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Geeks to hold open-source campout

Those not invited to the exclusive geekfest Foo Camp set for this weekend may attend Bar Camp, a techie alternative campout.

A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.
For a couple of years, Tim O'Reilly has been bringing together some of the smartest people in technology for a weekend campout of thinking, talking, brainstorming and beer drinking.

Because of the A-list names--such as Google co-founder Larry Page and Technorati founder Dave Sifry--and the level of discourse involved, the trip, known as Foo Camp (for Friends of O'Reilly), has become one of the must-get invites among the geek set.

But when the event convenes again this weekend near the Sebastopol, Calif., offices of O'Reilly & Associates, O'Reilly's publishing company, a number of people who have attended previously or who would like to be on hand won't have gotten invitations.

That's why some of them have gotten together to organize what they're calling Bar Camp and referring to as an open-source alternative to Foo Camp. Bar Camp is a play on the word "foobar," a common programming variable.

Impressively, Andy Smith and his fellow organizers put together their camping outing--which will be held this weekend at the Palo Alto, Calif., offices of a geek-friendly company called SocialText--in seven days. They hope to give anyone who wants to come a chance to be around likeminded people and, perhaps, come up with some great new ideas.

"It's sort of like the place for a bunch of geeks to get together and work together and try to create something exciting by being in close proximity to each other," said Smith, a programmer for a social-browsing technology company called Flock. "A lot of us wish we could go to Foo Camp. We always thought it was a great idea, so we wanted to model something after it."

Think-quick alternative
With that in mind, the 20 to 50 geeks Smith expects to show up will enjoy a weekend of snoozing in sleeping bags, hanging out in sweatpants and taking advantage of unlimited wireless Internet access, all while they spend their time listening to presentations from those on hand.

Smith said that, like Foo Camp, Bar Camp requires everyone who shows up to present something. He expects to hear people talk about such topics as a motorcycle rigged for wardriving in such a way that when it discovers a Wi-Fi hotspot it posts anonymously to a Web site listing all the locations it finds. Smith himself may talk about his upbringing in the technology world.

Meanwhile, Bar Camp is also soothing the tempers of some former Foo Camp attendees who found themselves off the invite list this year.

"I'm quite upset about it," Russell Beattie, a former Foo Camp invitee, wrote on his popular blog. "I personally know enough people who are going to make it somewhat embarrassing--like I didn't make some sort of intellectual or professional cut or something."

For his part, O'Reilly thinks any angst being cast about by people who didn't get invited to Foo Camp this year is unwarranted.

"Everybody wants to come back, but that's not exposing our group to new ideas," O'Reilly said. "So you have to keep bringing in new faces, because what we're really trying to do is explore new areas where we don't already know people. So we try to do a mix of people that we know and new people. So that means we can't invite all the same people every year."

He also said he is starting to realize that by naming his camping weekend Foo (Friends of O'Reilly) Camp, he was creating a dynamic where, as the event grew beyond being able to accommodate everyone who wanted to come, people's feelings could get hurt.

"The downside of that (name) is that it ends up (with people saying), 'If I didn't get invited, I must not be a friend.' If we had known it was going to be like that, we might have chosen a different name."

In any case, Smith said he has no problem with Foo Camp's exclusivity.

"We think it's useful that a bunch of people were upset at Foo Camp this year," he said, "because we think it means that a bunch of them will come to our camp."

 
Correction: The story incorrectly described the origin of the term "Bar Camp." The event takes its name from "foobar," a programming term that refers to a dummy variable.