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BarCamp to Newspapers: You Need Us More Than We Need You

March 06, 2009 By Carlos Miller in Technology  | 12 Comments


ABOVE: Conference organizer, Alex de Carvalho, interviewed at BarCamp 2009.

Had I known he was such a superstar, I would have made a stronger attempt to interview him at last month’s BarCamp in Miami. But at the time, the name Chris Messina didn’t strike me as anything special.

It turns out he is a king among social media strategists. An icon on the internet. A techno geek turned cyber stud.

A man with a whopping 14,795 followers on Twitter. He even has his own Wikipedia page.

And he is also one of the founders of BarCamp, which began as a spontaneous gathering of nerds in Palo Alto, California four years ago and has since turned into an international network of conferences focused on social networking, web applications, internet innovations and just about anything related to the World Wide Web.


ABOVE: BarCamp participants were encouraged to write down their ideas on Post-It notes and paste them on the white board in order to lead a presentation.

On February 22, BarCamp was held in Miami for the third year in a row, attracting people from all over the globe to share ideas and learn new innovations and to socialize - in person - for a change.

“It was a huge success,” said organizer Alex de Carvalho, one of Miami’s most prominent social media strategists. “We surpassed all expectations.”

Alex rattled off the names of several cyber studs as I interviewed him during BarCamp, which was held in five rooms and one courtyard at the ritzy Mayfair Hotel and the Indian restaurant Anokha in Coconut Grove.

None of the names rang a bell.

“Chris Messina is here, Kevin Marks is here, David Recordon is here,” he said.

I later found out these three men have more than 25,000 Twitter followers between them. I also found out that de Carvalho has more than 7,000 Twitter followers.

In other words, when de Carvalho speaks, people listen. Or more accurately, when de Carvalho Tweets, people listen.

Which is a good thing considering the local newspaper didn’t acknowledge BarCamp before, during and after the one-day conference.

“All this was done through word of mouth using social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook and blogs,” he said.


ABOVE: John Carcutt of Wordpress leads a discussion on search engine optimization.

Alex de Carvalho, who has organized all three Miami Barcamps since 2007, persuaded 38 companies to sponsor the event, ranging from small startups you’ve never heard of to internet bigwigs like Microsoft, Mozzila and Yahoo, which proves that although there is a certain underground air to BarCamp, there is also strong mainstream support. Except from the Herald, of course. “This was all done with absolutely no marketing budget,” he said.

More than 600 people attended this year’s Barcamp, more than double the number of people who attended last year’s BarCamp and ten times the number of people who showed up to the very first Barcamp in Miami.

“The Miami Herald covered that one but they haven’t covered it since,” he said.

In fairness, the Herald covered the We Media conference later that week but made no mention of BarCamp nor any mention of Future of Web Aps conference also held that week.

The Future of Web Aps and We Media were respectively held at the Arsht Center and the University of Miami, but they lacked the grassroots sentiment that makes Barcamp Miami so special.

“This was all part of what we call ‘tech week’,” said Carvalho.


ABOVE: Kevin Marks of Google leads a presentation on open social containers.

Even though they didn’t cover it, there were several Herald journalists at the function, including reporters and editors.

“There were several people from the Herald at BarCamp but I guess they were there more for themselves and not to cover it,” said Greg Linch, a 21-year-old University of Miami student and editor of the school’s newspaper, The Miami Hurricane.

As a former Miami Herald intern, Linch could probably teach them a thing or two about the future of journalism.

“In general, many in the news industry are reluctant to take the steps that would move the industry forward,” he said.

A perfect example is the Pulitzer Prize winning Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. An extremely talented writer who apparently has a fear of innovation. He recently wrote a column belittling Twitter users, writing them off as petty and insignificant.

But as Kyle Munzenrieder of the Miami New Times points out, not everybody has a syndicated soapbox to stand on each week, which is exactly what makes Twitter so appealing to so many people.

And that is the point of Barcamp. That everybody stands on equal ground regardless of seniority, experience or even Twitter followers.

BarCamp allows participants to simply walk up to a billboard and schedule a presentation they want to give, which totaled more than 65 presentations by the end of the day.

“Nobody is scheduled in advanced at BarCamp, like they are at FOWA or We Media,” said Carvalho. “When you get there, there is a big whiteboard that is blank and anybody is free to write the topic they want to discuss.”

“Nobody is guaranteed a slot, not even Chris Messina or Kevin Marks.”

Another equalizing feature is that all sponsors pay the same $300 fee, no matter how large the company is.

“It’s not like Microsoft is going to walk in there and pay $3,000 and get a guaranteed spot,” he said.

One of the most popular presentations was lead by Jim Turner, a man with 6,287 Twitter followers who discussed “Blogging for a Living.”

“Bloggers who become influential people can get approached by companies who hire them as bloggers,” said Turner, who was also broadcasting live through the internet during Barcamp to more than 200 listeners.


ABOVE: Jim Turner broadcasts to more than 200 people who were unable to attend this year’s BarCamp.

He discussed how mom bloggers have been recruited by companies like Graco and Johnson and Johnson to promote or review their products.

He even mentioned Thomas Hawk, a name I finally recognized.

Hawk is the San Francisco photo blogger who showed me the power of the blogosphere after my 2007 arrest for photographing police against their wishes. He covered my story and even had called Miami police to acquire the arrest report. He was also one of the people who inspired me to start my own blog on photographers’ rights.

Today, he frequently links to my blog which always result in a spike in traffic.

Hawk, with 7,283 Twitter followers, is so ahead of the game that he is bored with Twitter. He is more of a Friendfeed fan.

This is not to say that those attending BarCamp were all techno-savvy experts.

Ron Norman, a 61-year-old retired truck driver who is in the process of launching a government watchdog blog called Miami Complaints, said he attended the Barcamp Miami to learn new innovations.
“I’ve learned a lot today,” he said, adding that his goal on his blog is to “force the Miami commissioners to do their job.”

“There has been way too much neglect at that level.”

During this economic crisis, it is not surprising that one of the most popular presentations at Barcamp Miami was called “startup from scratch.”

Speaking of startups, some of the best coverage of the Miami BarCamp came from an energetic duo who operate the site Go Live Miami.  The site, which consists of videographer Richard Fendelman and host Jeile Marie, was launched last December and includes videos of Art Basel and the King Mango Strut Parade.

“I learned that although Facebook, Twitter and Youtube are limitless vehicles to promote your website, meeting in person creates a different level of loyalty and fanbase,” said Marie, who acknowledged she didn’t know what a Tweet a few months ago.

In fact, Jeile was able to double her Twitter followers from 90 to 201 through the people she met in Barcamp.

And as I sit here with my measly 45 Twitter followers, I wonder what does Jeile have that I don’t have?

Check out the video to find out…

See Tech Week party pictures.

Follow Carlos Miller on Facebook, Twitter and Friendfeed.

Related Categories: Conventions Technology,

Carlos Miller is a featured writer at Miami Beach 411. He also operates Photography is Not a Crime, a blog about photographer rights, New Media and First Amendment issues.

See more articles by Carlos Miller.

See more articles by Carlos Miller

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12 Comments on

"BarCamp to Newspapers: You Need Us More Than We Need You"

Brad A Schenck says:

Great article. Wish I could have been in town for BarCamp. But please let’s keep in mind Photography is a crime and its the job of the law to keep criminals like you away from law abiding citizens.

Posted on 03/06/2009 at 4:25 PM

LMT says:

There were definitely a number of Herald newsroom employees present at BarCamp. However, I’d have to say that an item on BarCamp would be a hard sell - especially on the weekend - frankly because it wouldn’t find a home in print. Too many editors prioritize the print product… The Sunday and Monday business sections close Friday night. So this is obviously something that would have to go on the web only. And the tech reporter was present at BarCamp so ... hm.

Posted on 03/06/2009 at 6:52 PM

Balou says:

nice article, Carlos. it was good seeing you there. i thought it was pretty funny when Fanless and i walked up to the registration desk and were greeted with “hello, Miami bloggers!” =) i guess i was just surprised that there weren’t more local bloggers there.

Posted on 03/06/2009 at 7:56 PM

Gus says:

Well done, Carlos. Top notch reporting - it felt like I was there.

$500 says Miami Herald covers the Conference, next year.

Posted on 03/07/2009 at 6:48 AM

Carlos Miller says:

Thanks everybody.

Balou, I also expected to see more bloggers there. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect.

I’m not much of a tech guy so I haven’t kept up with tech functions like this.

But as a journalist, I saw that the future of journalism involves this type of technology, so it is important to understand the latest innovations, which is why I was a little surprised the Herald didn’t think this was that newsworthy (although worthy enough to attend).


I understand about the Monday paper having little print space, but this is something where 10-12 inches could have been reserved ahead of time, even if it was only inside the local section.

Or as you say, at least on the web.

The fact is, each of these people have more than 7,000 Twitter followers, so that would mean this article would have been sent out to thousands of readers who normally would not read the Herald.

Posted on 03/07/2009 at 6:20 PM

Carlos Miller says:


Great headline!

Posted on 03/07/2009 at 6:22 PM

gigio says:

Forza Napoli…

Posted on 03/08/2009 at 7:50 AM

Maria de los Angeles says:

Great review, Carlos! Barcamp has grown so much since the first year.  A real community is developing here and this year’s version was proof of that.  The monthly meetings with Refresh Miami continue the professional & networking cameraderie throughout the year.

People should also know there are social events surrounding Barcamp.  Afterward, cocktails at the Mayfair followed by dinner in the Grove.

Posted on 03/08/2009 at 1:20 PM

Maria de los Angeles says:

Yeah, you know you’re a geek when you refer to everyone with the word “at” before you say their names.

To keep up to date with the local tech/geek community, make sure to follow

Posted on 03/08/2009 at 1:30 PM

way says:

Wish I would’ve heard about this a little earlier. I’m an interactive designer, just moved from NYC 6 months ago, and would love to plug into miami’s tech scene. which I thought it didn’t have

Posted on 03/10/2009 at 5:40 PM

Maria de los Angeles says:

Way, there’s a Refresh Miami meeting at the end of this month.  Feel free to stop by (see my link in comment #9)

Posted on 03/10/2009 at 5:45 PM

Steve Fox says:

The article is very informative as well as so creative. You have very great knowledge having this subject. So nice! It’s a great to see you here.

Posted on 03/11/2009 at 5:27 AM

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