Getting the agenda for WhereCamp5280 together

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Peter Batty

Aug 9, 2009, 8:36:43 PM8/9/09
to WhereCamp5280
Hi everyone,

I wanted to send out a few thoughts on how we put the agenda together.
The "classic" way that this happens at an unconference is that we just
get together at the beginning of the day, people write down the title
of a talk they would like to give or discussion they would like to
lead, and we arrange the pieces of paper on a big grid. This has
worked well at both the unconferences I've been to.

And just to clarify (since several people have asked questions about
this), while the agenda is dynamic, many of the sessions are still
like a traditional conference, where people have prepared a
presentation in advance, they give that and then take questions at the
end (or during) as you would expect. And then some sessions are less
formal, someone just volunteers to lead a discussion on a certain

What we would like to try to do for WhereCamp5280 is to get a bit
ahead of the game and get at least a partial agenda together ahead of
time. We still definitely plan to keep the agenda flexible so it's
easy to add sessions as interesting things come up that warrant more
discussion. And we definitely want the agenda to be driven by all the
attendees, that's the whole idea of an unconference of course. But we
think that by doing some of the work on this ahead of time, we can
spend more time on interesting discussions at the conference (and less
on organizing), and also by starting the discussion ahead of time, we
will hopefully get more good presentations as people who haven't
attended an unconference before will get more of a feel for it, and
may think of more ways they can contribute. Eric and I have discussed
the idea of organizing a bit more ahead of time with Anselm Hook, who
organizes the original WhereCamp in the Bay Area, and he thought this
was a good idea.

One other thing we would propose doing differently from the original
WhereCamp is having some plenary sessions (this wasn't an option with
the facility we were using in Palo Alto). But we have a large room
available (which seats 180), and quite a few well known speakers in
our midst, who we figured most of our attendees would probably like to
hear. We have a total of 5 additional rooms available on Friday, which
hold 30-40 each, for parallel sessions (slightly fewer rooms on
Saturday). It will probably be easier to manage plenary sessions with
a little planning ahead of time too (though again we can add some on
the fly if we want to).

So I would propose that we plan on 3 or perhaps 4 types of session:

- Plenary presentations - I am going to suggest that maybe we make
these 20 minutes. Where 2.0 uses shorter presentation slots than most
conferences and I quite like that, it forces people to be focused and
not waffle too much :). And we have lots of good candidates for
plenary talks and limited time. But I could be persuaded to make them
a bit longer, say 30 minutes (and we could always allow longer for
some talks if we had particular reason to).
- Breakout sessions - I think these should be longer to allow for more
detailed discussion. I also think we want a bit of padding time in
between, to make sure we get them finished in time for people to
switch sessions (which you don't need to worry about with a sequence
of plenary talks). So I'd suggest 45 minutes for these (30-40 minutes
for the actual session with the remainder for a short break).
- 5 minute lightning presentations - this has been a really popular
format at recent conferences I've been to, and I think we should
include some sessions of these. I don't propose that they have to be
in "Ignite" format or similar (though if they are that's fine) -
that's too much work to prepare, unless you have one lying around. And
they could use prepared slides or could be just "off the cuff". I
think that a benefit of the unconference format is that if someone
does a 5 minute presentation and people would like to hear about /
discuss the topic in more detail, we can just add a longer followup
session to discuss it in more detail.
- Plenary panels (this is the optional one) - again we have a pretty
interesting crowd of people, and there may be certain topics that fit
a panel format well. A couple of topics I have thought about that
might make good panels are crowdsourcing and cloud computing.

I would suggest that on the first morning (Friday), perhaps we aim to
get the agenda more or less lined up ahead of time, and include a mix
of the first three types of session. Then we can see how people like
the different types and adjust the mix accordingly for subsequent
sessions. Maybe we organize Friday something like the following:

9:00-9:30 Introductions and finalize the agenda
9:30-10:10 Two plenary presentations, 20 minutes each
10:10-10:25 Coffee break
10:25-11:55 Two rounds of parallel breakout sessions, 45 minutes each
12:00-12:30 Five or six lightning presentations (5 minutes each)

12:30-1:30 Lunch

1:30-2:00 Plan the afternoon agenda based on what we thought of the
morning, and looking at the potential presentations we have lined up
2:00-5:00 Afternoon sessions

6:00 Party time :) !!

Please let me know what you think of this as a plan - and do feel free
to disagree with any or all of it! (But please let me know if it
sounds reasonable too!).

So a few other things I think we need to get done:
- If you are contemplating a talk and haven't added it to the
"Potential talks" page please do so - I know of quite a lot of
potential speakers / talks that aren't there. And even if you are
famous you are not excused from this responsibility (not mentioning
any names, Mr Coast and Mr Fee!)
- We need to build up a list of possible 5 minute talks / demos - I
suggest we just schedule those on a "first come, first served" basis
(i.e. no need to vote on those). I've added a section in the potential
talks section for 5 minute sessions, and added one of mine in there.
- We need to identify potential plenary sessions. I've added a section
for this on the potential talks page too. Feel free to nominate either
your own presentation or someone else's for this! Once we have a list
of candidates, maybe we can either do a quick online poll (perhaps for
the first two plenary talks at least), and/or just do a show of hands
on the day (I was thinking about a twitter voting system for use
during the event but that may be over-complicating it!).

Sorry for the long note but hope this all makes sense (and that most
of you made it this far!). Let me know your thoughts on this approach,
and please update the Potential Talks page.

We really do have a great group of people lined up, the sponsors are
continuing to come through (latest addition since the last email is
PublicEarth, thanks to them as well as all the others), so I really
think it's going to be a great event. And remember if you would like
to make an individual contribution of $25, you can do so at


Brian Timoney

Aug 10, 2009, 12:54:44 PM8/10/09
to WhereCamp5280


First, I am very much in favor of a semi-structured Friday morning so
folks don't feel like they're being thrown in the deep end of the un-
conference pool.

That said, I'd amend the morning schedule as follows--

9:00-9:30 Introductions and finalize the agenda
9:30-10:10 Two plenary presentations, 20 minutes each
10:10-10:30 Coffee break
10:30-11:15 One round parallel breakout sessions, 45 minutes each
11:20-11:50 Five or six lightning presentations (5 minutes each)

12:00 - 1:00 Lunch


Any session before lunch is rough, but pushing lunch beyond some
people's (e.g. me) normal grazing time would negatively impact the
lightning presentations.

Only having one breakout session in the morning lets us start the
lightning talks earlier before lunch. By mid-day, then, attendees
will have a good sampler of what's going on without fighting off

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