Sunday, August 21, 2005

Foo-Bar: The realities of exclusivity and the personal invading the professional

I've been reading snippets about both FooCamp and BarCamp.

The former is the invite-only O'Reilly event.

The latter a totally open and inclusive (if you happen to be reading the blogs or on the lists of any of the folks involved in throwing BarCamp together, or read folks who are reading those folks) grass-roots event.

Obviously I think BarCamp is a cool idea, and definitely in the spirit of BlogHer. But even word-of-mouth can be limited and exclusive, especially when there is little time between the idea and the execution. This is why many people blogged about how they weren't "invited" to BlogHer...assuming that because they didn't hear about it until afterwards, that they weren't invited. No, they just weren't close enough to the originators to hear about it quickly enough. When you do not do traditional advertising or marketing, then the news will travel out in circles or ripples. Let's face it, some large number of our vibrant MommyBlogging crowd at BlogHer first heard about the conference via Dooce. Had she not been invited to speak would as many of them shown up? Doubtful.

Still BlogHer was open to all, and so is BarCamp...the amount of "exclusivity" reflected in the containment of event information within blogs and wikis is nothing compared to an invitation-only event.

But, as Mary Hodder points out, it is pretty fascinating to see Tim O'Reilly explain the basic criteria for being invited or not invited to FooCamp. Mary correctly identifies that many people are bristling at O'Reilly's notion of a "bozo filter. Someone who has been at a previous FOO camp, and whom we had complaints about for some reason or another, or who has built that kind of reputation on the net. Unfortunately, you probably don’t know who you are, but other people do."

Man, nothing makes people more uncomfortable or unhappy than to feel that they are being judged...and that the criteria is subjective. But if I wanted to create a whole series of posts based on a "The Myth Of..." meme, this one could be called The Myth of Objectivity...and have nothing to do with journalism.

We all know jerks who still manage to get ahead, but when possible people will shun jerks. Whether we are conscious of it or not we all do an internal cost-benefit analysis when deciding who to invite to parties, ask to work on a project with us, recommend to a colleague etc. We do it. I do it. You do it.

I learned this long ago in another lifetime, when I did summer stock theatre. I was part of the team who produced the nightly post-show entertainment down in the bar. The theatre really made all its money in liquor, so they had we poor apprentices performing until the last patron left, cabaret-style. As the summer wore on we did find ourselves programming in more performances, whether solos, duets or group numbers, from the people we, for lack of a better word, liked. We had a short amount of rehearsal time, and were always short on sleep. We stopped being able to or wanting to tolerate the divas, the unreliable, the forgetful, the demanding, the people unable to take direction etc.

I think that experience was the first time I was on the other side of that kind of decision-making process. And I was a little shocked at, and perhaps even disappointed in, myself for not judging purely on talent. But it didn't change the reality that those other factors were part of every decision we made as a team.

Hey, I don't think people should be excluded because they ask tough questions. Because they dare to disagree. I've been in that position too...the person who told the uncomfortable truth. All the being right in the world didn't make my executive team any happier with me.

But every person's tolerance and affinity for such messages will be different. It's galling for it to be so subjective, but it is. When O'Reilly and his team do their pre-conference cost-benefit analysis and apply their bozo filter, they will have different results than some other team of people. And they may be applying theirs to actual attendees, but other teams are doing it to invite back speakers or sponsors or volunteers.

It's great that there are totally open and inclusive events like BarCamp or BlogHer. But we're never going to eradicate the fact that the personal informs the professional.

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