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Why I backed the Shoreditch Village Hall

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There’s a huge, active & still-growing startup and tech scene in London’s Shoreditch area. But a scene is one thing, a community is yet another – and communities grow, among other things, around spaces.

I’m not based in London, but I’m there frequently, and usually try to spend some time meeting people and hanging out there. Mostly, this happens either in cafés that don’t mind laptop warriors (Look Mum, No Hands!), or I stay with friends who can offer me a desk for the day. The latter is particularly nice, but it also means imposing on friends.

That’s why I back the Shoreditch Village Hall on Kickstarter with at least a small amount: It’s going to be a true community space run by lovely and very capable people from the Shoreditch community, in fact the same who are also behind Shoreditch Works. A space both for Shoreditch and of Shoreditch, so to speak.

For me, it’s going to be something like a home-away-from-home during the days I spend in London, a place to meet old and new friends and a meeting place that doesn’t mean I have to impose on friends or hog a café table all day.

So if you’re based in London, or happen to be there regularly, or just like to help foster a strong community of smart and ambitious people, consider supporting the Shoreditch Village Hall.

Compared: Dublin Web Summit, DLD Tel Aviv, WIRED

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So as part of this fall’s conference season, I’m just wrapping up a trip of three of the big ones: Dublin Web Summit, DLD Tel Aviv and WIRED 2012. I’ve been enjoying the trip a lot, and figured it might help to briefly share my impressions for those who want to pick their conference schedule in the coming years.

These impressions are all through my personal lense, of course, but I’ll try to put it into perspective where I can. Just keep in mind that as a conference organizer and curator I tend to look at these things from a bit of a meta perspective.

So here we go – Dublin Web Summit, DLD Tel Aviv & WIRED 2012 at a glance.

Dublin Web Summit

Dublin Web Summit (DWS)

First of all, Dublin Web Summit is BIG. Not SXSW big, but with something like three to four thousand participants it’s not just one of the biggest web conferences in Europe – it’s most certainly the fastest growing. It almost feels like the Summit came out of nowhere and now is truly a force to reckon with, in a good way. This is largely thanks to networking master Paddy Cosgrove, who heads both the Summit and F.ounders, which took place right after the Web Summit.

This rapid growth comes at a bit of a price at least insofar as it means that there are lots of active participants – by which I mean speakers, panelists, exhibitors, etc. That’s great for the networking, which is clearly a strong focus of the organizers. (There are lots and lots of dedicated networking areas and activities for startups, investors, etc.) It’s slightly less good since it means the atmosphere is more tradeshow like than other comparable conferences. There are plenty of booths, demo areas and small stages, which leads to more noise – by which I mean both audio levels and signal-to-noise ration.

That said, the Summit attracts both great speakers and all the right audience, so it’s all good. Worth going? Definitively if you’re a startup or investor.

Also, I hear there was some serious partying going on at night, but as I had to leave for an early flight I had to drop out early on.

DLD Tel Aviv

DLD Tel Aviv

Of the three cities here, Tel Aviv was the only one I hadn’t been to before. And it’s a great city to host a DLD event. Jaffa Port makes for a brilliant backdrop for DLD Tel Aviv. Where else can you rent a boat for a couple of hours in between to go for a quick cruise as some folks did there?

I liked particularly that it was a largely new group of people for me. Often at web and tech events it feels like I know a large part of the audience – which is great in itself, but getting to know a whole new group is a relatively rare and excellent opportunity.

The strong focus on panels instead of talks didn’t quite work for me as things often stayed somewhat generic in terms of content. As an organizer I realize that panels play an important role, but personally I’m a big fan of a well-prepared talk.

The energy in the city (perhaps the whole country?) is infectious. You can feel the buzz and energy in all the hallway conversations and over dinners. As someone put it (and this would work for Berlin as well): Everyone here either has – or is – a startup. The Tel Aviv-Berlin connection seems strong, by the way. There were so many people who had their feet in either one or both of these two cities, I stopped counting.

As DLD Tel Aviv was set up like a festival with one main conference and plenty of (often free) side events, there was a lot going on that I didn’t get a chance to catch as I stuck with the core conference most of the time. So I can’t speak about these developer garages, speed networking events, etc.

Thanks to the DLD team for the invite & welcome, to Frog Design for a nice reception, as well as Tel Aviv for a great couple of days. All the folks at Tel Aviv have been great hosts.

WIRED 2012

WIRED 2012

Wow! WIRED had it all – a great, old school location (The Brewery, London), inspiring, top notch speakers (including both lots of TED-level talks and up-and-coming geeks), and plenty of occasion to meet folks over snacks or drinks. I certainly had a blast.

WIRED UK editor in chief and conference chair David Rowan managed to make the most of WIRED’s network, and he got a really impressive line up on stage. More importantly, I truly enjoyed the eclectic mix of topics and speakers, ranging from the truly geeky (neuroscience, memory training) to the experimental (dancing robots, drones) to the more human side of things (Arab Spring stories, overcoming personal challenges, reinventing charity).

There was a fair share of TED fellows on stage, which is always a bit of a mixed bag – on one hand, the training TED speakers receive leaves them with a strong and quite distinctive style of speaking, and they’ve had a lot of exposure beforehands, making it harder to surprise anyone; on the other hand, both topics and quality of these talks are always great. So in the end I’d say this works out most of the time.

The food was served in The Lab, a demo area where you could go hands-on with lots of nicely geeky things, again ranging from Team Black Sheep’s drones to Makies 3D-fabricated dolls to a Makerbot 2. This makes lunches much more fun, and everybody has something to talk about while getting their snacks. And of course it’s good fun to talk to the folks behind the projects themselves, as they have a little more time there than when they just fly in and out for a conference talk.

I’ve said it on Twitter before, and I’m going to say it again: Hands-down one of the best events I’ve been to in quite awhile. Fantastic. Definitively go if you have a chance.

Some photos of WIRED12 here.

10 photos.

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HMP London

Damien Hirst at Tate Modern

Wired

The Internet at #openiot

GoodNightLamp and WhereDial. Demo time at #openiot

city session at #openiot

Wrap up at #openiot. Good day! Next up: The Fox.

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Type A Machines Series A at Noisebridge

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Phew, what a week. 1. HMP London (whatever that is) 2. Damien Hirst at the Tate Modern 3. Wired 4. The Internet 5. Alex demoing the Good Night Lamp 6. part of my session for the internet of things bill of rights (cities) 7. discussing the internet of things bill of rights at the OpenIoT Assembly 8. heading from SF to London 9. checking out a 3D printer at Noisebridge 10. Golden Gate Bridge

Mozilla Festival 2011

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Fox, girl, squirrel by Peter Bihr #mozfest
_Image by Peter Bihr, Creative Commons (by-nc-sa)_

Mozilla Festival (aka #Mozfest) is over, and it was intense. Throw a mix of 500 journalists, hackers, web devs and activists in a room and shake it up, and interesting things are going to happen. As well they did.

There’s plenty of good reviews out there, so I’m just going to highlight a few points that stood out for me.

Education for the open web

Ben Hammersley, who among many other things advises the EU in digital matters, made a point about the importance of education: Those who decide upon the future don’t understand the present.

We have several digital gaps in education – education in all things digital, about all things digital, across all things digital. One, there’s a gap along education lines. Two, there’s a global divide. Three, there’s a gap along income (and education) of parents that prevents kids in poorer neighborhoods the same chances to participate online (which might enable them to bootstrap knowledge).

And then we have – four! – a gap between those who by belonging to the group that really gets the web and how it works and those who don’t, where politicians are mostly on the wrong side of the gap. It’s a structural divide more than anything – give it a few years and things might work out fine, but as it stands (repeat!) Those who decide upon the future don’t understand the present. And this is something we need to work on. Luckily, it’s easier to educate some smart folks than change whole strata of society. (At least in theory.)

This is where we all can come in and help out. If you find yourself talking to a politician, help them out. Take the time to explain stuff. Don’t be snobby about it. It’s politics where we can leverage power, and it’s politics where the foundation is laid for how our most important infrastructure will work (or be broken) for years.

Let’s all work on some truly relevant things.

Mozfest from above, image by Pierros Papadeas Image by Pierros Papadeas, some rights reserved

Data Journalism Handbook

Just a brief shout out: A large group of journalists and data diggers gathered and wrote a Data Journalism Handbook. It’s not finished, but it’s an impressive draft and a great basis to extend over time. They just dug in, and built something cool over the weekend, then took it from there. This is the way to go, really.

Popcorn – making your videos talk to the web (and the web talk back)

The real killer – a real eye opener! – for me was certainly Popcorn.js, or rather the Popcorn Maker. Popcorn.js is a framework to make video on the web more interactive – more of the web – an event framework, or in other words: a little toolkit that helps you make your videos interact with the websites around them and vice versa. For example, you can pull maps or Flickr images or a live Twitter search into your video, or into an adjacent box (or pretty much wherever you like, really).

It’s harder to explain than to understand, so here’s a Popcorn demo.

And the Popcorn Maker, launched last Friday, is a web-based authoring tool to make all this more accessibel to non-developers – you need only the most basic understanding of HTML etc to use a video you uploaded to Youtube or Vimeo and enrich it with web data.

It’s super impressive, and it’s great how this has come about since last year‘s Mozilla Festival in Barcelona.

It’s also very clearly alpha software at the time, so try at your own risk – in a first test, I wasn’t able to save a project, but could pull a Youtube video and add map data, photos and tweets within less than 5 minutes – it’s really quite something.

Standards for space, time and the web

Every morning, I went for a run. Since my hotel was close by, my run would take me around the Royal Observatory. At the Observatory there are a number of mindboggingly interesting things on display: The Prime Meridian, the original kilogram, a measurement of feet and inches (to compare with your local merchant), as well as the (probably) first clock to display Greenwich Mean Time to the public (since 1852). There’s also a red ball on one of the rooftops that every day would be pulled up slowly, then drop at exactly 13:00h every day. The ball was visible from the river Thames, allowing the ships to reset (and thus synchronize) their clocks.

The Royal Observatory was by and large the center of standardization for most of the world. From here, standards of space and time would ripple and spread throughout the Commonwealth.

It’s a bit like what the W3C is for the internet today. And like we needed to agree on standards for space and time 150 years ago, we need to agree on standards for the web today. The more open they are – the more they allow us to look inside the box, and tinker, and exchange data, and the more anybody can use and contribute to them – the better off all of us will be.