Tomas Wennström talks about the future of Sweden Social Web Camp

If you live in Sweden and work in the Internet or media sectory chances are high that you have heard about Sweden Social Web Camp – SSWC – a popular yearly gathering of social media enthusiasts (of course supported by Twingly) on and island in the archipelago of Blekinge, a landscape in the south of Sweden. Next year, the unconference will celebrate its fifth birthday. We asked Tomas Wennström, one of the two founders, a couple of questions about the background of SSWC and future plans.

Hi Tomas. What Is SSWC?
SSWC is an unconference started by me and my partner Kristin Heinonen back in 2009. The initial idea was to gather readers and listeners of our blog and podcast What’s Next at a country house, have some beers and discuss web trends. So we blogged about that plan. The amount of people announcing in the comments they’d like to join rose quickly, which made us realize that we would need to find a bigger venue. We finally chose the small island Tjäro in the archipelago of Blekinge, a landscape in the south of Sweden. During the first SSWC in 2009, 280 people showed up. Mostly those we knew in one way or another, or their friends.

Considering it’s a yearly event I assume organizing SSWC is not your full time job?
No not at all. It’s a hobby and just for fun. Kristin and I work with it in our spare time, with the help of many volunteers. My day job is to run the Swedish web startup vackertvä together with my brother, and I have been doing some other web projects before.

Next year, SSWC will celebrate its 5th birthday. How has the event changed since its beginning?
We have been careful with growing SSWC to not destroy the original charme. But of course, with 450 attendees in 2012, it was close to twice the size as in 2009. Furthermore, social media itself has become mainstream. Four years ago, the SSWC crowd felt a bit misunderstood and there was a slight “We against the world” vibe. Now, social media is accepted in society and business, and many people work within the field and earn money with it. That change of the industry is naturally reflected in the topics discussed at SSWC. That also has led to an increased awareness about SSWC in the media and business world. But I hope that the event still has the same feel of familiarity for the participants as in the first year, and our main goal is still for everybody to have a great time.

What are the biggest challenges with organizing SSWC?
Mainly the logistics. Since Tjärö is an island everyone needs to be brought there with the ferry. And there is only a limited number of beds available. Many of the attendees sleep in tents, which is not everyone’s prefered choice of accommodation. But this year we were able to increase the number of beds with big boats that people could sleep on, and the tourism company owning the island told us that increasing the number of SSWC participants would be logistically possible. The question is of course if we want to do that, considering that we really like to keep the special feel and intimacy.

Do you have plans to use the SSWC brand in other way’s than for the yearly summer event?
We have been discussing a winter event in Stockholm, since many of the attendees live there. But we haven’t made any decisions yet. And since we run the whole thing in our spare time and just became parents, the amount of work we can invest is limited. But in this regards, the unconference concept is perfect, because lots of the content is taken care of by the participants. Thankfully, we have great help with the installation of the Wifi network as well – as you can imagine, that’s a very important aspect for that kind of conference (you can read more about SSWC Wifi logistics in this Swedish article)

So far, SSWC has been mainly directed at the local Swedish social media crowd. Will you keep it that way?
Of course even social web enthusiast from abroad are welcome, and we usually have some attendees from the other Nordic countries. But true, since most of our communication and the talks and discussions are in Swedish, coming here without knowledge of the Swedish language might limit the SSWC experience for some, although I think even English speaking participants will get a lot out of SSWC. If there is a clear need, we could definitely have more talks in English.

What is the most rewarding aspect of being the inventor of SSWC?
To meet all the interesting people that are coming and to be able to provide a platform, a meeting place for the participants which they can fill with content and their creativity.

Tell us about a special SSWC moment that you definitely won’t forget.
There are of course many, but one particular was this year’s burning of a sheep on the last evening of SSWC – of course not a real one, but one made of wood built by the attendees. I had this idea as an analogy to what they do at Burning Man festival in the US, and two days later we set a collectively constructed wooden sheep on fire and sent it to the sea. This showed how creative people at SSWC are.

Burning a wooden sheep (photo by Tobias Bjorkgren)

Tickets usually sell out very quickly. What’s your advice to people who really want to attend?
Sign up for our email newsletter which notifies you when the tickets are released. And then it’s recommended to have your credit card in one hand and your mouse in the other, especially if you want to book housing. The beds are usually sold out in 3-4 minutes.

Do you think there will be a SSWC in 2020?
It’s not unlikely. We have by “accident” started an event that people love. So even if Kristin and I for some reason wouldn’t be able to organize it anymore, possibly somebody else would take over and continue. I’m not sure though if that name will remain forever. In 2020, “social web” will by then be a pretty old expression.

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