2008 in review II – Nokia OpenLab blogging and my writing elsewhere…

Nokia Open Lab attendees photoOne of the highlights of my year was the great weekend I got to spend in Helsinki as part of the Nokia Open Lab 08. It was a weekend in which social media practitioners – most with an emphasis on mobile usage – brought together for a series of discussions, workshops and presentations on the future of mobile social media, with a focus on Nokia’s hardware, obviously.

I met some amazing people there, many of whom have become really good friends over the ensuing months (particularly Phil Campbell and Ilicco Elia).

When I got back, I wrote a series of blog posts, encapsulating a lot of the things that the weekend covered, and my thoughts on them. Looking back on them now, I’m really grateful for the brain-food I got over the weekend.

Here they are:

There were a couple of other big writing things I got up to online (as well as my column in Bass Guitar Magazine, which ended this year after a couple of years…) – I was invited to write for a blog on a government website called Creative Choices which aside from being an appallingly badly designed site (front and back end), was a great project to be a part of given that I had the remit to write about the creative life, and got paid for it! Here’s a link to all my posts there.

The other site I’ve been writing for is an ongoing project, writing for MusicThinkTank.com – as you’ll see if you look at the list of my co-authors over there, I’m in insanely good company writing for them, sharing the web space with some of the best thinkers I’ve ever come across.

I’ve posted a couple of articles to MTT in the last few weeks – this one I posted today:

And this one was in December:

The rest of my writing there can be found here.

It was an amazing year for me, geek-wise. Will come back to that in more detail soon!

Nokia Open Labs Pt 4 – The Future of Business

CT struts his stuff - photo by meAnd the last session was Join and Collaborate – CT did a nice job of setting it up with his facilitator bit, but this was where the Nokia-ness of the session first impressed itself upon the kind of discussion we had.

Everyone immediately assumed we were talking about the corporate world. About using social media in big corporations. And proceeded in that manner (something CT expressed some frustration at in his summing up). It was so pervasive that my attempts to suggest that any model/metaphor for running a big business that is predicated on an essentially organic/benign model is flawed in its conception due to it assuming the ‘right to life’ – Corporations can be entirely predatory, more like sci-fi monsters than corrupted humans… If your metaphor is that of a ‘business is just like a person’, then you assume they have an innate right to life, and that our job is to enable them to function. If they are a sci-fi monster, a different morality is at work, and they may be entirely malignant and need to be got rid of…

Such is the clumsiness of over-used metaphors, and while some good thoughts came up about the nature of business, It was largely a frustrating discussion (the root of the frustration goes back to my point yesterday about extroverts getting more airtime than they really deserved…)

But, it has since sparked off in me an idea about a mash-up of Schumacher’s ‘Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered’ and the principles involved in running an information-age corporation… running it as though the people mattered, given them some investment in the process and the product, allowing departments to run as semi-autonomous collectives…

And this is how the indie side of the music biz has run for years – most indie record labels can’t afford big staff – they can’t afford PO Boxes let alone post-rooms. There’s little space for anonymous drones in the indie world, given that everyone really needs to earn their salary, and those salaries are probably tiny. As a result, everyone is there for the love of it, and brings in whatever skills they have to make it better.

I’m in two situations like this work-wise at the moment – small teams of ‘super heroes‘, pooling their skills as a collective, rather than as employees. The first, as you’ll have seen if you’ve watched the last two videos I posted, is Lawson/Dodds/Wood – my trio with Roy Dodds and Patrick Wood. We each have different skill sets, both musician-ly and para-musically – when we’re playing, Patrick and I can easily swap roles, I can do melody while he does texture/groove and vice versa. Roy can be very much a rhythm section player or entirely self-contained, happy to play beautiful percussion without any obvious bassline to ‘lock in’ to. It’s gorgeous free-flowing music.

And outside of playing, our skills are different too – Roy got us the most amazing drum sounds in the studio – great experience at ‘ad hoc’ recording – we had no separation for mics etc, just a tiny room that sounded great. So his experience in recording live bands in his own home studio was HUGELY helpful.

Then Patrick took over on editing it – with Roy and I offering support, advice, opinions (more Roy than me, as for a lot of the editing time, I was away in the US) – Patrick produced the record, sorted out the sax/vocal additions to our trio improvs, edited them down. Really really amazing skills. (there’ll be more about this on the video).

And what’s beautiful about it is that it’s all done in an atmosphere of mutual fandom and gratitude – Patrick and I are Roy’s biggest fans. He’s our favourite drummer, and are both hugely grateful to work with him. Likewise, Patrick’s editing and recording skills are something I’m happy to pimp out to anyone looking for that kind of world class expertise. There’s no boss, no focus group, no board of investors. Just three skills people pooling their resources for the greater advancement of the whole.

The second project is JFDI/The Social Takeaway, but I’ll write more about that later, as I really have to go and teach!

Nokia Open Labs Pt 3 – The future of Entertainment…

Steve Lawson at Nokia Open Lab 08 by http://www.flickr.com/photos/gisuser/Session 3 (session 2 for me) was the Entertainment one outlined in this post. The discussion about games was actually rather interesting – it can be very illuminating when you get people to think outside of their chosen specialism, throw in some friction and see what comes out. I was scribe for the first part, but handed over to the very lovely Phil Campbell to talk a bit about the social aspect of games that Sleepydog are involved in, and some of the advances in technology that they are working with to make the world of games less insular (sleepydog are the developers and inventors of the ‘Buzz’ games – quiz-show type group games. About the only things I can ever imagine playing on a games console.)

We talked a fair bit about what makes up ‘a game’

  • the competition,
  • the chance,
  • the risk,
  • the skill,
  • the rewards,
  • the adrenalin edge

…and how those manifest themselves in a lot of our other online interactions. How many of us use social media platforms in a very game-ish way. So we looked at how we can mash-up gaming and social interaction… Someone (possibly Rob Evans? not sure…) talked about some really interesting stuff to do with using ‘games’ of a sort to ‘teach’ computers to recognise certain things – labelling and tagging-based games, with a social payoff in that you get matched up with people with whom you share a lot of results… (one of the recurring themes was that the dating side of social media – from the gentile to the deepy seedy – was clearly one of the avenues where money could be made.)
The last question posed to us in the session was about coming up with new business models where money could be made, but we really didn’t give it much thought… it seemed like an out of place question, given the kind of discussion we’d had. So we left it.

Meanwhile, as mentioned before, a whole discussion was going on about the music industry that I missed out on. One of the interesting things about the weekend was the degree to which just being in at atmosphere of ‘thinking about mobile’ helped me to pull a whole load of thoughts together about how independent musicians can use mobile technology. I’ll report back on all that later

Til then, if you feel like commenting, do chip in on what you think are the ‘game aspects’ to the indie music biz, as it pertains to recording, marketing, selling music, doing gigs, entertaining people, maintaining integrity/autonomy, networking with other musicians, dipping into the ‘mainstream’ to our advantage?

Nokia Open Lab Pt 2 – the geo-location workshop.

Steve Lawson and Phil Campbell at Nokia Open Lab, by http://www.flickr.com/photos/ekaiSo the format of the Friday was intro, followed by four sessions –

  • Join the Community.
  • Join the Journey
  • Join the Fun
  • Join and Collaborate.

Each session had a ‘facilitator’ who did a lil’ intro spiel and the set-up to the group time. I’m slightly embarrassed to say that I’ve no idea how the first session went, as I slept straight through it! I’d set my alarm early, but after getting to bed late the night before, struggling to get to sleep even then, I managed to miss it. The last 10 minutes of the discussion were interesting, but I can’t really comment further.

So the first full session I was in was Join the Journey – thinking about location-based services, concepts and uses. What was most interesting was how few people in this group of early adopting tech-pimped-out uber-geeks were regularly using geo-services other than geo-tagging flickr photos and using SatNav to not get lost (as one person commented, ours is the last generation that will ever get lost – more on that in a bit…)

This was the first point at which the blue-sky techno-utopians and the more cautious person-centred practo-geeks divided – the utopians were talking about the possibility of RFIDing everything from you fridge to your car keys, embedding chips, tracking your kids – loads of stuff that sounded like a sci-fi writer in the late 60s describing the year 2001. Some of it clearly already happening.

On the flip side, you had every Brit there freaking out at the civil liberties implications of all this, given that we’re already the most surveilled nation on earth, and wondering about how effective measures to limit access to the tracking data could be.

It was also the first point at which I threw in the idea that maybe removing trouble, problems, obstacles and the like from the mundane might not be a good thing. I slightly facetiously said ‘but what about all the good serendipitous stuff that can happen when you lose your keys?’ or words to that effect. It was a serious point, but I didn’t really follow it up til Adam Greenfield’s excellent session the next day.

So some cool discussion, some great ideas that got lost in the mass of un-filtered un-sorted suggestions, and for me the first chance to get a handle on where people were coming from… I don’t think I knew anyone in my group at this point, so was slightly unsure how to pitch my usual mixture of ‘things that are possible useful to the discussion’ and ‘things that are clearly random bollocks but might be either funny or illuminating in their absurdity… or perhaps best ignored’.

So one thing that we didn’t get onto was the use of Geo-locational services for musicians. The uses are HUGE. Most of them musicians I know have already got SatNavs – getting lost on the way to a gig is too costly a mistake for them to miss the chance to avoid it.

But the ability to map a tour, plot any media captured on it onto it, group crowd-sourced flickr-photos by location and date, and even to network a street team by geo-tagged data are the stuff that every band in the world should be jumping on. It’s the kind of stuff that a company like Nokia ought to be all over, given the branding potential, and the way they can produce THE ubiquitous device for such a service. (more on this in an N95 for musicians review, coming soon!) Some of the stuff that came up in the group was really inspirational with regard to seeing the possibilities of all this. For some of what’s possible, and what’s coming, check out Sportstracker and Nokiavine.

Some bands are already using it, like the NIN stunt with the geo-cached tickets.

Location based services don’t appear to be the kind of thing that in and of themselves will make millions for anyone beyond TomTom and Garmin. But they are things that musicians and media producers can use to filter their own or their audiences content by location, and that can make it more interesting, more relevant and more sexy. All fine qualities.

Sessions 3 and 4 coming soon…

Nokia Open Lab 08. The write-up. part 1

Nokia Open Lab - photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/ekaiI’ve just spent 3 days geeking out in Helsinki, at the Nokia Open Lab 08. The idea was to bring together 40 social media/mobile tech/blogging geeks in Helsinki for a series of workshops, discussions, talks and brainy mash-ups. The attendees were from all kinds of backgrounds, from corporate bloggers writing about tech stuff or financial markets, to sub-cultural social media conduits, using mobile technology to bring communities together and subvert standard media channels.

The format was really interesting, in that we were kind of thrown together with very little context, and left to work out what people’s areas of expertise were based on what they were willing/pushy enough to say in each of the discussions. So those of us who are extroverts naturally spoke at greater length than our respective knowledge bases necessarily warranted. Still, much value came out of the discussions, and a lot of people seem to have been fired up to use social media applications that they’d signed up for months ago but never really found a use for.

From Nokia’s side, they got

  • a massive amount of internal and external marketing footage from the conference
  • a load of online content bigging up their products
  • some quality, focussed expert product and service feedback
  • a whole bunch of enthusiastic interaction with some of their technology’s most progressive early adopters.

I’ll hopefully write up a lot of what I thought about the conference, but I think I’ll actually start at the end, with what the whole thing meant for musicians:

It was really interesting to be brought in by a mega transnational corporation to discuss mobile technology, given that my focus is largely empowering creatives to create without recourse to the corporate world – I’m not a fan of ad-sponsored music promotion streams and clearly not into the big record label model of yore. So in a sense there was some bravery in Nokia inviting people like me in without any kind of NDA/Contractual obligation not to slam their very existence (like anyone would really give a shit if I did… but anyway…).

As a pragmatist, I liked being in a place where for a weekend, I could largely think about ‘the best we can do within this kind of corporate framework’ – what does a company like Nokia have to offer the world of creativity and progressive political interaction by way of infrastructure and support? How can we as creatives use this technology, and perhaps even work with Nokia, in promoting a culture of un-fettered art. What can they do to help?

In approaching it from that angle, there were quite a few frustrations – the biggest being the session on the ‘future of entertainment’ – the scene was set by Anne Toole, talking from her background as a very experienced ‘old media’ writer (TV/film), now moved into the games industry. She talked a lot about her notion of what ‘film’ is – I think the idea was to get us thinking conceptually about the future of ‘The Industry’ in whatever our group were going to be discussing.

However, for me, the start point would have been the antithesis of what she was saying – I would have blown the doors off any attempt to define ‘film’ beyond it being ‘a series of pictures projected as a fast enough rate as to give the appearance of motion’, and then got people to think about the deep stuff of how we can make the world of film – both that which is designed to ‘entertain’ but also the information/pure art end of the spectrum – more interesting, more engaging, more productive, more subversive, more enjoyable, through social media and mobile technology.

But the big problem wasn’t that I disagreed with what I thought she was saying, it’s that she had no way of knowing I was thinking that and therefor couldn’t clarify whether or not I’d got completely the wrong end of the stick. So problem #1 was the format of the ‘presentation’ part, not the content (disagreement is vital to progressive discussion, but it has to be open and ‘real time’…)

Problem #2 was the way we were divided up. There were four groups – music, film, games and ‘me media’ (me media being cleverly named, given Nokia’s latest ad campaign… 😉 ) – and we were arbitrarily assigned to them. We could have swapped. I could’ve just wandered over to the music camp, but I didn’t. I was stuck in the games group. I don’t think it’s any surprise to anyone that I effing hate games. Actually no, not games, I hate Games. I play games all the time – twitter, facebook, myspace, who’s going to fill the dishwasher. All fun, exciting, enjoyable games. I just couldn’t give a shit about the Games Industry.

I am however innately curious, and fairly good at conceptual abstraction, so we managed to have a cool discussion about games, gaming, and game principles abstracted from game culture. But still, there was a discussion about the future of the music industry and its relationship with social media/mob-tech, and I WASN’T IN IT.

W. T. F?

Yup, my fault for not getting up and moving. But their fault for not facilitating a coming together of people with expertise in the area. I would have LOVED to bang heads with the guys from the Nokia music store (not launched yet), to chat with people who see music as part of the ‘entertainment industry’, to people who favour ad-revenue models for ‘feels like free’ music. I’ve got about 150,000 words of stuff written on the subject 🙂

And we did have those conversations – that was the strength of the conference. As with all conferences, the conversations after the sessions were the main course. the sessions were largely high-functioning ice-breakers. The magic of Nokia Open Lab 08 started at 3pm on Saturday after the closing speech.

So post #2 will start to look at what we covered in the rest of the sessions, and where we go from here. Or maybe that’ll be post #3. Or #4… 😉

Back from Italy… Finland-bound..!

grapes, selva capuzza, italyGot back from Italy yesterday, having had a fantastic time. Check out the photos on Flickr or my latest video on Qik for more on that – a lot of the photos were uploaded direct from my N95 phone, via wifi, and the Qik post was streamed direct to the site from the phone, leaving me feeling like I really don’t need to take a laptop with me on trips like that anymore – I was checking my email where possible (wifi access is pretty sporadic in Italy – next time, I think I’ll buy a local sim card), updating twitter and collecting lots of groovy photos and videos. Lobelia took LOADS of great video, which hopefully she’ll get uploaded soon (rather than streaming the lo-res versions to Qik, she recorded at hi-res, so hopefully she’ll put them up on Vimeo or some other service like that v. soon).

And tomorrow I’m off to Helsinki, to The Nokia Open Lab organised by Nokia/WomWorld all about this mobile social media stuff. I got back to find a Nokia E71 waiting for me. I’ve been using the Nokia N95 8gb since Greenbelt, and
LOVE it. It really is the ‘laptop killer’ for most daily use. Email, photos, video, even short-form blogging on it is a treat. The screen is big enough for reading long emails, blog posts, news etc, and with the TV-out you could even carry ripped films with you to watch on a TV wherever you were going… I’m a big fan of T9 predictive text, so have little problem typing about as fast on a T9-enabled numeric phone keypad as I can with one hand on a normal keyboard (I can touch type, so the ideal for me would be a bluetooth portable keyboard, but we’ll get to that eventually).

So to the E71 – first impressions aren’t great. It’s a ‘blackberry-style’ device, with a mini-qwerty keyboard, designed for lots of writing, emailing etc. I’ve never been a fan of that kind of interface, and while the design of this is better than any other that I’ve tried thus far (the raised keys and layout mean it’s fairly quick, but still WAAAAY too small for my bass-playing fists). The camera is not up to the N96/N82 standard, and so far, the web-browsing experience doesn’t match up. It’ll be great to get to talk it over with some of the other geeks out in Helsinki. I’m REALLY looking forward to checking out the N85 too – sounds like the business.

At least as interesting as the hardware stuff will be the conversations about the future of mobile, both social media applications and what it means for musicians (I’m not sure if this is built into the program, but I’ll be talking about it, blogging about it, streaming video about it, and generally making a noise about it 🙂 ) – there are some great people going, including James Whatley and Phil Campbell.

So, there’ll be lots of mobile chat here over the next few days, hopefully some fun stuff to look at and listen to for those of you who couldn’t give a shit about the geekness of it all, and THEN some new music… (I am SO overdue getting the Lawson/Dodds/Wood album up online for sale – the thought that it would get lost in a flurry of geeky-stuff is terrible, given that it’s such a fantastic album… Will focus on that lots ASAP, I promise!!)

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