Fun, inclusive and informal: Joomla unconferences
Ever heard of unconference events? Joomla has at least two: JoomlaCamp in Germany and Joostock in The Netherlands. David Jardin is one of the organizers of JoomlaCamp, JCM’s Anja de Crom is in the Joostock Team. They love to share with us what unconferences are all about and how Joomla can benefit from them.
Anja: At the time of this talk, you’ve just had the fourth edition of JoomlaCamp in Essen. How was it?
David: It was great! The pandemic required that the community suspended all in-person meetings and while online events are a great alternative, it’s still hard to create the same atmosphere as an in-person meeting, where a big part of the experience happens outside the session rooms. So, getting the chance to finally meet community members again was great and probably the main motivation for the majority of attendees. But don’t get me wrong: the event also was great content-wise, as we had many great presentations and discussions.
How did it all start?
Anja: I remember how Joostock started: two people at the Dutch Joomla Days told me: “We’re going to organize an unconference called Joostock, and you’re in the team”, and that was it. How did the idea for JoomlaCamp come up?
David: Back in 2015 I was invited as a CMS-Garden ambassador to the TYPO3 unconference in Essen, Germany. I never went to an unconference event before and was excited to see that the ad-hoc creation of a session schedule led to many different session formats and created a program that really fitted the audience needs, because it was created by the attendees, for the attendees. So, after a couple of hours it was super clear to me that we need a similar event in the Joomla ecosystem.
Anja: How long did it take you from this first idea to the first edition? Joostock took well over a year, but hey, we didn’t have an example like you had.
David: That was a pretty quick thing. The TYPO3 camp took place in November 2015, the first JoomlaCamp happened in March 2016, so 4 months.
The teams and the locations
Anja: Joostock has a four-member team. Do you organise JoomlaCamp on your own or together with others?
David: I organize the event together with Stefan Wendhausen. We have been organizing JoomlaDay Germany for many years and we make a great team!
Anja: Is JoomlaCamp always in Essen?
David: So far it has always been in Essen, yes. That’s mainly because of a pretty unique venue, the “Unperfekthaus”. It offers us plenty of space, great food and a unique atmosphere. It’s a mixture between a restaurant, a club, a maker space, a museum and a conference venue and is worth a visit on its own! The only downside is that it’s located in the far west of Germany, making it difficult to reach from other parts of Germany. What do you do with Joostock?
Anja: We try to find a different location for each edition to accommodate people from all over the country. It is not really easy to find something affordable that can be reached by car and public transport, and has options for lunch and dinner as well. With the help of our sympathetic sponsors, so far we managed to keep the ticket price relatively low, but it is a challenge.
What to expect when attending
Anja: What are the characteristics of JoomlaCamp? At Joostock, the only arranged thing upfront is a schedule that has time slots for each room or session table, a big stack of Post-Its and a lot of coloured felt-tip pens.
David: The main difference between a JoomlaCamp and a JoomlaDay is the fact that a camp is organized as an unconference. That means that no upfront schedule is prepared by the organizers. Instead, everybody arrives as a normal attendee. The first session of the day is used as a big introduction round, where everyone says their name and three hashtags that describe the person.
Anja: Oh, nice. We don’t do that with Joostock, but it’s definitely something to discuss with the team when we’re planning the next edition. We usually start with a motivational speech by yours truly: I explain what’s going to happen and make sure everybody is ready to have fun and share stuff. After that it’s Post-Its time. We ask if there are volunteers who’d like to moderate the sessions. And then everyone with ideas for sessions writes their idea on a Post-It note and also if they want to present something. If you’d like to join the session, you put your name on the Post-It so the team can make a good schedule. Moderators can put their names on the Post-Its if they want to moderate it.
JoomlaCamp has an extra session before Post-It time, right?
David: Yes, after the introduction session, the actual session planning takes place: if you have something that you would like to share or you would like to learn, you step up, explain what you would like to talk about and write your topic down on a Post-It. If you can speak about it yourself, you also add your name on that Post-It - if not, a speaker or moderator is found within the group of attendees.
When all ideas are presented, every attendee votes on the ideas, allowing the moderators to filter sessions by popularity and also to make sure that popular sessions don’t run simultaneously.
This format makes a camp a much more informal, audience-driven event than a JoomlaDay.
Anja: I agree. And wow, voting! Another thing we don’t do at Joostock. If we have too many sessions, we try to change the schedule. Sometimes we split the session time so we can have two shorter sessions in one time slot. And we try to make sessions about popular topics available for as many attendees as possible.
So. Joostock has about 35-40 attendees per event. How many people attend JoomlaCamp?
David: Before the pandemic we had about 70 people per event. This year it went down to 35 people, but that’s more related to the fact that there were only 4 weeks between the announcement of the date and the actual event.
And then the fun starts!
Anja: For me, the most amazing moments of our first edition were when everybody started writing Post-Its with ideas, and after that, the great sharing of knowledge and experiences that took place at the discussion tables. I was so proud of that! Can you remember the highlights of JoomlaCamp edition 1?
David: I totally agree with your memories here! The conference format is built upon the idea that everybody can and should contribute - and seeing that idea becoming reality was great. I especially enjoyed sessions where none of the “frequent speakers” gave a talk, but where average users took the courage to lead a session - a step that they would probably never have taken at a “normal” Joomla conference.
Fun - and value as well
Anja: What do you think is key to making unconferences valuable?
David: I think that the key is to create an inviting, informal atmosphere where attendees feel included. As a moderator, I highlight that camp sessions don’t need to be pixel-perfect presentations but informal gatherings, where the audience not only is a consumer but also a contributor. That means, that you don’t have to be an expert yourself to run a session about a topic - it’s ok to ask questions where you don’t know the answer!
Anja: So an unconference is lively, we share stuff, the atmosphere is vibrant, we laugh a lot, we eat together and have loads of great conversations, but what can an unconference do for Joomla? Should it do something for Joomla?
David: Especially bigger JoomlaDays tend to be separated into “the inner circle” (the conference team, the speakers, frequent attendees etc) and “the general audience” - a camp can help bridging that gap because it blurs these boundaries.
Anja: How do you think Joomla can benefit from this?
David: It’s an audience-driven event format, which also means that it’s an interesting opportunity for the project to actually see what the current topics and pain points for the community are. Niels Braczek i.e. did a camp session where he asked people about the things that Joomla 5 should improve - he just listened and took notes.
Anja: Our first edition was a few months before GDPR became an issue. People had heard it was coming but didn’t really know the implications yet. So one of the sessions was about that, and since this one had so many attendees, we came up with the idea to organize a separate knowledge sharing event for it, Joostock presents. Joostock now has two types of events: themed knowledge sessions and unconferences. Up till now, we’ve had two editions of both types.
At our second unconference, marketing was one of the discussion topics. This eventually resulted in a Joomla business directory on the Dutch JoomlaCommunity website.
Share your views together
Anja: Joostock attendees like the informal character of the event. And the exchange of information and knowledge on different topics and various skill levels, in small groups so everybody has a feeling they participate instead of listening to someone presenting. How do people respond to JoomlaCamp?
David: They enjoy that an unconference is a much more inclusive event type - most sessions aren’t presentations but discussions, allowing everyone to share their views.
So now you know what a Joomla unconference is: not just fun, but a way to strengthen the community, talk about meaningful topics, and, most important of all: share.