Ohhh, this is a long post!
Just back from Kilkenny where I attended the Creative Camp. It was my first such event - I've never been at any of the Open Coffee meetings, at Techludd or any of the other Barcamps around the country.
To be honest I wouldn't have thought that I should be there. I mean, I'm only someone who puts (the right) words on a screen - I "design" only on paper (and use irfanview to edit images), I have only a rudimentary knowledge of HTML and XML and basically it's for all of those people who do real work - techie, design-laden, creative things involving semantics and code and servers and mainframes and proxies and vector images on the internet, right?
That was my perception anyways. Reading Mulley's blog post about getting involved in the online community though made me think a lot. I chickened out of the first meeting of Techludd and it was a combination of an email from Anton Mannering, my whole experience at the Blog Awards (including meeting Ken McGuire) and a real desire to learn more about what's going on that finally impelled me to attend.
I had no idea what to expect, who to expect to meet (though I knew some of the names by reputation at least of those attending) or if I would get anything from the day. But I don't think that's a good enough excuse either. I'm passionate about the internet, and passionate about what people do there. I know a bit of what goes on and I want to learn more.
My trip to Kilkenny wasn't half as eventful as Darren's southward journey, but on arrival I was almost perversely and pedantically pleased to see the sign on the doors of Kilkenny Train Station was still there.
On arrival to the Parade Tower at the castle, I was greeted by Ken and introduced to Keith Bohanna, a name I'd often seen online and was looking forward to meeting. Nervous as I was, I was made very welcome and given a brief orientation.
The venue itself was very impressive - I'd never been inside it before, but can see a lot of potential uses. After a quick cup of coffee and a chat - an interesting one what this web 3.0 thing is with Sam Allen - we were ready to go.
I think two important words to use to describe events like this are involvement and inclusion. Whatever my initial misconceptions about the event were -
- Was it going to be suitable only for hardcore, years-of-experience web folk?
- Was it suitable only for technically competent people who knew intimately the difference between linux, unix and ajax, who could spot an error in a page of code a mile away or design a singing, dancing website in an hour?
- Was I going to have to somehow "prove" my right to be here, to contribute meaningful qualifications, degrees and case-studies of how what I do is integral to the interweb?
- Oh God, what if no one talks to me?
As much as I appreciate and advocate things being done the right way, especially online, this timetable spoke volumes to me. It showed people getting involved, contributing and collaborating and all those lovely buzzwords you tend to hear so much about but rarely see in action outside of a forced corporate environment.
Yes, it could have been digital or printed but it wouldn't have had the same impression of what the camp was about - people coming together informally (as in, not being "forced" to) to share their knowledge, passions and expertise.
It also showed that the organisers had an understanding of their audience, and how these things work - many a conversation was initiated as attendees gathered to choose the classes to attend.
More information on some of the classes given are on the CreativeCamp website here.
I started with Ina O' Murchú's talk on Personalisation and The Social Web. Though it's an area I would feel familiar enough with, there were a number of sites and features she spoke about that I realy must become more familiar with, especially Jaiku which a number of attendees were using. I may start twittering again too. Interesting discussions about mobile web and social networking came up afterwards.
I then went to Conor O’Nolan's talk on Geolocation Problems in Ireland. It ventured a little into what I'd consider uber-geek territory with talk of how IP addresses are constructed but I managed to grasp most of the discussion, which was interesting - how do we improve targeted advertising on the web for small businesses outside of Dublin in Ireland?
I'm not familiar enough with Google Adwords to discern whether they're a viable marketing tool for small offline businesses as opposed to local radio or newspapers, but Conor's examples of how his business seems to jump from Waterford to Wexford and has to encompass Dublin did show there's a way to go to sort out this problem. It made me think a lot about mobile web again, which is great because it's the area I'm working in at the moment.
I ducked outside after this one and took a photo of the castle. It has a lot of memories for me, considering I'm from 18 miles down the road. The majority involve playing in the playground while the folks were shopping in Dunnes.
How friends communicate was a talk given by Bernie Goldbach and Walter Higgins. Bernie would be another name I'd have heard in Irish-interweb-speak so I was looking forward to this. I'd stuck on my name badge that I tried to make the interweb a little friendlier so a talk of this nature seemed appropriate.
Bernie Goldbach is a great communicator. I read his blog from time to time but I was very impressed by how clearly, passionately and knowledgably he spoke about how technology can stop communication.
He used many technological examples and I found the discussion he had with the attendees was an integral part of the lesson I took from there. I think I'm still quite naive about how people can manipulate a lot of the media on the web for their own financial advantage, and it's something I'm going to try learn more about.
Interestingly he also seems to be a venter - I wonder how many bloggers, like him and me, have unplublished drafts where the intention was to rant rather than communicate?
Another interesting discussion also came up about the use of cameras at public events. Considering I try to bring my camera everywhere, it's something I'm now more sensible about.
I was a bit red faced after publicly confusing Tom Raftery's blog with Donncha's. Tom was a person I was looking forward to meeting and wasn't disappointed. A gentleman. With a big camera. Good to meet you.
While I'm at it, Michele, it's been a long time since we first started communicating but also a pleasure to finally get to say hello in person. Blacknight as a hosting service got great word-of-mouth publicity at the event and deservedly so.
The three talks on then were all ones I wanted to attend but having heard about this semantic-web thing from Sam and Ina I went to listen to Jan Blanchard's talk on The Semantic web. I didn't know who he was or what the talk would be about but boy am I glad I went.
Passionate people always appeal to me, and the passion that Jan and Conor from TouristR had for their new service ("website" isn't a good enough description) was obvious not only in their presentation, but in the work they've put into building their site from a semantic architecture perspective.
Travel websites involving social networking can be a bit hit and miss. I've seen sites with great potential and disappointing execution where the idea is sound but the point - making it as easy as possible for the user - is missed or worse, judged to be not as important as press releases or newspaper articles.
That's why I think that if the team behind Touristr can create the service they described it has a superb chance of working and of being remarkable. I sat enthralled as they showed what is possible with existing and emerging technologies - they've obviously got their finger firmly on the semantic pulse - and with the right design, marketing and membership strategy to complement the back-end, this site is conceivably the new Google for travel, given how easy it seems to use.
Will Knott seemed equally as intrigued, at one point opining that the data they could have at their fingertips was a marketers wet dream. It was a great presentation.
Lunchtime was fun. I caught up with Sabrina and John, I met the charming Katherine, I drank some McGovern's organic wine and ate a lot of mushrooms.
Suzy arrived and thankfully didn't wallop me when I asked what the Michael Lynn connection was. The match was streamed via RTE and then we got a look at the first episode of a very funny Kilkenny-based sitcom called Vultures. I don't think I'll ever grow out of the small-town thrill of seeing somewhere you know on a big screen. Fair play to those involved. I look forward to seeing more.
I also had the pleasure of finally meeting Krishna De, yet another name I know of and admire, but hadn't met yet. Our conversation about the use of branding and new media in corporate situations reinforced my conviction that I'm in the right area of work.
I went out and took a couple of photos too.
Met a lovely American family who I snapped in front of the castle. I really liked this girl's t-shirt.
I'd been looking forward to the panel discussion on grabbing the blogosphere by the balls, with Elly, Sabrina, Martha Rotter, Ina and Krishna De all discussing women and technology, but it clashed with a talk on pooling resources to inspire creativity given by Rachel Rath. Since I'm all into collaboration and cooperation I opted for this one instead. And I'm glad I did.
I'd never heard of The Attic Studio before yesterday - it's only through volunteering with Darklight that I'd heard of Filmbase where meetings are held, but what Rachel described - an offline community complemented by its online presence certainly gave me food for thought.
The Attic Studio is a meeting place for those involved in film production - directors, actors, writers and producers - to share, express, support and most importantly meet - though there's no dates apparently.
Their about page can explain it better than me but it was the juxtaposition of the offline and online communities that excited me. It also highlighted how an online community needs to be approached - from an offline perspective of how it can help the member and get them involved.
Creating a community that appeals to people's interests, that brings out their passions and that gets people involved is one of those web nirvanas, and this was certainly as close as I've ever seen it. The four top things I took from it were:
- The invitation - people are invited to join, which ensures people who will contribute to the community are included and people feel good about their membership
- The welcome - no one is left out. Newcomers are integrated and welcomed in a joint exercise for which a number of people have responsibility, not just the administrator.
- The personalisation - the site features photos of the members - making them feel involved. It validates their membership of the community.
- The follow-up - what's discussed is put online as quickly as possible to allow people to continue the conversation, allowing the link between off- and on-line to be strengthened.
Rachel was an excellent presenter. She seamlessly slipped from presenter to skanger to member and it gave a wonderful example of what I'll call an administrator talking to and caring about the group members. I certainly picked up a few ideas for The Faux Sty community.
Legging it upstairs I caught the tail end of the Women and Technology talk - and looking forward to seeing what the new Sass.ie is about.
It says it will be a:
free online community and information hub for women who love the web... [offering] daily news, posts and discussion; a list of events that might actually interest you; and monthly articles to help you do better on the web, whether it's blogging, ebusiness, social networking or online marketing.I'm signing up to it, regardless of gender. I've always looked good in a dress. :-P
Then it was running down the corridor to one of my most anticipated events of the day.
I found out I'm blogging like a girl. (Does that qualify me for Sass.ie?) OK, I may not have the faeries or the photos of my kids but I do have extra links, I do have a .blogspot address and I do venture down the "It's only my opinion, but..." route. I'm sure you'd find an extra exclamation point somewhere on this blog too.
Sabrina, as she says in her post about this, speaks like she blogs. It's very refreshing. There was no softness here, no apology for her message (and no seats left). Her message was simple - if you want your blog to succeed, do it the right way. It's the only way people will take you seriously.
You'll find a link to all her slides through her blog post. I'd highly recommend having a read and taking the advice. Sorry folks, but for me this was the most informative presentation of the day.
Last talk of the day and again my loyalties are torn. Do I go to the Mobile and Online TV talk or to find out more about the Open Coffee events around the country. Since I'd previously been in touch with Eoghan McCabe who invited me to come along to the Dublin one, I thought this a good opportunity to find out more.
The session Beyond Open Coffee was hosted/contributed to by Bernie, Ina, Anton, Gabriella and James and became an interesting conversation on how Open Coffee can be promoted within Ireland.
I've never attended one of the events - my reasons explained at the start of this post - but again, the phrases community and collaboration came back here as I began to understand what this was.
Some of the topics that came up included the time it was held, whether people would attend online through streaming and, for me the most interesting - attracting new people and getting them to attend. The challenge is there and I think the right people seem to be involved. It's something I'm interested in contributing to if I can.
Anton also gave a very good view on Techludd and the difference (if any) between the two. It will be very interesting to see how the two evolve and hopefully complement each other.
And so my first Creative Camp came to an end. Went to the pub for a couple of pints with John afterwards. I briefly met Mary Carty, the county arts officer for Meath there - someone else whose presence had eluded me during the day but I look forward to talking more with. Also met Alan from Toddle - an interesting idea about newsletter templates. I'll be in touch!
My final thoughts are these:
- Congratulations and well done to the organisers, speakers, sponsors and attendees of this event. To Ken, Keith and Tom (who I didn't get a chance to speak to) I, as a (nervous) newcomer certainly learned a lot and would be a lot less hesitant about attending other events. Thanks you for your very hard work before and during the day. I'd also feel confident enough to become an ambassador for events like this - if you can go, do go!
- I'd suggest adding "community" to the Business - Technology - Creativity tag. The words "Join us" could be very powerful, especially for people who like me are not sure if they should go.
- Let's have more of these. However this is organised, I really think there's a hunger out there for people to learn more about the web, whether that's how to handle your flickr account to fostering community to customer service to Jaiku and beyond.