Of course, not every camp has goals as ambitious as Burning Man or Foo Camp. WordCamp, for example, is a series of day-long gatherings with talks and demonstrations for users of the blogging platform Wordpress.
The Go Game, a San Francisco-based company that runs team-building exercises, has found a way to profit from the appeal of real-world gatherings. Corporate groups, friends, and even bachelorette parties use the Go Game's games--which often involve cell-phone technology, unusual missions, and a lot of collaboration--to grow closer through play.
It works because it gets people out from behind their desks, says Go Game cofounder Finnegan Kelly. Even Internet users who spend their days on Facebook are still sitting in isolation. "What people respond to," says Kelly, is "going out, meeting new people face-to-face, enjoying the magic that's around you when you can shut down the computer."
Kelly recently ran a game at the Austin conference South by Southwest, a festival for music and new media lovers. The 3000 attendees were assigned goofy objectives directed at "making more meaningful interactions than just exchanging business cards," says Kelly. "Let's say you have to create a weird handshake with someone you just met, so whenever you see that dude again you can do your custom handshake. That's going to leave you with a much more lasting impression. You'll be like, "I remember that guy! He's the one I did the handshake with!" Still, says Kelly, some South by Southwest attendees were too caught up in their Web 2.0 routines to bother with funny handshakes. "A lot of people's energy was just going into Twitter."
Cupcakes and Bacon
At least some people are taking a more lighthearted approach to the camp model, which has recently been spilling over from technology to food. Cupcake Camp, a convergence of mostly amateur bakers, was first held in June 2008. Founder Ariel Waldman says she modeled her event, during which attendees presented their sugary creations and tasted those of others, off BarCamp. "The idea is that everyone is a participant and can own the event for themselves," Waldman says.
Cupcake Camp still draws a tech crowd. For her that makes a lot of sense. "Tech people get really passionate about certain things, and that carries over into other parts of their lives," she says, including their confections.
And their breakfast foods, apparently. From Cupcake Camp an even more recent event has spun off: BaconCamp. Last month, scores of Bay Area bacon lovers showed off their frying methods, even their bacon sculptures, in a similar show of organized unorganization.
Karen Nguyen, who headed the event, has her own explanation for the camp craze: the Internet facilitates communication, whether or not it's tech-related. Still, "the relationships you make online can only go so far," says Nguyen. Soon enough denizens of Web 2.0 want to take their new social skills out into the light of day--and do some bonding, whether it's over the future of technology or a crispy strip of bacon.