Category Archives: social media café

Social Media Café as Platform

PolicyUnplugged 085At our first prototype meeting, I perceived a tension between the people who were interested in making a profitable business and those whose interest was solely in the community possibilities and opportunities for collaboration. I came away unsure of what legal structure would work best – a traditional shareholder-owned limited company or a non-profit company limited by guarantee. I’ve been thinking about it a lot since then.

On the same occasion I said something along the lines of: “What I want to create is a platform that enables people to create value for themselves.”

The inspiration for this comes from the tech world – CP/M & MS-DOS, the IBM PC, the Internet, the Web, Amazon Marketplace, Craigslist, Ebay, Facebook – what they all have in common is that no matter how they get paid for or how they’re organised, or whether or not they make money for their inventors, they have also given other people the opportunity to create new relationships, markets and businesses that weren’t possible before (btw, I use big examples so that people will recognise what I’m talking not because I think our little project will be on that scale.)

I want everything we do to in some way support people doing cool stuff on their own. I don’t think we have to own *every*thing and I certainly don’t want to create a walled garden. We’ll get a lot more done by creating the conditions for people to

So turning back to the legal structure, the choice seems to come down to a limited company (or a partnership) which exists to create value for it’s shareholders (or partners) or a company limited by guarantee which exists to… well do whatever we decide it should do – I think it should serve the needs of people interested in Social Media in London – if that’s not too wooly (or too specific) – but I’m open to suggestion. There was broad agreement that limited by guarantee was the right route for us but the aim and purpose does need to be boiled down to something that expresses what we want and allows us (as a group) to do as much good as possible.

So if that is sorted, my mind then turns to the structure of this business. I’ve always talked about the three bits – café, learning, working. But that might not be all we want to do together – other ideas for services have come up in meetings too. Can we make the Tuttle Club our base platform? With no direct services except to facilitate cool stuff happening. Then the first cool thing it does (quickly) is to set up a Social Media Café or perhaps the café space, a learning space and a workspace could each be individual, but co-located businesses. And then it can do other things too as they arise. Or am I making it too complicated?

Let’s talk about this at the next prototype – but there are many who aren’t able to join us there so let’s do it in the google group as well.

Keeping the prototyping going

Seesmic London DinnerOur first little flashmob was quite a success in my view. It certainly showed me that there were people ready to turn up and talk about stuff. It also suggested to me that we need to follow a two-track approach for now.

I’m going to continue to write (as and when I have the space and time) a formal business plan to help communicate more clearly and completely what it is we are doing and to help people understand why they might want to put money into it. I want to get as much feedback and input from others into that as possible so I’ll be blogging about it more regularly from now on as well as organising face to face sessions.

In addition, I think it’s worth trying to keep prototyping and move slowly from the dormobile model towards the travelling circus model. For those who haven’t seen my presentation on this, I characterised the first phase of prototyping as a VW camper van where we just hang out essentially wherever we can find somewhere to park for the afternoon. The travelling circus is a bit more formal – it’s where we would have a venue that remained the same for a period, perhaps up to a month, before we moved on. So how might we do that? From the start people have been suggesting that we should just find somewhere to “squat” but ideas for actual places to do this have been thin on the ground.

Now, though, courtesy of the sterling persistence of Lee Thomas (londonfilmgeek) we’ve got a couple of initial sessions booked in the upstairs dining-room at (Norman’s) Coach and Horses in Greek Street (corner of Romilly St, opposite Kettners). To say the least, the place does have some media history. Far less significantly it was where we had the recent Seesmic Dinner.

We’ll be there from 10.00 to 13.00 on Friday 1st February though the landlord would no doubt welcome you staying on for a later lunch and drinking in the bar for the rest of the afternoon if you really can’t tear yourselves away :)

I’ve put a simple page on the wiki for sign-ups – just so that people know who else is coming.

Right, so I’m now on the look out for more places like this and I thought I’d blog the requirements and what’s in it for the venue and see who out there might have have somewhere we can use or at least see whether you can come up with suggestions of places to approach.

What the venue gets – people, punters, customers, you know, dosh-givers – especially at those times that are usually a bit slow. More people drinking coffee and eating cakes, sandwiches and other geek comestibles (erm… I suppose I mean beer here, especially on a Friday lunchtime). Moreover the people it brings in are well-connected and quite influential in their own circles. And we’re generous – if you give us nice things like wifi and electrickery, we will say nice things about you. Don’t forget that when we say nice things, we say them quite loudly on the internet (a global network of interconnected computing devices), where they stick around forever getting clumped together with other nice things and thus bringing you warm fuzzy goodness – the kind of warm fuzzy goodness that encourages cash out of people’s wallets and into your till.

Our requirements – we’d like a space please that we can, however temporarily, call our own. It’s great if it can be demarcated in some way (a separate room, those three tables, etc.) and we need free open wifi (if you don’t have this, we can talk about how we can help you set it up) and access to electricity points. Errr.. that’s about it, really. Anything else, I think we can work around.

Know anywhere like this? Own anywhere like this. Let me know – my contact details are up at the top of this page.

Why I’m not in Seesmic at the moment

Writing that as a title makes it sound much more dramatic than what I want to say. However, I wanted to explain the reasons for me not showing up so much in seesmic of late. In particular, I wanted to make it clear that it’s not a negative sign – I’m still using it, I’m still in love with the people and the concept, I’m still part of the seesmic community, I’m just not around very much for now. It comes down to three things:

1. There’s a limit to how much alpha testing one can do.

This is not a fault – it’s just how it is. I’ve used and loved the crappy, buggy, bloated, adorable, prototype proof of concept thing they knocked up, but my legs are just tired from using bicycle pedals to fly an aeroplane. I need it to move on (lighter, better organised, social functionality) before I can use it again regularly. This isn’t to say that others shouldn’t have a go while the CTO (who never sleeps) and his band of code monkeys build the next version – if you get an invite, I strongly urge you to jump in, ride it, meet the fantastic people who are there, enjoy it, love it like I have, find the holes, work out for yourself what works and doesn’t work – it’s great fun. Trouble is…

2. My kit’s crap

The combination of said “bloated, adorable…etc” and my little PC with it’s pathetic 256MB of RAM (yes, I’ve ordered some more) mean that I really can’t do much in seesmic before the whole thing slows down to a crawl. In case you haven’t got the message, I do love seesmic so much that I’ve honestly considered setting up a dedicated seesmic box, stripped down to a lightweight OS and browser just so that I could continue being an active participant around this social media kitchen table rather than the old grandpa who sticks his head around the door occasionally to ask you kids to quieten down. I may still do this if I can find some geek-time this weekend, but the truth is…

3. I’ve other fish to fry

One of my main motivating factors this week has been ensuring that Mike Butcher doesn’t get in a position to do to me and the Tuttle Club/Social Media Café what he did to Paul Birch and Co-minded. We talked a lot about it in the last part of the year and our first prototyping meeting was great, but I need to maintain the momentum. My most frequently asked question is “When are you going to open?” My current best answer is “This year, preferably by the summer” I want to have a better answer to that – and more importantly to actually deliver. Again, for the time being, that (and bread and butter work to keep me living in the luxury I’ve come to expect, oh and playing my ukulele) has to come first, so time around the virtual kitchen table is limited [unless of course you want to come to a commercial arrangement, Loïc :) ]

So, in the meantime, don’t stay up too late talking and don’t be late for work because you’re nattering over breakfast, but have fun without me.

Tuttle Club – getting to the nub of why

So in the previous post I went on (and on) about relationships online and off-. The next point is that we seem to have grown up with a prejudice that online relationships are “not as real” or “not as good” as those we create offline.

While I am prone to this myself, when I think about it, it turns out to be piffle – people are people and the way we relate to each other doesn’t deteriorate as a matter of course just because we do it online. Some people behave very badly to others online, in ways that they wouldn’t dream of doing “IRL” but I’d argue that most of us now have more than one solely online relationship which is every bit as good as some of those that we have with people we see every day. And what is interesting, and I’ve noted before, is that online activities enhance relationships that began offline and vice versa. The distinction is disappearing, but I think that while things are still blurry, at this stage of our learning about relationships mediated by technology it’s a good time to look at some of the dynamics of how we get things done in this environment.

As well as Online/Offline, there are two other dimensions that I think are important to look at. These are the Formal/Informal and Group/Personal axes. We’re more used, I suppose, to thinking about the informal/formal axis in the context of the group, but I see both in my personal, individual life too (though there it can be easier to think about it as what’s conscious and unconscious). I don’t like gratuitous use of 2×2 matrices any more than the rest of you, so I hope you’ll forgive me, but I think it’s worth thinking about this space.

One of the first things I notice when thinking about this is that on the one hand social software is bringing more of a focus on the informal lives of groups (organisations, businesses if you like) while it brings a kind of formality at the individual level, by simply codifying our relationships, making things explicit that before were just understood – turning huge chunks of our personal lives into data (which by the way still doesn’t seem to belong to us – but that’s a whole other VRM kettle of fish – and I’m glad brains like Doc’s and Adriana’s are working on it).

2by2shift.jpg

However, that’s just another diversion from the story. Phew. The real point is what we can see when we extend the 2×2 to a 2x2x2 (cue: strangers in the night) with online/offline as the third axis.

In a purely offline world, think about how new stuff happens. I have an idea one morning, maybe in the shower, it percolates up out of my unconscious in a formal-ish way, maybe I write something down but perhaps I just take it in my head to work. Around the coffee pot, or the water cooler, I have a conversation with people and mention my idea. “OMG,” somebody says, “that is awesome, I’ve been thinking about just the same thing” – (OK, so this doesn’t *always* happen, often people have more interesting things to talk about, like their cat’s arse) “and what we could also do is X, Y and Z”. “OK,” I say, “let’s get together later and talk it through” So we do, and we work it out and we come up with a really cool way of expressing it and it gets adopted as part of the way we do things around here (or a ‘pro-see-dure’ if you are a dork).

2by2process.jpg

In the purely online world, there’s a similar process. “Ping! Idea!” (personal/informal) write on blog (personal/formal-ish), a few people comment, create a google group or suchlike, knock up prototype, show it to friends (group/informal), come up with neat way of inviting new people in – bang – it’s an every day part of the web that we suddenly can’t do without (group/formal).

When the online/offline distinction gets blurry, the group/informal space is the interesting one, but unless we work for YaGoogleSoft, or are willing to sell our souls to Starbucks, we don’t have a wifi-enabled space to meet and chat around the coffee machine, dropping our little ideas into the conversation and seeing where they might end up. So the Tuttle Club idea is to create a physical space for the rest of us to play around with the offline counterpart to the read/write web and online social networking and to see what happens when (at least in this city) we have somewhere to facilitate that online/offline bootstrapping for a whole group of people who have little in common yet except that they’ve seen the social media light (and that, if we’re lucky, will be tomorrow’s story).

Tuttle Club First Prototype

Yesterday I was knocked out that not only had 20-ish people signed up to come talk about the Tuttle Club AKA London Social Media Café (and bring their own coffee and a donation to help pay for the room) but they pretty much all turned up and treated the idea seriously like it’s really going to happen. At the risk of over-thanking, which is probably impossible since today is Thanksgiving anyway, thank you again for your participation, contribution and general good humour.

I put up a page on the wiki for people to write about it and link to what they thought if they wrote/filmed/recorded/drew something about the day. However all I did was to list the names of people who have come.

So if you were there – go here and say something about your experience of the session and what you’re going to do next. Please do also tell everyone you know about what a cool time you had and what you liked about it.

If you weren’t there but are still interested in what happened – go to the same place and have a look. If when you get there, there’s still nothing but a list of names, find someone on the list that you know and use every bullying technique you have at your disposal to get them to open up about it online.