The Foo in the term Foo Camp is an acronym for Friends of O’Reilly, and is the brainchild of O’Reilly Media’s head, Tim O’Reilly, and his Vice President, Sara Winge. O’Reilly Media humbly began as a technical writing firm in the 1970s, and has now morphed into an industry giant, publishing books and web sites on a variety of computer related topics. The idea for the camp came about after the dot com bust, and is an invitation only event held for the top hackers (computer experts) in the country.
What makes Foo Camp interesting, aside from its invitation only status, is that there is no specific agenda until participants arrive. Invitees then have to create a plan on Friday night as to what lectures, demonstrations, and/or forums/discussions will take place. For O’Reilly Media, part of the goal is to get some of the best minds in the computer and Internet industry together to solve problems (like trying to reduce spam mail). Since 2003 when the first Foo Camp was held, other industry professionals have held similar camps, and some O’Reilly Media employees have started Foo Camps outside the US. In 2007, New Zealander Nathan Torkington held the first Kiwi Foo Camp in New Zealand.
In addition to bringing people together with great technical skills to solve computer issues and computer Internet problems, Foo Camp aims to create relationships between hackers that will result in more innovative programming and technologies. Foo Camp further helps O’Reilly Media stay abreast of all the “buzz” on new ideas or emergent technologies. This assists the company in creating technology forward websites and publications.
Initially O’Reilly Media made up the guest list, but now guests are encouraged to nominate others to attend future Foo Camps. The "unconference" nature of a Foo Camp is meant to stir people to think outside the box and to think on their feet. Guests have to be ready to present, demonstrate and discuss their ideas, and to work with others at the camp on enhancing or changing these ideas, or putting them into action.
The goal is “cross-pollination” of the minds of various hackers who work for many different companies. Instead of being profit-centered by offering invitations to just a few people, the camp is idea-centered, focusing on creating better technologies, regardless of individual company profits, to serve everyone who uses various technologies. About 200 people attend each yearly “camp.” Although amenities like access to bathrooms, tents, and food and drink are available, the camp won’t work unless attendees are willing to work with each other to develop a program.
Some other people in the industry feel Foo is too exclusive and have developed rivals to the camp. The company SocialText hosted their first Bar Camp in 2005. The main difference, though it still adopts the unconference style is that anyone can join and attend the event. This differs from Foo Camp, which remains an invitation only event.