the un is not optional, or the gentrification of drupal

I had an amazingly frustrating debate today on the NYC DrupalCamp organizers mailing list.

It seems that there are a lot of people who come from very mainstream backgrounds that seem to think that they have the right to appropriate anything they want. They want to redefine terms and ideas because they feel a sense of entitlement. They don't intend harm, they think everyone thinks like them and can't imagine valid alternatives to what they believe. The end result is actions that tend to erase history and turn new ideas into the same old thing.

Slowly things move towards self-promotion and traditional models -- from being a unique process to being a brand name, from substance to slogan.

The specific in this case is use of the term "unconference." An unconference is a very specific thing. It is not simply another term for a small conference, there are specific things that are required for something to be considered an unconference -- just as there are 4 criteria for something to be considered Open Source/Free Software.

What distinguishes an unconference from a traditional conference is the way it is organized. It is all about how the schedule is made; it is about everyone showing up to participate; it is about breaking down distinction between student and teacher/attendee and presenter. It's about mirroring the community centric model in how it is organized, not just in who is organizing. If you organize an unconference, you are putting your trust in the power of the community. You are putting in effort to organize an event you do not fully control. That's the entire point -- amazing things happen when you put talented and curious people in the same room with each other.

To paraphrase Kaliya Hamlin from, if the agenda or schedule is set ahead of time by a small group of organizers and not the day of the event by all the participants, it is not an unconference.

I've organized both, they each have their strength and weakness. I have no problem with people wanting to put their time into a more structured event, I do however find many problems with trying to appropriate the title Camp or Unconference.

For me, this feels like gentrification. Just as my neighborhood was slowly turned into a playground for rich youth who would rather eat at a chain like Papa John's instead of the local pizza shop, the same forces seem to be at work gentrifying the drupal software community. More and more, the community is dominated by people who want to talk about the business of drupal.

Somethings just can't be stopped, but some things can. Go ahead and organize a formal style conference, go ahead and put self-promotion and business ahead of community and collaboration, but DO NOT erase the history of what came before you. Drupal Camp is an unconference. An unconference is not pre-scheduled.

Just as the GPL is more interested in protecting the rights of the end-users of software over the "owner" than traditional licenses, unconference is more interested in the participants. I hope to do my best to keep it that way.

Today's photos