Entries Tagged 'socialdevcamp' ↓

Coworking Begins in Baltimore

In September, I had the opportunity to hang out with Alex Hillman in Vienna, Austria at the wedding of our mutual friends Amy Hoy and Thomas Fuchs, and while Alex and I had peripherally known of each other, we hadn’t had a chance to actually meet and talk.  It turned out we were both staying at the same hostel, and as a result we had a chance to talk about a bunch of stuff from projects to Alex’s pioneering work in developing coworking at IndyHall in Philadelphia.

I’d known about coworking and its evolution since 2007; in fact I talked with Noel Hidalgo on video about the concept in Berlin in July 2007, along with Travis Todd, but while I liked the idea of coworking I didn’t really have a way to put it in practice yet.

Well, after seeing events like SocialDevCamp, Ignite Baltimore, and TwinTech take root here in the Baltimore area, it became clear to me that the time was also ripe for coworking in Baltimore. As I shared the idea with friends and colleagues, it was clear that we could build momentum around the concept quickly.

So, on Saturday and with Alex’s help, we held a session on coworking at SocialDevCampEast2, and we went over the key concepts behind coworking, answered some questions, and by the end of the session had created a mailing list.  Yesterday we held the first “official” Baltimore coworking session at Bluehouse, and we expect to keep that up every Tuesday and Thursday until we establish a more permanent home.

Of all the insights that Alex has gained in running IndyHall, I’d say this is the most important: “If IndyHall, as a place, ceased to exist tomorrow, IndyHall would still exist as a community.”  And this is truly key. Too often, people get distracted with the particulars of a piece of real estate or a locale or amenities; none of that is central to the mission.  The most important thing is the community and the ideas they share. There will always be a place where that community can take root.

That being said, we are looking at various ways to give coworking in Baltimore a more permanent home, and we have a bunch of ideas about how to do that.  If you would like to be in on that conversation, I invite you to join the Coworking Baltimore Google Group.  And of course, stop by Bluehouse next week on Tuesday or Thursday, between 10am and 4pm!

Feel free to contact me with ideas or questions about coworking and how we can establish a sustainable, vibrant creative community here in Baltimore! I’m really looking forward to working with all of you.

SocialDevCampEast2 Recap

I’m finally recovered after a really exhausting week that included SocialDevCamp and the wild ride of Twitter Vote Report.

SocialDevCampEast2 went off without a hitch on Saturday at University of Baltimore.  Once again, some of the best and brightest developers, entrepreneurs and social media gurus gathered to trade ideas and talk about the future of the web.

One thing we try to do at SocialDevCamp is vote on the sessions, to make sure they are things that people really want to hear about, or at least size the discussions to the right rooms.  We ran 5 rooms all day in 5 sessions plus lunch, for a total of 25 sessions! Check out the wiki to see the sessions that were held.

Personally, I enjoyed the conversation on location technology, and why location-based social networks have yet to reach critical mass.  Most folks felt that there was a technological barrier — it’s just too hard to continuously update your location with current device and battery constraints — and others questioned what incentives people have to update their locations.  We decided that those incentives probably needed to be tuned in order to see a successful location-based service emerge, and that there may also be benefit for people sharing location-related information anonymously.  Great talk, and I’m still thinking about what incentives might make LBS actually work.

We did a session on Twitter Vote Report, which was awesome because we were actually able to recruit some members of the crowd to do some work on the project!  Bryan Liles and John Trupiano contributed some great work to the codebase, some while sitting in the session!  We talked about the overall architecture of the project, and the fact that it was put together in just two short weeks of coding!

There was a good conversation about iPhone development, introducing people to the platform and answering questions about the platform.  Many seemed to be glad to get a feel for Cocoa and I wouldn’t be surprised if several of the folks there end up working on the platform!

Alex Hillman of Philadelphia’s Indy Hall helped to lead a discussion on co-working in Baltimore, and by the end of the session, we had actually launched co-working in Baltimore, with a mailing list and a set of great ideas for taking things forward.  Yesterday, we held our first “official” co-working meetup at Bluehouse in Baltimore; I’ll write more about the co-working initiative separately.

Because I wasn’t in the other sessions, I can’t say what all was said in them, but I heard good things about the conversations on data portability, source code management with Git, and crowdsourcing. If you were in one of the sessions, feel free to leave some comments here or links to your own blog!

Ann Bernard helped put together an awesome party for SocialDevCamp at Metro Gallery with great food from Tapas Teatro and an open bar.  And live music from Natasha El-Sergany, KADMAN, and Ra-Ra-Rasputin… A great way to end the day, and I can say that by the time it was all over, I had talked to a few hundred people and was completely exhausted!

This morning, Mike Subelsky, a friend and one of the organizers of the recent and fabulous Ignite Baltimore said via email, “It is not an exaggeration to say that SDCE has totally changed my life,” referring to the first SocialDevCamp held in May. Not to sound self-congratulatory, but the same is true for me.

SocialDevCamp is one of a few things sparking a renaissance here in the Baltimore/Washington area, giving rise to events like Ignite and to movements like co-working.  With the social media tools available now, this sort of thing is finally possible to do, and it’s hugely gratifying to see it happening!

See you next spring for SocialDevCampEast3!

SocialDevCamp East + TwitterVoteReport = Busy

Being busy seems to always come in spurts for me… just when it looks like I’ve got too much to do already, something cool turns up and takes things to whole new level of busy.

That would be this week. SocialDevCamp East, the barcamp-style unconference that I started with some friends last spring is back tomorrow, and that’s certainly required some coordination and planning.  That would have been plenty.  We have over 200 RSVP’s now (between the Wiki and Facebook) and we expect a truly incredible day of networking and learning.  See you tomorrow!

The other big news of the last two weeks has been the TwitterVoteReport project, for which I’ve been acting as defacto CTO since about October 18th.  This is a great project, a great cause, and an awesome idea.  The data we collect will be an archival quality primary source document for future generations to study the evolution of the election process.

We have five distinct data sources coming in about people’s experience at their polling places: Twitter, Telephone, Direct SMS, and Apps for Android and iPhone.  These are all normalized and aggregated into a single database and reviewed by humans for maximum accuracy.  The data will then be made available in real time to anyone who wants it — from the media to watchdog groups to mapmakers — to help the world understand and monitor the 2008 US elections.

Putting this project together, with all these diverse inputs, has been a monumental task and a real demonstration of what’s possible when people decide to work together.  We had over 600 phone channels donated.  We were able to think up, code, and submit an iPhone app in just 3 days.  We’ve received press coverage far and wide from sources as diverse as TechCrunch and Fox News.  Not bad for a few days’ work.

There’s plenty more to do still (between now and Monday), and I’m busy all day tomorrow at SocialDevCamp.  We’ll do a session there on TwitterVoteReport and what we’re up to… we still need more help from people good with maps!

I’ll post more here as things evolve, and a recap next week, but remember, nothing’s impossible when caring people dedicate themselves to a common endeavor.

Meantime, check out:

And watch for news about TwitterVoteReport.com on NPR and in the Baltimore Sun (in addition to myriad other outlets!)

Nerds, Dreamers: Unite!

For too long, the educated class has held an unspoken compact: nerds, you worry about computers and gadgets and Battlestar Galactica; dreamers, you worry about art and experimental thought and the environment and plants and music.  And generally speaking, the less these two crowds had to see each other, the happier they tended to be.

This was OK in an era like the 60’s where, for the most part, computing was best reserved for invoices, and fine art had little to do with math. The computer guys were needed to figure out hard implementational problems: how to store all those invoices and be sure the numbers were right, or the math behind making sure a rocket flew straight. Good, tough problems of the era, to be sure, but almost entirely orthogonal to the guys dreaming up the tailfins on the cars and the ads that sold them. Think about the role of geeks in era-pieces like Mad Men and The Right Stuff and you get an idea of how oil-and-water these crowds were.

Fast forward to today, where computers are a creative instrument capable of fine-art quality interaction in multiple media: video, still photography, sound, music, animation, visualization, and even the creation of physical interactions and physical objects.  3D printing, computer controlled robots and art machines, physical art installations of awesome complexity, and autonomous digital art objects are not only possible, but they are accessible to average people who simply want to create. We have truly entered an era where the walls between technical and creative have been razed, however if we fail to realize it and move past them, we may find ourselves constrained by an older notion of what’s possible.

As an example, I’ll take last night’s Ignite Baltimore #1, at which I was proud, honored (and a tad nervous) to be speaker #1. The topics covered were vast and varied, and I’d argue were just the kind of fuel that Baltimore’s creative class needs as input as we set off to solve the challenges of the next 50 years. The topics, in no particular order: public transportation, urban gardening, public spaces, the bible, web apps, agile development, 100 mistakes, cognitive bias, east coast industrial landscapes as art, radio stories, writing vs. speaking, entrepreneurial experience, and much more.

I’d argue that this is the kind of wide ranging liberal arts discussion that most nerds would have opted out of in the past, and that nerds would not be the preferred audience of the dreamers, artists, and poets.  The magic of today, however — the true genius of the moment here in 2008 — is that this cross-fertilization is finally starting to happen. And freely and with passion. Why? Because these walls between creativity, art, science, and math, have finally started to wear down — and not just in some university’s interdisciplinary studies department — but in popular culture and conceptions. The mashup is now considered not just a valid art form, but a standard process for solving today’s toughest problems.

Creative thought has achieved primacy. It is now the idea that matters, because when the idea is properly and fully conceived, the design, presentation, and implementation are necessarily correct as well. What do I mean by this? If there is total integration between the processes of ideation and implementation, there is simply no separation between an idea, the thought models that underly it, and its implementation in digital form: they are one.

It used to be that there was a wall between a digital implementation and an idea; a digital implementation would involve “hacks” — making stuff work in spite of memory or display or other limitations — and the computer-enabling “portion” of a solution would be some subset (usually a rather compromised subset) of an overall idea.

Today, object oriented programming and database technology make it possible to model a solution end to end with few compromises; so, in fact, digital implementers become full partners in the design conversation, greatly eliminating waste, and empowering programmers creatively. Agile development practices (involving iteration rather than top-down design) and story-based development (giving non-programmers a “narrative” to follow about the “story” of their solution) make it so there is very little distinction between design, programming, and ideation. They are now effectively the same disciplines.

And this explains why so many have argued that we are entering a new era of the right brain and of the “rise of the creative class.” The fact is if any of this had been possible sooner, it would have happened sooner. Generally speaking, people don’t like being pigeonholed into some tiny specialty, or to have their thinking constrained. We are human; all of our brains have two halves. But for too long, we have all likely underutilized one side or the other.

So, now we are all free; now, united with better tools and better processes, it is time to turn our attention to the hard, human problems of our age: energy, hunger, the environment (built and natural), and meaning, to name a few. And the topics at last night’s Ignite Baltimore were just the right fuel for getting us started thinking about these hard problems.

Kennedy famously said that “we choose to go to the moon… not because it is easy, but because it is hard.” Our generation needs to start to figure out how to apply the massive wealth of talent (and newfound technical+creative skills) to the truly hard problems of our age.

It’s not going to happen overnight, and we all don’t need to go out and start wind power companies.  But, we all must make ourselves open to BOTH sides of our brains. We must realize that it is poetry and art which will provide the insight we need to make technical breakthroughs. We must listen to each other and be open to diverse viewpoints. We must become spiritual beings — it doesn’t matter whether your spirituality comes more from The Force than The Bible or The Koran — but to deny oneself any of the channels of thought that inform our basic human nature is to cut yourself off from the great insights and genius of one’s humanity.

Be open. Listen to people. Look at diverse kinds of art. Listen to diverse kinds of music. If you want to take part in the next great wave of innovation, these are the kinds of fuels you’ll need to do it.  And I hope to see you at the next Ignite Baltimore in February 2009, where we can continue this conversation!