I went to Drupal Camp Chicago last week for work, and while a lot of what I did was work related--learning about Drupal and what the really hard core folks are doing with it--the camp was an emersive experience, and I couldn't help but make a few casual observations about geeks in general. They're documented and explored below, and I'll have a more technical/theoretical reflection of the experience tomorrow or the next day.
This was my first "BarCamp"/unconference, and I really liked the way it felt. There was a lot of knowledge being shared, there was a lot of collaboration, and there was a lot of energy in the room. I go to Morris Dance Ales, and Knitting Camp for the same reason, really. Intense interest and activity around a shared sub-cultural identity/activity, is a really powerful and invigorating thing. This is probably the same reason that "(gay) men's gatherings," science fiction conventions, and the "Michigan Womyn's Music Festival" are so appealing to so many people. (I dare anyone to find something else on the internet that lists all of these things in such close proximity).
One thing that the conference had that I think made it particularly interesting is that there was always a "back channel" on an IRC network for the whole conference. While there were downsides to this (correlating peoples handles with their faces was difficult), this was incredibly fascinating. It also made the sessions go off better: people who were confused were able to ask questions of the room, it kept the background noise down which was better for participants, and since there was only one room for the whole conference it gave me a sense of what was going on at the conference as a whole.
Someone pretty early on said something like "this is literally the subtext of the room," and they were right. I'm a fan of creating/organizing IRC/Jabber (XMPP) MUCs back channels for various conversations. We use one at work during conference calls to pass links/notes between our side (to keep down the number of voices/unmuted lines), and we had one for the Open Microbloging Meeting which made that really productive. It's a cool idea.
The other great thing is that I got to watch other really geeky people use their computers. While I'm not a UI (user interface) designer, UI/UE (experience) is something that I'm very interested in and have an opinion or two about. One thing I noticed was that there were more Macs in the room than you might expect. Part of this has to do with the fact that the market share for non-enterprise laptops is something that Apple has basically clobbered, I'm sure. Mac laptops are also more popular among the young hacker crowd (which drupal developers are.) There were some PCs, and more than a few people running ubuntu on laptops, which I don't have the guts for right now, thats for sure.
In terms of actual usage, there actually wasn't as much of the "hardcore hacker" stuff that you'd expect. I didn't see a lot of terminal usage (except for the woman who had tsch visors and wrote a pretty complex SQL query by hand on the projector. to answer a question after her talk.) I saw a lot of people who used the gmail web app. Virtually all of the non-mac people used Zend Studio or Eclipse, though I know I wasn't the only TextMate user in the room. The most surprising thing, was the shear number of people who I saw using gmail and Firefox. Gmail is ok I guess, but it isn't brilliant and it isn't mutt, and surely I'm not the only one with a gripe about firefox.
Sorry for such an odd analysis of Drupal Camp Chicago 2008. I'm going to be working on some more... Drupalish for work, but while I'm a huge geek--no surprise there--I always seem to be more interested in watching the room than in watching the speaker.
Onward and Upward!