hello, futuresonic · 3. May 2008, 20:29

I’ve just come back from the social media conference at Futuresonic (the arts and music streams continue – unfortunately the rail system takes the bank holiday off, so I’ve unfortunately had to miss Agaskodo Teliverek and Wire).

I gave three talks, all in all, as did Matt Jones, and it was great to meet and talk with Justin Hall and Aleks Krotoski, similarly giving a number of talks or presiding over proceedings.

It felt a bit like intensive exams in ubicomp and social technology. The talks were all quite different, to different audiences, and I hadn’t had time to really produce my argumentation before the conference. This could be a good thing – they’re distillations of my current thinking. My notes are a bit sparse to maybe make complete sense of (I use more of a jazz style of presenting, riffing during a slide, being pulled back to the beat for the next) – but I’ve put the two ‘Point talks up on slideshare – see the comments on each slide for my notes.

The first was for Manchester Digital, a local trade group of new media companies. It’s great to see such organisations spring up around the country, and it felt like both the companies and the council were really trying to create something good for Manchester. My talk was about ubiquity of media, if not ubiquity of (Internet) connection. Most of it lays out the dimensions that I think are important when considering online media. It’s my first presentation in a Chinese restaurant.

The second was five minutes about social networking. I’m quite fundamentalist about supporting real world social contacts first, so I told a story about what happens when the line between online and real life blur:

My name is Chris Heathcote, and I am not an Internet celebrity.

However, twice in my life, a stranger has walked up to me in public, and said, “You’re Chris Heathcote, aren’t you?”

At conferences like these, I’d accept that maybe someone might possibly know who I was. Out on the street, it’s an odd situation.

The first time was 12 years ago, in a silly nightclub called Cruz 101, here in Manchester (I googled it last night, and it still exists, which is surprising, and even better, now bills itself as “the premier gay nightclub in the North West region”). At the time, I was prolific on a lot of UK newsgroups, and at some time, various groups had met up. Someone had taken pictures with their new expensive 0.3MP digital camera, and put them online. In public. And someone had seen them, and then seen me.

The second time was 3 weeks ago, in Tokyo. Someone else who was visiting Japan had known I’d probably be in town due to my delicious links. He knew me from when I wrote a lot about location, including a few pieces in Mapping Hacks.

On both occasions, I was terribly British, mumbled Hello, had a few minutes of small talk, and ran away.

I’m fascinated by social etiquette. What struck me in these situations was that the information (and therefore power) was one-sided – I had no idea who they were, yet they knew a lot about me – even what I thought, where I’d been, and who I knew. (I must say, they acted extremely nicely and properly, and any hang ups are entirely mine).

The bloke in Tokyo actually added me as a contact in Flickr afterwards, which struck me as a very nice thing to do – if you’re reading this, thank you, and good to meet you.

I’m interested that normal people will start having to deal with new situations, that maybe only true celebrities had to deal with before. There’s a slight difference, in that, I’m actually interested in meeting the people who want to meet me, whereas real celebrities, I would guess, aren’t.

This applies online as well – the death knell for many blogs has been when a stranger has comment on their blog or flickr for the first time. People think they’re writing or talking to their friends, an illusion that remains until the feedback loop is completed. I got freaked out in a similar way when someone used my open wifi for the first time – even though I’d opened it explicitly for that purpose.

So, what new social etiquettes will technology cause?

The third talk was about urban media, and I particularly focussed on context, data and metadata and the mobile experience for my take on the future.

It was really great to be back in Manchester. All of the time, save a quick walk from Piccadilly, down Canal Street, to Princess Street, was spent in the Manchester University end of Manchester, where I didn’t spend much time when studying in Salford. Everything seemed strangely similar, if very different, given 10 year off: a reality uncanny valley. There was a frisson of positiveness and creativity (and, well, youth) that was palpable and exciting, and I hope to get back to Manchester soon to do a proper explore.

The conference was interesting, but I felt pretty out of my depth with so much talk from a media art and critical academia take on life. I am, inevitably, seen as The Man in these situations, and was accused of flippancy in discussions about privacy. I worry about such topics more than most, so it’s a bit gutting. I do believe you can only see the problems once you build and try (and iterate) new things, rather than talking and discussing possible outcomes. I guess that will always be a difference of opinion with some, especially academics.

The Best New Thing I saw at the conference was Shannon Spanhake’s Squirrel pollution monitor, that connects to mobile phones to provide data points for a ubiquitous pollution monitoring network. The best thing is that she’s built it, and it works (it could even detect changes in carbon monoxide when a smoker breathed on it). Now she’s looking at visualisation and scaling the project up. Great stuff.

Oh, that, and RZAmaths…

Thanks in particular to Drew Hemment, Tullis Rennie, Tapio Makela and Matt Locke.


Yep, Put the Jelly on the Biscuit. Was good to meet you, As for the flippancy- yea he gave it you straight and he gave it you good- How Focking dare you and your org. Well its an easy and anxious line to take for the majority who simply dont get, that things dont magically pop out in a perfectly formed package without any issues, As a Designer AND a person, one thing i will never understand is how much we expect perfection, yet are so prone to error as humans. So there.

Lawrence Kitson    7.05.08    #