Moving from city to city, RecentChangesCamp reached Montreal around two weeks ago. As most people in the F/OSS community in Montreal, I was invited to participate at the event. On the first day, I had absolutely no idea of what to expect. I had never attended to an un-conference. I must admit that I really liked the format. In conferences, I usually enjoy hanging out in halls than attending to sessions. This time, I had no dilemma. No conferences, only people discussing about what they like. All the best.
On the first day, nothing is blank. No schedule. Only a central topic and around 70 people. After a short introduction, the crowd decides on the schedule by sticking topics on the wall and sometimes, moving them around. People simply identify what topic interests them and, if anyone attends to it, it will be discussed. The result is that multiple small groups get formed all over the place, starting discussions over a given topic. Sometimes it stays on track, sometimes it simply drifts away. Either way, the discussion is about what ever attendees feel like talking about. There is no need to have a central speaker holding the truth. Everyone in the room has a certain experience which can help solving someone else’s problems.
RoCoCoCamp’s topic was wikis. Before going there, I never could have imagined there was such a movement behind those. I’m just a software developper. I contributed to wiki projects over the years, but only on features I thought were interesting at the moment. During the un-conference, I met a whole lot of passionate people about wikis. Not only did we discuss specific topics during the entire day, discussions kept going during the lunch breaks and evenings. At one moment we could discuss interoperability, an hour later it would be information architecture and categorizing data or reaching collective consensus.
The great aspect of the event is that it was able to attract people from many different backgrounds. Some were developers, as pragmatic as I can be. Others were self-declared philosophers. Of course, some down to Earth people with real problematics were also present. I think their input was the most valuable of all, even if I preferred hanging out with other developers. Many of them were present. All these guys (obviously, as most technology-related events, this was mostly a male event) were very involved in different projects and had a whole lot of experience to share. I haven’t worked much with wikis in the past. To me, their achievements were way above man scale. I can barely understand how individuals can spend so much time on projects and keep their life on track. The results are impressive. Many of them actually travelled, at their own expenses, to Montreal only to attend the event. This is beyond simple interests, this is about passion.
During the lunch hour second day, leaders of all wiki projects present gathered to discuss how they could work together. For some reason, I was with them as a spectator. The lunch was far from a break. Some of the solutions are very simple, but without an actual face to face meeting, most of these things would have never occurred.
This is one topic that kept coming up over and over in discussions. The problems cannot always be solved by technical solutions in the wiki world. There are social issues. You need to deal with individuals. There is no process that can be controlled. A wiki is just a blank sheet of paper. There is no formalism, but without guidelines (or “best practices” as some would call to avoid the rigid “guideline”), wikis turn to chaos. The only real solution is education, but it takes time and effort.