Fortnotes 3 – early January

The first fortnight back at work after Christmas. The snow has given way to rain and drizzle, so London is dark and wet and I feel marginally less energetic than I did in December. Working longer hours and trying to avoid getting home after 8pm too frequently.

Finally got properly involved in some Honda work, so I’m working on two different Honda projects – plus THO, CTC and a little bit of help on two or three other campaigns too. Busy busy. Trying to spend 80% of my time on 20% of the work, but I’m not very good at saying no to things at the moment and struggling slightly to manage my calendar. Will need to learning to say ‘no’ to more things, and hopefully the right things. Generally happy to get involved in everything I physically can at the moment, because they’re usually fun and interesting.

I can now reveal that THO is actually ‘The Hungry One’ for Lurpak. It involves a gorgeous 60 second cinema + TV ad, plus print, foil lids, and some really fun, funny, entertaining online stuff too. By the time I joined, work on it was already well underway but I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the past couple of weeks helping deliver it and the things it needs to make it happen. It’s really nice being able to work closely with the creative directors and there’s a great little team all pulling together behind it. Before Christmas, we bought in Anna Pickard to join that team, specifically to run the Twitter + Facebook presences and she’s doing an amazing job of it and already (despite very small numbers of followers) lots of lovely interactions.

Every time a microwave bell chimes to signal a ready meal’s readiness, an angel loses its wings, and The Hungry One cries hot gravy tears.

The fridge light is not on all the time. No, when the fridge light comes on, it is your stomach having an idea.

Spot on for this campaign. Challenging poor food choices, encouraging the cooking and enjoying of delicious food and all without being too much about the brand. Everyone expects slow growth for the first few weeks and hopefully it’ll gather followers faster once the ad airs on TV. Already, the YouTube release got lots of positive word of mouth (not to mention a quite respectable 40k views within a week).

The Twitter dashboard I’ve been building with Dan (in order to make The Hungry One omniscient) is also going to be useful for CTC and probably lots of other projects too. Side effect: did you know that UK tweeters talk most about ‘bacon’ at 8:00am, with a big spike at 11:00am on Saturdays? I’m playing with it and improving it almost daily, often in response to an idea or suggestion from Anna who is actually using it to find tweets to which she might want to respond.

Other work…

A solid few hours with the CTC team helping them on their approach for a new campaign I’m really looking forward to.
Immersing myself in Honda history and culture, and joining the (lovely) creative team for a big project. Borrowed some really lovely books about the life of S. Honda, Thinking differently about cars. Asking questions of everyone I realistically can.

My attendance at the regular agency management meeting keeps getting postponed. Secretly relieved, as being awake and in London at 8:30 is much harder than my usual 9:30. Close to having our first full-time in-house creative community manager to work on social media projects. Actually expecting we might need more than one quite soon; there’s lots more work than we can handle at the moment, and I’m certain it’ll grow further this year.

People are still asking me how I’m finding it, and whether I’m having fun. I’m having a huge amount of fun. When trying to describe W+K London, ‘friendly’ and ‘chaos’ are always the two words that come to mind first. It seems to thrive on creative chaos actually. It’s also very flat, organisationally, and of the places I’ve worked it’s the least obsessed with process. Not that it’s easy or relaxed; just that the buzz of creative energy isn’t hampered by unnecessary paperwork. Things happen. Sometimes confusingly or overwhelmingly, sometimes after a lot of hard work and deliberation and dead ends, but things can sometimes happen quite fast and the end result is always something excellent. I’m already genuinely proud to be part of W+K.

Currently working on and thinking about: recruitment, Honda, butter and delicious cooking, word-of-mouth, conversations.
Currently trying not to think about: Dan H moving to Portland. Is that gas I can smell on the Waterloo & City line?
New terminology: LPL (large project leader, Honda terminology). CD (creative director), 60, 30, 10 (seconds of TV ad).

Fortnotes 2 – end of December

Amazing how fast the first month has gone. Time for a second set of fortnightly weeknotes. Um… fortnotes.

I’ve mainly been sitting downstairs in the kitchen area, near the toast and tea. There’s also a pool table and a set of (never used?) drums. It’s a good spot. People mill around and it’s a great place to hang out to get to know everyone.

THM involved money negotiations, which I largely stayed out of. I did meet up with Bronwen the finance director though. She’s nice.

Spent one solid day on recruitment stuff. Getting to know someone who might apply for the creative community manager role, over Skype. Then a bunch of interviews for the THM role, complete with a writing test(!). Made a decision and let the successful candidate know. All in one day.

A few introductions to ongoing projects and new work. Meeting with Nike for the first time to discuss an interesting project. Got together with Eleanor to get an initial brain dump re Honda. Spent two hours on CTC, reviewing the campaign as a whole and giving some advice. Definitely exciting. Lots of good stuff to be done. Helped with rethinking NT along with Sid and Rob and Andy and Iain Tait (how lovely it is to have the actual Iain Tait in the office at the moment!)

Agency breakfast are on alternating Wednesday mornings. This time, the THM 60″ advert was shown and got a huge round of applause. It is really really good.

Oh, THM is now called THO. Worked with Dan on a dashboard tool for it (which will eventually integrate with the codebase for the Old Spice dashboard. Talked to Ann-Marie, Trent and John in Portland about that).

Did a ‘getting to know Roo’ session where I introduced myself and some things I’ve done. Waffled a bit but everyone was very nice and lots of people stayed to ask questions and chat afterwards. I feel like less of a new starter now. Starting to settle and find the problems where I can help.

Lots of THM THO work, moving from the dashboard back end to the twitter feed front end. The basic twitter module doesn’t do what we need, so I’m spitting out javascript to S3 to be included on the front end site.

Anna (the voice of THO) came in on Tuesday, and spent some time with me, Dan H, and Ray S. She’s funny; she’ll be great. That all kicks off early next year.

Wednesday was a quieter day, and I sat at my quiet little desk upstairs for a change and hacked together a ruby script which generates some javascript which is included on a page which shows some tweets. It was quite fun to get my hands briefly dirty with some coding, especially prototype look-this-is-what-I-mean sort of code.

Nice cup of tea and chat with Iain.

Outside of work, spent a couple of hours with Paul Carr. Paul lives entirely in hotels. I was going to interview him for Shift Run Stop but we ended up just having a nice chat. Also had lunch with a bunch of friends and did a live Shift Run Stop segment on ‘Radio Roundabout’ in which Rhodri Marsden was our very funny guest. He played christmas tunes on his musical saw.

Looking forward to a week off. The agency shuts between Christmas and new year. Very cilvilised.

Fortnotes – first fortnight

I’ve decided that weeknotes are too ambitious. I’m going to do fortnightly notes instead. Fortnotes. Let’s see how it goes.

A good first couple of weeks at W+K London. Getting stuck into some hard (but fun) work, plus a couple of Christmas parties.

I started on Wednesday 1st December, and my first day coincided with the fortnightly agency breakfast meeting. Bacon butty and a cup of tea (yay!) and a chance to show my face to everyone. Met a lot of friendly and welcoming people. Some time with Paul Colman (head of planning) and Andy Cameron (Interactive Creative Director) to get started. Paul and Dan H introduced me to Exciting Project #1 (I’ll call it THM for now), which is going to be brilliant. For the first few weeks, I’m aiming to dedicate most of my time that that project. I’ll also need to keep some time free for long-range stuff.

Having seen the office on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday both involved being snowed in at home, so I was staying in touch via telephone, email and Skype. (I do plan to spend some time working at home every so often, but I had not expected to be doing it quite so soon). Got a more detailed briefing about THM and wrote some social media principles and engagement guidelines to show the client how we intend to interact with people online.

Made some introductions.

Wrote a job spec for a ‘creative community manager’ role. Like a community manager, but emphasising the fact they have to be able to make great stuff as well as engage and interact with people around that stuff.

I got a quick briefing on exciting project #2, NT. Also started playing with Twitter streaming API (via tweetstream Ruby gem) to see what can be done (lots, easily). Also reviewing the dashboard they used for Old Spice with Dan H (it’s very good), working out how to go about hiring people and starting to set up a few meetings for next week.

Brainstorm for NT: Location, badges etc. Thinking about what’s possible with Facebook Places and Foursqare (et al) in a variety of countries. Hmm. Need to see some research.

Meeting (via the telephone) Renny Gleeson in Portland who heads up global interactive strategy. He’s super enthusiastic and amazing.

Lots and lots of time on exciting project #1 (THM), working with Dan H + spending some more time with Dan & Ray the creative directors on it and preparing for client briefing. My input is mainly around how we’ll find and respond to relevant things, principles, engagement guidelines and recruiting the right person. On Tuesday afternoon we showed it to Tony D, then on Wednesday a trip to Leeds to meet the client and flesh out the idea for them. (Oh, and a potential legal issue around THM, which means it might have to be renamed. Everyone struggling to think of a better name. We all like the one we’ve got).

Interviewed two people for the permanent creative community manager role.

Spent a couple of hours with the team brainstorming ideas for Nokia. Tony Davidson popped in to keep us on our toes and encouraging us to push ourselves. It worked.

Spent an hour on CTC project. Mainly finding out what the campaign will be doing and giving input to strategy for the outreach side. Already quite well developed.

Friday was a relatively quiet day, and over lunch I cobbled together a Twitter streaming API ingest script storing results in MySQL in realtime. Fiendishly simple stuff. Pairing with Dan is good too. He set up an Amazon EC2 instance and we spent a bit of the afternoon together getting a basic ingest dashboard prototype installed. A large chunk of Saturday debugging and getting it working properly, and then starting on a basic front end for it.

Agency Christmas party night and Planning team Christmas meal in the same week. and drinks. Both were amazing.

Surprised and delighted to be mentioned in Campaign magazine’s writeup of W+K being their agency of the year for 2010. Named among ‘some very astute hires’. Gosh.

The list of people I need to get to know in the next couple of weeks is quite long. Basically, everyone. I also need to prepare a short ‘meet Roo Reynolds’ session to introduce myself properly.

Being pretty good about keeping focused on THM. Maybe too good; still have not met Honda or Nike teams yet. Need to fix that.

New terminology: ‘above the line’. GAD = Group Account Director (pronounced ‘gad’).
Do say: ‘spot’.
Don’t say ‘TVC’ [television commercial] too frequently.

Moving on from the BBC

I’m excited to announce that I’ve accepted the position of Head of Emerging Platforms at Wieden+Kennedy London, where I start on the 1st of December.

Wieden+Kennedy are an advertising agency with an amazing track record. You’ll know them for Honda ‘Cog’, Nokia ‘Dot’, Nike ‘Write the Future’ and (of course) lots more. Recently, you might have noticed them doing some rather interesting work with things like Nike Grid and ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’ for Old Spice. Clearly a company with big ideas and, I was happy to learn, a desire to get even deeper into helping their clients explore what’s next.

Joining Wieden + Kennedy is an incredibly exciting opportunity. I’ll be building on my experience of heading up social media at BBC Vision, and am looking forward to helping W+K continue their journey of learning how to communicate in new and inventive ways which reach and excite people. Joining the London office and getting to work with the amazing talents in both the planning and creative teams is going to be an awful lot of fun, and I can’t wait to get started.

While in many ways the decision to leave the BBC was a relatively easy one, I’m still going to miss it greatly. It’s been two-and-a-bit years since I joined, and in that time I’ve been fortunate to have worked on some brilliant projects with an amazing range of clever and creative people.

The small but perfectly formed social media team in Vision which I built from scratch probably represents my biggest achievement. They’re all amazing, and the way they support BBC Vision (both the multiplatform teams and increasingly the TV types themselves in Vision Productions) is fantastic. The nice things people say about me these days are usually because of them. They de-mystify and de-risk the strange world of ‘social media’ for the BBC every day, making sure it’s more than just a scary unknowable concept or a meaningless buzzword, and they do this with and for the people who work on some of the most well known TV brands in the UK. Rowan, Fiona, Dan and Gary (and Kat, who recently moved in to a new role in BBC R&D) you are my heroes and I’ll miss having you around to make me look good.

I won’t list all of the (literally hundreds) of projects I’ve been involved with since I joined, but Buzz, the BBC TV Blog and Games Grid deserve a special mention. Though in all three cases the credit is due to others, I’m more delighted than I can express to have had responsibility for them. Thanks everyone, and good luck with the future.

What are those dots anyway?

It’s been my privilege to have worked with and for some amazing people at the BBC. As you’ll know, it’s an organisation in the middle of some difficult times at the moment, not least in defining the scope of its mission online. I hope its leadership will be able to act bravely and set a clear direction that matches the breadth of the BBC’s charter in delivering its public purposes as well as the ambition and creativity of its staff.

By the way, I should be clear: this isn’t redundancy and my role at the BBC isn’t going away when I leave. Next month, someone else will get to have all the fun – and of course the frustrations – that I do now. And no doubt they’ll have their own ways of doing things. Probably better ones. :-)

Goodbye, BBC. Hello, W+K.

Hashtags on programmes – It’s the bat signal!

Mark Kobayashi-Hillary, writing for ComputerWeekly this week, has picked up on the BBC displaying a hashtag at the start of the new series of Have I Got News For You and said some very nice and insightful things about it:

…when the BBC started broadcasting episode 1 of series 40 of ‘Have I got news for you’ with ‘#bbcHIGNFY’ on screen as the show started, they expected their audience to understand – and follow

I think that’s quite a watershed moment for the BBC and for broadcasting in general. In fact, the very term broadcasting starts to become redundant when the broadcast is only one component of the entire entertainment experience.



It’s actually not the first time BBC programmes have displayed a hashtag in this way, though it’s arguably the most mainstream so far. Previously, there have been:

#genius for the latest series of Genius, which used it to source contributions to the programme


#laterjools for Later with Jools Holland, which also displayed selected tweets which used that hashtag on their site. Chris Kimber wrote about the thinking behind it, and some feedback, on the BBC Music Blog back in May


And the very first was #bbcrevolution for Virtual Revolution


What all of these have in common is that they appeared silently, with no voice-over or obvious call to action.

It’s a secret bat-signal. A neat solution to a tricky editorial problem.

  • It works for all microblogging services, and doesn’t give undue prominence to Twitter.
  • People who recognise it as a bit of online grammar will know what to do with it, and it makes them feel like an insider…
  • …while coming just at the end of the credits it’s easily ignored by people who don’t.
  • It doesn’t jar. The visual appearance is tailored to suit the programme, using a typeface which matches the titles etc.
  • It’s not about gaining followers; it’s authentically about pointing to the conversation…
  • …but it’s also a conversation that the BBC is part of. People will spot that we’re joining in too (e.g. @bbcGenius is an active part of the conversations around #genius, @bbcHIGNFY uses the #bbcHIGNFY tag, etc).

You’ll also see the same hashtags appearing on the BBC’s Programmes pages too, in the new ‘Buzz’ pages which link to the online conversations around those programmes. e.g. the buzz page for HIGNFY, linked from a new module on the programme page,

The ‘hashtag bat signal’ and the programmes page are not the only way of introducing the idea of a hashtag for the programme (and there are some examples of specific calls to action in programmes which involve hashtags: #askRhod, #bbcFilm2010 etc) but it is an elegant one.

Disclaimer: I’m not exactly a neutral observer here. As always, these are just my thoughts and opinions rather than any sort of official BBC line.

Twitter and The Apprentice – some quick observations

I wrote last year about the ‘data flood’ that confronts you if you try to watch what everyone on Twitter is saying about the Apprentice. Well, it’s back, and more talked about than ever.

This isn’t surprising of course. Twitter has grown a lot since March last year, and people will always talk about what’s on television. The Apprentice, Big Brother, Seven Days and of course the X Factor are all ‘appointment viewing’ shows that are always widely talked about both online and offline.

This year, the team behind the Apprentice are not running the same live predictor play-along app they used last year, they’re instead joining in with and reflecting the activity that’s happening on Twitter.

Not only is Lord Sugar tweeting personally as @lord_sugar (yes, it really is him), there’s also an official @bbcapprentice account which focuses specifically on the show, doing a good job of sharing news and retweeting interesting stuff while the programme is on and during the week, but also makes use of a often-overlooked Twitter feature, the favourite. The @bbcapprentice account is using favourites to track the funniest and most interesting public tweets they’ve seen, and the official Apprentice site has a little ‘Favourite tweets’ box on the page which showcases them (with deep links to each), with a link back to the full list of their favourites too.

As an experiment, I used Twapper Keeper to create an archive of all public tweets using the #apprentice and #theapprentice hashtags. I’ve downloaded the archives and spent some time extracting basic stats and graphs from the results. There’s a lot of data to play with, so these are some very simple highlights.

Between 2010-10-6 20:30 – 22:30 there were 23,300 tweets hashtagged #apprentice, 19,782 tweets hashtagged #theapprentice and 390 which used both.

Here’s how the two hashtags were used during the evening. The yellow line represents all tweets which contained either #apprentice or #theapprentice (or both). This shows tweets per minute.

Apprentice episode 1, #apprentice vs #theapprentice

Both peaked during the boardroom scene, which was also the only point of the evening where #theapprentice significantly overtook #apprentice.

We can also dig into the data to spot interesting trends and popular terms throughout the evening. (Episode 1 spoilers follow…)

Apprentice episode 1, tweets hashtagged #apprentice and #theapprentice

Stuart and Dan were the most talked about characters, with Stuart getting some really clear spikes throughout. You can also see ‘sausages’ doing very well during the task, and the “you’re fired” moment quite clearly just before the end.

More stats….

Continue reading “Twitter and The Apprentice – some quick observations”


PaperCamp2 happened this afternoon. Like the first one, it was excellent.

Ben Terrett has done nice little review and you should check out the rest of his photos of the day too.

Stuart Bannocks (more photos) and his team, who no longer call themselves the fabrats but don’t yet have another name, gave us all a chance to be participate in some hands-on protosynthesis with carboard boxes, stickers, pens and our imaginations. (By the way, if you don’t know Stu, you should utterly take a look at the Badge a day project.)


I was asked me to wrap up the day, so I stood up at the end and rambled a bit about what I’d enjoyed. Below, I present a tidied, expanded and explicated version of the notes I used. Here’s what I wanted to say:

1.) Matt Jones [@moleitau] kicked off the day by saying he had “a new admiration for primary school teachers” and today has reminded me a lot of first school. Everything is creative. Making things is fun and there’s no such thing as a mistake. What a lovely way to spend a day.

2.) Matt Brown [@irvinebrown] started things off by introducing us to
the work of Josef Albers, origamic architecture by Gerry Stormer, curved folds by David Huffman and clumsy but magical self folding origami. (When we wondered out loud how it works, Ben Terrett patiently and accurately explained “it’s got stuff on it”.) Matt’s clearly having a lot of fun at BERG, and I particularly enjoyed the glimpse behind the scenes of making Dimenions, especially the paper-based ‘post digital augmented reality’ of holding a small drawing on a piece of paper in front of your face to get a sense of the pyramids on the horizon or a Spitfire in flight (“It’s smaller than you’d think”). Update: Matt has written up details of his talk, so you can see what post digital augmented reality aka ‘Sticking A Bit Of Paper In Front Of Your Face’ looks like.

3.) At this point I noticed the tea urn in the Conway Hall sounds like applause. Comforting. It’s been there all day, quietly applauding us all.

4.) Jane Audas [@shelfappeal] told us that “nobody wants what I want on ebay”, which surprised everyone who loves what she loves. She introduced us to various paper artists including Su Blackwell. I was especially excited about her examples of different sorts of packaging, including this beautiful 1950s egg box from Sainsbury’s. It gets me thinking about packaging. Remember when the bag-in-the-box which cornflakes came was made of paper rather than plastic, and milk came in glass bottles? We’ll be seeing a lot less plastic and a lot more card and paper packaging in the near future. (In fact, of course, we already are.)

5.) Camille Bozzini [@therealcamille] showed up some interesting and effective examples of paper advertising, including a rather nice ‘Ombro Cinema’ animation technique which is surprising and delighting, something that can’t always be said of adverts in newspapers.

6.) Laura Dickinson [@pbz1912]. I mean honestly, what must her brain be like? She maps mathematical models, constrained by the affordances and dimensions of paper, into 3d space and then back to nets which she cuts our and assembles into amazing shapes. There’s something delightfully pure and neat and accurate about it.

7.) Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino [@iotwatch] told us why she loves postcards, and made us love them a bit more too. I got a shiver from the postcards from the future exhibition at the Museum of London.

8.) Have you heard of Riepl’s law? Wolfgang Riepl, writing about ancient and modern modes of news communications in 1913, hypothesizes that new media never replace the old. Instead, we end up using the older media differently. Television didn’t replace radio, it sits alongside it quite comfortably.

The internet won’t kill off books, or television. Even if circulations of printed newspapers are dropping, newspapers are not going away.

Look at what happened to painting when photography came along. Not dead, just different.

At the end of his talk, Matt Brown summed it up nicely when he said “the pressure is off books for just imparting information”.

Update: bonus thing 9.) just as we were tidying up and getting ready to go to the pub, Basil showed me this amazing paper procedural generator he built. Brilliant.

Mark Thompson’s MacTaggart Lecture: it’s about services

Mark Thompson delivered this year’s MacTaggart memorial lecture earlier tonight.

The best bit?

…The clue actually is in the title – public service broadcasting. It’s about services as well as individual programmes. At its best public service broadcasting is woven of whole cloth.

And, just like the wicked old British Library, it’s founded on the idea of public space – in other words on the belief that there is room for a place which is neither part of government or the state nor purely governed by commercial transactions, which everyone is free to enter and within which they can encounter culture, education, debate, where they can share and swap experiences.

That’s some pretty exciting stuff.

Here’s the full speech and here are some choice quotes.

I’ll leave you to decide whether you think the DG tackled Murdoch head on tonight, whether his speech was an entertaining irrelevance or indeed whether he misunderstands the BBC’s public service mission. I’m actually pretty excited about his broad interpretation of public service not being limited to public service broadcasting. In fact, with that distinction in mind, one thing that stood out to me in that Telegraph editorial was this (rhetorical?) question:

We may applaud the resurrection of Doctor Who on television, but why does the BBC think that its charter covers the provision of electronic games?

The answer, to my mind, is simple. The charter does cover more than just making television programmes. In fact, it’s quite explicit about including ‘online services’, and even as-yet uninvented technologies, to deliver its public purposes.

The BBC’s main activities should be the promotion of its Public Purposes through the provision of output which consists of information, education and entertainment, supplied by means of—
(a) television, radio and online services;
(b) similar or related services which make output generally available and which may be in forms or by means of technologies which either have not previously been used by the BBC or which have yet to be developed.

This makes me proud to be part of the BBC. A BBC which – while doing fewer things, better – still knows it needs to be about more than making TV programmes.

Television Centre

NB: This is a personal blog. What I’ve written here is my own point of view, and doesn’t necessarily represent my employer’s positions, strategies or opinions. Though, of course, I hope it does.

Guardian Activate 2010

I went to Activate 2010 yesterday. It’s a conference about technology, society and the future (‘changing the world through the internet’). This is the second time the Guardian have run an Activate event (Activate 09 was very interesting, though I see I mainly ended up writing about how the event embraced the Twitter back-channel by displaying a moderated selection of tweets on stage. They did it again this year and it seemed to work, and was much less controversial, though I’d say that this year a higher percentage of people had laptops, iPads etc in their laps anyway…).

The programme featured an impressive list of speakers from a range of disciplines. It was a real treat to be made to think by a range of futurologists, ethnographers and researchers. A day to wake up your brain and make it think about important stuff. Many of the sessions were split into multiple streams, so I missed some of the best bits of the day, but what follows is some of what I saw.

Emily Bell, in what I think was her last day as director of digital content at the Guardian, introduced the day and welcomed us to the first keynote panel, which set the scene for the day very well with its ambitious title of Society, Humanity, Technology and the Web. (‘Using the power of connected networks, ubiquitous information, cutting edge technology and the spirit of the web to overcome the global challenges of our age’).

Ethan Zuckerman, founder, Global Voices gave a thoughtful and powerful eye opener. Especially for someone who had only landed in Heathrow 90 minutes earlier.

  • We need to point to, and amplify, repressed voices rather than attempting to represent them. It’s silly to speak for someone who is already seizing the microphones themselves
  • Social web = usually a place where you interact with people you already know. However, big cultural events are an opportunity to talk with strangers
  • Sending a million t-shirts to Africa (Million T-Shirts) is a bad idea. Donating clothes damages thriving local businesses.
  • TMS Ruge: “our voices count, and it would be good to partner with us – to have a conversation with us first – before any projects are started”
  • The Iranian ‘green revolution’ was mainly Iranian diaspora raising awareness in West. Twitter is not where you want to organise a revolution; the authorities read it too.
  • we need to listen to people in the developing world tell us what they care about

Jamais Cascio, The Institute for the Future is a self deprecating californian futuroligist with a TED talk and a book (‘Open the Future’) under his belt.

  • technology is culture. It’s not a field, it’s a manifestation of our beliefs, norms and politics. To understand the future of tech we need to think about the future of how we interact with each other
  • 3 drivers: consumption (watching youtube, reading twitter, reading blogs, …) creation (writing/making things), and connection (how do we relate to each other)
  • consumption + creation = attention ecology: making and reading. Largely the world we have today
  • creation + connection = ‘Lego Land’: making and creating and sharing new forms to facilitate further development. creation as collaboration
  • connection + consumption = empathic spectrum: focus on reputation, empathy (rather than attention), slower and richer than the world we have today
  • ‘will technologies make us smarter’ is less important than ‘will they make us better people’
  • human + computer = human
  • technologies are not independent of us. we create them and control and determine what shape they take

Georgia Arnold, SVP for social responsibility at MTV & executive director, Staying Alive Foundation talked about how MTV uses their brand for social good.

  • TV is technology too. 1 trillion hours of TV is watched around the world each year.
  • MTV ‘Staying Alive’ campaign = HIV and AIDS awareness campaign. Staying alive foundation funds young people doing prevention work
  • ‘Shuga’ – Kenyan TV programme. cult viewing whilst also being informative. Multi-layered social campaign: website, FB page, radio, marketing, press, teaching guide, plus lots of fan=created communities. Creativity is vital
  • actors trained with messages and become ambassadors themselves
  • success: releasing results in AIDS conference in Vienna in a couple of weeks
    stats say that if you watch Shuga you are more likely to get tested
  • technology doesn’t work in isolation. Need to think about people
  • technology is the glue that connects people, it doesn’t replace people
  • social media is not yet the most prevelant or influential agent for social change, but social media will be revolutionary in amplifying voices
  • we create everything rights-cleared for everyone to be able to use (including broadcasters)

Dr. Aubrey de Grey, biomedical gerontologist & chief science officer, SENS Foundation gave a disarmingly blunt and comic introduction to regenerative medicine. His exasperation at people who fail to fully understand why living longer is a good thing was probably less useful than trying to actually convince us.

  • SENS foundation is US registered charity focusing on regenerative medicine
  • 2/3 of all deaths worldwide are due to causes related to aging (proportion is much higher in the west)
  • because aging is (was?) inevitable, we tend to put it out of our minds rather than become preoccupied by something ghastly
  • Three approaches: Gerontology (slowing and preventing damage), Maintenance (repair of damage), Geriatrics (preventing death after damage is done).

  • claim: the maintenance approach, focusing on damage, may soon achieve a big extension of human healthy lifespan
  • his book: ‘Ending Aging’
  • eye opening quote: “there’s not much point having a voice if you’re wrong”

After a presentation from (who won the Activate VC pitching day award the day before) there was an interesting, if buzzword laden, panel discussion about VC funding. Bingo if you had ‘groundsourcing’ and ‘crowdfunding’, but don’t forget to take a drink every time you hear the word ‘ecosystem’.

The panel was

  • Esther Dyson (angel investor & chairman, EDventure Holdings)
  • Julie Meyer (founder & CEO, Ariadne)
  • Anil Hansjee (head of corporate development, EMEA, Google)
  • Nick Appleyard (head of digital, Technology Strategy Board)

and was chaired by Charles Cotton (director, Cambridge Enterprise).

I struggled to care about VC really, and the only thing that stood out to me was Esther Dyson’s insights about solving one small problem that make other things easier being better than trying to do everything all at once.

(Why was this a plenary session? Felt like this one could easily have been swapped with a later steamed session). Anyway, I wish we could have had more tangible examples from this panel and less vague hand-waving about ecosystems. Rather than write about this panel, I’m going to recount a little more about Medeley, which helps researchers work smarter and makes research more collaborative by building a research database. A desktop app extracts research metadata (authors, abstract, citations, etc) and aggregates research in the cloud. It can then distill trends, give realtime insights into who is citing who. Very very interesting. Clearly not aimed at me, but it looks so interesting that it makes me want to have a reason to use it.

After the break were some Lightning Presentations (‘Visionary sound bites from the brightest names on the internet on everything from the future of free to the power of unfettered information access to initiate a new world order’).

I went to stream #1…

Danny O’Brien, internet advocacy co-ordinator, Committee to Protect Journalists was excellent. He ran out of time a little bit, so I asked him to fill me in on what he missed. The last couple of points below are what he would have said if he hadn’t needed to truncate himself.

  • Danny’s work at the Committee to Protect Journalists is especially around internet journalists. Half of the journalists that were imprisoned in 2009 worked on the net, many of which are freelance without the support of big institutions
  • how do we burn in protections and reverence for free speech when building media institutions, in the same way that TCP/IP has free speech burned into it
  • Global Network Initiative – ensuring privacy and human rights of people around the world
  • whatever you build, however trivial you think it is, people will use it for vital free speech. What should you do?
  • preserve the confidentiality of your users (including protecting data from state-level adversaries)
  • make your rules public and even-handed (common trick is for states to use the tools of control against the people they want to silence, complaints, by making the rules obscure people don’t challenge)
  • keep your door open (in as well as out) – give people back their data when they want to take it elsewhere
  • make struggling speakers in dangerous regimes a use case when designing
  • turn on SSL

Sharon Biggar, COO & co-founder, Path Intelligence talked about ‘google analytics for the real world’.

  • the falling cost of sensor tech means: online research and analytics innovations can move offline, more experimentation, less need for market research
  • online shops know what we look at and choose not to purchase. Offline: if you walk into a shop and leave, the store doesn’t know what you were looking at
  • Path Intelligence works by detecting mobile devices anonymously and aggregate data around where the device goes. Currently detecting 10M unique visitors every month
  • “a little bit of information about a lot of people” rather than ” a lot from a few people”
  • At this stage, I can’t tell if I’m intrigued or frightened. This could well be an Orwellian spoof. She’s acting, right? She’s working for Liberty or someone and this presentation is going to get increasingly weird and scary until we all want to do something about it. A creative way of delivering a dystopian message about privacy perhaps?
  • surveys tend to underestimate length of time people are shopping
  • Oh. Ok. It’s not a spoof. This is an actual sales pitch for Path Intelligence’s products and services. Gosh. Why are we watching a sales pitch?

Sobia Hamid, co-founder,

  • Ventroy – took data from Kiva and CrunchBase to show how many micro-enterprises could have been funded by failed startup investments
  • DataGiving beta
  • This is more world-changing, but still I’m seeing a lot more ‘look at what I’ve made’ pitching this year than last year

Matt Stinchcomb, director, Europe, Etsy

  • Etsy: “even the servers were built by hand”
  • last year $190 million of goods sold (doubling each year)
  • $0.20 listing fee, 3.5% commission
  • no reselling allowed, you have to be the maker
  • people before products
  • we think a lot about he cluetrain manifesto: markets are conversations
  • More pitching, though it would be hard not to like Matt and his open delivery.

A keynote panel on Politics, Democracy and Public Life (‘Mobilising democracy, streamlining government, improving access and empowering citizens through the internet’). Moderator: Tom Steinberg, founder, MySociety

Martha Lane-Fox, UK digital champion

  • 10M people in UK have never used internet. 2M have used it and not gone back
  • lots of organisations inviting digital engagement, and it always seems to be via the web
  • the UK could be the first country to have 100% use of internet by 2012 olympics
  • 500,000 computers are locked up in schools every night
  • computers have to somewhere you can get at them: doesn’t necessarily have to be in your home
  • don’t overcomplicate what it taks to get them online. Start with people’s passion. Focus on the benefits to them
  • People don’t yet know what the benefits are for them. Design services on line for people who don’t use them, not for people who do – start with the difficult customers
  • I think I’m a tiny bit in love with Martha Lane-Fox

Steven Clift, founder and executive director, E-Democracy talked about creating online public space for neighbours with common interest

  • every neighbourhood should have a local online space that connects people
  • Pew Internet research: 27% of US adult internet users use digital tools to talk to their neighbours. That’s 20% of adults overall
  • local voices matter, but you need the capacity to listen
  • civility matters. most people see and expect public conflict (flame wars) rather than civil conversation
  • by the way: putting up photos on the screen with ‘Creative Commns via Flickr’ as the attribution is not at all cool
  • real names work, creates reputation, builds trust and community
    inclusion matters
  • changing the neighbourhood rather than changing the world

Nigel Shadbolt, director, Web Science Trust & The Web Foundation talked about Open Government Data

  • politics is dog eat dog, but academia is the other way around
  • Since launched, we’ve seen an ABSOrometer (how many ASBOs near where you are now). Was briefly the top free download app in the iTunes store in the UK
  • More worthy examples: UK dentists – find the nearest UK dentist
  • Showed Post Code Data newspaper as an example of what you could do with data if licensing wasn’t a problem
  • principles of public data: available in machine readable form for resuse including commercial reuse

Beth Simone Noveck, deputy chief technology officer, United States and director, White House Open Government Initiative talked about the US open government initiative, with a bit of healthy competition for Most interesting to me was a consensus on the panel that while anonymity is important, requesting first + last names, with explanation of why, creates sites in which the names mean more, with a focus on reputation and civility. I also now need to go and read the US government’s National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace proposals.

Final keynote presentations were grouped in the theme of Where Do We Go From Here? (‘Where next for the web? Future technologies and their impact on society and humanity’)

Joe Cerrell, European director, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation talked about philanthrophy and technology.

  • “Devices have the power to change the way we interact with media and change the world”
  • Shared examples of investments in: mobile money in Haiti, room temperature vaccines, Evidence based advocacy
  • ‘living proof’ showcase of investment results

Jan Chipchase, executive creative director of global insights, Frog Design seems to have the best job in the world. Jan (the man, sounds like ‘yan’) observes how products are used in the real world. He talked about ethnography and empathic design.

  • The poor can least afford poorly designed products and services
  • There will be 5bn mobile phone subscriptions by end of the year. 1.1bn sold every year. There’s a design responsibility that comes with that
  • Reputation has value. Reputation is collateral
  • The poor can least afford poorly designed products and services
  • And they know it
  • And now they know that you know it

Desiree Miloshevic, board trustee, Internet Society

  • How should the Internet be governed?
  • Who decides who decides?
  • Currently, mostly governed (controlled by) private sector interests
  • Used a Princess Bride allegory which I can’t relate in sufficient detail to do it justice, other than to say that the Internet = princess who is elegant and simple and virtuous by design, and there’s no clear outcome.

Clay Shirky, professor, Interactive Telecommunications Program, NYU talked about Cognitive surplus.

  • Example of Kenyan election disputed. Media blackout. Realtime news via blogs eg Kenyan Pundit -> Ushahidi
  • human generosity + free time + platform for collaboration (specifically incremental building and sharing)
  • Wikipedia is 100M hours of humans thought. Television 200bn hours eveey year in US alone. Wikipedia every weekend just in adverts in usa alone
  • Hang on a minute Clay: it was 100M hours over two years ago too.. surely that’s gone up a bit since then?
  • The future is random: Infrastructure widely spread means mass rather than depth of participation is often most important. How many people use it is more important than how fancy is it.
  • ‘Design through lack of hubris’. People who are certain of what will happen next try fewer things. People who are willing to learn through incremental public failure often find the inobvious solutions
  • Geographic spread. Innovation coming from oustife traditional centres.
  • Future is harder to predict but easier to see (globally)
  • Paying attention is a valuable tool for understanding the future

Unfortunately, I had to miss the closing presentation from Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his interview by Alan Rusbridger. Real life got in the way and I had to jump out a tiny bit early. Here are the two videos of it though:

And for much more nitty gritty of what was going on and who said what this year, rather than just the bits I saw, the Guardian’s live blog coverage is what you need.