bitnorth: ~42 speakers, 1 event

This is how the speakers are lined up at bitnorth. We (well, our names) are all pinned to a board, and off we go. Everyone who attends bitnorth must present. That’s the “academic” part of the event. A quick look at 38 talks ranging in time from 5 to 20 minutes, with topics ranging from “How to build a deck” to “The Fall of the Aztecs” to “Norwegian Black Metal“.. Well, you get an idea of how hard it is to describe this event. Have a look at  evablue’s amazing pictures to help get an idea.

I’m lucky enough to have attended all the bitnorth events (this was the 3rd – read my impressions of bitnorth’08 here). As a conference organizer myself, I find it interesting to both attend/participate in this event and watch how it evolves year after year. In fact, my talk this year was “Hosting For Humans“, where I share some lessons learned from my experience as co-organizer of PAB, podcamps, and other events. I’ll turn that into a blog post here soon..

The challenge of any recurring event is to keep the successful bits, lose the ones that didn’t work so well, and still have the event evolve. Since it’s held virtually disconnected at a camp (a band camp!), bitnorth has additional challenges, as many of the social events are weather-dependent. For example, this year, the weather couldn’t have been more perfect, the canoes and campfire were great. Last year, it was cold and rainy and we were indoors pretty much the entire time.

I love the “everyone must present” idea. It puts everyone on the same level socially, as there is no dividing line between speakers and the mortal attendees. We’re all in it together.  That being said,  having 38 presentations of course limited the ability to deep-dive into any topic. There’s good and bad to this. On the plus side, if you were bored (unlikely) it wasn’t for long, but on the other hand, it ended up feeling like a series of tweets at times. I wish some topics had gone deeper.

Where does bitnorth go from here? It’s interesting to think about. The people attending were great, not much in the way of ego and there were no rockstars.. With this kind of mix, and a genuine desire to connect, I can’t see it going wrong. Alistair and his cohorts still need to navigate that fine line between organizing an event and organizing people, but they’ve done a great job of doing that so far.

Would I change anything?  It’s truly hard to say.. It’s a delicate balance, going too far intellectually or socially will scare some people off .. bitnorth needs to keep evolving, but stay disconnected. The lack of tweets and faces behind screens is always refreshing.

I do know that I once again come away having made new friends, enjoyed seeing old ones again, and marking my calendar for bitnorth ‘2011.

Congrats to everyone organizing and participating in bitnorth’10, it was a pleasure to spend a weekend with you all!

Photo Credit: bitnorth 2010 _MG_7227, by the always awesome Eva Blue.

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