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Participatory Conferencing

We’re less than a week from the Northeast Scala Symposium, and the few remaining RSVPs spots (out of three hundred this year) are dwindling.

The symposium was born as a gathering of the Scala meetups of New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. We simply took the planning and budgeting processes of our meetups and scaled them up. Which is to say, we didn’t do much planning or budgeting at all. We held the first nescala in one of our usual meetup space and we selected speakers with a voting process open to everyone who RSVP’d. This not only seemed fair, it saved us the task of trying to anticipate everyone else’s preferences.

This shooting-from-the-hip style of organizing has worked well for us organizers and, as far as I tell, for the attendees. Or rather, participants. Everyone at the gathering—not just the esteemed speakers—must contribute for it to be special. Otherwise we could all stay at home and watch the same dudes talking on youtube.

Each year nescala has grown in size more or less on its own. We haven’t made growth a priority, but it is gratifying and it’s got to be good for the Scala community that a regional conference is growing.

The greater the number of participants in nescala, the more people who have to be registered, fed, cleaned up after, and—well—taken care of. I would love it if we could do this as a group, but you have to remember that this is a conference by and for programmers. Nobody is going to cut short a conversation about the pros and cons of iteratees for something as mundane as disposing of paper plates with pizza crusts on them.

Meetup organizers excel at throwing away paper plates, but as the conference grows there just aren’t enough of us to keep up. So we’ve done the only rational thing and hired people to do this for us. And it works out: as the conference grows we get $50 from more people and we also get more offers of sponsorship.

But there is one side effect of growth I’m constantly on guard against: commoditization of the experience. The more paid staff there are helping make the day a success, the more people will confuse the organizers with paid staff. The more they will see a customer-service relationship where there is none. The less they will be active participants in the symposium, and the more they may taint the experience of others—including, if I may be selfish, the organizers.

We don’t make money off of nescala and have no reason to. For a living we write software, like you. For a hobby we bring people together, and the payback is in seeing others participate actively in the conference. Watching people help each other. It’s as simple as that.

See you on Friday.

flatMap Oslo  (May 15, 16) is Norway’s first Scala conference, and the first anywhere to have such exciting light fixtures. (Good speaker lineup, too.)

flatMap Oslo (May 15, 16) is Norway’s first Scala conference, and the first anywhere to have such exciting light fixtures. (Good speaker lineup, too.)

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