April 05, 2011

Gardening Liverpool's Digital Community

Over the past few weeks, those of us who organise events in the digital area have been taking stock a little over the state of the community, and thinking about what direction things should take and where we should direct our efforts.

So far it's been a fairly anarchic process, with ideas often hatched as the result of a throwaway comment from someone planting a seed of an idea with someone else, and all over a pint somewhere. It's worked well - I remember Neil Morrin explaining what became How? Why? DIY whilst stood having a smoke outside Static during some gig or event; Thom and I came up with the idea of Howduino and the Liverpool hackspace during Barcamp Liverpool; and just recently I came across the original email I sent to Neil and Andy Goodwin to connect the two of them for the first Ignite Liverpool, which contained this superb paragraph:

"[Sending this introduction email] is about as involved as I'll be in the process, as I've got too much on this month already. I'll definitely attend, and I can probably be persuaded to put some slides together about something or other, but apart from the odd retweet and email helping promote it, it'll be up to you guys."

I didn't manage that very successfully, did I?

Now that more people are getting involved and more events are happening, it shows that the shared vision over a coffee style of organisation has problems scaling, not least because we're getting too busy running events to get together as a group (and the group is getting too big).

So that's led to this open letter to Liverpool's digital community. If you're reading this (and in the North West) then we'd love to get your input, find out what you want (and then see if we can persuade you to help us implement that *mwahahaha* ;-)

I mentioned a shared vision above, which makes it sound like there's a grand plan being secretly put into action. That's not really true, I mean, I've got a grand plan, but I don't know how shared the vision is, and I'm not implementing it secretly - as anyone who has accidentally strayed onto the topic in conversation with me will no doubt attest.

I tend not to commit plans to paper because I long ago learnt that the benefit of a plan isn't in setting steps in stone, but in thinking about what you're trying to achieve and what you need to do in order to get there. Plans are useful tools to list dependencies and work out milestones, but are also out of date before the ink dries and should be open to amendment when you need to route round roadblocks or take advantage of newly arisen opportunities.

So even more-so than usual, this blog post is just a snapshot of my latest thinking around the topic, and a way to help me order my thoughts.

As plans go, it was quite a long time in gestation. I can trace the start back to the Biennial of 2004. That's when I visited Liverpool for the first time in a few years, and let myself to take in the city properly. That's when I decided that I should move back to the North-West and play my part in restoring the city to prominence on the world stage. Told you it was a grand plan.

Events are just a part of that ambition, but a vital one. When I arrived in the city in the summer of 2008 I looked to the existing events to find out what was going on, and to meet interesting people. Geekup and LivLUG were, and still are, great for finding the software community, and Barcamp Liverpool in the December helped widen that network.

By then I was already starting to agitate for doing more and in the following months started putting that into practice, organising the first Howduino and bringing Be2Camp to the North.

Twitter, and Twestival, helped broaden my network beyond just the software geeks, and meeting Neil meant we could start to bridge the gaps between the techies and the artists.

And that's the most important part of the events for me. Events are a way to engineer serendipity - give lots of people with different backgrounds and skills and ideas a reason to mix and get chatting to each other, and interesting stuff will result. I don't think you can, nor should you try to, be more specific than that. Ignite Liverpool is a perfect example of this although I don't think we'll ever know if it's succeeded.

As to any more detailed planning, that's for all of us to work out. Think about what events you wish were running in Liverpool, and if they aren't already then start them. Test the water with a tweet or a one-minute pitch at the next Ignite or Social Media Cafe. Choose things that will help build the community rather than divide it, and support and help other people running events when you can.

I suppose if I were to put together some maxims by which to guide how we proceed, they'd be these, to which I often seem to return...

Do Epic Shit.

Be ambitious. Work on stuff that matters. Think beyond the immediate context to how it fits into the wider picture of the city, the world, society...

Words - Action = Nothing

Don't judge people by what they say they're going to do, judge them by what they actually do. And remember that the rest of us are using that measure against you.


Just fucking do it. Make a start, don't worry that you'll get it wrong, or that it'll fail. The people who matter will want you to succeed and there'll be more help available than you expect. If you want a hand or some advice on getting started, then just ask any of us signatories to the open letter.

I haven't got any permission to give you, but there's piles of initiative for you to take.


Posted by Adrian at April 5, 2011 10:45 PM | TrackBack

This blog post is on the personal blog of Adrian McEwen. If you want to explore the site a bit further, it might be worth having a look at the most recent entries or look through the archives or categories over on the left.

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I remember those conversations well and was just saying something similar to you in an email I have just sent, just not so eloquently.

I think my sentiment was Stop Thinking. Do!
We spend a life time procrastinating when we really should just be getting on with the job in hand.

That said I must go - I've got something else on the boil right now.

Posted by: Neil at April 6, 2011 12:06 AM

Good post. GREAT post.

I'd like to be involved more, but I don't really know where to start. I built http://libraries.fromconcentrate.net over an intense period of about 4 weeks of trial-and-error, from know-nothing to novice. It's not pretty - but it works ;)

So... hopefully it will be a stepping stone to something...

Posted by: Nick at April 6, 2011 12:37 AM
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