I was just at MeetMagento Poland which was a great event. And one thing that stood out was the note that Kuba Zwoliński made at the conference opening on pacman, a way of including more people. Unfortunately, we pulled a juan as well.
What is Pacman rule?
The Pacman rule was first coined in the Magento community by Sonja Riester, while she borrowed the idea yet from others (Eric Holscher?). The rule is simple: Visualize the yellow player icon of the Pacman game - the circle that has a little piece of pie chopped out it, representing its mouth.
Now apply this to any group of people at a conference. Instead of keeping the circle closed, so it is hard to newcomers to join the conversation, keep a gap open so that anyone is able to join.
Of course, it takes a bit more than just an extra space at the table. You also need to invite people, encourage people to join the conversation, switch the conversation when the newcomer doesn't match the existing conversation.
For instance, if 4 developers are talking about API interfaces and a 5th person (non-developer) joins in, switch the conversation to something more generic. Knowing that conversations are temporarily coupled anyway (@AntonKril) this wouldn't be too hard.
You can also apply the reversed pacman rule (I just made that up): When you are in a group (2 or 3 people perhaps) talking on a specific topic and looking for a table so that you have a rest there, do not pick an empty table, but rather pick a table that only has one single person at it, so you allow that person to join instantly.
Pulling a matthieu
Using the Pacman rule allows newcomers to join more easily in conversations of others. We talk about community, open source and sharing a lot, but sometimes forget that little social tricks already make a huge difference. So personally, I'm totally adopting the Pacman rule.
MeetMagento Poland ended for me with an excellent twist: Me and a few others, among which Sonja Riester (who brought the Pacman rule to Magento), we were about to have diner and were gahering outside the conference venue. I met up with somebody I did not meet during the conference yet - Matthieu. He mumbled something on a workshop and because I attended that day a Magento workshop indeed, I simply assumed he was a Magento developer just like me. And I asked him to join us for diner.
Halfway of the restaurant I found out that he was not there for the MeetMagento conference at all, he did not even know what Magento was but he gathered at the same conference venue to join a Facebook workshop instead. Because he was looking more for social chat instead of actually dealing with Magento, he had great fun joining our group anyway. And because we were all open to him, warmed up by the Pacman rule, there was absolutely no reason for him not to join our group.
Now, you can see that pulling a matthieu is actually more advanced than applying the Pacman rule. The Pacman rule facilitates inclusion of people at conferences, the Matthieu rule actually spreads across any social group - regardless of nationality, gender or personal interest. Hell, I'm writing this article at Krakow Airport while holding hands with all other passengers and singing kumbaya.
Pulling a juan
However, there is a dark side to the story as well. While we were waiting at the conference venue for all people to join for diner, we were also joined by Juan Alonso, a good friend from Spain or Switzerland or whatever. Juan joined us for diner. However, after diner, we all left for a final drink in another bar, including Matthieu.
And while sipping our first drink, somebody asked Where is Juan?. Nobody knew. Apparently, we all left the restaurant while Juan was on the toilet. Nobody knew? Well, somebody did. I'm not going to say who was actually responsible for the juan, but I can say that it was definitely not anyone who's name does not start with an S and ends with onja.
Pacman, matthieu and juan
But I didn't want to write this up to shame somebody. I simply wanted to point out that we sometimes also make mistakes: We try to include people, but then we might yet again exclude others. It is a tough thing, but remember that the good effort counts most. So, focus on Pacman and pulling a matthieu, but beware of pulling a juan along the way.