TacoConf: Ride a Bike, Eat Tacos and Learn How to Run Your Own “CultureConf”

TacoConf logo

TacoConf logo TacoConf is a mobile “culture conference” that will happen this weekend in the San Francisco Bay Area. Day One (May 11) will start at 11 am at Henry J. Kaiser Memorial Park in Oakland. Day Two (May 12) will take place at 11 am at Mission Dolores Park in San Francisco. Participants will ride their bikes around, eat tacos and listen to presentations on a variety of topics.

To find out more I talked with the organizers, Code for America alum Max Ogden and Node.js boulevardier Mikeal Rogers (who also happen to be the founders of a stealth startup called Pouch). And although it’s being organized by techies, they maintain that it is not a tech conference. Read on to find out what it is, why it’s happening and how to organize your own “CultureConf.”

Klint Finley: Why did you decide to put together this event?

Mikeal Rogers: Well, it kinda started as a joke that I made, and then Max was like “No, we should do that.” And then I just said “Bikes, taco trucks, talks, Oakland one day and SF the next?” And then Max put up a website that kinda took off.

Max Ogden: “Hella viral,” as I like to say.

Rogers: In the first day it was copied by some Canadian guys who are going to do a BeaverConf on ice skates.

Ogden: Yes, BeaverConf.

Rogers: They are really great guys. Beaver is a local food. We encouraged more people to copy it.

Ogden: BeaverTails are the food, not real beavers. BeaverTails are basically elephant ears but Canadian. I believe Mikeal said “TacoConf is such a good idea that it was copied to another cultural context within 24 hours.”

Rogers: Last week Max did a new site, using a logo that @substack made, the new site is better at conveying all the information we need to get out. But to back up, we noticed a few things right away about the conference. The first was was that there is no way to check people out for tickets, so we just gave up on selling them or even having an RSVP. We just made it free, and are planning for many, many people. The second was that the talks could be about anything, unlike NodeConf and other events I work that are pretty specific. TacoConf could have some of the cultural talks that we know are out there but don’t fit in to a tech conference.

Who should come to TacoConf? Is this just for programmers?

Ogden: Hell naw.

Rogers: In fact hardcore programmers might even get a little bored.

Ogden: The same people who would buy Cooking for Geeks.

Rogers: That book is definitely our audience, but you don’t need to be making a home sous vide machine to come. There will be technical talks, but lots of talks on data and culture and food, even some biohacking.

Ogden: And a couple talks about civic engagement and neighborhood activism.

For example, Eric Fischer is a legendary data visualizer who has done things like this.

@brian_mount does maps like this and will be giving a talk on the modern history of Mexican food. @philipn is building LocalWiki to try and capture city culture and history in a wiki format.

@aq is probably talking about the pig and how we love eating it.

Rogers: Here he is talking about making bacon at JSConf

We’re also recording the talks, so sometime after the conference they’ll go up online. I spent a fortune on video equipment for NodeConf and this is serving as sort of a test run.

Rogers: We’re also encouraging people to bring their family and kids. Most of the time will be spent chatting, like an outdoor hallway track on bikes. And of course, eating tacos.

Ogden: Many many delicious kinds of tacos. We will hit up some legit trucks in east Oakland. A fancy taqueria downtown. My friend will be doing vegan tacos from his moped that is equipped with a grill.

Rogers: There will be some surprises as well from chef Gilberth Cab.

How are the talks going to work? Have you rented indoor spaces for them?

Rogers: Max has a 5,000 squarefoot warehouse in Oakland, so we’re doing some talks there. And the people at Code for America are letting us use their space on Sunday.

We wanted to do some outdoor talks but you need permits, and you have to work with the city, and this kinda thing is incredibly foreign to them. I tried to rent Dolores (SF) and Mosswood Park (Oakland) for a conference I was trying to put together called JSinThePark. It never happened because it’s just too outside of what they understand. You really need someone in the government to help you out if you wanna pull something like that off.

Ogden: So there are two speaking venues, one on each day and the talks will happen in blocks during the afternoon. And there will be tacos available outside at each venue.

Rogers: We won’t be announcing exact times. The size of the crowd and how fast we can get through tacos are pretty variable. So we’ll be using Twitter to announce where we’re going and what the status is. Right now we’re just announcing the parks we’ll start at in the morning, and what time we’ll meet there. Then we’ll move the bike mob along.

Ogden: I added some points to the map, without exact times. But the idea is the route won’t be too aggressive since most people will likely not be huge cyclists.

Rogers: Yeah, that’s useful for people who are showing up late, but if you want to know where we are, just follow us on Twitter.

It seems like it’s definitely going to be a techy event though – mostly accessible to people who have mobile phones with Twitter.

Rogers: True. Unless you show up on time, then you can just follow us along. I bought two bullhorns, so you’ll hear us say where we’re going.

Ogden: The main ‘thesis’ of the conference is to optimize face to face time with other attendees while simultaneously exposing them to the actual cultural side of the city they are in. The only way to do that is to have the conference move around.

Rogers: Yeah, I doubt almost anyone has been to all the places we’ll hit in Oakland and San Francisco. There are even some surprises on top of the ones we’ve announced.

How many people do you expect? And what’s the maximum number you can handle?

Ogden: I’m guessing 300-ish? No way to tell. If we hit 500 or something we can always recommend backup taquerias so the lines wont be around the block.

Rogers: Yeah, we really have no idea how many people. It keeps getting more publicity and more followers. One guy on Twitter said him and half dozen of his friends are coming up from LA. I know of another half dozen flying in from the east coast.

Ogden: People are flying in from around the country.

Rogers: The SFist posted about it, so the SF day will probably be wild.

You mentioned BeaverConf – can people in other cities organize their own TacConfs or would you prefer to keep control of the name?

Ogden: It’s a totally open source model.

Rogers: Yeah, you can do a TacoConf, but if your town isn’t a big taco town we’d encourage you to do something else. Someone from Portland wanted to do one, and it seems like a missed opportunity to me, there are so many other amazing carts in Portland. You could do a KoreanTacoConf in Portland. You have way more options. Adapting it to your local culture is key, if that’s bikes and tacos then go for it, but the whole point is to get creative.

Ogden: Hopefully at the end of TacoConf we can have a demonstrated success in a new category of anti-conferences. So people will stop thinking 1600 bucks to hang out in Moscone is the best thing they can do in San Francisco.

Rogers: I wouldn’t call them anti-conferences. I’d call them CultureConfs.

Ogden: Well it’s anti in the sense that it bucks a trend.

Rogers: True, but so did BarCamp. What sets this apart is that it’s not about technology directly, it’s about technology’s impact on culture. And just about culture sometimes. Again, the thing I like about TacoConf was that we realized the talks didn’t have to be about anything specific, we could just pick things we thought were great and an inspiration to us. I credit Max with that realization.