CaseCamp 7 Report

Tonight, I attended CaseCamp for the first time. Inspired by the original BarCamp “unconference,” CaseCamp is a marketing event where people present case studies and lessons learned, and the crowd can comment and ask questions. Pioneered right here in Toronto in 2006 by Eli Singer, the event is now in its seventh iteration, and has been wildly successful. Perhaps it’s become a victim of its own success.

Before I continue, I want to recognize all the hard work done by Eli and his group of volunteers and sponsors. But now that I’ve made that disclaimer, I’d have to say that I came away slightly disappointed this evening. Part of it is my own fault. Today was a very long day for me. I was up at 6:00am to travel to a financial services conference being held in the far northeast of the city. My journey by transit was an hour each way. I was only able to attend half the day because I had to get back to my office for a 90-minute conference call with a “social media platform” (ie. blog software) vendor, whose sales representative seemed incredibly unprepared, not to mention tacitly unconvinced by the product he was selling. So as I headed over to Circa night club, I was already feeling pretty exhausted. Nevertheless, navigating a crowd of close to 500 people in a night club setting where the music was turned way up was not conducive to any kind of networking for me. Call me old and crotchety, I don’t care.

The actual case studies were enjoyable, and I took some notes that I think will be useful. But the large setting (with haphazardly arranged plastic patio chairs) made it difficult to find a seat. And the size of the crowd made it difficult to hear all the questions. Overall, I’d divide my complaint into two:

  1. The venue was unsuitable: A night club might seem like a “cool” place to hold a business function, but not if the music drowns out attempts at conversation. As well, their inexperience putting on “conference” type events showed, with poorly-arranged seating.
  2. There were simply too many people: Close to 500 people is unmanageable for this type of event. Even had I been a bit less tired, I still don’t think I could have managed to introduce myself to many people in a crowd of that size. I recognized about a dozen names on the wiki signup page, and thought I’d have no trouble finding some people I knew. I was wrong.

I was hoping that CaseCamp would be similar to another “unconference” event that I attend as often as I can, Third Tuesday. Though more narrowly focused on public relations practitioners, the events (at least in Toronto) are held at a pub with a function room. The volume of music is much lower, the vibe is more laid back, and you actually sit around tables to listen to speakers. In this way, you can introduce yourself to the people around you first, and continue the conversations there afterward. Most importantly, the number of people hasn’t (so far) exceeded 100. I believe that this is a key issue. While online social networks can scale significantly, in the real world this isn’t possible. Groups larger than 100-150 become difficult to navigate. I certainly felt that way tonight.

What I’d like to see for the next CaseCamp is a “soft” cap of 150 attendees. After that, another group should be created and another venue found for the next 150. In this way, there is value for everyone. If that means featuring different cases at each, then so be it. Presenters could be rotated for the next event if necessary. As well, this makes finding venues a bit easier and certainly less expensive.

Part of tonight’s CaseCamp schedule was the afterparty, in which 5 DJs would spin tunes for the campers to dance to after all the case studies had been presented. People were invited to join from a few other events taking place tonight, such as StartupCamp and CopyCamp. I’m glad that the organizers extended the invitation to these others, and I’m sure they’re leveraging the very expensive rental of Circa night club, but honestly, the last thing I want to do at 9:00pm on a Tuesday night is dance, especially after a 15-hour day.

In conclusion, I think the exploding popularity of the event has even caught the organizers by surprise, and I’m sure that some of these thoughts might be crossing their minds as well. I very much enjoy the concept of CaseCamp and will look forward to seeing what the next one looks like. For any of you who were there tonight, first of all, sorry we didn’t get to talk! Secondly, what are some of your impressions of the evening?

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