Yesterday was the first day of the State of Social Media Summit organized by the Digital Pioneers here in Amsterdam. First thing that comes to mind: I am angry. The Dutch government has decided to cut the Digital Pioneers fund and the core of their work will be no more. These guys do amazing stuff. They are at the forefront of digital entrepreneurship, social activism, community involvement and the development of new business models. If anything, they should have their budget increased, not eliminated. Their model was/ is original and potentially paradigm changing: every year they had a round of evaluations of new projects (digitally based) that would improve communities and do “something new”. Innovation was key for these guys. Then, those projects selected would get coaching, business development, expertise and funding. They have fostered and incubated initiatives for charities, NGO’s, private enterprises, public sector, etc. And their goal all along was to help create the platforms that could improve people’s lives. Now, because we are in times of “crisis”, the government has pulled the plug. I suspect this short sighted decision will come back to bite them, because it is thanks to people like Digital Pioneers that you help build the “next big thing”, whatever that will be. It is with visionaries whose goal is to work for social change and push the boundaries of technology, not with bureaucrats evaluating projects solely on profits and corporate potential.
I have written about PICNIC before. One of the biggest media and technology events in Europe that takes place every year in Amsterdam. Also, one of the most elitist and cliquey events available. At 1000 euros per participant, only those who are either well off or under a corporate sponsorship can participate. Digital Pioneers has managed, without outrageous fees, with volunteer work and by the sheer confidence of effort, to put together an event that could potentially rival PICNIC. If not in the importance of the speakers (they cannot really afford someone like Jeff Jarvis or Richard Branson), at least in the importance of fostering communities and promoting networks for change. And the Dutch government has decided that this is no longer important or a budget priority.
From yesterday’s speakers, the one that gave me the most “food for thought” was Adam Hyde, the creator of Floss Manuals and now mastermind of a new publishing model, Booki. I found some of his concepts and propositions really interesting, namely, his comments about “Business ecology” as opposed to “Business plans”. He elaborated on an ecology that is open to change, alliances and opportunities (an entrepreneur will have an idea, but that idea should be fluid and open to changes and the opportunities that present themselves along the road to completion). He also said something that is rarely mentioned in the business world: the importance of story telling. How you tell the story of your idea and how that story will change, evolve, adapt and vary depending on your audience. It is an interesting intersection between concepts common in arts and literature and business models. Also, it shifts the focus from “purely profit” into “profit + change + community + adaptability”.
I am sincerely intrigued by Booki and this new (at least to me) concept of “Book sprints”. The book sprints (I admit I am simplifying the concept here) can be explained in a few easy steps: get a bunch of people in a room (more or less subject matter experts with, at least, intersecting knowledge on a given subject), lead them through five days of book creation sessions and, by the end of the five days, publish and bind a book with the results. I know it sounds risky and very different from anything done so far, but for technical manuals and/ or very specific subjects it could be potentially ground breaking. Sure, it wouldn’t work for fiction (and Adam didn’t specifically say so, but admitted that it would be challenging for fiction), but for non fiction, it is a brilliant idea. A 200 pages book produced with this low cost printing and binding mechanism currently costs 2 euros (this, of course, does not include author’s fees or the cost of the five days sessions, but still, it is low cost enough to make it a concrete possibility for the dissemination of knowledge based printed material). Now, of course, I would love to see this concept implemented by throwing people like Slavoj Zizek and Peter Sloterdijk in a room together to produce the next “head scratching philosophy” of the 21st century. But I admit I am prone to torturous propositions.
Today I haven’t yet been in the morning sessions (had a pile of emails to answer, plus some work related shenanigans) but will definitely be checking out in the afternoon.
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