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emma persky

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BarCamp Ticketing

March 9th, 2009 · 6 Comments · Barcamps, Insanity, Musings

Historically, BarCamps have been open to as many people as wanted to attend, with signup via putting your name on a wiki. This worked great in the early days, or in locations where there are virtually unlimited numbers of attendees. However, in the last few years BarCamp has become increasingly popular, which makes running a BarCamp in London quite a challenge as finding even a large venue, let alone a huge one, is hard.

For BarCampLondon6 we are fortunate enough to have The Guardian on board as our venue sponsors, and they are kindly donating the use of their stunning new Kings Place conference suite for the entire weekend, along with all of the bit and pieces like wifi and security. The venue is pretty big and we hope to have one of the largest BarCamps in London to date, but the numbers still have to be limited for security, technical reasons (read satisfactory connectivity), and simply physical space. 

Whilst we anticipated that the demand would be great to attend BarCampLondon6, we never quite expected that it would be fully booked just a few seconds after release during both of the first two ticket rounds. Taking this into consideration we started discussing how to solve the problem of ticket availability. Clearly there are many people who want to attend, and the current system is a lottery based on how fast your connection is, how in line with out server time your watch is, and how fast your computer is, or rather how frequently you can click the refresh button. Not a particularly fair situation. 

A number of different options were mooted both during the planning teams discussions, based out of blog posts (here and here) and from conversations we have all had a previous barcamps and other unconference style events. Some of the ideas raised include the following each of which has it’s own associated benefits and caveats:

Small, More Frequent Events
We definitely agreed that this is a good idea and I tend to agree, however, I think that there will always be demand for these large scale, cross domain BarCamps. I also think that even if only “small” events were organised some would inevitably receive more publicity, become more popular and spiral out of control into high demands events putting us back in exactly the same position.

Technical Challenges
This would involve solving some kind of automated non verbal reasoning challenge before being allocated a ticket. The idea is interesting, but ultimately I think that this is not appropriate for a BarCamp since not everyone who attends is technical (nor do we want this to be the case), which would bias towards software engineers. This idea would probably work much better for hacking / mashup style events where you want a high level of attendee technical skill

Putting aside philosophical thoughts on whether we should charge or not, the problem is not solved since most attendees would probably pay something to attend. For example, many large popular events such as concerts charge huge amounts for their tickets, and despite their huge scale sell out in similarly absurd times. For what it’s worth, I don’t think BarCamps should be paid for events. Having sponsors who are not entitled to anything more than some advertising is the right way to go in my mind. 

Short Essay Question - “Why do you think you should come to BarCampLondon6?”
This would put us, the organisers, in an unfair and highly compromising situation of having to choose who to attend, not something I would look forward to at all. This also has the greatest potential to upset people who are not selected. A modification of this idea would be to have the public vote up or down (digg style) on potential participants based on a few sentences, though whilst this takes the onus away from the organisers, it still has massive potential to create friction.  

Un unbiased lottery is probably the “fairest” way to allocate tickets, although not neccesarily the best. Depending on the type of event you may want to target specific types of individuals more than others, or you may want to bias the attendence in some specific way.. By allowed the lottery to be open to all and sundry and reducing the barrier to entry (ie, not during a specific 30 second window) more people who are potentially less interested in BarCamp might sign up. I don’t see this as a problem especially when using in conjunction with the traditional “6PM on the dot” method.

We chose to go with the Lottery model at this stage as it seems to fit most with the aims of BarCamp and is the simplest to manage. There were some technical details to work out such as how you ensure that each person only has one ticket, and so on, but I will cover those in another post. 

As a final addendum an Gavin Bell suggested an interesting idea on his blog called seed16 where you start with 16 people, who can each give out 3 tickets to people who can each give out 2 tickets to people who can each given out 1 ticket. I think this is a fascinating idea, and fully support trying out an unconference style event like this. It was too late to consider it for BarCamp, and I have a feeling it creates quite an exclusive event (which can be a good thing, although not for BarCamp).

Gavin, if you want any input from me on any event you organise in this style I’m more than happy to oblige.

There are a whole different set of problems with how to deal with people claiming tickets and then not turning up, but more on that another time too.

I hope this clears up some of the myths and mysteries surrounding BarCampLondon6 Ticketing, or rather ticketing in general. If you do have any questions about BarCampLondon6 please direct them to as I am just one of a whole bunch of planners.

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6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Third Round of BarCampLondon6 Tickets Released By Lottery Thursday 12 March « BarCampLondon // Mar 9, 2009 at 7:46 pm

    [...] please feel free to drop us an email at Alternativley checkout this blog post by Emma Persky about how we came to the decision to use this lottery [...]

  • 2 Kathi // Mar 10, 2009 at 6:43 pm

    Thanks for realising that not all internet/computer et al connections are all equal. I was met with ‘getting a ticket’ then watching it disappear off the screen the first round. All in less than a second. I support a lottery. Let the ‘universe’ decide!

  • 3 Sam Machin // Mar 12, 2009 at 10:39 am

    Hi Emma,

    Think your right the lottery is probably the fairest way, however I think you should have included a few extra fields in the entry form, using a mobile number is a pretty good way of ensuring that most people can only make one entry but you should have asked for Name as well, otherwise whats to stop people putting in multiple entries using friends mobiles etc. Actually just a name would probably work best for barcamps as at some point you have to turn up in person and therefore entering the lottery with a false name would mean you had to continue that ‘fraud’ throughout the whole weekend!

  • 4 emma // Mar 19, 2009 at 12:36 am

    @kathi, that’s ok, i’ve been in that exact situation before, and it really sucks. Did you have any luck getting a ticket?

  • 5 emma // Mar 19, 2009 at 12:39 am

    @sammachin I totally understand where you are coming from, however, the reason we decided just a mobile number was that it ensures we don’t “out” people as winners if they win and don’t want to be the envy of their friends… as for other fields, if we were to do this again we would probably take some more details so that we didn’t need to register winners after they were selected.

  • 6 Oli // Apr 1, 2009 at 1:17 am

    One of the problems with ticket availability seems to be people booking tickets and then not using them….

    I am doing a BikeSafe course with Wiltshire Police in a few weeks.

    The way they deal with this issue is to take a small deposit (£10) in the form of a cheque, and refund it only if you turn up. Would something like this be possible for barcamps? (I’ll be the first to admit I have no idea what legal issues etc there may be)

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