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Thinking Digital

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Tristan Ferne | 09:26 UK time, Thursday, 5 June 2008

Guy Strelitz, a Technical Project Manager in our team, went to the ThinkingDigital conference in Newcastle. This is his report...

It's already a couple of weeks since I was at the ThinkingDigital conference in Newcastle, run by CodeWorks, for the Regional Development Agency for the NorthEast. The three-and-a-half-day event was crammed with content - even a précis of the whole thing takes too many pages of A4 and no-one wants to read that. So I thought I'd present some highlights from Day 1.

The Future of Media
The conference ran on the basis of several guests in a session each speaking very broadly to the same theme. The Future of Media brought us Matt Locke, formerly of the BBC, now Commissioning Editor at Channel 4 Education, Eric Lindstrom and Steve Jelley, partners in VideoJuicer, an agency specialising in "online video entertainment and community websites for brand owners and video content producers" and Jeremy Silver, General Manager of Avid Education.

Matt spoke about following audience trends for educational programming at Channel 4. Channel 4 Education produces informal educational content for 14-19-year-olds, traditionally daytime TV during the school term. Hardly an ideal slot for the demographic, so they've diverted their £6-million budget from broadcast to online video. He gave an analysis of 6 different types of online social space, each fostering different types of interaction (Secret, Group, Publishing, Performing, Participation and Passive crowd), and the need to create the right type of space if you're inviting contribution from neurotic teens.

Eric and Steve spoke on the difference between online video and previous channels. 2 key lessons: 1. Defend your brand. If you want your site to appear at the top of Google's pagerank, design a kick-arse hub for original content, not an aggregator. People only go to aggregators when they don't know what they want. 2. Tell new types of story with video in the new medium. Just as television allows long-form drama with dramatically greater intricacy than cinema (think Lost vs Memento), so web-based video enables new story-telling paradigms. Eric is keen on saying that now you can tell Dickens as it was written, in bite-sized serial form.

And Jeremy Silver spoke on how digital is failing to kill music, just changing the balance of power in the industry - a process it's undergone before in previous technological shifts. He foresees "an amazing flowering at hand" in the industry...but wisely declines to predict what form it will take!

United We Stand
The wide variety of speakers started to become apparent with Darren Thwaites, Editor of the Teesside's Evening Gazette newspaper, Ian Kennedy, Cisco's Head of Technical Operations, EMEA, and Tara Hunt, online community maven.

Darren Thwaites, spoke compellingly about hyper-local journalism. An old-media print journal, the Gazette have trained volunteer 'citizen journalists' on a per-postcode basis to produce 20 extremely local online editions, composed entirely of UGC without pre-moderation. It's been a success to the point that it's spawned new print editions and fed features back to the parent paper.

Ian Kennedy spoke in fairly broad terms about research on collaboration technologies - essentially telepresence tools - developed in part with a view to fostering ground-up innovation. It included a video demo of using Second Life as a meeting space, but the highlight was undoubtedly footage of an apparent full-body telepresence hologram on a Cisco conference stage.

Finally Tara Hunt spoke passionately about the flowering of the BarCamp concept since its inception in 2005. The community's now expanding into co-working spaces in several cities around the world - geek-friendly venues where you can just show up, plug in your laptop and connect to the network. Key quote-oid *: "I don't make money from it, bit I make money because of it at events such as this."

* words to this effect anyway, and in another session later in the day

The Singularity
Ray Kurzweil signally failed to talk about the singularity. Instead he blew us all out of the water with a talk on miniaturisation of IT and its implications for human longevity. The first thing about Kurzweil's talk - he appeared long-distance using a Teleportec lectern. Not as impressive as the Cisco technology seen earlier, it was nonetheless an appropriate meeting of medium and message. Secondly, backed up by copious historical data, he made a compelling case that the spatial density of processing power has increased over decades at an exponential rate, technological limitations be damned. It shows no sign of slowing down - he predicts for instance that we'll be using 3D chips several years before the current 2D paradigm is exhausted. He certainly had our rapt attention with the implication that within decades we will have computers small enough to run in our bloodstream, increasing our intelligence and reversing aging. Apparently there are several existing research groups working on this agenda...

And sessions on the history of mulitmap from startup to Microsoft purchase, the caustic humour of Fake Steve Jobs and his purchase by the company he was rebelling against in the first place.

All the video is available from the BBC Backstage blog.


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