How to run a tech swap shop at a conference

At the recent BarCampLondon Ⅺ I decided to run a little experiment.

The idea is similar to Swishing - a popular way to recycle old clothes. In a Swishing party, you turn up with a jacket, swap it for a ticket, then swap the ticket for a vintage pair of jeans.

We decided to go a little more simple and low tech for our swap-meet.

  • A big table in the corridor
  • People can deposit any (working) gadgets on there
  • Anyone can take what they want - you don't have to bring something to get something

We made sure to tell people in advance what was likely to be on offer, and got a few friendly faces to promote it.

A few ground rules

Here are the informal rules that we set up...

  • People can take one thing each. Geeks are hoarders and, given half the chance, will snaffle everything. We told a people who'd already taken something to come back later to give everyone a fair chance.
  • Caveat emptor - we gave everything a quick visual inspection to make sure it wasn't obviously broken or unsafe. But we didn't do any PAT, or virus scanning, or even booting up. You get what you pay for, and that was explained to people.
  • Have a friendly sign to let people know what's going on.
  • Have someone crew the stall to ensure fair-play and explain what some of the more esoteric items are.

A bearded geek holding a mysterious cube. A sign in the background says "Swap Shop".

That green cube is a WiFi Travel Router & Charger.

Can I run a swap-shop at my event?

YES! At your next tech event, tell participants that they can bring any old gadgets, laptops, cables, tools, bits, kits, circuits, and components with them to swap.

There is a slight risk that you'll end up with some useless junk that no-one wants. Either get the person who "donated" it to take it back, or find your local WEEE Recycling plant.

Fair warning, you will almost certainly need a separate table just for obsolete cables!


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