ProductCamp Austin was our Woodstock. Can we morph from Folkfest to Rock Spectacle?

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Warning: References to the musical world are purely imaginary and will likely dumbfound most readers. I hope the rest of you enjoy the links.

On the weekend of the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, Product Camp Austin 09 became the first rock concert for product types. The Dead was there to teach us about Twitter (and how to get by with a little help from your followers … free replay here). Joe Cocker showed up to give the kick ass talk about social media that The Beatles should have done on the album. His talk went viral and was replayed around the world! The Stones didn’t show up, and The Beatles only sent George Harrison, though he impressed the crowd with some solo material and garnered artist of the day. There were some really cool new faces, for me at least. I heard that Janis Joplin’s set was awesome, but I missed it. She’s performing it again in a week or two. A fairly new group on the scene, Credence Clearwater Revival, was clearly on fire, garnering a top spot in the schedule and an excited and interactive audience.  (Full disclosure: in this analogy, I am John Fogherty. Not looking forward to having my content embargoed by Warner. I just hope I can perform my own material 10 years from now.)

Three weeks ago, the inaugural Product Camp NYC was extremely well run, and still had the smallish feeling of a folkfest that people associate with an unconference barcamp. Even with smaller numbers (150 – very respectable), the artists were top drawer. Simon and Garfunkel were still together, and James Taylor, did a decidedly quaint but inspiring version of Long ago and Far Away. (That last link was real.  Definitely quaint, but worth a listen.)

With this third Austin event, Product Camps have officially entered the category of rock concert. I say Rock Spectacle, because it’s not a single band event … it’s become Woodstock.

But can the Product Camp (barcamp) format and withstand the transition into a mainstream event?

My belief is that this format is the new main event. But there will also continue to be innovative smaller gatherings, and probably also more regular microevents. Product Camps will continue to grow, retain their self-selecting, vote-with-your-feet philosophy, and new innovators will find ways to create segmented, microsegmented, and serialized events.

Hop on the bus, Gus

I am hoping participants of any Product Camps and the organizers of past and future camps will weigh in here and debate this issue.

No more Woodstock jokes. My hat is off to the organizers, Volunteers, and sponsors of Product Camp Austin.

Paul Young was the chef du jour, with the rest of the organizing team consisting of Bertrand Hazard, Roger Cauvin, Colleen Heubaum, Vicki Flaugher, Elizabeth Quintanilla. There were also many many volunteers. If anyone from the team can post a list or some names, please do so below.

Back to the main question(s):

  • Can the Product Camp format withstand the transition from Folk Fest to Rock Spectacle?
  • What needs to change? What needs to stay the same?
  • What innovative new things are emerging will make barcamp look old? Where are the new folk festivals?

– Alan


8 responses to “ProductCamp Austin was our Woodstock. Can we morph from Folkfest to Rock Spectacle?

  1. Hey, man… be careful! There’s some bad MRD being passed around.

  2. Rich,

    Blog comment of the day! Too funny.

  3. Janis Joplin here – there is no comparison to the way out experience vibed on at PCA09. Speaking as one of the core luminaries to the planning..OK, I fell out of character – I don’t honestly think Janis did much planning beyond her next amazing vocal performance and date with the bottle…so, the thing that will keep up true to our principles is a constant focus on the unconference spirit. During our team meetups at The Tavern over burgers and beer, Paul would regularly steer the convo back to keeping the unconference principles front and center. If we keep doing that, I think we can take our place in the Product Camp Hall of Fame without selling out to the Man.

    Rock on!
    Vicki “Janis” Flaugher

  4. It was great to meet you and I am flattered by the comparison to George Harrison. It was a clever and thoughtful post. I look forward to keeping in touch and sharing war stories.


    “Launch isn’t the end of the development process, it’s the beginning of selling.”

  5. Rich, Vicki, Dave, thanks!

    Also received a response via twitter from Jonas Limas (playing the role of Joe Cocker):

    And a RT from EagleChris … Jerry Garcia in our story … like the real Jerry, EagleChris is a pioneer of social media and currently has over 24,000 twitter followers. His response came in a series of 3 tweets:

  6. Wow, I didn’t know I played a small part in something THAT cool!

  7. I really wish I had made the trip to Austin to attend. I’ve heard some great feedback and had my spies send me some photos of some of the new approaches.

    My question is this: What did participants think of the new approach with the voting, and more specifically the departure from up front session pitches?

    I see the scheduling benefit, but I really enjoy the chaos and improvisational feel that comes from giving a 30 second elevator pitch at the beginning of the day.

    What did you think?

  8. Woodstock is a cool comparison, although before my time! What a great day though, and one that would never be possible without the energy and enthusiasm of the community.

    I’ve been on a mission to amp up the Austin PMM community. Our ProductCamp may never reach the numbers of Rich’s out in SV, but I’ll put our quality up against anyone and our participation per captia is also amazing if you think about it.

    RE: Rock Concert, I believe that there is an upper limit to what a ProductCamp style event can accomodate and still maintian the right spirt. We’re bumping up against it now. Our challenge will be how do we maintain that spirit without turning people away. IMO it would be a bigger violation of the unconference spirit to turn away willing participants in order to maintain a number than to accept more and embrace the chaos that comes with the people. Chaos is a good thing at ProductCamp.

    We’re about to release the survey data from this year’s event, but it’s as high as ever, and almost everyone says that they will return and recommend PCA to a friend. Those are my key metrics.

    What is the new folk festival? We’re about to try something new by organizing an ongoing PMM Austin around ProductCamp. We’ll have the normal networking over beer events, but also smaller ProductCamp style talks to fill the 6 months between ProductCamps. Product Picnics, if you will.

    Great post BTW