I'm talking at Goldsmiths on Monday. It was quite late notice so it'll be the same stuff as I did at dConstruct. So if you saw that you might want to stay in and wash your hair.
If you're in the Piccadilly area this show is well worth a look. Partly because many of the works are pretty and interesting. Party because they're really smartly displayed - each print is on a separate paper pad, so if you like it you can tear off the top one and take it home. That might be very common but I don't get out much so I'd not seen it before. This isn't only a nice way of sharing the art, it also means you can see which ones were popular with other people. Easy, simple interaction.
If Newspaper Club had a patron saint it would be Clay Shirky. (I think so anyway, I've not asked either of the others for nominations, Ben'd probably say Michael Beirut and Tom would say someone to do with kites).
Mr Shirky talked at a Yahoo thing recently, there's a live-blog of it here, and he said something that explained to me some of the things we've been doing. (Obviously as it's a live-blog, these words aren't exactly his own.)
"10:25 a.m. Culture is a huge thing to be worried about. There is no one set of lists covers all cases. For almost everything you say a community has to do you can find a community that doesn’t do it. Only one thing that you can posit as almost a universal: Start small and experiment from there. For instance, Torvalds didn’t say he wanted to target Microsoft or power statements. He said: “I’m doing a free operating system (just a hobby) I’d like to know what features most people want.”
Wikipedia says: “Humor me. Go there and add a little article. it will take all of five or ten minutes.”
The big takeaway. You can affect culture in a small way. Twitter started small just aiming to connect phones using text and a dispatch service. “It started with a small social model,” says Shirky. Twitter didn’t say I want to be a pest to the Iranian government."
Another bit: (my bold)
"10:30 a.m. Q&A: Shirky is asked whether the founders of Linux, Twitter and GPL secretly think they were going to change the world. Shirky says clearly Twitter thought it could be bigger. “They were trying for something that was big,” says Shirky of Twitter’s serial entrepreneur founders. Wikipedia was on the fence. Linus Torvalds had no prior art. The common thread is that they were small enough to get people into the cause with founders actively participating. “The discipline here was that the invitation says that it’s going to be fun even if two dozen of you show up,” says Shirky. It’s an external discipline on how you invite people to a culture."
This gets at why we've been so careful to manage expectations about what we're doing. It's not a cute tactic, we're not being overly modest, we don't actively want to be small, but we want to be good at what we do even if we only do it for a few people. We're not aiming to disrupt the newspaper industry, we're trying to build a good, new product/community for some people. If that turns out to be lots of people great, but we're not starting with that assumption.
And clearly this approach befuddles some. Dan from 4IP told us that some 'proper' VCs think we're just jokers. All the joking might have contributed to that, but I suspect that some of it is that we're not willing to do all that disruption/us-versus-the-dinosaurs talk. And we're not pretending to be working too hard. We're working efficiently/effectively and we're going home early and taking lots of time off. This is probably the wrong stance to take with most VCs, who seem to want to see blood on the keyboard.
Obviously-he-would-say-that-alert: Which should make us all glad all over that 4IP exists. It's not just that they're smart and imaginative or that they're investing in different things; it's that they're investing in different people. People who wouldn't be willing to do the usual VC dance and can deliver different sorts of value. That's got to be a good thing. Just as we need to find new models for the firm, we need to find new ways to stimulate and support entrepreneurs. 4IP is a great start because they're able to invest in the sort of things Clay's talking about.
These posters are popping up around town and every time I see one I get a major frisson. I was about 16 the first time I heard Relax, starting to understand that music had other characteristics than cleverness and tunes and being about sci-fi. It was also important that the first time I heard it, it was really loud. In Top Shop in Derby. We didn't have loud music at home or in the car. I'd only just started going to the Co-op Disco. I only heard loud music via my Walkman. So this kind of thumping, slippery music was a complete revelation emerging from Top Shop's half-decent speakers, in public, bouncing off the walls. It sounded better out in the world than in your head.
(Of course it may have been Chelsea Girl. I don't remember the shop. Or who I was with. But I remember the feeling of the music.)
Listening back now it still seems extraordinary, pivotal, poised between euro-disco and house, pointing at the way that 4-on-the-floor beat would dominate the world, sliding underneath every musical culture becoming the basis of a truly global music. And the textures on top were astounding as well; simultaneously prog and sexy, as befits a man who made both Dollar and Yes sound brilliant.
I spent hours in front of the mirror working out how to dance like Paul Rutherford (whose dancing was arguably a more important contribution to FGTH's commercial and artistic success than anything the rest of the band did.) This was the essential 80s dance graduation - from the elbows-in, head-down, looking-out-from-your-fringe, alternate toe-pointing dance of the OMD/Depeche Mode generation to the chest-out, stand-up, Hi-NRG stylings that Mr Rutherford made so irresistible. I eventually managed a rough facsimile of it but I'm not a natural and I think it burnt all my learning-to-dance chips. Nowadays I can only actually dance to Relax or Enola Gay. Otherwise, I'm sitting down.