Things that happened. Significant, organised things. Yes, I know it’s a woolly category.
Dec 16, 2010 1
On arrival at Newsfoo a couple of weeks ago in Phoenix, Arizona, each participant was given a notebook. The notebook may have just been a rather fine example of conference schwag, but looking back at it after the weekend, I realise that mine speaks volumes – not what I jotted down during sessions, but what I didn’t. Or rather, the pattern of my note-taking during the event.
I noted down on a fresh page the name of the session I was attending, and the time, so I would later be able to piece together the sequence of sessions I attended at least, through a fug of jetlag. Underneath each session’s title, there follows about a page of notes – the questions under discussion, framing the topic, perhaps, or salient quotes and ideas. And then, by the time we get to the second page, the notes descend into lists – of names (people in the room and beyond), book titles, publications, other references cited, half ideas, questions – all headed by an underlined FOLLOW UP LATER.
This tells me two things about my experience of Newsfoo: One, that I was frequently too busy listening, thinking and participating to record the event. There was so much going on! And two, that each session acted as a catalyst for further thinking, reading, conversation afterwards. In other words, you needed your attention in the room; and the session was only the beginning.
This perhaps provides some context for the misunderstood suggestion from O’Reilly organisers, who dissuaded people from liveblogging and tweeting during sessions. Some – who weren’t there, incidentally – saw this suggestion on the event wiki and reacted angrily, referring to a “twitter ban” and alleging that this was part of a conspiracy to keep the content of the event secret, cabal-like.
On the contrary. My impression was that people were free to socialise and cover their perspective of the event (at least anything that wasn’t covered by O’Reilly’s famous FrieNDA, which is like a person- or statement-specific Chatham House rule), just not in real time. And since the weekend in Phoenix, there have emerged a number of stimulating, informative and thoughtful blog posts – and I expect more will emerge in time.*
So it’s not that nothing was said. It’s that, like coffee, Newsfoo reactions took time to percolate – though, as a non-coffee-drinking Brit, I’m bound to say that a good cup of tea needs time to steep (we call this “masting”) before it’s ready to drink. Whisk the teabag out too soon and your cuppa is insipid, weak – hardly worth bothering with at all.
In my experience, inserting a pause in usual social reporting activities/obligations provided time and mental space to listen to, reflect on and add to what was being said.
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Feb 21, 2010 2
On Friday I attended The Story, a London conference about stories and storytelling.
The stated proposition for the event laid it out as
a celebration of everything that is wonderful, inspiring and awesome about stories, in whatever medium possible. We’re hoping to have stories that are written, spoken, played, described, enacted, whispered, projected, orchestrated, performed, printed – whatever form stories come in, we hope to have them here.
The Story is not about theories of stories, or making money from stories, but about the sheer visceral pleasure of telling a story. Whether it is in a game, a movie, a book, or a pub, we’ve all heard or told or been part of stories that have made us gasp, cry or just laugh.
There have never been so many stories, never so many ways to tell them. The Story will be a celebration of just a small sample of them.
It was an interesting day which has already been well documented elsewhere, but after the event I found myself reflecting on the content and which bits I’d enjoyed and craved more of, and which less so.
Throughout the day, I was variously amused, intrigued, distracted, confused, impressed and challenged at points, but didn’t leave feeling overly inspired to create myself – or at least, no more than usual. It felt like a brilliant event showcasing brilliant creators, but with less emphasis on the audience – a room packed full of potential creators – and how they could also play, create, bring stories into existence, either from their imaginations or from life.
Without dwelling on particular contributors and their participation, I tried to think about the wider classifications of activity experienced throughout the day and how I found them, and how they fit together. As I see it, there are four potential story-related events which could have appeared under this banner:
The first is a forum for established, published authors to read their works aloud in public. This is most like “an audience with” and suffers from three potential problems. Namely: that things that work when written down don’t necessarily work so well read aloud; that authors reading their work aloud rarely add anything to the interpretation except their identity (in this situation, their fame tends to compensates for the diminished quality of a live performance of a written text); that the audience can usually read for themselves and don’t need to attend to do so. In this context, the story is subservient to the identity and presence of the author. You are in the presence of a creator. The audience is required to participate only through attention and appropriately-timed ripples of laughter. This kind of event is opaque.
The second is a platform for the telling of original stories. The identity of the storyteller isn’t as important as their ability to tell a good story, and this is only heightened by context-specific or unique stories: tales woven specifically or only for a particular time and audience. There’s a long-established tradition of doing this – think about Fray Cafes for example – and like open mic nights, they require the audience’s support and potential participation. The story is more important than the teller, and the audience tends to want something which doesn’t feel like a well-honed routine, because that makes it seem more like a rote performance and less like an act of engaged sharing. This kind of event is levelling.
The third is an event about the craft of telling stories – via multiple media – from storytellers themselves. In this sort of event, writers and creators share their thought processes, techniques and patterns of working out ideas, and secrets of their industry or approach, while exploring how and why they do what they do. This provides additional layers of context and insight into the stories themselves, as well as positioning the author or storyteller as a skilled and thoughtful creator. The audience is let in on secrets, and gains a great and inspiring understanding of how these artists tell their stories. This kind of event is inspiring.
The fourth is a more theoretical platform for discussion of stories (plural rather than specific), in which the speakers may not be practitioners of storytelling itself but come from related disciplines and fields such as academia, publishing, commissioning, adaptation and editing. They speak about the patterns and particular aspects of storytelling as it relates to wider contexts than the urge to share a particular story, and may reflect on topics such as the art of the cliffhanger, how narrative curves engage the reader, the seven basic movie plots and why the future of stories is games. The audience is challenged to make a mental leap to the semi-abstract, and in the process gains insight into the general activity. They take lots of notes. This kind of event is stimulating.
The Story was none of these events, specifically. It was a combination of several of them – some of the first, a few sessions of the third and one or two of the second with (purposefully) very little of the fourth.
Personally, I’m fascinated by the third and fourth, and would really enjoy a day of them combined with a more relaxed evening participatory cabaret of the second type described above. The first leaves me a little cold, I’m afraid – possibly because while I like hearing from authors, I mainly want to hear them talk about their work and their ideas and their approach and their stories, and less straight reading from the printed page.
I know Matt Locke, the creator of The Story, has already stated his intention to put another event on next year. I look forward to seeing how The Story develops – or, to put it in more appropriate terms, what the next chapter contains.
Feb 14, 2010 1
Happy Chinese new year – Kung Hei Fat Choi.
Here are some of my photos of previous CNY celebrations in London. I’ll be heading along this weekend again, with various cameras.
Oct 24, 2009 5
As part of Quadriga’s Online Communication 2009 conference, I was invited by the organisers to present some reflections about how to communicate with people online, drawn from both personal and professional experiences, in the form of an after-dinner speech. This was a new experience for me: I’ve never done an after-dinner speech before. Lots of presentations, lectures, debates and panels, but nothing in quite this format before, with no visual aid, nestled in between main course and dessert.
Rather than just post my notes, here’s a fully-written up version of what I said, including links to sources, resources, inspirations and further reading. Forgive the slightly odd formatting, with so many paragraphs – it’s structured this way to reflect the emphasis and pauses and topic sections as I spoke.
If anyone wants it, I was thinking about making an audio version available to download, because this is fairly long (about 25 minutes) – let me know if this would be interesting to you. And if you’re interested in me giving this presentation (or one similar) at an event you’re organising, do get in touch.
When I first told my friends I was coming to Amsterdam to speak to a room full of online communication executives, they asked me why I had to fly to Amsterdam to do that. Why do we all need to get together in one room? Couldn’t I just do it by email, maybe in a newsletter or a series of tweets?
Well, maybe – but if that had been the case, I wouldn’t have got to enjoy such a delicious meal and wouldn’t have met so many of you face to face. So thank you for giving me the opportunity to do that.
Actually, yesterday I asked my Twitter contacts whether there’s anything they’d recommend to a room full of the best and brightest communication professionals in Europe. I got a lot of interesting answers, many of which I’ll draw on later, but I particularly liked this suggestion from a contact who said:
“Just tell them they should promote the juniors for two months and let them run wild over the internet.”
Well, it’s an idea. Not sure it’s the first thing you could do, but still…
When Quadriga were putting together the conference programme, I was asked to present my perspective on online communication from “both sides of the wall” – as a keen online user both personally and professionally.
I’s just like to note that that implies the wall is somehow this insurmountable, divisive thing which is rarely scaled. In fact, the walls are coming down. I think it’s remarkably easy – and getting easier – to hop from one side to the other, and in fact the boundaries are blurring for many of us every day. I count myself as incredibly lucky that my professional life draws on my personal experiences and passions.
As part of that, I have a confession to make.
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Sep 2, 2009 2
Yesterday, a new empowering climate change campaign called 10:10 launched with the aim of encouraging as many people, companies and institutions as possible to sign up to a pledge to cut their personal carbon footprints by 10% during 2010.
Here’s a chunk from one of the articles from yesterday’s Guardian G2:
The 10:10 campaign, which is launched today in partnership with the Guardian, is designed both to answer the call for immediate action, and to offer individuals and organisations a meaningful way of taking it. It is the brainchild of Franny Armstrong, the irrepressible film-maker behind The Age of Stupid, a powerful docudrama about our failure to tackle climate change. The idea is compellingly simple: by signing up, individuals and organisations from multinational companies to schools and hospitals commit to doing their best to cut their emissions by 10% by the end of 2010, precisely the sort of deep, quick cut the scientists say is needed.
You can read much more about the initiative, the launch, the philosophy behind it and the difference that such an apparently small commitment would make here on the Guardian environment site (The Guardian is a supporting partner of 10:10, though this probably earns it a higher place on the IoS’s smuggest Britons list – this year we were included for being “Patronising toffs, taking their revenge on the world after being bullied at school.” Does that mean the IoS are pro-bully? Or just bitter? Most confusing. Anyway, I digress.) or at the official campaign site at http://www.1010uk.org.
I signed up yesterday:
10% is a very achievable reduction for the vast majority of people, and can be made through a small number of very simple (and not too hairshirted) actions (which we should all be doing anyway and which take very little effort)..
I’m inspired to think that a committed movement of people making small, personal but significant actions might be able to make a real difference. What was it Margaret Mead said…?
I hope you will consider signing up, too, and encourage your friends to do likewise, even though I know that many people try to live in an environmentally-sensitive way already, for lots of varying individual reasons.
Proselytizing aside, I went along to the launch event yesterday at the Tate Modern on London’s south bank, and had a few thoughts and experiences there that I wanted to jot down while they were still in my head.
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Jul 29, 2009 Comments Off
Before you do anything else, listen to this:
Richard and the Young Lions – Open Up Your Door
Even if it’s not strictly your kind of music, I defy you not to have shimmied your shoulders a bit, or bobbed your head fractionally, or tapped your feet. Some kinds of music just make people feel like dancing. In fact, I’ve been listening (and deskbopping) to that song on a loop all day since my friend, neighbour and co-conspirator in localised pub quiz glory Dan Maier posted it to Twitter earlier. Good, innit?
Dan’s hosting the fifth birthday of his 13th floor club – a 60s (garage, pop & psych) music event – this Saturday night (1 August 2009) downstairs at the Albany, which is a pub and music venue opposite Great Portland Street tube station.
I don’t know all the details, but it’s about £5 in after 10pm (FREE before) and it goes on until about 2am. It’s only a small venue – maybe 100 people can fit in? – and thankfully it’s dark enough in the club that you can dance without people thinking it’s weird. Unless that’s what you want, of course… In fact, sometimes people dress up specially in keeping with the era, and I understand that this weekend, the the Actionettes will be appearing, which will be awesome.
In case that hasn’t convinced you to make plans to come along on Saturday, I asked Dan to bung me links to some of his favourite tracks, exactly the sort of thing that might be played on the night. Here are a few, with more after the jump…
Cindy & Bert – Der Hund Von Baskerville (1969
Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich – Hold Tight (1965)
Jun 11, 2009 1
Today is the 9th anniversary of the very first UK blogmeet, which took place at the Lincoln Lounge in King’s Cross (mere metres from my office nowadays).
Back on Saturday June 11th 2000, a ragged band of early-era bloggers got together and spent a happy afternoon talking nonsense and taking solace in the fact that this weird blogging lark (which everyone else found so weird at the time) was considered completely normal and even interesting by the gathered gang.
Present on that day were:
Dave Green (who I remember was wearing a particularly fine NTK jacket that day)
And you know the best thing?
I’m still in touch with all the people above, and I count many of them among my closest friends. Plus most are still blogging in some shape or form. The itch never goes away.
We still meet up occasionally for drinks in various bits of the world, even after all this time. That’s the effect of blogging community. Long may it last!
Jul 22, 2008 38
As I’ve posited in these pages before, the main reason for having a blog and keeping it going for nearly nine years (!) is to be able to track the annual cavalcade of winged whimsy which is Flying Ant Day.
As in previous years, the date seems to be geographically clustered (which makes sense, I guess) and after an early misfire on Wood Lane a couple of weeks back, I can now confirm that it does, indeed, appear to be Flying Ant Day in London.
|Year||FAD London SW14||FAD elsewhere|
|2004||22 July||6 July (West London)
17 July (West London, Hackney, Manor Park, Roy Bridge)
27 July (Didcot)
|2005||29 July||12 July (West London)
2 August (Mill Hill)
|2006||12 July||12 July (Enfield)
17 July (West Sussex, West London)
26 July ILondon SE14)
|2007||19 July||8 July Nottingham
13 July (West Sussex)
14 July (East Sussex)
15 July (Portsmouth, Harrow, East London, West London, West Berkshire, Oxford, Verwood, Dorset, Kent, Crawley, Reading)
16 July (Romford, Dublin)
17 July (Heysham, Lancashire)
19 July (Derby, Derby, Walsall, Bermondsey, Marlborough)
|2008||22 July||22 July (EC1 – my workplace), Kent – via Hg, Wood Lane W12 – via Cliff & lmg, E11 – via tomskerous, NW5 – via Girlwithaonetrackmind, W14 Barons Court – via ChrisL|
So we can see that the slight anomolies of early sightings we experienced in the last few years have now been corrected, and we’re back in the range of 2004.
This year has been notable not for the number of reports, but for the fact that so many people IMed/twittered/emailed me directly to let me know when they saw the little flying feckers, because (in the words of one) they now associate FAD with me. Bless.
But on a relevant note, Twitter has made it easier to track sightings.
For example, we can see that there have been 26 mentions of “flying ant” and 39 of “flying ants” (many mentioning London) in public twitter streams since lunchtime today. Before that, the previous mention was a week ago, then nothing much until three weeks back. So not only can we tell it’s FAD in London, but we can be reasonably sure that it started at lunchtime. How cool is that?
I’ve also noticed that I get a sense of flying ant season from looking at my site analytics. Over the past month there have been nearly a thousand searches resulting in a visit to my site from people looking for information about flying ants, and there are definite peaks in there (peak ant?): June 22, July 2, July 7, July 14. And today.
Dec 17, 2007 21
Last week, I went to Le Web 3 in Paris with my boss (who was participating in an onstage recreation of this debate and m’colleague Neil. It was a good event, mostly, and great to connect with a variety of people I like and admire both personally and professionally. I go to a lot of conferences – both as speaker and participant – through my work at The Guardian (and previously at AOL) and in a personal capacity, so it’s always interesting to get another perspective on the industry we work in. This time, it was with a distinctly European flavour.
We stayed in a rather odd hotel (but that’s another story), and since I got back there’s been a series of festive parties to attend, so it’s taken until now to catch up on sleep and distill my reflections on the event into any kind of order. So here goes.
- Great to have a spacious event with plenty of different areas, all with a lot of space for talking during breaks
- The food was awesome with impressive attention to detail. It was like being catered for at a wedding!
- The seats were comfortable and the stacked area at the back of the main hall meant that even people at the back of the room had a great view
- Production values – the sound quality was great, the projection of live video onto big screens meant it was easy to feel closer to what was going on onstage
- A good and eclectic selection of stimulating talks from interesting people, and only a few bits that felt like “we’ve heard this before”. I took copious notes and was delighted to hear some really challenging and inspiring points from the stage.
- Powerplugs. Hallelujah – finally a conference where I can recharge :)
The less good (and could be improved on next year without too much effort, I’m sure):
- The lighting in the main hall – too dark to see the keyboard/notepad during the talks (which has meant my conference notes are going to require some deciphering….)
- The location. Great space once you got there, but try finding a Parisian cab driver who’d heard of it! Lots of shrugs and baffled looks. Maybe it’s a new venue? In the end, we wound up getting a cab to Porte de la Chapelle and then the shuttle bus to the event and vice versa, which worked out ok, but that – combined with the shocked “Oh! Don’t walk around there with your laptop bag!” from people in the hotel – meant it felt a bit out of the way.
- The party. Too loud, too crowded – couldn’t talk, couldn’t find anyone…
- I was rather frustrated that the questions from the audience seemed to come from the same 4-5 people after each session. I don’t know whether this was down to the questioners (for hogging the mic a bit and not letting other voices be heard!), the rest of the audience members (for not putting their hands up!) or the onstage moderators (for repeatedly picking the same people to speak from the crowd!) but the net result was that at times it felt like Robert Scoble was the official mouthpiece of the conference attendees, giving live reaction to the onstage speakers directly after they’d finished. Liveblogging, out loud? I think Scoble’s got a lot to say, but others should have a voice too.
- On a related note, I think it’s worth thinking about why certain people are involved in the programme, and what they can bring to the event. Are they there because of their name, job title or company profile? Or because they can form opinions, present, construct arguments and so on? You need a good slug of both.
- Timing. Lunch was too long at 2 hours, and the days were very very long indeed. In fact, by the end of the first day, most people I spoke to were suffering from presentation-fatigue, emerging blinking into the Paris night like moles, having seen no daylight! By the time the afternoon session started on a lot of people had obviously decided to call it a day, which was a shame because there was still a lot on the programme. Perhaps it might be worth having more different tracks on a future occasion, while keeping the conference stimulating but with less overall must-pack-it-in length.
- There was rather poor representation of women in the programme. I know there are way, way more men in technology than women, and I know that there are far, far, far more high profile crowd-pulling men’s names in that space than women’s names. I get that, and it’s a shame, but there it is. But to have only
seveneight women on the stage out of 110 speakers over the two days, one of whom was the program director of the event and three of whom were in panel discussions? That seems a little under-representative to me! This is something that I know Loic has heard loud and clear from the blog feedback about the event and hopefully taken note of – in fact, he mentions it in his roundup of the feedback here.
And finally, the ugly – or rather, the just plain weird:
Jun 22, 2007 9
Given that six and a half years have passed, and things have moved on a bit, and in honour of the festival’s arrival this weekend, I thought it might be worth looking at updating it again. So, building on the previous post, and without further ado, here’s