Monday, 21 April 2008

BarCamp London dim sum challenge

Are you going to be poised at your computer at 11 am on Thursday 24 April?

If so, please do me a favour - sign me up for BarCampLondon4, and I'll not only be eternally grateful but I'll also buy you a dim sum or other lunch, tea & cakes, or drinks, as you prefer. (My name you know, my email you'll know from my sidebar.) The downside - it'll have to be with me. But I think you already knew that...

Is this against the rules? I don't know, but what I do know is that for popular BarCamps like this one, it's virtually impossible to get a place unless you're ready at the right nanosecond at a computer with a decent speed connection (or can write a script to do the sign up for you, of course). If you work and are in a meeting at that time, tough luck.

It's even worse if the sign up slots are scheduled, as GCap Media (who are organising this BarCamp) have done, for exactly the same time on exactly the same day of the week. I was in a conference call for the first wave. For the second wave I tried using my Nokia N95 but with T-Mobile's web n crawl, I only got in just short of 11.02 am and it said that the tickets were all gone. In less than 2 minutes.

At least for BarCampLondon3 the sign ups waves were scheduled for different times of the day, on different days of the week (including weekends as I recall). So I think I managed to sign up for that during a midnight wave.

The way things are going, I haven't much hope that I'll be able to sign up this Thursday, especially as I'll only be able to try signing up via a slow mobile phone connection again.

BarCamp sign up systems - is there another way?

As you can tell, I don't think the sign up system used for London BarCamps is very fair. What would be fairer is - something else.

What do I suggest? A longer sign up period rather than a few waves. Say, an opening and closing time and date - precise time/date for both - ranging over a period of about a month.

Announce those times well in advance, all over the place.

People indicate their interest during the sign up month (or week, or fortnight, if the organisers prefer - as long as there's plenty of advance notice so people know when the period will be).

After the sign up period closes, do a random selection or ballot out of those who've given their details during the sign up period (I'm sure an electronic random "pick the names out of a hat" can be done; someone can whip up software to do that surely, if it's not already been produced).

That would be the fairest way to choose attendees, I think. Or at least vary the times and days for the sign up waves.

And for the next BarCamp with the same theme in the same place, get the system to weight the draw a little in favour of those who missed out in the last draw - so that the more times you were unlucky and missed out in a row, the higher the weighting in your favour.

That's my thoughts anyway. Otherwise, the only people who'll attend are those who can be poised at their computers at exactly the right time - maybe the organisers want to only let in people who are that keen, but real life just isn't like that, I'm keen but my work has to take priority.

So, what do you think would be the fairest way to allocate places for popular BarCamps? Or a fairer way than now, at least?

And would you be willing to take up the Improbulus dim sum challenge?


futureshape said...

Given that such events are always oversubscribed, the question from a registration design point of view is what class of users to "favour" in the registration process. The way it's designed right now, it may favour the following categories of participants:

1) People with too much time in their hands who have nothing else to do than to wait in front of their computer for the registration to open.
2) People smart enough to write an auto-registration script ;-)
3) People motivated enough to actually *make* some time to be there when registration opens, shuffling around any other commitments.

On the other hand, it discourages participants who:

1) just try to register for any event that comes across their way, regardless of whether they're interested in contributing anything or even attending the event
2) new entrants who've never been to barcamps before and are dazzled by the complex registration process

Whether the above consequences are intended (or whether anyone at all has consciously thought about "shaping" the kind of crowd that attends barCamps through altering the registration process) is not something I can tell...

mike said...

Living in Finland the BarCamp's over here are not over subscribed yet :)

However, i do like your idea of a more random "lottery" style allocation, with weightings.
I would add points for; willing to present, be "staff" for the event, never been before, not very "geeky"
and detract points for; been to this BarCamp before (more detraction for more times), been to other barcamps before.

I like the idea of a limited number of places being held for "out of country visiters", as this should create more diversity and hence more intersting conversations/sessions.

Improbulus said...

Thanks for your comments futureshape and Mike. You make good points.

One problem with weightings of course is how you verify that someone is willing to be present, has never been before etc (if they lie!).

I'd also deduct points for those who've signed up for previous BarCamps but then didn't attend and also didn't bother to tell the host so that they could offer their place to someone else. It's bad behaviour on their part, given how oversubscribed the London ones are, and not fair on those who couldn't get a place.