Archive for August, 2012

The DO Lectures

There are so many conferences and events these days you could make a full time job out of doing the rounds.  Whether industry specific or themed on a topic, each one claims to be able to offer you insight, information and leading speakers…

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t go to many events, probably 3 or 4 during a year.  I also very rarely go to anything relating to the sector in which I work; PR, social media, digital comms.  Why? Because I can get all the latest industry news from my favourite blogs, because they are, more often than not, merely an echo chamber of the same conversations on loop and, most importantly, because when I give up time to listen to people speak, I want to learn something completely new or be given a different perspective on the world. And sometimes I want to hear about stuff that really matters.

Which brings me to the Do Lectures. I’d been watching this event from afar for years; I was fascinated by the range and quality of the speakers and intrigued by the setting (I’ve stayed at fforest a few times on holiday, it is a one of my favourite places in the world but I couldn’t see how it would work as a venue for an event).

And so, after years with my nose pressed up against the window, I was lucky enough to be invited to attend this year’s Spring event.  I recorded my initial thoughts on Audioboo immediately after the event but I’ve subsequently been asked the same questions about Do several times and  as DO put on different events: one day workshops and the 36 hour start-up programme, now seems as good a time as any to set down my answers:

“Tickets are expensive, is it really worth the cost?”

As mentioned I was fortunate to be invited as a guest BUT my in answer to the question,  I would not hesitate in saying that the ticket price is absolutely commensurate with the value of the event.  It’s three full days of astoundingly good speakers and workshops, topped and tailed with half days either side of a welcome and good-bye, plus night time entertainment that is equally mind blowing.  And I can’t think of any other event where the food is so incredible (cooked on site at fforest).

“Isn’t it weird sharing a tent with someone that you don’t know?”

There are no soulless corporate hotels at Do. Yes you’re camping and yes you will probably be sharing with a person you’ve never met. It may sound daunting to some but honestly, it’s another part of what makes Do special. It isn’t very often that you’re chatting to someone you’ve just met and then you both realise that they’re the person you slept next to the previous night. Yep, that happened to me.  The unique environment of Do is an essential part of why it gets underneath your skin so comprehensively.  You’re immersed in every aspect of it.

“What do the speakers talk about?”

This is more difficult to answer because the specific topics are so broad and wide ranging.  Whether it’s the challenge of creating the Eden Project, hours spent hand crafting incredible kitchen knives in Brooklyn, escaping the world of advertising to write fantasy novels or bringing together a local community to take on the might of big industry, the speakers all have one thing in common: they get on and make stuff happen.  It’s exciting and inspiring and it takes your breath away.

An unoriginal but good comparison, is to say it’s like TED but in a field.

So is Do for you? That depends on your motivation for attending events. Do you love PowerPoint, bullet points and case studies? Then the answer is no.  Do you want to be challenged, feel exhilarated and leave with a head stuffed with questions and ideas? Then the answer is yes.

It will be interesting to see what else will come out of Do and whether they will stick with the existing format of a four day conference, David has said in a recent post that:

“The long-term plan for The Do Lectures is to start a school for entrepreneurs. A school where you go to start your start-up. On a farm that grows companies instead of food. An ideas farm. An accelerator of great business ideas.”

Whatever happens, you can be sure it’ll be interesting.  In the meantime I’d highly recommend you take some time to watch some of the videoed talks.

You may also want to listen this interview with David Hieatt on the Guardian or this comprehensive round-up of the 2011 Do from @Documentally.

A big thanks to @davidhieatt, @175viatribunali, @greenape, @richard_king

App review: Lift and the quantified self

Life hacking, self tracking, the quantified self; call it want you want, using technology to help track and improve your health and wellbeing is one of the fastest growing areas in digital.  Many respected bloggers are starting up blogs to cover this subject, like Stephen Davies’ Bionic.ly and Drew Benvie’s bodydata.

One of the most highly anticipated launches in this area was for lift.do, mainly because two of its backers are twitter founders Ev Williams and Biz Stone.  They have a lofty stated aim to “push the envelope of human potential through positive reinforcement”.

I’ve been using the beta app for a few weeks now and wanted to share my initial thoughts.  Firstly, it’s a great concept, and the app itself is, as you’d expect from a team this experienced, simple and intuitive to use.  You essentially decide on which ‘habits’ you want to track, like sleeping for 8 hours, doing more exercise or eating healthier (you can add your own, more random ones, if you like) and then every time you complete a habit, you check-in.  Over time you can see how you’ve performed with each habit.  You can see when other users check-in to a habit and you can give people ‘props’ for completing a habit.  There are a few other features, like the fact that you can add a commentary when you check-in but that’s essentially it.

The biggest question mark I have with the app in its current format (and obviously it’s only beta) is that there’s not much motivation to encourage you to keep using it. I open it, check-in, close it.  Not sure what their longer term plans are but for me there needs to be more of a connection between what you’re doing and what others are doing. You don’t have a community of friends/followers as with other networks and so it’s hard to build up a sense of relationships with other users.  Without this the app is a little bit, well, dull.

Hopefully the next version will address this.  There’s definitely something in lift but it needs more to motivate me to keep using it beyond it being a simple record of healthy/positive things I’ve done.

 

App.net: changing the face of social networks (possibly…)

 

In just 6 short years twitter has established itself in our lives.  Hashtags on most TV programmes, the @ sign has become ubiquitous and every day celebrities help to extend it’s mainstream audience a little further.

It’s here to stay right?  Well lately there have been rumblings that twitter is losing its way, the increasing restrictions on developers using the API, the disgraceful way in which it sucked up to a major advertiser, deleting a journalist’s account for daring to criticise NBCs coverage of the Olympics, it’s all looking a bit murky.

The problem of course with an ad supported network is that, as we all know, if you’re not paying, you’re the product; a commodity to be bought and sold.  This is something we have always accepted but perhaps in the future we will look back in surprise at our compliance (if you’ve not read it, highly recommend Michael Wolff’s excellent piece on the essential problem with the ad supported model).

Just because it’s the way it’s always been, doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.

The founders of App.net are daring to do something bold.  In their words they’re building, “a real-time social service where users and developers come first, not advertisers”.  Asking users to commit to paying $50 per year for an account, they’ve raised nearly $300,000 of a $500,000 goal but with 5 days to go until their deadline to raise funding it’s looking questionable whether they’ll get there.

And it’s not just the relationship with the users, App.net will offer much more flexibility (and therefore innovation?) for developers.

I really hope they reach their target.  It’s so easy to plug ourselves into these platforms with no real consideration of the Faustian pact into which we’re entering.  Go join.app.net and let’s find a better way.

*UPDATE: There’s a great piece about app.net just gone up on TNW, which includes a Q&A with founder Dalton Caaldwell

*UPDATE: With 19 hours to go, App.Net have exceeded their target (currently at $600,00), so now it gets interesting.  I also wanted to link to this post by Orian Max, since it explains very well, all the various benefits of a App.Net.

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