By our count nearly 350 geeks and “geeks at heart” converged on the Railroader building in downtown Saint Paul this past Saturday and I think most everyone has been very positive about the result. I believe that number (or any number over 300) would make minnēbar the largest barcamp outside of India (Barcamp Bangalore 3 – just a couple weeks ago – drew over 500 people!). I know that barcamps are supposed to be about local community and ours was no exception, but it was still nice (and a little amazing) that we had quite a few people drive or fly in from New York (at least 2), South Dakota (at least 2), Wisconsin (6 or more), and Chicago (at least 1). Knowing that this event is worth someone’s Saturday is one things, but also worth a six hour drive, or several hundred dollar plane ticket? That is awesome.
I am very happy with the way the event turned out. I think the sessions, by and large, were first-rate. The special guests such as William Gurstelle and his excitement for making things that go Whoosh, Boom, Splat as well as the Scout Robots from the University of Minnesota gave a nice real-life tech component to the day. Of course David Heinemeier Hansson was a highlight as he was his usual witty and charming self. I have had lunch with him before (at Etech last year) and have seen him present, but he seemed even better in this setting. All his answers came very freely and he didn’t really seem to struggle with any of the questions. I am sure he had been asked about such things time and time again. Even so, I thought Jamie Thingelstad did a very good job with his side of the interview, as well.
I was very worried that the size of the crowds would really take away from the intimacy and sense of participation that is crucial to barcamps, but I don’t think these fears turned out to be warranted. Plenty of people talked between sessions or headed off to an “ad hoc session room” to discuss this or that and the sessions (with a few exceptions) never got too full. I still believe that the 50 minute session length is good. It is not so much that it can get too detailed so people really have to know their stuff. I spoke with Shourya Sarcar, one of the planners of barcamp Bangalore, and he said that one of the differences between the Minnesota and Bangalore barcamps was that their sessions are 30 minutes and that they “vote with their feet” meaning they leave a session if it is no good, or not what they had hoped. Minnesota “nice” retards that practice a bit, but there was still some wandering between sessions.