The Day I Fell in Love with Barcamps

25.09.2013 in EnglishEvents  von Katrin Mathis

It was on 22 May 2009. From my semester abroad in Mexico I had followed how some of my fellow students were organizing a barcamp at my university in Furtwangen. Last Sunday at Barcamp Stuttgart I met many friends I have made in the past four years. Reason enough to pick up Stefan Evertz's call for a blog parade on our first barcamp and to explain the fascination of barcamps.

Back then, the concept of barcamps was not new to me. Yet to this day I find the name confusing. It was chosen for the first barcamp in Palo Alto as counter-event to the FooCamp (Friends of O'Reilly). However, it is always hard to explain that barcamps are not about drinking (although they might include some) but about knowledge exchange and networking.


When Hochschule Furtwangen opened its doors for the first Fucamp in May 2009 I was impressed that everything was taken care of from catering over child care up to shuttle services - and to my surprise everything was free thanks to sponsors. Highlights at other events include a cocktail bar at Saarcamp, massages at Barcamp Stuttgart or the simyo Power Station. As participants have little to worry about this exceptional service always leads to a relaxed atmosphere.

Networking and knowledge transfer at Fucamp 2009

Already at my first barcamp I was aware that the concept of barcamps included that everybody would contribute by holding a session or lending a hand in other areas. At that time I was writing my bachelor thesis at IMC AG on "E-Learning in European Web-based Social Network Using Widgets" and thus prepared a session on "E-Learning 2.0" sharing some of my learnings. Somehow I ended up presenting this in the very first session slot before ever having attended any other barcamp session. The room quickly filled and during my presentation an interesting discussion on the future of education developed.


Since then I have been to nine barcamps in Stuttgart, Karlsruhe, Konstanz and Saarbrücken among them two special-interest barcamps, TYPO3 Camp in Stuttgart and UX Camp Europe 2013 in Berlin.

Looking beyond the horizon

Session Planning at Fucamp 2009

Unlike traditional conferences there are no pre-assigned speakers but the program is co-created in the morning. Everyone can suggest a topic either as a well prepared presentation or as a loose discussion for example around a question. The big advantage lies in the actuality of the topics. Because they are not decided on in a call for presentations months in advance, topics that virtually arose minutes ago can be picked up.


When the sessionboards fill there are always more interesting sessions than time. I have taken away something from virtually every session I have attended over the years. For me, it helps to stay up to date on the topics that currently matter, to get insights in different areas and simply to get inspired. 


At every barcamp that I have attended I held at least one session mostly on Google Analytics and Service Design Thinking. Sharing my knowledge has always helped me to get into touch with others that share similar interests. While that had never been my primary intend, this has over the years led to more than one freelance jobs, some only years later. Sometimes session ideas only develop during the weekend. For example after I had presented the new Google Analytics version on Saturday at Saarcamp 2012 Ralf Westbrock asked me if I could do another session on Sunday covering some of the basics. We were able to win Roland Rietmüller to provide the account for a spontaneous live demonstration which became an instant success.


People that are new to barcamps often feel that there is nothing that they can contribute and I find it especially amazing how many of them realize over the weekend that they can indeed share something of value. What is special about barcamps is the supportive atmosphere. Feedback is given instead of running somebody down and in many sessions content is co-created by all attendees.


Beyond the sessions it is the participants who make or break a barcamp. At barcamps all participants are on a par with each other. Unlike at other events networking is not done obsessively but comes naturally.

Creating momentum with internal company-wide barcamps

If barcamps are such a success why not gather all employees of a company for a day of knowledge sharing? Companies such as Deutsche Post DHL, Vodafone or SWR have long recognized the potential of internal barcamps.


In times in which competences are the most important assets of many companies, internal barcamps empower employees by sharing knowledge and best practices across departments. As such they can have a share in fostering mutual understanding and enhancing team spirit by getting to know each other better. Potentially, even impulses for new or improved products and services can be rooted in internal barcamps.

All that glitters is not gold

While I thoroughly enjoyed every single barcamp, I share Ulrike's concerns:

  • At almost very barcamp the no-show rate is quite high. From my own experience organising the Service Design Jam Freiburg I know how much hard work honorary organisation of such events is. It is only fair to cancel a registration when something comes up and to free one's place for people on the waitlist.
  • Most barcamps are free but expectations are still sky-high. Many participants demand catering that takes into account all kinds of different eating habits and merchandise such as t-shirts. On the other hand, barcamps that charge a small fee such as Barcamp Stuttgart with 10€ per day seem to rather discourage participation. I am happy to make a small distribution for everything I get in return and I think this helps to get in only those who are seriously interested.
  • Barcamps heavily rely on active participation. One of the basic rules is that there are is no audience, only participants. However I feel that this got lost at some recent events. I can only encourage anyone to hold a session or to lend a hand for example by helping out at the registration desk for an hour.
  • Few employers recognize the value of barcamps. Spending a weekend at a barcamp between two full working weeks can be exhausting. Barcamps are usually cheap to attend and participants come back with lots of new knowledge and inspiration. 

Where will we meet?

Jan Theofel's Barcamp List is a great place to look for events near you. For next year Barcamp Ruhr and Saarcamp are on my wish list. Unfortunately, the first barcamp in Freiburg planned for March 2013 did not take place but I hope that one day we will be able to organize a barcamp in the "black forest metropolis."


Katrin Mathis, UX Konzepterin und Service Designerin aus Freiburg

Katrin Mathis
MBA in Service Innovation & Design und BSc in OnlineMedien berät seit über 10 Jahren Unternehmen, die digitale Transformation zum Nutzen ihrer Kunden einzusetzen.


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Markus V. Burkat,
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Dozent an der FOM Hochschule