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5 reasons you should go to Thinking Digital 2014


I’ve written about Thinking Digital before, on a couple of occasions.

If you’ve seen any of the tweets over the last couple of days (search #tdc13) it may have piqued your interest but is it for you?

If you say ‘Yes’ to these 5 questions then you have your answer:

  1. Do you want to feel again the excitement you felt as a child when you discovered something new?
  2. Do you want to know what our future looks like and how to make a better present?
  3. Do you want to hear from those who are right at the heart of making, disrupting, changing and shaping the world around us?
  4. Do you enjoy meeting people who are open, authentic, unique and inspiring?
  5. Do you believe there is value to looking at everything from a different perspective, at least once in a while?

Go, and this time next year I guarantee you’ll be telling people that Thinking Digital is one of the best events you’ve ever been too.

*Photo: The incredible Sugata Mitra at Thinking Digital 2013 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 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, 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 and let’s find a better way.

*UPDATE: There’s a great piece about 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.

Is self-employment falling out of favour?

I’ve been self employed for over 10 years.  When I first started working for myself I was worried about whether or not I would enjoy it.  I was always the kind of person that liked to be surrounded by others at work, for conversation, inspiration and the social side of things.  But sometimes other decisions are more important (young children etc) and so I embarked upon my life as a sole trader.

Mostly I’ve really enjoyed it.  Of course twitter and social networks have made life as a self-employed person so much easier than it used to be.  And the benefits of working for yourself are obvious: flexibility, control, variety.

Recently however I’ve noticed that a quite a few people who have been self-employed for years, have taken positions in companies or agencies.  Stephen Davies, Jonathan Hopkins, Brendan Cooper, all extremely experienced and respected in the industry.  Not sure that you could classify it as a trend as yet but it got me thinking about why it might be.

There are, of course, downsides to working for yourself, at times it can be isolating, there is the feast or famine syndrome which, if you’re not careful, can result in you stretching yourself too thinly and heaping pressure on yourself, and as an ‘outsider’ to a client organisation, it can be difficult to really affect change.

Over the years I’ve been offered a few positions, most of them not really of interest but a couple of them more recently did give me pause for thought as to whether it was worth giving up the benefits of self-employment.  The answer was no, but I admit I was tempted.  I also have the added issue of being a shareholder and director in a business, Pyjama Drama, so it’s not really on the cards for me to ever go back to being an employee (although hopefully I’m not tempting fate with that comment).

But I’d be interested in what others think.  We’re constantly hearing about the move to a more flexible workforce and less of the traditional 9-5 work pattern but I wonder, in the digital industries at least, if the demand for really experienced and skilled individuals and the lure of roles that offer real scope to make a mark, is starting to pull people back into employment?

* You can read the full Storify of the conversation on twitter here. (I haven’t got around to updated WP yet so can’t embed it)

SXSWi 2012 Social Media Talking Points

SXSWi 2012 was its typically brash, exhausting, delightful, frustrating self.  Rather than rehash what I’ve already written, you can read my summary piece on .net about the hot topics around social media at this year’s event, suffice to say that, as usual, there was plenty to discuss.

And here is a more rambling audio round-up.

*photo: tumblr giveaways, for those braving the torrential downpours at this year’s sxsw.

The God of storytelling….Ira Glass

Occasionally you unearth something on web and you can’t believe that you had lived in ignorance of the fact of its existence.  This is how I felt when I came across a series of videos by Ira Glass, the godfather of storytelling and presenter of This American Life.  If you have never listened to one of their shows, GO AND DO IT NOW.  It’s the most addictive, fascinating radio programme you will ever listen to (they also have a great app).  Anyway, Ira is a huge hero of mine, his ability to draw you into his world within 2 seconds of listening to him, is unparalleled.

What’s the relevance of all this to me/my work?  It’s simple: if you want to connect with anyone about anything, the easiest way to do it is to tell a story.  I think we’ll see more and more brands and businesses seeking to create resonance with customers by incorporating their ‘stories’ into the online/social media world.

I also love this quote of his about the reality of improving the quality of your creative output:

“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

You have to watch this… ‘If I should have a daughter..’

One of the most powerful presentations I’ve seen in ages. Just watch it.

Under my skin

It seems it’s time for my annual blog post (I do realise that updating a blog once a year is fairly lame but there you are).

SXSWi has been incredible once again.  Initially it seemed like they had finally spoiled it by stuffing it so full of people it felt, quite often, like it would burst right open.  This is a criticism that is leveled at the organisers every year but this time it really did feel like they had taken it too far. Check out Sam Michel’s video of the queue for the keynote on the first day to see what I mean.  It felt sad that within the first day I was already thinking that the crowds may well mean that this would be my last sxsw.

And then the magic of the event starts to work on you again, it gets under your skin in a way that’s difficult to articulate.  Some highlights in no particular order:

  • Seth Priebatsch’s keynote ‘Adding A Game Layer On Top Of The World‘; like an over enthusiastic puppy he bounded onto the stage to tell the audience how game theory could (and will) change the world.  It took roughly 5 minutes for him to sweep away my cynicism, “yeah, yeah, game theory blah blah”, and be blown away by both the idea and the practical applications he talked about.
  • Jason Cohen – ‘From Geek To Entreprepneur’; a funny, insightful presentation about starting up a business and the challenges you face.  Too much for me to coherently summarise but his take home? “Less reading, less worrying, more doing”. Can’t argue with that.
  • Chris Guillebeau and Jonathan Fields – ‘Fear & The Art of Creation‘; an inspirational discussion about what prevents us from jumping off that cliff and taking on that project/new venture/life change.  Good stuff with fresh perspective.
  • Other panels, including how improv classes can help your work life, considering time in UI design, mad US scientists and Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley on his vision for the future of location based services.
  • Christian bringing the house down with his ‘when I got social media’ story at the amazing story-telling event Fray Cafe.

But mostly and mainly, the people.  Everybody says it, every year but it’s the people you met in the hallways and parties and fringe events that make it special.  This year it was great to meet new people and see familiar faces @Documentally @Toodlepip @Benjaminellis @Dr_Black @timesjoanna @jemimah_knight @huey @rachelclarke @Ewan.

Flying home today, leaving a piece of my head and my heart here for next year.

What a difference six months makes…

Poor neglected blog.  It’s been six long months since I’ve posted.  Except it feels like about six minutes.

Anyway, so much has happened.  Many interesting developments in my own life and about a zillion fascinating things in tech land.

But tonight in particular I was reminded how quickly things can change out there in computer land.  Six months ago I did a blog post titled, ‘Where were you when?‘, it sort of related to the historical UK election and hung parliament but also to the increasing importance of location based services (having just come back from sxsw where that was all anybody was discussing).  And for six months now, on and off in training gigs, I’ve been using a quote  I scribbled down at sxsw (and apologies to whoever said it, I didn’t make a note of the name):

“Your current location (and location habits) will further enhance the delivery of your digital experiences.  Content will become increasingly aware of its surroundings and configure itself accordingly”

What a difference six months makes indeed. Google launched Google Places, which allows you to search specific for specific venues (hotels, restaurants, shops etc) by location, Facebook launched Facebook Places, a mobile app that effectively mimicked Foursquare and Gowalla by letting you share your physical location with your friends by checking into places.  And tonight they weighed in with another major, location, based development: Facebook Deals, effectively letting businesses offer deals to customers who ‘check-in’ to their venue using the Facebook app.  So again, not a new idea but what makes it so important of course it that when a heavyweight like Facebook do something, it has the potential to change everything.  For even small businesses who have a physical rather than online sales operation, this is a chance to turn ‘friends’ into actual cash sales.  This round-up by The Next Web tells you all you need to know about today’s Facebook announcements.

Here’s to the next six months.

Where were you when?

The UK has been a strange place to be over the last week.  No-one could have predicted the bizarre turn of events that saw Cameron and Clegg shake hands on the steps of Number 10 before going in together to make a start on running the country.

And while it didn’t turn out to be the ‘social media election’ that was originally predicted, the constant hum from twitter and blogs has, for me and I’m sure many others, provided a fascinating additional layer of commentary, opinion and wit.

In the tech/social media world, there has been just as much going on.  Rather than try and pull it all together into one post, I’ve gone for more of a listing, highlighting some of the more interesting stuff.

So in the future when people ask you, “where were you when?” you will probably be able to tell them down to the exact spot.


Of course you’re on Twitter right?

Interesting blog post on E-Consultancy about which digital agencies are using Twitter and perhaps more importantly which ones aren't and why.  As Chris Lake says, "I was perplexed to discover that many agencies haven’t yet bothered, and I’m not sure what message that sends out to the client-side."
His research showed that very few of the top 50 UK agencies were regularly twittering as an agency. 
The article has prompted a huge number of comments, mostly from agencies defending their position plus lots of people making the point that the reason agencies don't have a specific account is because Twitter is about people not companies. 

My take – yes of course, Twitter is about people, as I've said before that's exactly why it's so popular.  But it's not as simple as saying there's no place on Twitter for brands or companies, otherwise why do accounts like @overheardatmoo work so well? Because there is still a person behind the brand.  And that's the key.  I really do believe that as long as your tweets have personality there's no reason why you shouldn't tweet as a company or brand but you have to have something to say.  And you have to want to do it.  I wonder if some of the reason digital agencies aren't tweeting much is because the individuals who feel comfortable with Twitter already have their own accounts and they don't have the extra time, or inclination to try and run another one.