This year, we seem to be getting lots of questions and confusion about the difference between Podcamps and Barcamps. So I thought I’d do a brief post here so everyone is clear.

1.Podcamp is Not Barcamp. This is a biggie.  Barcamp veterans often write me and say that they think Podcamp is not a “true” unconference because we have altered the format to be a bit more of a bridge between a Barcamp Unconference and a regular old conference.  To be honest, this seems like a silly debate to me.  The decisions on how a Podcamp differs from a Barcamp, which I’ll discuss below, were made to help make the events accessible and comfortable for people who are used to regular conferences, while maintaining the community feel and the basic rules of Unconferences.

2. The Podcamp Rules (Click here to read Chris Penn’s Excellent Blog post on this subject)

Here are the Six Rules of PodCamp:

  1. All attendees must be treated equally. Everyone is a rockstar.
  2. All content created must be released under a Creative Commons license:
  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/digital media focused – blogging, podcasting, video on the net, social networks, etc.
  6. The financials of a PodCamp must be fully disclosed in an open ledger, except for any donor/sponsor who wishes to remain anonymous.

3.  The way we do Session Planning.

For most Podcamps, we set up a wiki or Google Form where people can sign up to speak in advance- once the spots are filled, they are filled.  We also attempt to leave at least one set of rooms open for people choosing to add content the day of the event, Bar-Camp Style, or to extend conversation sstarted in sessions.

The reason we allow pre-planned sessions is that it gives people an idea of what to expect at an event, and whether they should sign up or not.  Surprisingly, many people don’t want to commit to attending an event where they don’t know who is speaking, or on what topic!   This tweak has actually been shown to help boost attendance at Podcamps, and aids the organizers immensely when planning for any swag or amenities they might provide.  It also helps potential sponsors have a better idea of what Podcamp is about and thus make a more informed decision about their sponsorship investment in the community.

4. We don’t “vote” on sessions to decide whether or not they should be presented. While some events, like South by Southwest take suggestions or submissions for sessions and then let the community vote for what they want to see, we don’t.  As a result, Podcamp is not a popularity contest, but if you want to present, it’s always prudent to register as a speaker and submit your session as early as possible.

Venues do not have infinite space, and we have a limited number of sessions available over the course of a weekend.  Sessions are usually 30 to 45 minutes long rather than rapid fire, five minute presentations.  So with limited physical space and limited time, we can’t always accomodate everyone who wants to speak.  This can lead to disappointment for people who don’t feel they were warned that sessions spaces were getting tight, but the lesson here is that the early bird gets the worm and those who procrastinate may lose out on opportunities.

5. Unlike Barcamp, we don’t use the “morning of” sign up for sessions. As discussed above, many podcamps, but not all, have moved away from the day of sign up for sessions.  Often, this is to avoid the chaos of hundreds of people gathered around a whiteboard, or problems caused by being unable to access an online schedule.  Because our attendees are computer and internet afficianados, their ability to crash and slow internet connectivity is close to legendary.  All of these folks  in one spot often leads to connectivity issues, even with robust wi-fi systems.

6. Some Podcamps charge an admissions fee. Podcamp started out as a free to attend conference like Barcamp.  But after we found that only about half on the people signing up to attend Podcamp were showing up, several Podcamps, including Podcamp Boston and Podcamp Philly have instituted a nominal fee.  This has raised attendance rates to well over 80%, making planning for space and for events much easier and much more predictable.  The admissions fees are used, typically, either to pay for event-related expenses like facility rental and insurance, or some have donated the admissions fees to charitable causes.  In either case, the fees are well below typical conference fees and we have yet to have people question the value proposition.

I understand that Podcamp is not everyone’s idea of an unconference, and some of the community-organized features can frustrate those expecting more of a professional conference experience.  I look at Podcamp as being partly a laboratory, we are not only are learning from each other during the event, but with each version, we try new things and make improvements to try to do better each and every time.

The Organizers are volunteers, and do this for the love of the community and their belief in the experience that Podcamp delivers.  It is not a profit making enterprise, but seeks to run budget neutral for each event.  The organizers from each community conference live in the community and the surrounding area, and while the Podcamp Foundation has set forth the rules for what constitutes a Podcamp and what does not, the formal affiliation between events remains largely in name and spirit only.

While the Directors of the Foundation, including myself, Chris Penn and Chris Brogan, strive to provide advice and guidance for any Podcamp or potential Podcamp organizer, we are not directly involved in producing Podcamps outside of those we have always been associated with at this point in time.  I’m happy to help anyone start a Podcamp in their area, and we are currently working on an e-book in our “free” time to try to make this process easier.

Please let me know if you have any additional questions about Podcamp I can answer in the comments, and I look forward to seeing you at Podcamp Boston and/or Podcamp Philly.