I put this together with Saadia as we prepared to 'export' the idea of GeekFest to Beirut and then popped the file over to Alexandra Tohme in Beirut - Alex is UNorganising GeekFest Beirut. She promptly, to my mild horror, posted it up on the excellent Google Group that they started over there in order to put together ideas and collaboration over the event (it's perhaps notable that the Lebanese approach to GeekFest has been a lot more collaborative than the Dubai one. Don't ask me why, it just is).
And then I thought about it a little and realised that, well, what's to be so coy about? This is, after all, The Event With Nothing To Hide. So here, at least in part to be a perennial answer to the many people who ask "What's GeekFest?", is the Idea.
GeekFest is intended to be an offline social event for online people and should be interesting to anyone who's involved in the online world and in using technology to create, educate, entertain, inform or just play around.
It’s purposefully kept organic, free and easy. We truly hope that expanding GeekFest regionally will bring new ideas, offshoots and events to the whole thing. However, one thing must be clear from the start. GeekFest must never actually matter to anyone. If you’re holding a GeekFest and five people turn up, you should be able to shrug your shoulders and have a chat with the five people rather than die a million deaths that your attendance was low. If people don’t come, they don’t want it and we’ll simply stop doing it. If that all makes sense!
We are very proud of the fact that GeekFest is, as far as is practical, UNorganised. There are no officials, gatekeepers or people telling attendees what to do. There are no rules beyond the ‘no corporate behaviour, selling and stuff’ one. The only reason there is a start and finish time is that people insisted.
However, there are some guiding principles that we’ve established, mostly by trial and error.
No corporate stuff, no bossing people around, no gatekeepers, no hassle, no drama.
GeekFest consists of three elements – GeekTalks, TechnoCases and ArtStuff. Other than that, it’s just a big room full of smart people who have stuff that is interesting, engaging and even possibly visionary to discuss. Oh, and good fingerfood. The fingerfood is more important than the idea stuff.
These have evolved as a series of four 15-minute presentations on areas/issues of interest to the audience and are not limited in any way by topic - they could be 'Why I love my iPhone' or 'A lion tamer's guide to Zeppelins'. They take place in an area separate to the main area (in The Shelter we use the private screening room, a 30-odd seat cinema) and can be wide-ranging but should be interesting and intellectually engaging.
The speakers are responsible for sorting out their own technology requirements between them (we provide an LCD projector and screen) and for their own time-keeping. Nobody tells them when to start and stop talking or stands around tapping watches. They are also responsible for bringing their own audience – there’s nobody to tell people they have to attend a talk.
GeekTalkers are expected to suggest a successor to speak at the next GeekFest.. This way we, the UNorganisers, aren’t always the gatekeepers to a speaking slot. We will find a speaker if GeekTalkers don’t want to for any reason.
Holding a TechnoCase at GeekFest absolutely DOES NOT include, ever, a talking slot. Talks are user views and never sales pitches.
GeekTalks typically take place from 8pm-9pm at GeekFest Dubai.
The Technology Showcases give companies a chance to interact with the attendees at GeekFest. They’re not an invitation to scream slogans or brand the event, they’re a chance to show funky stuff and engage with an audience of highly influential online thought-leaders in a dialogue.
Companies can bring a bunch of laptops, a gadget or 15, a display case or free-standing display. Whatever is sensible, really – and doesn’t dominate the event, get in the way or otherwise act as an irritant or eyesore. People that can talk with authority about the product/idea are probably more important than any branding.
Within those sensible constraints, companies mounting TechnoCases can use areas within GeekFest as they see fit – but they are actually asked to sign a contract agreeing not to hassle the Geeks.
Mounting a Technology Showcase at GeekFest does NOT confer the rights of sponsorship. We’ll include companies generally in promotional stuff and try to take care of them when we remember to, but there are no branding elements, logos or other promises made. They’re coming to the party to talk to people interested in engaging with them and that’s the deal.
GeekFest Dubai started charging companies $1,000 for a TechnoCase and subsequently has increased this to $1,500. The venue partner raises invoices and manages settlements.
The art stuff at GeekFest has happened spontaneously but we’re now careful to include an element of art ‘happening’ at each event – wherever possible of a digital variety. This would be a graffiti artist, a digital artist, a photographic display, an installation or some such – the more the merrier – and accessible to everyone, too!
GeekFest Dubai has a back-beat, a funky soundtrack selected by Shelter DJ Simone Sebastien.
Food and Drink
We use the TechnoCase revenue to subsidise/fund the food and drink (pass-around food like quiche, kebabs, pastries, sandwiches, cakes and fresh juices) at the event. One of the UNorganisers keeps an account of incoming/outgoing revenue.
We don’t have alcohol at GeekFest Dubai in deference to Muslim attendees. Each GeekFest will have its own cultural environment, however.
We promote GeekFest Dubai using FaceBook, Twitter (an important platform, actually) and blogs – Alexander’s in particular, but also the UAE Community Blog (Thanks, Sam!). GeekFest isn’t about any one group (gamers, Twitterers – it’s NOT a Tweetup!, bloggers and the like) but about integrating everyone regardless of platform.
There has been quite a bit of media interest in GeekFest Dubai but we haven’t ‘pushed it’ or made formal announcements or anything – word of mouth has been very strong. We have done a number of interviews ‘on demand’ with media.
We’ve found that making announcements closer to the event is best – although we set the date early. GeekFest Dubai is now running on a steady two-month cycle, typically the last Thursday of the month or so – 2010 will be Feb, Apr, Jun etc – Ramadan and Christmas etc obviously require some judgement calls.
Last minute excitement runs quite high, particularly on Twitter. We tend to stoke this a bit by holding back speaker announcements and other stuff. Being tarts, basically.
GeekFest Dubai is UNorganised by a two-wo/man team – Saadia and Alexander. Alexander looks after promo and the geeks, Saadia owns and looks after the venue (including F&B etc). We will always have GeekFest at Dubai’s The Shelter – it’s the place that Saadia runs and it’ll never move from there – even though we already have logistical issues (the cinema’s too small for the talks, but the atmosphere’s electric in there). NOTE: That's changed now, The Shelter shut down and so GeekFest was untethered from its emotional 'home') If attendance spikes too high we’ll just move to registration or even first come first served. That’s cool because it limits the event to a hard core audience and doesn’t let us get all big headed or anything.
We put labels and pens at the door if people want to make badges for themselves. A quaint trend of wearing especially geeky t-shirts has started, BTW.
The best way to UNorganise a GeekFest, we think, is that two person team – someone to take care of the geekiness and someone to take care of the realities. UNorganising the venue isn’t hard – book the date, book F&B for the broad estimate of attendees. Arrange a speaker area and projector. Err. That’s it. We think the geek/blogger and venue owner combination is tops, but a geek/blogger and event organiser would do the same job, no? The F&B is a bit hit and miss, but we think it's better than having to put everyone through registration and stuff.
As we expand (IF we expand and it works!), we’d hope to bring our pool of stuff together and share platforms, ideas, presentations, communities and so on. We’re not sure where that’s going yet but there’s an interesting cloud over there that could turn into something really quite smart and regional. Or not.
Either way, GeekFest is there purely for enjoyment. Oh! And it's a resolutely not for profit event.
Alexander and Saadia
The first GeekFest Beirut takes place at Art Lounge in Beirut on the 6th February 2010 - you can follow @GeekFestBeirut on Twitter, Facebook or mess around in the Google Group.
The next GeekFest Dubai has been dubbed GeekFest Dubai 3.14 and will take place on the 25th February 2010 at The Shelter in Al Quoz. You can do the Facebook thing, follow @GeekFestDubai on Twitter or just pop back here nearer the date for more information.