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An unconference is a participant-driven meeting. The term "unconference" has been applied, or self-applied, to a wide range of gatherings that try to avoid one or more aspects of a conventional conference, such as fees, sponsored presentations, and top-down organization.[1]



Unconference signup at Wikiconference USA with a participant.

According to Tim O'Reilly, the first unconference (reducing the usual emphasis on formal speeches and emphasizing informal connections instead) was organized by Alexander von Humboldt in 1828.[2]

Unconferences often use variations on Open Space Technology, the format/method developed by Harrison Owen in 1985. Owen's 1993 book Open Space Technology: a User's Guide discussed many of the techniques now associated with unconferences, although his book does not use that term.

The term "unconference" first appeared in an announcement for the annual XML developers conference in 1998.[3]

The term was used by Lenn Pryor when discussing BloggerCon and was popularized by Dave Winer, the organizer of BloggerCon, in an April 2004 writeup. The first BloggerCon was held October 4–5, 2003 at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

Sarah Winge, the organizer (with Tim O'Reilly) of Foo Camp, an early unconference, drew on her experience of open space and conversations with Harrison Owen to develop the format.[4] The first Foo Camp happened October 10–12, 2003, in Sebastopol, California. In 2005 some of the attendees from previous years decided to produce their own "Bar" Camp. These three events, BloggerCon, Foo Camp and BarCamp helped to popularize the term "unconference". Foo and Bar Camp in particular popularized the form where "there is no agenda until .. the attendees made one up."


Typically at an unconference, the agenda is created by the attendees at the beginning of the meeting. Anyone who wants to initiate a discussion on a topic can claim a time and a space. Some unconference sessions (for example at FooCamp or BarCamp) are led by the participant who suggested its topic; other unconference sessions are basically open discussions of the session topic.

An "unconference" is particularly useful when participants generally have a high level of expertise or knowledge in the field the conference convenes to discuss.

Facilitation stylesEdit

An unconference can be conducted using a number of facilitation styles. Some of these are:

Notable unconferencesEdit


  1. ^ Craig, Kathleen (June 6, 2006). "Why "unconferences" are fun conferences". Business 2.0 Magazine. Archived from the original on May 21, 2008.
  2. ^ O'Reilly, Tim (March 8, 2018). "The True Inventor of the Unconference". LinkedIn. Retrieved July 18, 2018. In September 1828 he invited hundreds of scientists from across Germany and Europe to attend a conference in Berlin. Unlike previous such meetings at which scientists had endlessly presented papers about their own work, Humboldt put together a very different programme...Humboldt encouraged scientists to gather in small groups and across disciplines. He connected the visiting scientists on a more personal level, ensuring that they forged friendships that would foster close networks. He envisaged an interdisciplinary brotherhood of scientists who would exchange and share knowledge.
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. Retrieved 2007-08-27.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ BarCamp Mail Archive