Some (more) notes on Barcamp Vancouver 2009 (part 2)

This is part 2 of my report from last weekend’s Barcamp Vancouver 2009. Click here for part 1.

At the end of September, Raul Pacheco-Vega (aka @hummingbird604) posted a blog entry, The economics of free or why I won’t do things for free anymore, which had enough resonance to prompt him into leading a well-attended Barcamp session, Freelance is not “free”. That session generated some really great comments.

First, photographers, designers, and coders – and even bloggers – seem to get many requests from non-profit organizations to work pro bono. The photographers are supposed to cover events and post to Flickr, the designers are supposed to create website UIs, the coders are supposed to code them, the bloggers are supposed to live-cover events and generally “talk things up.”

No big surprise there. It was surprising to learn that many non-profits abuse the relationship by not thanking or acknowledging the free help they’re getting. With that in mind, it was most interesting to hear how some of the more savvy volunteer laborers have begun laying down the law – while still volunteering services.

Designer Mark Busse of Industrial Brand was blunt about the need to protect oneself and avoid burn-out. (Mark also co-led a session on a similar topic, Balancing Frustration and Passion.) In Raul’s session, he and coder/ web-developer Steve Tannock had the best pieces of strategic advice.

  • insist on acknowledgement (if there’s a program / website, you should be listed for the services you provided);
  • draw up a contract, just as you would for a “real” job, even if you’re not charging – but make sure the recipient knows how much it would cost, if you did charge;
  • do the same thing (draw up contract) even if you arrange a barter or tit-for-tat exchange (as Mark Busse said, “you will be audited!” – death and taxes and all that…)

It sounds mercenary on one level, but it shouldn’t – and it isn’t. It’s part of creating and maintaining a healthy community ecosystem in which economic realities aren’t suspended.

This session was like many others, really lite on the tech aspects – as one commenter on part 1 already noted: “So… Whatever happened to BarCamp being about tech?”

Or click through to Mike Kelly of Strangely Entangled, who also lamented the absence of a tech focus, too – and the consensus was that similarity between, say, Barcamp and NorthernVoice is inevitable if the same people are involved.

In defence of the social enterprise focus, I’d still argue that these kinds of sessions are good for weeding and feeding the whole ecosystem. Good business practices and social enterprise don’t ever go out of style. (If you want to see something really cool wrt getting paid in the postnational online social hubculture world – whew, what a mouthful! – check out this WSJ video on how virtual currencies work. Key example? The Ven.)

Next up (and last), Barcamp report part 3, on government and data.