Thoughts on the Oxford Drupalcamp

Back in the mists of time (something like the week before the London Drupalcon), a few people were having conversations which went along the line of “why don’t we have a Drupalcamp in Oxford?”. These were good conversations but were being repeated in a few places. I hoped to put the conversations together and watch. So I did and got drawn into the recent Oxford Drupalcamp which appears to have been a success.

Having set up the initial post on the Oxford Drupal User Group (OxDUG) pages, I had hoped that it would take on  a life of its own. Which it did after some rescucitation in true monster style. I like monsters. To a degree. One of the things that we thought important was having a theme to focus minds in part, rather than have an “isn’t Drupal great?” weekend which preaches to the converted. We wanted non-Drupal attendance as well since communities need to adapt and grow to survive. I had suggested either publishing or education (since Oxford appears to have a reputation for both) and we plumped for education.

The theme was suitably open for interpretation and I think we did so. A couple of the organisers work for education related establishements and some want to educate users about Drupal and open source. These different interpretations, I think, encouraged us to think about what we wanted from the camp. In the spirit of exploration, Finn (from the Agile Collective) and I went across to the Cambridge ScienceCamp where we had a good time and learned about all things campish. Oh yes, we announced the date as well and talked about a UK Drupal Association. We asked what had gone well and what not so well since this was the first camp any of us had ever run.

Raz, from the Oxford e-Research Centre and elsewhere, helped find us a venue which ended up being St Catherine’s College (after looking at various options). A great venue with decent Internet Access, food and drink. Since we were using it at the end of term, we could avoid some room charges but the college option is not necessarily the cheapest. Things went quiet again with bts and pieces bubbling until we remembered something which we had not yet acquired – a website! Also tickets needed to go on sale and promotion.

Agile Collective and Webcurl used the COD distribution to put together the site in a few days and we had to get tickets on sale. One of the things that was discussed at Cambridge was the idea of a UK Association to pool resources and provide things like a bank account that camps can use and to pass along any profits to make events better, or even help them start. Colin, from Webcurl, and Finn made some of the business arrangements that have helped us  get the event moving on. The price was agreed based on the budgets that we had and the early bird tickets went up and were promoted. We even began using the OxDUG twitter feed and pushing out tweets and retweeting ourselves. Finn ran around other camps seeing what they did and we took the best ideas and reused them.

Again things went quiet until we started meeting via Skype regularly. Andy and JP from the Torchbox team guided us and helped keep things going as well. We had still forgotten things but got ourselves together with lanyards, badges (mail-merging <shudder />) and some t-shirts for organisers (which we might have thought about more carefully). Raz got us a key note speaker (when the talk comes online watch it – really interesting and down to earth). we had sponsers, a venue, tickets sold, bits and pieces.

Thunder crashed, lightning flashed. It was alive!

We had a schedule, speakers and volunteers. Perhaps we needed more organisation and our internal communcations some times lacked but the day had come. We gave out badges, printed fliers with the schedules, pointed people in the direction of the rooms, got projectors working. Organised chaos ensued for two days. The Torpedo Factory Group came in as our webcasting sponsors which gave us a platform that we had been thinking about but didn’t have the tools to do at the time.

From the talks I got to see (not as many as I’d like but somebody had to run the desk), the main themes were collaboration, re-use and sharing of knowledge and resources, not only in software but also in education. The camp itself had beginners to advanced Drupallers. The time I was on the desk was used to try out some ideas locally to see if they might work and to learn about the XML RPC hooks (including going back to a bit of Perl) and Solr integration. I missed Raz’s awesome typo (that’ll be online as well I hope). Having the space to try things and ask if needs be is an important part of camps and conferences as well as seeing presentations. Trying out ideas as well as seeing them.

One thing we did do was to get some of the lanyards and badge holders back so that we could recycle them for any other event. If we hold them. We do have a group wash up meeting to tidy up loose ends in the coming days. One of the things that has been discussed is passing on information to the Community team at Acquia so that we can share knowledge about the bits that worked and things to think about when planning events.

So will we do it again? I don’t know. The event worked well, I enjoyed being part of it, I learned and had time to experiment. It took far more time than I thought it would but it was good working with people to pull something special together. It is a group effort to do this though. We had smiles in the pub afterwards but you could see the bags under the eyes.

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