Somewhere in a parallel universe, there’s a Jonathan that can be bothered to follow the argument about MashupCamp and BarCamp. That Jonathan would point out that, in the very early 90s, a similar sort of concept was held by the student section of the British Association. He knows, because he helped organise it. A fairly random group and number of people met up in a spare field near a museum of buildings (yes, there really is one), and spent a weekend doing random stuff that people turned up with. Including, but not limited to:

  • Building a fabulously beautiful 9-metre-high paper sculpture. OK, so this bit was sort-of planned in advance, and it accounted for most of the weekend.
  • Building a wireframe computer model of said sculpture, that moved in a spookily similar way (using a PowerBook Duo, some 3D object modeling code left over from an attendee’s surgical training simulator project, some nasty polar maths, and a guy who’s now tech head of EA Europe).
  • Fire walking, sans any of the ritual claptrap
  • Giant bubble blowing
  • Boomerang throwing
  • Extreme campfire cookery
  • Geodesic structure construction

We’d probably have done more computery stuff, except that this was only about a year or two after the PowerBook was invented, and the Web was still something only TBL knew about. We still managed an impromptu peer-to-peer campfire network, but I can’t for the life of me remember what we did with it. Bolo, probably.

Anyway, this parallel-universe-gives-a-fig Jonathan isn’t trying to suggest that he invented the (Mashup|Bar)Camp model. Rather, he’s suggesting that there’s nothing remotely original in such (lack of) organisation. People getting together to do things they find mutually interesting isn’t new now, and it wasn’t new then. It’s simply what people do.

Structuring such endeavours in the form of a conference, industries, and ‘work’: that’s new, and it’s taken a few thousand years for us all to feel comfortable with those social structures. But coming together to ‘do stuff’ was where we differentiated ourselves from the chimpanzees.


  1. Totally. There’s really not a whole lot new about the getting together part. It’s the way in which we’re organizing ourselves and the low cost of doing so that makes it interesting.
    I mean, the first Bar Camp was organized in six days on a budget of zero dollars. How did we do it? Using our Powerbooks, IRC, IM, email and blogs. That’s it.
    THe hubub over the Mash|Bar thing will come to pass, as it should. Giving more people the opportunity to have these experiences is what we’re all about and it only makes sense that we figure out ways to efficiently and cheaply help more of these things happen.

  2. Absolutely. I wasn’t intending any criticism – far from it – and I hope I didn’t sound snarky. I’m merely intrigued that we’re having to re-learn the process of the ad-hoc meeting when, presumably, it’s a concept as old as society. And I realised that, since it’s more than a dozen years since the BA camp I helped run, I’ve forgotten most of whatever I knew about such things. I’d have to relearn the lessons myself.
    Still, what I do remember is that it’s mostly down to a very small number of people (>= 1) getting off their arses and doing it.
    If you disorganise it, they will come.

  3. How about the original BoloCamp in the Old Biometry Room in Cambridge in 1988?
    Alerted by email and GROGGS, we converged there to make an ad hoc BBC Micro network using Stuart’s custom-soldered connectors in the serial ports, and played 16-player Bolo for hours…
    I feel a blog post coming on myself…

  4. Did you actually camp? Because if not, it really doesn’t count. Ordering in pizzas isn’t enough. Tsk.
    (Don’t mind me, I’m just sore because I arrived three years too late.)

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