ThingsCon Amsterdam 2016 is a wrap


ThingsCon Amsterdam 2016 aftermovie from ThingsConAMS on Vimeo.

Last week I had the chance to go to Amsterdam for the best reason: It was ThingsCon Amsterdam time. The Amsterdam event has not just grown to be the biggest local ThingsCon event—it’s now the biggest total! It’s mind blowing for me to see how much this all is taking off. And with the Amsterdam team around Monique van Dusseldorp, Iskander Smit & Marcel Schouwenaar, ThingsCon is in the best hands I could possibly imagine. I couldn’t be happier.

Fabulous Monique was the guide through the packed program

But enough of my happy rambling. What actually happened? A lot! In fact, much more than I could have possibly attended or even remembered. With 1.5 days full of talks, workshops and exhibitions there was always something going in inside funky Volkshotel.

Some highlights and shout-outs

So let’s look at some highlights and some documentary to follow up online on what went down. (The event was also live streamed and the videos will be available soon at ThingsCon.nl.)

Marcel & Iskander opened the event wearing freshly printed “Make IoT Great Again” hats—a reference of course to the fact that IoT never has been great, but still is politically charged terrain. (Personally I loved them, but I did hear quite a few “too soon” on Twitter.)

"Make the IoT Great Again"
“Make the IoT Great Again”

Talking to an audience that skewed a bit more intensely to the design crowd than other ThingsCon events (we’re in Amsterdam, after all), there were a lot of calls to action for designers throughout the event.

Ame Elliott spoke about better UX for security

For example, Ame Elliott of Simply Secure gave a fantastic talk about how to design for better security. I highly recommend all her work, but maybe the most hands-on starting point might be the Simply Secure resources on Github.

Michelle’s talk focused on the role of openness & community for IoT

Michelle Thorne tackled the open research she’s doing with her team at Mozilla for the Open IoT Studio.

Alper explored conversational interfaces for IoT

Alper Çu?un, author of Designing Conversational Interfaces, spoke about exactly that: How to design conversational interfaces, especially in the context of IoT.

Usman took us on a roller coaster ride from bleak dystopia to a hopeful silver lining

In a gripping closing keynote, Usman Haque explored participatory infrastructure.

Along the way—and tied into the program through workshops and demos—participants could get hands-on with projects in an exhibition. They ranged from artistic explorations to commercial. Here, for example, Vai Kai‘s ready-to-ship final prototypes, which are absolutely gorgeous:

Vai Kai at ThingsCon Amsterdam
Vai Kai is ready to ship their lovely connected wooden toys

The Amsterdam team kindly invited me to do the opening keynote. I explored where we are today in the world of design and responsible IoT. Here are my slides (the video of this and the other talks should be available online soon, too):

Want to read some more?

For some more impressions, among other places I recommend this Storify from the Amsterdam team, Simon’s notes from the ThingsCon Labs session, and this very personal write-up by Max. For photos, check out this Flickr set.

Which also brings us to something we spontaneously launched while in Amsterdam: A new ThingsCon Medium channel that will serve to highlight and amplify great projects and ideas around a human-centric & responsible IoT. It’ll include some write-ups from ThingsCon events around the globe, and also contributions from guest authors and ourselves. Finally, it’ll serve as the content pool from which we’re planning to draw heavily for a publication later in the year.

Monique also infected us with a great idea: How great would it be to have a quick overview of what’s brewing in responsible IoT and empowering tech around the world? (Hint: very cool.) So we’ll try a little experiment: A monthly newsletter with curated recommendations from our extended network.

More ThingsCon in more places

It was so great to see the community gathered in Amsterdam. And that community is growing! We’re also working on making it even easier to run local events by setting up a Github repository and some other supporting structures. We came out of the event with potentially several more local ThingsCon events in new places. As of today, it looks like ThingsCon events in 2017 will be happening (among others!) in Amsterdam, Berlin, Cologne, Copenhagen, Darmstadt, London, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Milan, Shanghai, Shenzhen and, quite possibly, many other places! As always, thingscon.com/events is the place for up-to-date information.

Many things are still up in the air, but it looks like the heavyweights among these events are most likely going to be Amsterdam (Dec), Shenzhen (April), and London (June).

Mind = blown!

ThingsCon in London, Shanghai, Shenzhen & Amsterdam


Note: cross-posting this from the ThingsCon blog

We have an exciting few weeks coming up for ThingsCon with four great events in (just about) as many weeks:

London (29 Oct): At Mozfest, as part of a whole day of Good Home activities, Peter will be hosting a session titled “ThingsCon: Responsible IoT for Consumer Rights Orgs“. We want to support consumer rights organizations in this area and are looking for allies, so we’ll be hosting a group discussion of the major pitfalls and opportunities for consumer rights groups in that area. If you’re at Mozfest, come swing by!

Shanghai (4 Nov) & Shenzhen (10 Nov): In November we’ll team up with Simone Rebaudengo for a ThingsCon Salon Shanghai. Then, moving on to Shenzhen, we’ll be co-hosting another salon with the Just Things Foundation and Mozilla Open IoT Studio. More details soon.

Amsterdam (1-2 Dec): Early December, ThingsCon Amsterdam is on once more. It’s the biggest ThingsCon event of the year, and you really don’t want to miss this one. The speaker line-up is just getting started and already is mind-blowing. Among the confirmed speakers you’ll find stars like Usman Haque (Umbrellium), Ame Elliot (Simply Secure), David Li (Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab), Justyna Zubrycka (Vai Kai), Alper Çu?un (writer), Susan Cox-Smith (Changeist), Ricardo Brito (Futurice), Michelle Thorne (Mozilla Foundation) and many more. Next to the plenary speakers program we will give a lot of attention to the in-depth sessions both on Thursday and Friday morning. Expect these around farm-hacking, the internet of bikes, the sneaking smart home, product as agents, fashion tech, design fiction, IoT design tools for ideation, smart citizen and many more. One session we’d like to highlight is a deep dive into the Shenzhen internet of things approach where David Li and ThingsCon delegation to Shenzhen share their experiences. Registration is open and we know from experience that the event will sell out, so register now: thingscon.nl/register/

See you at a ThingsCon near you!

A new team for UIKonf!


A few weeks ago, my UIKonf partners Chris, Matt & I decided that we wouldn’t have the bandwidth to run & grow the event in 2015. I’m super happy that our blog post about our plans found the exact right response – a new team stepped forward to take over from us. We couldn’t be happier as this team is excellent, knows the event series inside out and just, well, gets it. We’ll all stay around to help out of course as we wouldn’t want to just drop out of the whole thing. It’s too good and too much fun to abandon the event, we just can’t be the leads.

Engin, Maxim & Sabine, you rock! This is going to be great!

More updates as soon, straight from the new team, at uikonf.com

Just launched: TICOH, The Indie Conference Organizer Handbook


Cover: The Indie Conference Organizer Handbook


Max Krüger and I teamed up to write a handbook for indie conference organizers. In fact, that’s the name of the book: The Indie Conference Organizer Handbook – A practical guide to running your very own indie conference.


It’s available for free under a Creative Commons (by-nc-sa) license as a PDF (TICOH, 5.2MB PDF), and in a more e-reader friendly format for a small fee (aka The Support Us Financially Version) in the Kindle store.


The book clocks in at some 13.450 words or 43 pages.


All details over on the book page.

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.

Quick updates: ThingsCon, UIKonf, NEXT Berlin & more


Just briefly some link for you to peruse:

Over at ThingsCon, we have a more or less final program for day 2, an unpolished draft program for day 1, a location for the workshop day (day 1, at Betahaus), and the last few days of early bird tickets. (We extended them to this Friday, 6pm CET.)

For UIKonf, we have a (nearly) final speaker list, a yummy menu draft, excellent coffee, a location for the hackday (betahaus), and also still tickets available.

At NEXT Berlin, ticket sales will go live any day now, and the program is announced step by step.

In other news: Setting up my new company as an umbrella for all my activities is in process, more on that soon. The schedule and speaker list for SolidCon is online and seeing the other speakers I feel humbled to be part of that list.

ThingsCon Update: We have a program



Good news! I’m excited to say that we more or less have a program for ThingsCon. I’m mostly copying & pasting this from the current program page, so keep an eye on the actual program page.


Also, now is the perfect time to get one of the very few available discounted early bird tickets!


So here goes!

Day 1

Day 1 is dedicated to in-depth workshops (either 2h or 4h long) and hands-on sessions. Dive deep into topics you want to learn more about and get some actuall hands-on experience.In parallel, Hardware Day Berlin takes place across town, so you can choose between a wide range of meetups, pitches, lunches, and other satellite events outside the conference, too.

We’re still building the workshop day program. Give us another few days.

Day 2

Day 2 features a wide range of talks, presentations and conversations and will take place at the conference venue from about 9:30 until 18:00, followed by a party. Please note that this is a draft: Some slots are likely to still change, and we’ll add details as soon as we have them.

We’ll have two stages full of program running in parallel.

9:30 – 11:00 Opening (Stage 1 exclusive)

Stage 1: Kickoff session

  • Opening keynote: Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino (Good Night Lamp)
  • Brady Forrest (Highway1)

Coffee break

11:30 – 13:00

Stage 1: Founders Stories

Building a company is a personal journey – we’ll invite experienced hardware entrepreneurs to take a look back at the path they’ve come and share their individual insights and learnings – and discuss the challenges they faced along the way. These sessions are both very personal and highly interactive, giving you the chance to discuss the pressing issues that kept you awake all night. Chance are, they’ve been there.

  • Gavin Dapper (Phonebloks)
  • Olivier Mével (23 de Enero)
  • Matt Biddulph (Product Club)

Stage 2: Funding your business

Today, there are more ways to fund a company than ever before: from bootstrapping to accelerating to venture capital, all the way to crowd funding (or crowd investing even): We’ll take a deep dive into what it takes to fund a hardware business. Talk about when running a Kickstarter makes sense and when it doesn’t. We’ll explore various strategies and shed some light on interesting ways of funding.

  • Beth Koby (Technology Will Save Us)
  • TBA
  • Panel discussion: Beth Koby, Brady Forrest, TBA

Lunch break

14:30 – 16:00pm

Stage 1: Design

There are many ways to describe the conception of building a hardware product: Product design, open design, or service design, are just some of them. In this session, we’ll explore the challenges and opportunities of design against the backdrop of connected devices and hardware in general – we’ll and take a look at unconventional takes on designing a delightful experience around your hardware or connected devices.

  • Louisa Heinrich
  • Alasdair Allen
  • Rachel Rayns (Raspberry Pi)

Stage 2: Ethics & Sustainability

We all love our gadgets, and many of us are in the business of designing and producing them, too. Together with some of the pioneers in the field, let’s have a look at how sustainability and ethical considerations affect production. What’s possible today, what are the challenges and pitfalls to avoid? And how can we work towards more ethical and sustainable production while producing competitive, delightful products?

  • Miquel Ballester(Fairphone)
  • Jessi Baker (Provenance)
  • Panel discussion: Gawin Dapper, Jessi Baker, Miquel Ballester

Coffee break

16:30 – 17:30

Stage 1: Founders Stories

Building a company is a personal journey – we’ll invite experienced hardware entrepreneurs to take a look back at the path they’ve come and share their individual insights and learnings – and discuss the challenges they faced along the way. These sessions are both very personal and highly interactive, giving you the chance to discuss the pressing issues that kept you awake all night. Chance are, they’ve been there.

  • Matt Webb (BERGCloud)
  • Emily Brooke (Blaze)
  • Panel/Interviews: TBA

Stage 2: Open source hardware

Many of technologies that we use today have their roots in open source tech communities. This especially holds true for a new generation of hardware systems and tools. We’ll discuss the potential of Open Source Hardware, how to build your company around it, how to integrate open design principles into your own product, and show you promising new open source business models.

  • Siert Wijnia (Ultimaker)
  • Reto Wettach (Fritzing/IxDS)
  • Peter Troxler

17:30 – 18:00 Closing (Stage 1 exclusive)

  • Closing remarks
  • Closing keynote: Usman Haque