Asking the Alice question after Amplified08

If you are around London, and interested in new/social/creative/digital media, it seems that barely a day passes without the chance to go to a free or low cost event and network with others of similar interests. The landscape is getting crowded, and as you see many of the same faces at different events you might wonder if there could be a more effective way of networking.

This occurred to Toby Moores (above) and friends, so they got together and organised Amplified08 last week, hosted by NESTA. I’ve quoted below from the first newsletter explaining how Amplified aims to build towards a nationwide event, or series of events, involving up to 10,000 people. That’s the potential power of networking networks. But is “more” enough? Do we also need to know why, and towards what? I’ll come to the Alice question later.

I went along to Amplified08, and there was lots of buzz, and familiar faces. The organisers had really walked the talk, eaten their own dog-food etc and used social media tools to bring people together using a blog, a wiki, newsletter and other tools, with streaming video from sessions on the day. Twitter played a bit part.

The format of the event was unconference, with people proposing sessions and then fitting into slots posted on a whiteboard, and it looked as if most people found it worthwhile … for example Eileen Brown blogged:

Amplified08 was the most interesting social media conference I’ve attended in ages. Heck it was the most interesting damn conference I’ve attended!

I was pleased because I was able to get a lot of additional value from the event by interviewing a number of people for future blog posts about communication technologies and social change … about which more in future posts.

I was also checking out with people how far they agreed or disagreed with the idea that “The Web 2.0 magic may be fading” … which has produced some discussion over here.

From these conversation I started to wonder again how far we (well, some of us) can continue to be excited by the technologies and their power to reach more people, extend our conversations, challenge old ways of doing things, and general increase the level of buzz (as in Amplify).

I personally thought Amplified08 was a great achievement, and there is lots of potential in the bigger vision. As you’ll hear from Toby towards the end of the video above, “social” is a normal business process by which we meet new people and develop relationships of trust that enable us to do business. Social media and more networking extends that, meaning more connections and a potentially greater space in which to do business … which is very relevant in the current recession.

Toby also makes the Clay Shirky point that if we change the way that we communicate, ultimately we change society.

But is volume enough? Don’t we need some clearer purposes as well, particularly if we want to do more than business? Tim Davies puts this well in a comment to my earlier post, made following conversation at Amplified08:

But, whilst the old processes were broken, sometimes we do need to design and facilitate processes with more intentionality than goes on right now, rather than simply pushing against old ways of doing things.

That involves less excitement about new tools, and more excitement about new groups getting involved. And more intentionality about the blended facilitation that engages those who were not the early-adopters of social technologies.

Maybe the magic fading is no bad thing… as then we can start to see better what’s going on, and explore how we can make sure it really works in the interests of innovation and progress…

As Tim emphasises, if we want social media and new ways of doing things to make some real impact, we have to make the ideas and methods accessible to those who are not part of the networking crowd. Dennis Howlett, writing on the Amplified wiki, also makes the point, rather more strongly, about effective ways for wider engagement, and clearer purpose.

If I landed from Mars and observed the inaugural meeting of Amplified 08 I would have been confused and frustrated.

While it is great that attendees enjoyed themselves there is little point in such events if they have no obvious direction or purpose. From an outside perspective, that is my abiding impression. Attendees might say: “You can’t know because you were not there” which is true but I tried to ‘be there’ remotely. It didn’t come off. As someone who isn’t often ‘there’ but participates remotely in many such events, Amplified08 was a FAIL of Twitter Fail Whale proportions.

The principle difficulty lay in the way the video and sound worked – or didn’t. But the event also lacked apparent purpose and meaning beyond a set of like minded people getting together.

I expect these issue of networking to a purpose to be one of the conversation strands at the launch of 2gether09, when Steve Moore and the team that brought you 2gether08 (of which I was one) will have news of another Festival next year, and more between now and then. Here’s how we explained the first event this year:

The first 2gether Festival will bring together over 300 innovators from a wide range of fields to focus on how using digital technologies we can generate real social benefits.
2gether08 is not just about wise words and rousing presentations. A defining hallmark of the Festival will be how we frame problems and work towards solutions.

As Amplified aims to turn up the volume, I hope 2gether can help provide more fine tuning on how we use “more” to achieve “better”. Steve was one of those contributing to Amplified08. We’re all in the same space. One of the best things about the social media spirit is the idea that if you do something, I can build on it, and then others can too. And because we can easily talk about it all, we can work out new directions rapidly.

The (un)organisers of Amplified could reasonably say that in the spirit of unconferencing and organising without organisations, participants can set themes, problems and opportunities for themselves. Or does that need some Leadership 2.0? I must ask Jemima Gibbons, who is writing a book on the subject, and was at Amplified

Meanwhile, here’s the background to Amplified. Joanne Jacobs and Nicholas Butler wrote in the first newsletter:

Essentially, Amplified08 is an opportunity to bring together those who meet in various UK social media, technology production and mobile media and related fields to come together to share your ideas and projects, to discover new ways of working together, and to break through the generation of silos among social media communities.

We also have a lot of interest from groups who still come together virtually via Twitter and the like who will now have the chance to chew ideas over, face-to-face for the first time. We’re also welcoming groups and individuals who are quite new to social media but want to learn while adding to the experience. Importantly we’re reaching out first and foremost to practitioners who are already full of ideas and opinions.

Some of us attend social media camp, some are Tuttlers, some are bar campers, some are wiki wednesdayers and some social media mafia. Some of us are doing fascinating work with social media in education. Many of us belong to several or all or still other groups. But all of us want to make the best of the skills and innovation present among the social media advocacy/production/development community. We’re all interested in social media so it simply makes sense to meet together as representatives from a range of groups and to cross-pollinate.

We’re hoping that mass events like Amplified08 and its successor, Amplified09, will give us the opportunity to explore issues of interest, and to set up the basis of an ongoing annual event for the movers and shakers of the UK social media community. We don’t expect the Amplified events to replace any of the great work and social communication happening in all those communities out there; we just want to capture and celebrate the skills, resources, ideas and projects that are developing in those networks, and to share them across those communities. A true ‘network of networks’. And we want to do all this for free, for all those interested in participating (thanks to the sponsorship and volunteering of the Amplified08 community).

Our aims are high. NESTA have invited us to build an Amplified 2010 event that will run in conjunction with their own Innovation Edge conference. We’re building towards 4,000 attendees that year. Combine that with the NESTA attendees and a fringe festival and we’re looking at 10,000 practioners from across the UK. Amplified 09 will be nationwide and begin to build those numbers up. A large part of the focus of Amplified 08 will be how we take the topics discussed and amplify them to that level. We’re aiming to construct an opportunity for real change, but we’re starting with three simple questions:

What works? What doesn’t? and what next?

By applying these questions to our own ares of expertise we should begin to build a unique picture of social media and creativity in the UK.

Here’s a list of networks from the Amplified 08 third newsletter

Creative Coffee Club:
Tuttle Club (Social Media Cafe):
Social Media Camp:
Social Media Mafia:
Facebook developer Garage:
Mobile Geeks of London:
London Wiki Wednesday:
One Media:
Fresh Networks:
Social Innovation Camp:

What people are saying on blogs- Google blogsearch on amplified08 or amp08 – and on Twitter search on amp08.

The questions – what works, what doesn’t, and what next? – are good ones, but I think answers depend what you are trying to achieve. If it is more social/digital media business of any kind, then wide-ranging networking with potential clients and collaborators may be just what you need … and absolutely nothing wrong with that.

If, for example, you want to explore how new communication technologies and ways of working may help us tackle social problems, then more focus and attention to non-geeks is needed. I love the point at which Alice meets the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, and asks.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

Is more networking, more volume, greater amplification, enough in itself? Or do we need more purpose? I guess it depends where you want to end up. What’s it all for?
Hmmm … must propose that as a session at the next event.


  • December 2, 2008 - 12:20 am | Permalink

    Amongst the Twittering #amp08 throng my head throbbed with the question ‘Amplify what?’.


  • December 2, 2008 - 12:38 am | Permalink

    Amongst the Twittering throng my head throbbed with the question ‘Amplify what?’.


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