One of the great things about hosting Open Spaces/Unconferences is the way that it inspires other people to do it, turning the idea into a viral meme. Grzegorz Duda sent me this message which I thought was worth sharing.
I've added my answers to his questions within "" marks. You can find out about Open Spaces and the Java Posse Roundup here and the Flex Jam here.
Here is Gregor's Message:
I would like you to know that last Saturday I was organizing first UnConference in Poland about Java. I called it COOLuary (it means "behind the scene talks" in Polish and also have this "COOL" meaning. Do you like that name?).
I had 42 people (6 was absent due to flu epidemic in Poland). We had 5 sessions and 5 tables for discussion in one room, to make sure people will switch tables when they wanted, but it was too noisy from time to time. Do you also have all discussions in the same room? Or do you prefer seperate rooms?
[I definitely find separate rooms are desireable, precisely because of the noise. At the Roundup it's essential because we are recording the discussions, but it's generally desireable just for concentration. However, my first experience with open spaces was at an early version of the Python conference where tables in the dining room were used. It was not ideal, but if there are no other options it still works.]
I started with "normal" one man talk about UnConferences and organizational things. It took about 30-45 minutes. Next time I need to be faster, but I needed to be sure that people understand idea and give them some topics to discussions ;) When it comes to creating agenda, I was amazed - 2 minutes and almost whole agenda was covered by yellow cards...
Topic of this UnConference was "Quo Vadis Java" and we talked a lot about new languages (Groovy, Scala, etc.), Spring, web frameworks, AOP, ESB, refactorings, OSGi and more.
It was really great event, and I am planning to repeat it in summer.
What I didn't like is "clustering". When we had "Future of Spring" discussion, almost half of attendees join that table. It caused that rest of the people, that didn't want to be alone at other tables, joined Spring as well. I thought about some kind of voting next time, to show people, that there is interest in other topic than Spring as well during this session. What do you think about it? Do you have any solution to avoid "clustering"?
[This happens, and I don't know of any way to prevent it. It may just be the nature of open spaces to let things happen, even if you don't think they should be. The only solution I see is to recognize when it is happening by having people mark the talks they are going to, and if one appears to be something everyone is going to, then consider moving some of the other talks. In general, the ability to move talks helps reduce conflicts like this.]
There was also idea to put topic for some slots ahead of time so people could know what will be cover at UnConference? I believe it is bad idea, but maybe it would increase number of attendees next time.
[The problem with that is the attendees that come tend to think of it as being a traditional type of conference, and expect it and might not participate as much. That said, I don't know that it necessarily hurts to have a wiki with topics on it ahead of time, and I've experimented with that. However, I've often found that those topics don't end up getting used. I think it's better to be clear about the theme and the format. For marketing, try to get testimonials from people who have gone -- those are the most convincing. ]
There was also idea about having one "normal" talk in the middle of the day (we started at 10 am and finished at 5pm with only lunch break). what do you think about it?
[Possibly, although I wonder if the beginning of the day wouldn't be better -- it might set a tone and get people's minds going. I've considered doing this but never tried it. Because people enjoy the discussion sessions so much I'm guessing the feedback might end up saying "don't have lectures" but the only way to find out is to try it.]
[Being nervous before the first one (mostly thinking that no one will put discussion topics on the board) is probably a universal experience. You're letting go and trusting that something good will happen, and that's not how we've been programmed. But that makes it all the better of an experience when it inevitably turns out to be great.]
Thank you so much for you reply. Regarding clustering, it was what I did - I moved all topics from that clustered session, and left only those 2 that people attended. That is all what I could do at that time. Another idea was to split that big topic into 2, but a more detailed discussions. The topic "Future of Spring" was too general, and maybe that is why clustering occured.
Next time I will try seperate rooms if I would have possibility to do that.
Regarding topics ahead of UnConference on wiki is quite OK. I will also try to make theme of UnConference a bit more precise than "Quo Vadis Java". Maybe that would help people understand what they can expect.
And again, thanks for all help and great idea of "UnConferences".