Why I Love Unconferences

I’m seeing increasing numbers of unconferences popping up and I must say I’m quite enjoying them. Last year I went to OggCamp, we included an unconference at DPC, and now there’s a PHP-specific event coming up in Manchester: PHP Unconference Europe or phpuceu. I really like unconferences but I think sometimes people don’t know what to expect, so here’s an outline.

There are a few different ways to run an unconference:

  • Advance Voting – Personally I think this approach disproportionately favours the in-crowd or people with lots of twitter followers, but it does at least let people know what to expect and it lets the organisers publicise the slots.
  • On-the-day Voting – I’ve seen this done a few times and I love this approach. Basically you can throw in whatever talks you like, because only the ones the audience want to see will get onto the schedule! As a speaker this diffuses my impostor syndrome and often leads to a wonderful, eclectic mix of sessions in line with the attendees’ various interests
  • First Come, First Served – this works well for events that accompany a main conference and has the added advantage that it needs nothing doing in advance. As people say “I’d love to hear X talk about Y” then you can run over and put it on the schedule. This does mean that the schedule keeps evolving through the day however and the organisers need to be promoting it – I find that having the “now and next” feature on http://joind.in, and the schedule feature in all the apps, really helps with this.

Unconferences allow the hallway track to become mainstream and opens it to people beyond the usual social circle. At phpuceu in Manchester (19-20 February 2011) we’ll have some of the leaders of the industry there, speaking, hanging out, chatting … there is no better place to learn*. This unconference is an on-the-day voting (both days) event and there are some sessions and requests for sessions registered already. Tickets are dirt cheap and you can find them here.

Whether you attend in Manchester or there’s another unconference you can get to, I urge you to check it out! They have a great alternative feel and sometimes the content can be out of this world (yes, I realise the unconference at DPC10, where I hosted the main conference, upstaged all three main tracks at times!!)

* That’s technically not true, because right after phpuceu, on Monday and Tuesday, there’s a PHPDays course in Manchester. This is thePHP.cc, all three of them, sitting in a room with a small number of attendees, basically showing you anything you want to know. So if you’ve ever considered training your team on quality, architectures, or really any other best practice, then PHPDays might be a better, if more expensive, place to learn! Sebastian Bergmann, Stefan Priebsch and Arne Blankets are published authors, leading consultants and general all-round good guys, so if you’re able to attend this course then I recommend you do so – take a list of things you want to know and make the most of the session!

One thought on “Why I Love Unconferences

  1. I would just like to point out that while it is possible to register sessions in advance, it is not necessary. Attendees can register sessions on the day. In fact, often an idea for a session comes up, after talking to other attendees at the event. This is one of the key elements of PHP Unconference Europe: The sessions are intended to be a starting point for discussion. The most interesting discussions take place in the breaks between the sessions and fuel the ideas for further sessions.

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