a year, he had nearly £10,000 in funding and started Podcamp UK.

“The thing that happens at podcamps,” said Campbell. “Is that the people who are looking for something tend to organically gravitate toward the people who can make those things happen.”

Boston resident Adam Weiss has helped organize each Boston podcamp and feels that the way people share information continues to change.

Weiss used to create audio podcasts for the Museum of Science. It was a low-cost way to share science knowledge with a broad audience. It gave science fans a resource they could download at their leisure. It gave the Museum another way to add value to traditional exhibits.

Weiss is now a podcast consultant and explained that podcasting is becoming commonplace, as is the sharing of information at unconference models like Podcamp.

“It’s starting to become a lot more mainstream,” he said. “So you get a mixture of the people who really know what they’re doing and know what they’re talking about – the geeks again – but also you get a lot of people who want to learn about this. One of the exciting things about an unconference is that it’s either cheap or free, and everybody arrives as equals. So you can go, even if you don’t know anything, and just talk to these people who are experts in the field.”

Brogan, VP of Strategy & Technology at CrossTech Media, said, “There’s a lot of technologists and a lot of media makers and a lot of forward-thinking people on the Boston scene.”

Smart people are necessary ingredients to an unconference, according to Penn. He said the first unconferences were formed with a simple thought.

“Let’s put a couple hundred of the smartest people we know in a bunch of rooms together for a couple days and see what happens,” said Penn. “That’s really the essence of this unconference idea. It’s the participants and what they bring with them makes it work.”

Podcamp Boston 3 was held July 19-20 at Harvard Medical School’s Joseph Martin Conference Center.


Jeff Cutler is also a podcaster, and is halfway through a one-year writing sabbatical. His progress reports are available at www.jeffcutler.com. Jeff can be reached via email at jeff@jeffcutler.com.

If you have comments or questions about the event, please leave them here in the comments section. If you’d like to have me cover an event for your publication, send me an email.

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