Uploading innovation

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Uploading Innovation was an unconference organised by Policyunplugged and NESTA. I was invited to attend by Steve Moore; I had no expectations about what to expect. After a short stand-up lunch that allowed me to meet a couple of the attendees. Compared to other events that I have been to, there was a high proportion of attendees from the NGO and charity eco-system; with a substantial interest in leveraging communities for social good.

I came across some familiar faces like Oli Barrett, Suw Charman and Lloyd Davies.

NESTA - Policyunplugged Uploading Innovation

There were some initial presentations to get things going: I particularly enjoyed the talk by former FT journalist Charles Leadbetter. Leadbetter correctly pointed out that many of the web 2.0 cultural traits actually look back, rather than look forward. Commons and the folk ‘art’ ethic go back to pre-industrial time, the countercultural look of the internet goes back to the 1960s. The theme of the old having a recursive relationship with the new, new thing was a meme that echoed through many of the discussions.

Sam Sethi made a brief personal appearance.

NESTA - Policyunplugged Uploading Innovation

I sat in on a discusson led by Matt Hanson and Jeremy Ettinghausen. Jeremy is in charge of the A Million Penguins wiki-book site and had some interesting anecdotes and datapoints from the exercise. Matt is in the early stages of getting a film made that involves a base of subscribers to commission a $1 million movie that can then be given away under the banner A Swarm of Angels.

Penguin had leveraged their brand to launch the wiki. A press release to the Guardian and outreach to six blogs was all the proactive effort needed to get an overwhelming amount of site traffic. At its peak some ten people per second were logging on to the site. Some 25 people had been banned from the Penguin wiki and there are about a 100 regular vandals. The wiki had become the centre of a new meme about bananas. The word banana had been inserted at strategic places in plot. The wiki then became a dadaist art form as editors left the bananas in.

Some of the art in the wiki novel is actually the hyperlinks, so the book is unprintable. Penguin are still working out how to publish this in electronic format. In the end I had the impression that Penguin tolerated the experiment more as a publicity vehicle and asked myself will Pearson Publishing reflect in ten years about whether A Million Penguins was the point at which they should have looked to change their business or continue in the decline of mainstream media.

From a marketing point-of-view it was interesting to hear how Penguin encouraged non-fiction authors to write a blog and build a community up to two years prior to their book being published.

A Swarm of Angels was interesting for a number of reasons: first of all the subscription model was designed as much to only encourage serious participants as much as funding the project. Matt avoided PR and conventional media relations as he had found from his work launching multimedia film festival 1 dot zero that journalists were just not open to new ideas. However the involvement of Cory Doctorow and frantic digging by early participants gave the site the exposure that it needed.

Observations from the banal to the deep

There were a number of consumer patterns that leapt out: those that had computers to blog about the event were split roughly 70 per cent Mac, 30 per cent other PC. Many of the Macs were covered in stickers that ruined the clean product design of the machines.

Of the business cards that I received half of them were MOO mini cards with the artwork from the back derived from their flickr image accounts.

Many of the participants were from the third-sector and there was a real DIY media attitude akin to punk in its truest form, whether the participants manage to move the needle is another matter. Web 2.0 was been seen as a panacea, many of the people that I spoke to were looking to solve big social issues from food education to developing a new capital model based around a kind of cooperative structure for businesses catering to third sector organisations.