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The Etymology of SciBarCamb

by Eva Amsen

By far the most frequently asked question about SciBarCamb (or about SciBarCamp with a p) is


and the answer is long. So long, that it takes several minutes to answer in person, and several paragraphs to answer in writing. To avoid at least ever having to type it again, here is the written etymology of SciBarCamb. Grab a cup of coffee, and let me tell you a story of geek culture history.

The “Bar” in “SciBarCamp”, “SciBarCamp”, or any kind of “barcamp” is historical, and has its roots in computer programming. In 2003, computer technology publishing company O’Reilly Media hosted a meeting for 400 of their friends. These “Friends Of O’Reilly” (FOO) met on a weekend in October of that year to “share their work-in-progess, show off the latest tech toys and hardware hacks, and tackle challenging problems together.”

Rather than inviting speakers and creating a program beforehand, they merely provided the participants with space and internet access, and let them generate their own ad hoc meeting. They let people sleep in the building as well, so it was much more like a camp than like a conference, hence the name Foo Camp.

Now, there were many computer programmers who were not amongst the 400 invited to Foo Camp, or who were invited once but not the year after, and they were a bit jealous of the fun event they missed out on. But nothing was stopping people to organize a similar gathering themselves, and that is exactly what happened in 2005, when a group of people spontaneously organized an event directly modeled after Foo Camp. The main difference was that instead of inviting people, they let anyone who was interested join them. This meeting was called BarCamp, in a nod to the phrase foobar used in programming as a placeholder name in coding examples.

The great thing about BarCamp was that the model was there for anyone to use. Anyone can organize a meeting without a program and call it a BarCamp. Since that first BarCamp, there have been BarCamps all over the world, and about any topic you can think of – not just programming. There are KnitCamps, CupCakeCamps, BarCamps about urban planning, photography, social change – and they’re all organized by anyone who one day just thought “it would be cool to have a meeting about topic X.”

Meanwhile, Foo Camp also started diversifying. In 2006, they held the first Science Foo Camp (Sci Foo) in collaboration with Nature and Google. Like the regular Foo Camp, this event was invitation-only, but this time, it was all about science, and the participants included not just programmers, but also scientists, publishers, bloggers, and media professionals. The first year, the event ran by Chatham House rules, which meant that not a lot of information about it got out, and it went a bit under the radar. The second year, in 2007, the event was much more open: a lot of science bloggers attended, who wrote all about the event and shared pictures, and this is the year the jealousy kicked in for many of the non-attendees.And so, driven by the same little green monster that led to BarCamp, an open version of SciFoo was born. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so this copy of SciFoo was named along the pattern of other themed BarCamps: SciBarCamp.

And so, driven by the same little green monster that led to BarCamp, an open version of SciFoo was born. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so this copy of SciFoo was named along the pattern of other themed BarCamps: SciBarCamp.The Cambridge version of SciBarCamp has

The Cambridge version of SciBarCamp has its roots not only in SciBarCamp, but also in the Cambridge edition of the regular (tech-focused) BarCamp, which is called BarCamb.

Here’s a figure summarizing the etymology of SciBarCamb
etymology of scibarcamb
And that is why SciBarCamb is called SciBarCamb.



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Ann Fenech March 17, 2011 - 11:15 AM

 A-ha! That explains it :). The meaning of it has been niggling me for a while now!

Looking forward to it.

Laura Wheeler March 17, 2011 - 11:46 AM

Great explanation Eva, I have always wondered where the “Bar” came from!! I just though it meant the event included a spot of drinking 🙂

Eva Amsen March 17, 2011 - 12:08 PM

Yeah, it’s definitely a FAQ for most science people, but *computer* science people have usually heard of BarCamps. I noticed in the registration/interest uptake that the people who know what a "BarCamp" is were far more likely to register than people who don’t, so the name consistency is actually a big reason for the fact that a lot of "computer people" have registered. But even within that group there is so much variabilty. I’m having a great time clicking all the links that people have left when they registered for SciBarCamb! 

Bob O'Hara March 17, 2011 - 7:48 PM

Hm. So your science will be Beyond All Recognition, then.

Mike Fowler March 17, 2011 - 10:49 PM

But at least it doesn’t have to be fouled up. Have a fun camb.

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