ThingsCon comes to Amsterdam



On November 7, our friends Iskander Smit and Monique van Dusseldorp are bringing ThingsCon to Amsterdam as a local one-day event. With support from, they planned for a full day of both hands-on workshops and inspiring talks.

The line-up is pretty sweet indeed, speakers include Alper Çugun (Hubbub), Brendan Dawes, Harald Feijth (Chamber of Commerce), Prof. Dr. Elise Giaccardi (TU Delft), Rafi Haladjian (, Dr. Ianus Keller (For Inspiration Only), Raimo van der Klein (Legendary Studio), Rob van Kranenburg (Council Internet of Things), Martin van Rijn (TNO), Marcel Schouwenaar (The Incredible Machine), Iskander Smit (, Scott Smith (Changeist), Freek van’t Ooster ( Media), Omar Tegel (Top Vision Group), and yours truly.

If you’re there, make sure to say hi!

Learn more about the program and register for ThingsCon Amsterdam today.

The magic of tribal events


This year, more than ever before, I’ve been thinking a lot about types of events. Strengths and weaknesses, formats, logistics, resources, what have you.

One notion has come up over and over again, in conversations at ThingsCon, at UIKonf, and years before at smaller events like Cognitive Cities and even atoms&bits: That there is a certain kind of event that allows, maybe for the first time, for a certain group to gather. To meet in person, put faces to Twitter handles, and to discuss ideas much more eloquently and deeply than your average web-based discussion allows.

A magical moment

When a group like this meets, it can be an almost magical moment. It can also feel very tribal in the sense that a group emerges with strong ties, that feels like finding the peers – the people who understand you – you should have met forever ago. It can trigger sentiments such as “We have never met before, but it feels like coming home to my family”, or “At last I found my people.” You will leave a different, better person.


A brilliant description of what makes a truly great meeting, event or conference, found in Katie Hafner’s highly recommended book Where Wizards Stay Up Late.


Personally, I fondly remember this from Reboot, and maybe a barcamp or two. I owe these conferences so much.

This type of event is hard to create, and they are far and few between. It’s almost impossible to predict which conference or meetup will have the special sauce that makes this effect possible.


Speakers dinner at ThingsCon, everyone deeply engaged in conversation.


I feel personally humbled by the folks who have attended one of my events and mentioned feeling anything like that. I heard a few mentions like this at ThingsCon; and even now, four years after the fact, I vividly remember words to the same effect at Cognitive Cities Conference. It’s the biggest compliment to receive, and maybe the most undeserved one, too: What makes a tribal event like that is the people attending, and that’s a group that is largely self-selecting.

Yet, it’s something to inspire to, and so it’s worth exploring how an event can be tweaked to nudge the odds of it becoming a magical event up just a notch or two.

What makes a tribal event?

I think there are a few characteristics that I believe many of these events share:

  1. They are scrappy & small(ish), yet are very ambitious and have a strangely large, maybe even global footprint.
  2. They are tribal in structure, effect and mental model: Recruiting participants from one or many strong communities.
  3. They are the event equivalent of what Bruce Sterling calls favela chic: minimum resources, but “wired to the gills and really big on Facebook”, in other words, highly networked and connected.
  4. They draw their particular creative friction from connecting the dots between interrelated, but largely unconnected communities. By mixing it up in interesting ways that spark debate and exchange, finding strong, organic connections hidden between the noise.

It’s a kind of mental model that resonates strongly with me. It’s very different than large, highly professional and sophisticated productions like NEXT Berlin or some other conferences I’ve been involved in. But at the same time, it’s something that (in hindsight, I believe) I’ve implicitly applied in events like atoms&bits, Cognitive Cities, and to some degree ThingsCon.

For now, these are just vague ideas forming in my mind, notions I’m trying to figure out and analyze further. If you have been thinking about this, please share your insights, I’d love to hear about them. There’s much to be done. Let’s get right to it.

Picking clients


Phoenix, not so much

One thing I’ve always tried being aware of is: Which kind of client work to accept and which not to.

It’s been debated widely among freelancers – and all other types of companies, too – and I think it’s never an easy call.

“Money doesn’t stink,” the saying goes. But doesn’t it? It’s not quite as easy.

Say you’re a freelancer or small company. One “bad” client might well use up a significant part of your work time, and hence a) pull your company in the wrong direction and b) associate you with the “wrong” kind of project/client/ethics/etc. I’m using the quotations marks here so heavily because “bad” and “wrong” are hard to qualify.

What I mean by “bad” client isn’t necessarily that there are ethical issues (but there might be, and in that case: run!), but that it’s not the right client for you at that time. Too big, too small, too demanding, too spendy, too poor, too disorganized, too organized, too strong a focus on domestic or an international market – the list goes on. The point is, it’s a client that would either take you in the wrong direction, or would otherwise put a big, unnecessary strain on your company.

Equally, a “wrong” project could be anything that pulls you or your company too hard in one direction. Say, too big a scope for you to handle, or a focus that doesn’t help you move into the direction you’d like to evolve to.

And then there’s the downright bad/wrong ones, the ones where your gut tells you to back off. That’s where money comes in, in mostly hurtful ways. Something you can’t turn down, for whatever reasons. Or, even worse, something that at that particular point you think you couldn’t turn down, but a few weeks later the world might look different. This is the kind of project where the trust relationship doesn’t exist, or isn’t strong enough. Where you have to make compromises that don’t really work for you. Where in order to complete your end of the deal, you have to call in favors you don’t want to call in, just to end up wasting them because that part of the project gets cancelled without consulting you first, or against your advice.

There are many projects like this. I’ve been mostly very, very lucky with my clients. But anyone and any company that has been around for a bit has had a client project like that. Most luckily live to tell the tale, the one about the “client from hell”.

In many cases, what’s extra annoying about this is that while this project can be very hurtful to one company or freelancer, it might be the perfect fit for another. But while there are way to test the waters, there’s no way to be absolutely sure in advance.

That’s why it’s so important to listen to your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, leave it be. There’ll be other chances. Go with the flow instead.

Fresh off the press: The Alpine Review


The Alpine Review

Today I received a box with the first copies of The Alpine Review, straight from the printer over in Spain, where managing editor LJ Darveau has been seeing to the stuff being packaged up and shipped off to both selected print outlets like Do You Read Me and to collaborators (which is how I got my copy).

So what is The Alpine Review?

The Alpine Review is a bi-annual, comprehensive publication that tracks changes in thought, systems and creations around the world in a variety of disciplines ranging from tech to agriculture, design to anthropology. Assembled by an international and multidisciplinary team and designed and printed with extreme care, The Alpine Review is a compendium of ideas for a world in transition.

It is, in other words, a magazine from our tribe, for our tribe. As vague as that sounds (and is), it’s the best way I could describe it.

And so I was very excited when quite some months back LJ and his co-conspirator Patrick invited me to contribute in some way or another. (Which led to the title of Editor-at-Large, Europe eventually, which sounds like fun, because it is.) Those of you following my work and other activities will find quite a number of familiar faces among the contributors. Among others, Michelle Thorne, Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, Georgina Voss and Martin Spindler are all contributors. It was a pleasure to also see Bruce Sterling featured via an interview, as well as many great projects, people and events.

The magazine has a city focus, to which I gladly wrote a short editorial – it’s about Berlin, of course, as all the magazine’s topics are quite well represented by the city.

Not to overly romanticize print (and you know I don’t), but it’s always quite satisfying to hold a nice piece of high-quality print magazine. I’m super happy to be allowed to contribute in some small way.

The Alpine Review officially launches in October, so you might find a copy in your trusted local print store. Until then, I posted a few photos, and you can get updates on what’s happening on Twitter by following @thealpinereview

Joining the /mentoring movement


Following David Noël’s lead and Diana Kimball’s great example, I decided to become a part of a distributed mentoring movement. And while I personally find the term “mentoring”, when spelled out so explicitly, somewhat awkward, I truly believe in the idea.

Every major step forward in my life so far has been inspired and encouraged by the mentors I’ve been fortunate enough to have. I believe that hopes, dreams, and advice are best shared in ongoing, personal relationships, and it’s important to me to pay it forward.

I’ve had so many great experiences in my life, and I’d love to share them if you’re considering pursuing a similar path.

So, here’s my /mentoring page, as much an experiment for me as it might be for you.

Dispatch from the road: NYC


NYC grit

As I’m sitting here in our temporary HQ, a lovely little apartment in the East Village, and it’s pouring down like there is no tomorrow, my mind is buzzing. It’s been a few quite intense weeks, and no end in sight. For weeks, my mental horizon (planning-wise) was Cognitive Cities (CoCities). Naively, I thought things might slow down a little after that. Of course this turned out to be complete nonsense, and instead the followup and our current trip to NYC and Austin for SXSW is just as intense, in a very different way. Exactly one year ago, Igor and I were on basically the same trip – first NYC, then Austin – but over the course of this one year, everything changed. Igor was here for his former employer, I was here as a freelancer. It was here that we first thought that working together might be a great opportunity, and from here that we first started the conversation between Igor, Johannes and myself that eventually (and rather quickly really) led to our starting a company together. And here we are, one year later and just about five months into this new adventure, a week after putting together a conference that hit quite a nerve, or so it seems, judging by the feedback we’ve been getting from the participants and speakers. (Maybe everybody’s just being very polite – but I certainly hope everybody truly enjoyed themselves and took away something for themselves.) Of course our secret agenda for coming to New York is to get some decent beans (Ninth Street ftw!). But in between, we also do a bit of work (hard to believe, huh?) and have the pleasure of meeting some fantastic people. So the last 24 hours already brought us a barcamp (Transportation Camp) and a number of great conversations – many of which bring us back to CoCities, and what we’re planning next. And that’s a kind of a big question, right? There are so many options: same event next year/bigger event/same event but different topic/smaller events/going more commercial/going less commercial (hah!)/going somewhere else/etc etc etc. Personally, I feel more concrete ideas emerging, but overall we haven’t really even had the chance to talk this over with the whole CoCities crew. During these conversations I’ve been learning something, though. (Many things actually, but let me focus on this aspect for the time being.) And that is how much CoCities helps us as a company: We’ve been working a lot under NDAs recently, so we cannot really talk about most our client projects. CoCities gives us something public, widely and openly out there, a manifestation of what we’ve been thinking about. It has, to some degree, become a focal point of our energy, but also of the way we’re perceived as a company and a team. To some degree that was to be expected, but the scope keeps surprising me. And so I can only hope that this conversations keeps going, and that more opportunities for collaboration will emerge from all of this, whatever shape they may take. We’ll be meeting many more people over the next few days in NYC and then head over to SXSW, where – if anything – it’ll get more intense. So for the time being, things won’t slow down. But that’s really ok. Because the way things are going now, I could keep going. Although after SXSW, a good night’s sleep might be in order. So keep those ideas for collaboration coming – let’s bounce ideas and see where we can take it from here.

Interview: Mark Surman (Mozilla Foundation)


Mark pic by Kate

Mark Surman, Executive Director of Mozilla Foundation and program chair of Drumbeat Learning, Freedom and the Web Festival, kindly gave me an interview about Drumbeat and why the Open Web is so relevant.

In three sentences: What is Drumbeat?

Mozilla DrumbeatOk. Three sentences. I’ll try 1. Mozilla exists to make sure the internet stays open and awesome. 2. With Drumbeat, we’re moving beyond Firefox to build more things that make the web better — not just software. 3. We’re doing this by reaching out new kinds of people — teachers, filmmakers, lawyers, journalists.

Why is that important?

It’s important because these people — in fact all of us — will have an impact on the future of the web, on what the web becomes.

If we care about the internet for the long run, that means getting people like educators involved in shaping the web in their world. Especially educators who are trying to disrupt and innovate. We can give them open web tools and thinking to help do this, which in turn helps the education web move in the right direction — towards something open, free and hackable.

This same scenario plays out with journalists, artists, filmmakers and so on. We want to help the innovators in these spaces take best advantage of the web, get them on board as our allies.

Which fields is Drumbeat focusing on?

Education and cinema are the two places we’ve put the most attention on in the first year. You can look at:

P2PU School of Webcraft, where we’re helping to build a free online school where web developers teach each other.

And Web Made Movies, a lab where filmmakers and engineers work together invent new kinds of web films.

These are examples of the kinds of things we want to do with Drumbeat. There are dozens more small projects brewing. I think you’ll see some the ones in journalism and art grow bigger next year.

In November you’re planning the Drumbeat Festival. What’s that?

It’s a crazy event where 400 people come to talk about the connections between learning, freedom and the web. And make things. And have fun.

More concretely: we have working on everything from web developer education to open text books to hackerspaces coming. And alot of tech and open source people. The ideas for them to find ways to shape the future of learning together.

It’s meant to be the first of many events like this, where we invite the the kind of people we’d like to bring into Drumbeat, find ways to work together and to work with each other.

Next year, we’ll likely have a different theme. Maybe ‘media, freedom and the web’?

How can the rest of us get involved?

It really depends what your interested in. If you are an educator or filmmaker, the projects I’ve mentioned above are easy entry points. And there will be more entry points in places like journalism, art, etc. coming very soon. Same goes if you’re a web developer or engineer who wants to help on projects like these.

More broadly than this, there want to do local Drumbeat events and a online activities and challenges that almost anyone can get involved in. We toyed with this in 2010, but really plan to go bigger with them next year.

Drumbeat Festival is from Nov 3-5 at Barcelona. The (already pretty sweet) program is further developed in the Wiki. Register for Drumbeat Festival here.

The interview was first published on under a CC by-nc-sa license. Photo by Mark Surman (some rights reserved).