Tag Archives: geekdinners

Geek history worth keeping

Early in the evening

While talking to Martin, Sam, Chris and others over the last few weeks. I have been thinking how things have been forgotten.

The history of geek culture seems to get forgotten too often. Recently a discussion about the tech community in Manchester with Martin raised a bunch of questions in my mind.

How much of geek history is still available now? What do I mean?

Great people have said….

“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

And to be honest I’m seeing the same thing over and over again in the limited time I’ve been around the geek scene. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing necessarily wrong with this… But no one seems to be documenting the past… Which seems crazy with the amount of social media or in the past user generated content created. But the issue seems to be putting it all together. For example if you search geekdinners on my blog, theres quite a few posts. But its a mishmash of stuff. Look for the same on Flickr (assuming you knew flickr was where most geeks uploaded stuff in the past and flickr had not gone dark) and you get a mishmash again. If your smart you might try the clusters and find the London geekdinners.

Geekdinners.com is actual up for sale at $2.5k. But this isn’t so much my point. In the past we would write blog posts about events (don’t get me started on the blogging) but this is a bit like throwing a pound in a tip jar. Whats need is something to aggregate the blogs, tweets, photos, videos, etc together. Tell the whole story in long form. This is what me and Martin were discussing, and the natural place seems to be wikipedia and archive.org.

I had a discussion recently with Tom Morris who is very knowledgeable about wikipedia. I was discussing the recent addition of a page about myself. But it got me thinking Wikipedia is a great place for the type of thing I was hinting at before.

So I’m going to start filling in pages on Geekdinner, LondonGeekdinners, BarCampLondon, BarCampManchester, Geekup and Over the Air. Hopefully people who go on to write pages about Technights, Social Media Cafe, Tuttleclub, etc will link and reference. Then we can start to trace back events and community efforts. Give attribution where its well deserved and encourage more people to get more involved in shaping the future of geek culture.

Does Manchester need a tech night?

Geek Graffiti

My friend Chris has something which has been bugging him. He told me while we had a late breakfast in VividLounge.

There’s something that’s bugged me about events in Manchester’s tech scene for a while. There are a lot of great specialist events, and a lot of networking events, but there appears to be little in between, ones that cross knowledge sharing with networking, other than the now-defunct Social Media Cafe, the Northern Digitals BLAB Talks, and ThoughtWorks’Manchester Geek Nights. However, BLAB Talks are geared more towards the creative side of the industry, rather than the technical side and Manchester Geek Nights speakers appear to be limited to ThoughtWorks.

The specialist events are great, but there’s just so many of them, that it’s impossible to attend even just the ones that are interesting to you, and the networking events tend to be heavily geared around alcohol and drinking, which in itself is problematic and can be exclusionary.

When I lived in Oxford there was a great event I attended frequently, Oxford Geek Nights, which basically has a format that fills a gap that I think Manchester now has, so I’d like to start running a monthly series of nights in this format, and hopefully some other people think this is a good idea too.

When I was in London during the first dot com era, I was also going to many specialist events. Most were around startups and money. When that all fell apart the events dried up or became even more specialised. So London geekdinners was started following some loose events in America by the same name. I’ve already mentioned how much of success the girl geekdinners have and are. Funny enough (I believe) the Oxford geek nights were setup following Nat and Simon (founders of Lanyrd) after they enjoyed going to the London Geekdinner and wanted to bring a slice to Oxford. Similarly Geekup and London Tuttle club (forerunner for Social Media Cafe Manchester)

The main reason why I bring up the past again is because there seems to be a cycle. The cycle seems to be flick between general and specific events. Theres certainly a need for both, but sometimes there feels like theres many more of one that the other. Both type of events are tricky to keep going and seem to

Its great Chris feels the need to setup another event, I think it will go down well. I can help with advice on the venue side, but I honestly think a venue won’t be too much of a problem and I certainly would love to talk at one of the events soon.

Make it so, Chris!

I on the other hand won’t be setting up any other events. Between BarCampEdu, 300 Seconds, Quantified Self and a possible next season of Relationships 2.0 (previously called geeks talk sexy). I have little spare time, plus its great when someone else stands up and does something rather than waiting for others.

Although I’ve been thinking about geekdinners 3.0 (maybe to replace relationships 2.0). The tag would be the geeky side of everything… Maybe next year. Rather than people you expect, we would have people from different areas who talk about the geeky side. For example a chef to explain all those different knives, a street artist to explain the world of street art. I tried to do this with geekdinners before but didn’t push beyond the industry much. Maybe now’s the time…?

Make it do, Ian! Maybe I will…

The Future of Social Media Cafe Manchester

SMC at the BBC

Josh and Martin said they would write up what happened a while ago. I didn’t know but Martin wrote up the evening on the Social Media Cafe website, some time ago.

Last week, a good 25 or so people joined us at Common to discuss the future of Social Media Cafe Manchester. We thought it would be good to give you a bit of an update on what was discussed and what happens next.

A number of successes for Social Media Cafe over the past (almost) three years were noted. Particular highlights included the way it’s spurred a wide range of projects and other events around the city, the debate about the impact of the iPad, and the talk by Greater Manchester Police about their Twitter experiment.

However, there was a general agreement that the event had lost a lot of its edge of late and that ‘social media’ was now such a commonly used term that the event’s name was heading towards irrelevance – you might as well have a monthly ‘Email Cafe’. Therefore, whatever Social Media Cafe becomes, it needs to capture the zeitgeist of digital culture and continue to attract a diverse crowd of professionals and hobbyists while welcoming anyone who wants an introduction to the Manchester digital ‘scene’.

There were mixed feelings as to the ‘professionalism’ expected from the event. While some felt there should be more time put into arranging ‘headline’ speakers weeks or months in advance, others felt that the relaxed, ‘human’ aspect of the event was more important than any ‘professional’ image.

With regard to a venue, there was a feeling that a regular, predictable home would be beneficial, allowing people to always know where they’ll find it. The Northern Quarter (including The Castle), Ancoats and Salford Quays (the BBC) were mooted as possible locations for venues, although there was a debate as to whether or not people would be willing to travel to the Quays.

Branding for the event was given some thought, with a suggestion that changing the name may ‘throw the brand out with bathwater’. Others thought a new name was a necessity, although there were no suggestions as to what that might be. Another change suggested was simplifying the online presence – suggesting that “The Ning” (this site) was perhaps not focused enough.

Thanks to everyone who came down to take part – it was really encouraging to see so many people turn up and offer their input. Julian, Josh and I will be meeting to make some decisions informed by the discussions we had last Tuesday and we’ll be posting an update soon with more information about what happens next.

There’s a whole number of comments from people but I’m not sure most of the people who were at the meeting even know the post went up sometime ago. I only found it when I was wondering if I could sign up to talk at the next one.

A lot of people don’t know but Social media cafe is based on Lloyd Davis’s Tuttleclub which was based on Ian Forrester’s London Geekdinners. So I’ve got form in this area…

So my thoughts are…

Yes keep the name, social media cafe Manchester works but I like even better the smc_mcr shorten version. Maybe moving away from the social media part by using smc_mcr could work?

A mix of headline and adhoc speakers seems to make sense, this does require more preparation but this can be a shared responsibility between a small group of people. Not the 25 who showed up but maybe 20-30% so 5 or so people, could share the responsibility. Different speakers attract different crowds of people, as I discovered doing Geekdinners, of course some will regularly come turn up no matter what. In Manchester and surrounding area there is plenty of talent so there’s plenty of space for dual tracks or a a single track. I personally could find something to talk about at every smc_mcr, sometimes it would be work related and sometimes it would be personal.

Having dual tracks is better but I’d put up with a single track of 3-4 speakers if they were short and kept the time for presentations down to about 10mins. Something like a double length ignite may work.

Moving it to Media City UK makes a lot of sense to me. I know people say its too far but frankly its once a month. If you can’t make it there because you can’t be bothered then, maybe Smc_mcr doesn’t actually need you. But I’m also thinking it should switch between venues (alternate). Sounds a little crazy but it could work and its certainly better than 3months one place, 1 month in another then another 3 somewhere different before having to find somewhere else. Smc_mcr is a good enough event to travel for.

I also don’t but this argument that there’s no venues in Manchester… Why not use Home sweet Home (which just opened up next to Commonbar), Speak to the people at Drip cafe and ask if they can stay open longer once a month, now Moon bar is open again I’m sure they will be looking for a regular influx of people. I’m also sure there’s been quite a few venues I’ve wondered pass who would love regular events like smc_mcr. My biggest bet was on the new vivid lounge which has a delayed opening once again. Point is, I’m sure with a little bit of work, I’m sure we’ll find somewhere suitable, it may not be in the Northern Quarter, but it will be within the city centre. Theres places like Rainbar which could be ideal.  I refer to the Manchester map

Something which never got talked about was charging for smc_mcr? No I don’t really like it too, but it means the venues in the city centre will be much more open to hosting such an event. Most bars do drink minimums, which can be easily hit with 50+ people. It might put some people off, but for the sake of having a quiet room with a projector, I’d certainly give it a shot.

What ever happens, its rapidly heading to the first Tuesday of the month… I got plenty of stuff to publicise including barcampmediacity.co.uk and salfordcinemaclub.wordpress.com.

Geeks of London takes over from London Geekdinners

london geekdinner logo medium

Sad moment to see the London Geekdinners are no more. As the Formerly organized of Geek Dinners its wasn’t really a surprise. Cristiano Betta and Melinda Seckington took over the running of the events back over a year and half ago when I left London for Manchester. And last year spoke to me about the possibility of changing the direction of geekdinners into something else.

Its been amazing over the years, some of the guests we’ve had include, Stowe Boyd, Tim Oreilly, Adrian and Dan Hon, Brady Forrest, Jen Pahlka, Jyri Engeström, Julie Howell, Chris Messina, Tara Hunt, Chris Anderson, Kevin Marks, Dave Winer, Betsy Weber, Molly Holzschlag, Robert Scoble, Jeff Keni Pulver, Mozilia Labs, Ben Metcalfe, Marc Carter, Dr Sophie Kain, Jeremy Zawodny Howard Rheingold, Holmes Wilson, Dean Jansen, Moo.com, Paul Boag, Dave Shea, Eric Meyers, Mike Culver, Dave Crossland, BBC iplayer team, Ryan Carson, Paul Jones, Richard Clayton, Becky Hogge, David Terrar, myself and many many more…. (sorry if I didnt remember your name).

Our biggest geekdinner by its self was with Chris Anderson of Wired magazine, although the joint girl geekdinner with Scoble have been huge in the past too. The biggest so called geekdinner was the backstage p. arty/geekdinner/community party which took place in the Cuban Bar back in Christmas of 2006. Over 200 people attended that event and who could forget the massive trustedplaces.com cake. The most dinners we have done for one single person has got to be for Molly Holzschlag who will remain in our hearts as the Geekdinner queen with 3 geekdinners.

Geekdinner.co.uk had a bumpy time. The domain name is still owned by Nick Swan and the original server which the blog use to sit on has never been recovered. So if you go back in time on geekdinner.co.uk (the current server which Cristiano owns) you get to a point where there is no more blog entries. Archive.org has most of the old stuff thankfully. One of the best things which came out of geekdinners has to be the girl geekdinners which was the idea of Sarah Blow (not of my ex-wife, as I once heard recently). Sarah and the girlygeekdom have done a great job growing the event and looking back done exactly what maybe geekdinners should have done ages ago. I guess by the time we should have got serious, we were already on to running barcamps. Its great what Sarah Blow has done and I wish her good luck into the future.

We certainly moved around in venues for geekdinners. We started off in the cellar of a bar (bonds) just on Derring Street near Bond Street tube, tried a few places including the crown and anchor. Settled on the Polar Bear just behind Leicester Square before it got shut down (as we found out one day after BarCampLondon1). Tried a few more places and settled again at a very quiet place (The Bottlescrue) in the Holborn Viaduct area. It was summertime and we use to take over the whole bar including the outside seating for our geekdinners. This was also the bar we used for the biggest geekdinner with Chris Anderson. But it wasn’t to last, the reason why? Well it was in area of the city where people don’t hang around after 6pm. The bar closed its doors for good after a few months. After a little more bar shuffling including to the bear in trendy clerkenwell, we ended up at the Ye Olde Cock Taven which is still open and sits in Fleet street. We had that for quite a while before the owner drove me nuts and we moved elsewhere. This is about the time I left for Manchester and Cristiano took over. The venue he seemed to use the most was Hummus Bros in Holborn.

So as they say in the Matrix Revolutions, everything that has a beginning has an end. Geekdinners have been an amazing part of my life and I kept considering doing something like Geekdinners in Manchester. But its time to move on. I met some amazing geeks over the time of running the dinners. Some of them I’m still good friends with even now. Flicking through some of the photos, has had me thinking wow so many people, such good times. Geeks of London could be a interesting framework for other smaller events which fell in the shadow of geekdinners. Things like Bowling, Karaoke, heck even Roller Coaster riding might be your thing and there’s always usually another 4-10 people (at least) who also would go if theres interest shown. Who knows maybe there will be a geeks of Manchester one day…

Whats happened to the London Geekdinners?

Geekdinners

Well the site went down a few months ago and it never came back up. Why? Well the geekdinner site was hosted by one person and the domain owned by someone else. This has always been a issue but I had never got round to moving the whole thing to my own server simply because of time and I blog using Blojsom not WordPress. Anyway, it turns out that the server the wordpress install was sitting on was not owned by one person, instead it was owned by a 3rd person. I'm trying to get the archives from that person but its taking very long (if you knew who he was you'd know why).

In the meantime I've been very busy with many things and wanted to get some help running geekdinners. So Cristiano and Mel have offered and to their credit started planning events. This is great news because the dutch couple are really passionate about it and will inject some more life into it. This also means we can spend more time setting up a mailing list and other things which I had talked about in the past.

So what events?

Well the first one is Werewolf which hasn't been played since the Backstage Christmas party in 2007. If you've never played werewolf before, this is a great time to learn it. Its not a board game and its only slightly geeky. In actual fact its more about social engineering and trickery that anything else. The game can accomodate between 6-26 people, so feel free to bring your friends along, it costs nothing and it takes place in a pub anyway. So you have no excuses!

Pause for breath on Wednesday, then we have the 2nd geekdinner for 2008 on the Thursday. This time the guest is Dr. Richard Clayton from the University of Cambridge. He's going to talk about Evil ways to make money on the Internet. I'm saying no more, but it promises to be pretty awesome. This will cost 5 pounds for food which is a bargin for good food while enjoying the talk. Hope to see you all there.

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Event Etiquette

Sarahs published some guidelines for event etiquette. I have to say I quite like these guidelines and will be publishing them to the geekdinner website in the near future too.

Event Etiquette for Attendees

  1. When attendees sign up, put the details for the event in your diaries and ensure that the date & time is kept available for the event.
  2. If something comes up that clashes with the event, make sure you un-register for the event as your place can go to someone else that does want to attend the event. (this is very important when events are over subscribed)
  3. If something comes up last minute that can't be helped, apologize for not being able to make it to the organizers. (It lets them know that you do actually care that you missed the event and often the organizers can give info about what happened at the event if you missed it and this is the case. No apologies shows lack of care or support for the events and disrespect for those on the waiting lists.)
  4. Give feedback on the events that you attend. This helps make the events better for each subsequent event. You shape how you want your events to be run! (Feedback should be positive, negative and things that should be kept as they are.)
  5. If you think you could help to make an event better in some way then offer your advice, help and support. (especially with community run events, any help is always appreciated)
  6. If you see something wrong (like no glasses for water) don't complain about it, find a solution (or at least help to find a solution) and do let the organizers know.

Event Etiquette for Organizers

  1. Organizers should send out reminders prior to the events reminding attendees of the details of the event including maps, dates, times etc.
  2. Organizers should ensure that attendees know what they are signing up for. No hidden agendas.
  3. Where possible the un-registration for events should be kept as simple as possible.
  4. Changes to the event details should be highlighted and given to attendees as soon as possible.
  5. Announcements of events should be in a timely manner giving people time to arrange their schedules around the events where possible.
  6. Organizers should be able to be contacted by attendees with any questions and queries about the events. (these should not be ignored)

Don't get me wrong, I'm terrible for saying I'm going to be at a event then something else comes up. For example I was meant to be at Wikiwednesday today, but instead I'm on a train to Swansea due to work commitments. I do try my best.

But back to Sarahs guidelines. Geekdinners has moved from commenting in a blog post to using upcoming.org for a signal of how many people are coming. This has the advantage of people being able to change there mind and take themselves off the list. But it has the disadvantage of requiring people to sign in using a Yahoo ID now. This is a real problem and hence why I still check the comments in the blog post just in case someone rejects using upcoming.org.

This is all fine but for example the last event we did had about 30+ people signed up via upcoming, blog comments and emails. But we had almost half as many people actually come, so guess who had to pay for those people who didn't turn up? Yes moi.

So actually before the guidelines were up, I have been thinking about setting up a email list for geekdinners. This has advantages on both sides and to be honest, the geekdinner community is very adhoc right now which is fine but a shame sometimes. For example Tom Morris posted up a question a while back for the geek community. That was the only way to get in touch with the community really.

So yes as promised a while back, theres changes a foot, so look out…. and don't forget your event etiquette.

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London Google Girl Geekdinner

I went a fine girl geekdinner tonight. This time hosted by Google at their UK headquarters in Victoria. Took some time to get there but arrived in time for some Google style dinner. Can I just say how great a idea it is having free dinner between the hours of 6pm-8pm, if the BBC did that I'd be there till 10pm every night I wasn't going out. Anyway, the dinner was good and treats even better. I also enjoyed the speeches from Google and Foundem (A Search Platform). It was a great venue and great to see Google once again getting more involved in the local community. Kudos to Sarah Blow and Nicola for once again another great girl geekdinner.

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My thoughts on the 4 event clash on the 21st Feb

Yes I've seen it too.

Now I can shout and rave about how crazy it is having 4 london events on the same night (i did this before), but I'm also one of the guilty event organizers. So I should try and set the record a little straight, because people do seem to think we don't talk to each other.

Me and Sarah Blow from the girl geekdinner's did speak to see if we could avoid clashing on the same day. Now to be fair Sarah had the day first and I was planning the geekdinner for Monday 19th March (I have emails to citizen agency to prove it) but due to the Future of Webapps conference I needed to change the day.

Conferences like Fowa and @Media do have a odd relationship with the smaller events in London. On one hand small events like Geekdinners could be seen as nicking the best speakers from the conference holders, who to be fair have paid for the speakers to be in town that week. It could also be seen as taking people away from the main conference. This is something a lot more real, when you run a BarCamp next to a large conference. On the other hand (the hand I prefer) the smaller events can increase the amount of
people from out of town who come who go to a conference. For example I just booked flights to San Diego for Etech 2007 and left a good 2 days around the start and end to make way for smaller events. I see Etech as the main reason for going but the smaller events where I can actually talk with people and share ideas. If your a conference organizer, this is a bonus because you can keep both eyes on the conference and rely on a trusted small event organizer to do the social event for you. Even better is when the
conference and small event have some kind of cross linking. This was true of the @media social and now the fowa conference. So the point I'm getting at is, I respect the work which goes into fowa and they are happy to recommend geekdinner for the social event. You could say they are sponsoring the event, but I see more like supporting the event.

So with that support, it makes a lot of sense to have the social event on the last day of the conference (21st Feb).

Some would say, hey why don't you merge or partner for the 21st? Well this is difficult because of a number of reasons

  1. Girl Geekdinners and WikiWed have rules, which I would never want to break
  2. There just different kind of events. There's just different vibes and crowds
  3. Girl Geekdinner has sponsorship and we have different support. It wouldn't be fair on the sponsors to mess them around
  4. WikiWed is trying to get off the ground again, it would be unfair to try and partner on there first event for ages
  5. Difference in payment, Geekdinners costs, Girl geekdinners is sponsored. WikiWed I'm unsure about. It couldn't work without screwing someone
  6. Large venues costs a lot of money and time. Enough said really

So we're all in agreement that clashes like this will happen (much that I wanted to go to both Girl Geekdinners and WikiWed).

So the question is how do we try and stop this happening in the future?

Well last time I did propose a Google Calendar. Sarah Blow has been great using the calendar, I've not been so good. Others who I've invited have been simply rubbish. But I'm starting to wonder if a google calendar is the right way to deal with this problem? See the one place everyone uses now is Upcoming.org. I preferred Eventful.com but Upcoming is what everyone uses in London. So your at least guaranteed that event organizers will place there events up there. Maybe my biggest problem with upcoming is the lack
of a actually calendar. It was always hard to see what was on a certain day and if it was relevant enough to worry about.
Now I'm using Outlook 2007, this isn't such a problem but I'm only subscribed to the my events and my friends events. This keeps most of the crap out of my calendar but its not perfect. I'm still relying on one of my friends adding a event which I'm not aware of. Lucky I have a lot of friends on Upcoming so I can get a real idea of whats going on. But others are not so lucky,

Groups on Upcoming.org are reasonable and maybe one way forward. Although right now there not very used. But back to the main point, the fact upcoming is event driven not date driven (you can't click on a calendar anywhere and you can't navigate by dates) is a big problem when trying to pick dates for a small or large event.

So I'm now done.

Does anyone have something I've forgotten or is simply a unsolvable problem?

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One of the meetup features I miss

Meetup

I will be first to admit that Meetup.com has some good features, but since they started charging the group origaniser it seems like there has been a move away from its system. The problem is where do you move to? Eventful and Upcoming are my prefered services but there are things like Zevents also. However all of them don't quite have all the features of meetup.

One of the features which I miss from Meetup is the ability to print out signs to attract people to the event when your at the actual venue. Last nights London Blogger's meetup was a small affair but attracted some regulars to geekdinner but I also finally met Jo. Jo printed out the meetup sign and placed it on the long table in all bar one, soho. I certainly miss this.

So I've decide to build a XSL transform to generate one of these for Eventful events. My first thought was to transform the XHTML page which already has microformat data for the event.. But quickly realised that the page isn't XHTML at all, for example my next geekdinner event. So unless I cleaned up the HTML first using something like Jtidy first it seemed pointless. So I started looking at the RSS and ATOM feeds. And there is where I struck gold. In the ATOM feed there is everything you need and more. Unlike the RSS feed which is simple RSS 2.0 with A9 Opensearch and Yahoo Media RSS extentions, the ATOM feed has some google data extention. The schema links no where but contains the event dates, location and more. All defined in nice namespaced elements which means its easy to pull out the data needed for the XSL transformation. I was hoping to adapt the XSL to transform not only Eventful ATOM feeds but also upcoming events. But there syndication is either ical or some odd combined html/javascript yahoo or google export. Which really sucks because its not valid XHTML. I'll post my XSL one I'm done. But I'm also considering a XSL-FO transform instead of CSS and XSL. Although its tempting to use XSL 2.0, I 'm going to resist so people can download it and apply the XSL locally. Humm maybe a simple Greasemonkey script will make this even easier to apply to any eventful event.

So using Cocoon and a simple XSL, you can now see any event from Eventful in a design which can be printed out on a black and white printer and pinned up at the event or before the event. Its not quite the table things I was thinking about before, Instead its a useful A4 poster. To use the service? simply enter the eventful unique code into the url after http://cubicgarden.com/cocoon/eventful/poster/{eventful code}. So here's a list of test events.

Please note you need to view the print preview to actually see the correct poster, because I'm using two stylesheets one for print and another for the screen. Oh and the current XSL is here. Please modify it if you feel the need, its released under a creative commons licence.

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