An 'unconference' on Saturday - the BarCamp Phnom Penh - signals to the
world that Cambodia's IT industry is thriving, organisers say
Eleanor Ainge Roy
Participants at the BarCamp Phnom Penh on Saturday.
"GEEKS this way" read the sign proudly, directing the 200-plus bloggers, computer programmers, IT professionals and other interested persons towards Phnom Penh's first BarCamp, an information technology 'unconference' held Saturday at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.
The concept for the meet-up, which originated in Palo Alto, California, in 2005, was to have informal - and generally hastily arranged - gatherings where people could meet and exchange ideas, usually tech-related.
The idea quickly spread, spawning similar get-togethers in nearly 350 cities, and has particularly caught on in Southeast Asia. Bangkok hosted a conference in January, Malaysia in July, and Vietnam is set for its first BarCamp in November.
Cambodia's meeting held true to the open, collaborative essence of its origins.
"How it is run, how people participate, it is completely different from a normal conference" says 26-year-old Tharum Bun, this year's BarCamp Phnom Penh organiser.
"There's more freedom here, it's a more democratic, open environment. BarCampers have the chance to present on a topic of interest to them, and they have the chance to choose what they want to learn," he said.
The event was certainly informal. The mostly youthful crowd wandered in and out of the convention hall, dipping into discussion groups in the garden about the best programming language or crowding excitedly around some fine new piece of technology.
Debates raged freely but didn't degenerate into arguments, and English was the preferred tongue. Participants included bloggers - or "cloggers", as the many Khmer web scribes refer to themselves.
How it is run...is completely different from a normal
As well as technology-related lectures and discussions, a handful of people presented on such topics as "The Art of Seduction", "How to Twitter" and "How to Date a Khmer Girl".
"I'm excited to be here," said Clogger Phirun, 17. "It's a chance to meet people and share ideas about technology. And there is so much here for me to learn."
BarCamp Phnom Penh 2008 cost US$3,000, and attracted people from all over Southeast Asia, Tharum Bun said.
He added that he hopes it may be the start of a flourishing IT industry in Phnom Penh.
"BarCamp Phnom Penh 2008 is a signal to the outside world that the Cambodian industry is really ready to begin," he said.