You might have gotten an e-mail or a tweet recently about something called the “NCTech4Good Unconference.” You are probably wondering whether it is worth one’s time on a pretty Saturday to sit inside with a bunch of nerds, especially if (like me) this is how you already spent most of your week.
Well, let me tell you why I’ll be there.
As I mentioned in my last blog post, HASTAC is hosting and facilitating the first-ever NCTech4Good Unconference on April 16th. I’ve found that there is a lot of (understandable) confusion about what an “unconference” (or “Barcamp”) is, especially among those who have not experienced them – but sometimes even with those who have.
The history of this idea is less important than how it’s done, but it’s quite interesting and worth mentioning here. This idea was first conceived in the 1980′s as Open Space Technology – a way for participants to organize and conduct their own conferences. The first BarCamp (essentially an unconference for geeks) was held in 2005 in response to the elite FOOCamp that was hosted by tech media mogul Tim O’Reilly. I believe BarCamps were also inspired by the BloggerCons of the early 2000′s which aimed to bring a blog-like dialog into real-life meetings. So that’s enough history, see this Wikipedia entry for lots more fascinating background: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Space_Technology .
There are a few specific things that I think are key to a successful unconference…
I have a long history working to help North Carolina nonprofits better use communication technology to advance their missions. But even when I started doing this work in 1996, there was one person who was already the “old guard” of nonprofit tech in North Carolina. Her name is Judy Hallman. In 1989, Judy helped to create local, public tech resources through PIN, Inc. PIN spawned NC Communities and RTPnet, the latter of which provided e-mail and web hosting as well as support to nonprofits way back when their only options were AOL and Compuserve. (anyone remember HandsNet?) Two weeks ago, Judy was recognized with a lifetime achievement award from the Nonprofit Technology Network at their conference in Washington, DC.
Not content to rest on her pioneer laurels, Judy has continued to create and organize for the past two decades. The newest of her endeavors is NCTech4Good, a network that ties together the growing nonprofit tech community in North Carolina, and also hosts the annual NCTech4Good Conference. After last year’s conference, a number of people (including myself) suggested the addition of an unconference after the formal one-day conference. After careful consideration, Judy and other organizers agreed.