Foo Camp East: Some tips for survival and what I presented

This blog post is a combo conference narrative and a summary of my presentation. Because so much of the conference is in the conversations done without fear of blogging (or tweeting), I felt better about airing more on what I presented than speaking for others. Really other folks said more brilliant things – I just don’t own their words. 🙂

Oh and it rambles a bit – my sleep deficit is starting to look like the national deficit. 😛

By all accounts, our experience in Cambridge, MA and the first Foo Camp East  was a bit upscale from the normal Foo. For one thing, the building facilities were new – so new they’d not been used yet!


An essential aspect of Foo Camp has often been, well, the camping. Because it was still wintry and rainy and this is Boston and they do things posh there, folks who camped did so on the inside of a snazzy building with shower facilities and a beautiful staircase (in this photo Barney Pell, founder of Powerset, vaults down the staircase).


I, as my readership may expect, was a total wimp and slept at a nearby hotel. But the key to the Foo Camp experience is not to sleep much so I didn’t.They advise you to overdo on sleep before Foo and unfortunately for me, that wasn’t really that possible.

Foo Camp is one of the great unconferences. Participants were told to come expecting to present. I presented on Social Media and Bath Bombs which actually dried faster than expected so folks got to take them home.

Readers of my blog know where the bath bomb recipe is. I first got everyone setup with their own soap molds (stars and hexagons) and artistically arranging the petals/petal fragments at the bottom of the molds before putting the bath fizz mixture in. We used blue as a coloring agent for one bowl of mixture and kept the other white.

While people pressed and stirred and such, I told them why bath bomb making has such parallels to community building and social media. For one thing, you can’t rush the process. It takes about 10 min to spritz a bowl with witch hazel and you can’t skip or over do, you have to keep checking on the consistency to make sure it is gelling right.

Just as community managers have to test the waters repeatedly, and build trust over time. Have the right ingredients to hand. Timing is everything. Gelling seems to happen on its own and you have to be watchful.

Everyone’s  bath bomb designs actually (to me anyway) surpassed the ones *I* usually make. A testimony to the power of many people approaching a design problem - imagine what you could do with your software.

 Rob Faludi even managed to figure out a way to put his business card elements at the bottom of the molds, and pressed hard – when his came out, his business info was embedded in the bath bombs. He could give them out as business gifts.  Dong that had never occurred to me!

I told them about how I had posted the bath bomb recipe on Wikipedia, and how its gone now. I pointed them to bliss soaps in Seattle, whose word of mouth, their many free samples ethos, and warm and friendly storekeeper demeanor have made them the darling of Yelp. In fact if you look at their Live Search results, the yelp references are among the highest. Think of how much the avid endorsements mean to a small business online!

 Liz Lawley got us all started talking about social objects, that is, those things we talk about with others that help form bonds. I give bath bombs out to co-panelists and people I know from the social computing symposiums at conferences just for fun, and she pointed out they become objects of conversation, shared experience (scent is a very powerful memory-enhancer and emotional connector), and created a community of folks who knew what the bath bomb experience was like.

I know if I do this presentation  again I’m going to improve on it – for one thing, I will suggest to them the business card trick. I’ll also increase the number of molds so that more people can have a bunch of fizzies to take home. I’ll also factor in the dryness of doing it in an office complex vs. my old Craftsman house – my house is often too wet for the bombs to dry out in one day, but a Microsoft office building? those puppies were dry in 24 hours! (note the photo below depicts an actual chair)


I am grateful to the folks who tried out my class (Other Foo Camp advice is to go to things you wouldn’t normally attend) and to the folks who gave the talks I attended and stretched my neurons considerably. I hadn’t thought much about vendor relationship management, social media in government, open source stuff, or the origins of the Web and folks opened my eyes. I’ll admit death of newspapers I had previously thought about, but I’d forgotten some of the key things  in my past that made being a reporter so solid for me: that people respected the newspaper, that the newspaper would fight to get me out of jail and prevent people from taking my notebook with confidential sources in it.

Oh, and the Poynter Institute. If anyone asks you to take a class or attend a conference there, you should go. The Dali museum is right near it with amazing art, but more than that, the folks there are smart and will blow your mind. I hope for one they can help keep the journalism flame alive, regardless of the form the new world order for newspapers might take.

Now, I pack for San Francisco! I'll be tweeting you... so...

Live it vivid!

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