At Today's LaidOffCamp Meetup, an Open-Source Keynote and Hope for Would-Be Freelancers

Sipping coffee and singing a kumbaya chorus of social media evangelism, about 40 people filled the back room at Opening Bell Coffee this afternoon for LaidOffCampDFW, the local chapter of a nationwide "unconference" for web-minded freelancers.

As we mentioned yesterday, LaidOffCamp comes to Dallas straight outta the SF Bay, where the original LaidOffCamp drew 400-plus on Tuesday. Dallas organizer Neils Brooks says today's meeting came together with no budget and a short lead time, drawing most of its attendance from Twitter and Facebook word-of-mouth.

Early in the meeting, the founders of GeekBrief.TV, a popular Dallas-based tech news vodcast, gave a more traditional at-the-audience talk on their journey to online success, but the heart of the unconference was a trio of breakout sessions, covering topics selected by the group -- jobs, social media, and freelancing -- and led by whoever felt like a leader.

The atmosphere was almost violently collegial -- hint that you had a question about Twitter, and you'd get an instant faceful of LaidOffCampers with answers. That's the Way of the Unconference, the notion that a grab bag of social media gurus, bloggers and web designers can learn more from one another than from any one stage-prowling Steve Jobs wannabe with a headset mic.

While the lousy economy had a lot to do with the meetup's origins, this was no pity party for the jobless. Dave Curlee, an online video producer, recounted a realization he had last August, after being laid off for the second time in a year. "I got in the car, and I said, this is stupid. I'm relying on other people to help me provide for my family," he said.

Cali Lewis and Neal Campbell of GeekBrief.TV recalled how they managed a transition away from more typical office jobs into full-time podcast production two years ago. "We were so sick of our day jobs, not doing what we were passionate about, that we developed this laser focus," Lewis said. "We were determined 100% to make this out day job."

For those hoping to follow her lead, she suggested building an audience in social media (Lewis's Twitter account is the second most-followed in Dallas) and committing completely to the new project. "If you're trying to do something as best you can," she said, "people will overlook your flaws."

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