Category Archives: london

What I did at RebootBritain

060720091694I enjoyed myself at rebootbritain this week (it was a bit of a bastard child of 2gether08 and Innovation Edge) I think I’d have preferred if it had more genetic code from barcamp and opentech but I’m fussy like that. I don’t think it was ever going to be a real “doing” place. More thinking, talking and connecting, all of which are still very important things to do, if we want to move on to “doing stuff”.

And I believe that we need to practice this a bit more if we’re going to get good at collaborating in spaces like this – it’s one thing to have a difference of opinion in a conversation about how someone’s project should engage online. It’s quite another if the group you are in is trying to actually make that happen there and then. It’s not that the doing is more difficult necessarily but I think collaborative doing is easier and goes better when people are well practiced in talking with each other in a small group. It’s yet another thing I’ve learned from growing tuttle from a small seedling and then going out doing consulting with people from the network.

Back to what actually happened on Monday. I see two basic models of how people can talk to each other at events like this. There are conference rooms where the speaker to listener ratio is between 1:50 and 1:700 (not including those watching live on the web) and the other “Coffee Track” mode of people speaking in pairs, joined by a third which gives the opportunity for one of the original pair to slip away and for a new pair to get talking. Of course there are other mutations and variations that spring up around the place but they don’t live for long, the ecosystem keeps returning to two dominant, parallel states, the very large and the very small. The flavour of discussion in each of these is markedly different. In large scale meetings, the speakers often speak about what “we” are doing – sometims that is a specific group of people, but often it’s a more slippery “public policy we”, or “we in society” it’s a Global we. Q&A where allowed gets dominated by those with something to sell (if it’s me, it’s usually my own cleverness!). Meanwhile in the corridors the conversations are led by the question “So what are you doing?” or if you don’t know them already “So what do you do?”.

This means there’s a very high level global conversation going on, and a very personal (but rarely intimate) conversation going on, but nothing in between.

So, encouraged by others to do something to reboot rebootbritain I sought out Steve Moore and got permission to use one of the rooms that was shown as empty on the schedule. Then I thought more about what I wanted to do. I wanted to create something tuttle-ish but more structured, so I plumped for conversation circles and added in a rule or two: 7 +/- 2 people popped into my head, whatever that really meant, I worked it out later – and remembered the reference. An another ‘rule': you can talk about whatever you want. Then I wandered around pitching it to people in their twosomes and tweeted the time, location and basic form.

As I talked about it to my chums around the place, of course the pitch and my idea of what we were going to do evolved and I am an unreliable reporter of the exact sequence – just remember this is my post-hoc rationalisation, it was (even) messier than this…

So I let as many people as I could, know that we were doing “something”. Found that the start clashed ith sessions that people wanted to go to: “Is the Web Female” and the Social by Social launch – but then it had to clash with something. Only one person, noticed that I was interrupting their conversation to invite them to something which, on the face of it, sounded quite similar to what they were already doing.

060720091696I went up to the room at 2pm to find that the group occupying it had been told they could carry on for a bit but we soon managed to be turning the seats around from their parallel ranks into circles. Three or four people from this previous session asked what we were doing and on hearing, joined in enthusiastically. In fact, they were among those who eventually stayed the full three hours. And so, the conversations began. Two groups to start. I noticed quickly that there were a couple of other rules to add. Firstly an exhortation to come in, sit down and join in. And then another to encourage people not to interview each other but rather to focus on sharing their own experience. Interview-style conversations can easily slip into Q&A which is replicating the dynamic of the Global conversations, just with fewer people taking part. Oh yes, and I introduced the law of two feet although very few exercised their rights under this law.

Overall several people stayed for the three hours before Steve came and ushered us downstairs to listen to Howard Rheingold. Many others came and stayed for half an hour or so and then moved on. In the tradition of tuttle, I had no attachment to “success” or “outcome” and therefore there could be no failure.

Many people said to me on the day or since that it was the best bit of the day for them. There was even a brief flurry of tweeting suggesting that I should be gifted money by NESTA for instigating it. It’s a practice of mine never to say no to money, but it was interesting when this subject came up in one of the conversations on the day how difficult we all found to talk about it.

I do think that practicing conversation at this scale is important. I like it. I’m going to do more.

G20: Lessons Learned

IMG_0256The G20 Voice team did a brilliant job. The first I heard about this gig was a phone call from Shane McCracken on the day I’d returned from SXSWi (ie when I’d just finished a 16-hour journey and was trying to stay awake to stave off jet-lag) and then two weeks later I was sitting in the Excel Centre a few yards from President Obama.

Not everything went perfectly, but the problems were not of the obvious kind that could have been predicted and mitigated against. They were mostly things none of us knew about how the day would run, what the content would be and how a group of 50 bloggers would react to being thrown together to report on something so huge. The main feedback I gave to G20Voice was that I was very impressed by their flexibility and willingness to learn with us over the course of the two days we were together.

So there’s a bunch of things I think I learned in the course of the two days we had together that I’d like to work out and share here.

The only events I’ve covered before have been traditional conferences or trade shows. There’s always *something* going on, whether it’s plenary sessions, product demos or just delegates hanging around chatting at lunchtime, and so it’s easy to blog without very much preparation or knowledge of the subject area. You can do the standard in through the ears, out through the fingers liveblogging or get out among the people with a camera, jump in and ask open questions, following up with intelligent probes.

The G20 summit was not like that.

The summit happens in private, away from any reporters at all. They talk all day, perhaps have a little argy-bargy, but then emerge with a summary of what they’ve agreed – the communique.

IMG_0348I felt cut off. Cut off from the action and cut off from my online tribe because I was being boring – I had nothing of interest to say for most of the day, because nothing was really happening except the occasional entrance of a Minister or Celebrity Activist. I blogged during the day (and the day before) that I didn’t know what to do to be useful. I wanted to be like the other guys who seemed to know everything about everything and were, no doubt, writing Pullitzer Prize-worthy copy all day long. I kept thinking that I should be doing something else, but when I went and did something, I thought I should be back at the desk and online.

But just because it’s a news event, doesn’t mean you only have the day to publish stuff in. I’m lucky, I don’t have any deadlines or a target for how much to write or create, except those that I make for myself. And I was forgetting that I do have an eye for interesting stuff and so the behind the scenes content that I’ve shared with you seemed like it was a cop out, too easy, just hanging around behind other people being photographed and filmed. It wasn’t until I got it all out and had a look at it that I realised where the story was and that I had stuff that was unique.

So Learning Point #1 Remember you are unique and have a unique perspective. Be yourself and trust that you will be enough.

my workstation at the G20 summitIt helped me to have plenty of equipment so that i knew that when I did have something to report, I’d be ready. I had two laptops, one mainly for tracking stuff on twitter, flickr and the G20Voice site and the other for getting stuff done, writing, encoding video and uploading photos. I was lent an HG10 by Canon (thanks to Colin & Donna at 1000Heads) so I could shoot anything I wanted to. I was also lent an iPod touch and handsfree set (thanks to Best Before TV, especially Karen & Steve, whose touch it was!) so that I could record Audioboos – I like this a lot. I also had my flip camera in case I needed to just do something simple and quick, my N95 for backup photos, video and Qiks and my Edirol in case I wanted to do longer audio interviews.

The thing I’d forgotten was that I’ve switched to Linux on my two laptops since I last had an HG10 and I could have done without all the faffing needed to start from scratch in order to transcode from AVCHD to MPEG. I’ve now found Handbrake which is actually very good indeed especially once you have time to play around with it.

Learning Point #2 Take more than you need and ask for what you want and need. Make sure you’ve got all your software up to date and test loan kit before you get there.

Yes, I felt cut off. But surely I was on a table full of bloggers, just like me? Well no, I was actually on a table full of specialist journalists (in some cases operating in a tiny niche) who choose to mainly communicate online. They were mostly lovely, but there wasn’t a great deal of playful collaboration. There were few other media hacker types of the sort that frequent the Tuttle Club.

I quickly tired of us being referred to as “The Bloggers”. I think if there’d been a media hacker table or just a few more of the folk I normally play with, we’d have come up with something more creative. It might have got us chucked out or severely reprimanded, but it would have been more fun.

Learning Point #3 is for the G20Voice team (or anyone else doing this sort of work) and comes in two parts: a) All that bloggers might have in common is that they have a blog. and b) Focus the Briefing Day on helping the bloggers get to know each other, trust each other and collaborate and interact online (there’s a whole nother post on this, I think)

IMG_0525I was really pleased with the photos I took of the president at the podium. I know they’re all much the same and that people all around me were taking the same shot too, but I really like that I got them for my very own. I could not have done so if I’d done what I was told. Firstly, I went to the front of the queue when photographers were called. I took advantage of the fact that my pass said “Blogger” while others had, I imagine, “Journalist” or “Photographer”. I used the ambiguity to be a writer when it suited me and a photographer when that’s what I wanted to be. So I then just went up to the front of the hall with the other photographers. It was crowded and the press office guys were going back and forth trying to weed out people who weren’t official photographers. I felt a little inadequate with my little video camera, but I just stood my ground and avoided eye contact with them by looking at my viewfinder.

Learning Point #4 Be confident, use ambiguity to your advantage, go for what you want.

So by the Friday morning, I felt like I was just about ready to get started. I guess the overall point would be it’s OK to learn as you go, keep asking the question of how you can be useful and remember what you learn for next time.

G20: Tom Watson MP

I also asked Tom why people should care about what goes on at the summit and he explains the importance of what the bloggers were doing to help us all make sense of the high-level economic stuff from our own perspectives.

Tom is one of the earliest adopters of online social tools among national politicians and he uses them to complement the doorstep manner that makes him a popular local MP. I remember hearing about his early blogging through Tim Ireland in 2004. He’s matured well with the rest of us – he’s a top choice to follow on twitter, skillfully navigating the line between speaking as just another tweeter and speaking as an MP and Government Minister.

Tom sat with us on the G20 Voice desk all day, even when he was in danger of being crushed by the hack-pack when Bob Geldof passed by.

Free wifi in London

Between them, Pret a Manger and McDonalds provide pretty good coverage for the urban digital nomad. Both provide free wifi access via The Cloud – pret asks for an e-mail address and your birthday, but underneath the arches, you can surf away by just clicking a button.

OK, so it’s not really free if you are obliged to buy something in order to secure a table, but Black coffee in pret is £1.50-something and in McDonalds £1.29 – in the former you may have to put up with loud middle class people, in the latter, the bawling of chavvy kids is drowned out by the boombox – take some noise-cancelling headphones.

Neither, however, seem to provide power sockets, so I recommend an hour or so in Starbucks now and then to recharge your flagging batteries. And don’t forget to swap water for caffeinated beverages occasionally to minimise the risk of over-stimulation.

Of course the ICA is top-hole for wifi, power, coffee, yummy food and PLU(!) but loses points by not being open (except on Fridays, you lucky people) until midday.

Passport to Pimlico

At some point in the late seventies or early eighties, the BBC ran a comprehensive season of Ealing Comedies. It stands out as an important part of my adolescent television experience – which many would say explains a lot.

A favourite has always been Passport to Pimlico (1949) for the location shots of immediate post-war London as well as the plucky defiance of the residents of Miramont Gardens. What’s disappointing of course is that it’s actually filmed in Lambeth on the other side of the river rather than in Pimlico itself. Nonetheless it formed an important picture in my young mind of “that London”.

If you haven’t seen it, get it and take a look. Spoilers may well follow…

Watching again, this weekend, I noticed many motifs that echo what I’m thinking about a lot with respect to self-organisation and emergent behaviour, but in particular two examples of herd activity – firstly, the way in which the idea spreads through the community that they are Burgundians and therefore need no longer comply with the post-war austerity measures or indeed any English law they dislike and then later how the crowd gathered to witness the defeat and evacuation copy the kids who have come to throw provisions to their parents (the kids who got the idea from seeing the penguins fed at the zoo).

And I laughed out loud a lot too.

Silly Lists, Silly Games

This evening, my attention was drawn to the fact that I wasn’t on the twitter grader “Twitter Elite in London” list.

Oh Noes! Wot a calamitee!

So I checked out my location setting and found it to be “London, UK” – it’s a free-form text box so you can, and I did, temporarily, change it to “Up My Own Arse” if you like, but there isn’t a list for “Twitter Elite Up My Own Arse”… yet.

Changing it to London, slipped me quickly into the list at #12 although since others have noticed the same thing and changed their locations, who knows where I’d be? Hey it gave me another opportunity for cheap sexual innuendo. I’ve now put it back to what it was, simply because I think it’s more accurate and useful. Take a look at the disambiguation page for just London.

These lists *are* silly, the games we play with them, once we’ve noticed them, are just games. Is there anything here other than vanity and the fleeting fun of gaming a system by tweaking it’s parameters? Well scroll down a bit and you’ll see that this list is just a way of grabbing attention in order to point people at the services of Hubspot and “inbound marketing”, ie SEO specialist. It’s us, our vanity, our envy, our play, being used for someone else’s marketing campaign. No thanks. Unfollowing @grader (though I understand that doesn’t stop me being included in the lists)