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Wednesday 9th June 2004
From Seaport to E-Port
Words: Bren O'Callaghan
Pixellated icons
A jamboree of all things digital and web based
The UK's leading talent in new media and emergent technologies gathered in Liverpool over two days for IC'04; the first stand-alone Interactive City conference.
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The brainchild of broadcaster Anthony Wilson and Yvette Livesey, the pair are committed to combating the capitals' creative drain.

Having founded the In The City music showcase in 1992, it has since grown to include 500 bands playing in 50 venues in neighbouring Manchester.

Yvette Livesey & Anthony Wilson
Yvette Livesey & Anthony Wilson

Artists that have benefited from the ensuing media scrum include Coldplay, Oasis and silvered sequin junkies, The Darkness.

"It is of enormous historical interest that Liverpool is not a natural port," explains Wilson.

"In the 19th Century it became the largest in the world because someone had the vision of creating a wet dock in a small, tidal creek.

"This was the great communications centre of Britain as a seaport.

"The city aims to reclaim this title in a digital age."

Under the sun

Entrepreneurs, information architects, programmers, web consultants and venture capitalists traded dreams as tropical temperatures transformed the surrounding piazzas of the newly revived Ropewalks into a net-savvy Cannes of the North West.

FACT exterior
FACT exterior

F.A.C.T; the Foundation for Art & Creative Technology that opened just over a year ago at a cost of £10 million, was the central hub for IC'04.

The country's largest dedicated arts screen complex with galleries, media labs and digital production facilities, patrons include renegade film director Alex Cox and Sex & The City's bedroom gymnast, Kim Cattrall.

Lecture titles courted such provocative topics as 'Show Me The Money!' 'Power to the People' and popular closing address, 'London Scum' which sought to champion new media life outside the M25 ghetto.

Local outfit Bizarre Creations are responsible for the Wipeout franchise, which didn't so much launch PlayStation 1 as launch Sony upon the world. We've got a lot to answer for!
Jon Wetherall, Onteca/M62 Games Network

The most popular subjects of the two day event, both on and off the soapbox, were the failure of interactive TV to meet expectations and the much-touted convergence of complimentary hardware - citing the Nokia N-Gage as one such example: a phone that is also a games console, radio and mp3 player.

Just another WAP

"Convergence is a red herring," expounds Ross Sleight of Virgin Games.

"It's driven by technical companies wishing to market new products and doesn't take into account user behaviour.

"At what point other than as a five-minute boredom buster would you play a mobile game?"

Although not everyone shared this view, it was widely acknowledged - not without irony - that despite a recent slump in the independent market, the industry had now come full circle.

FACT interior
FACT interior

This was due to the switch in demand from the high-end graphics of PC and console projects for simple yet compulsive content suited to mobile LED screens and televisions.

"There are some very, very good web, mobile and interactive games companies out there using old-school gaming talent," enthuses Dominic Mason of Babel Media.

"We're using graphics guys who worked on the Omega and the Atari and similar platforms.

"They understand pixels - they know what low bandwidth means."

Corkhill's revenge

A keynote address by Phil Redmond, Chairman of Mersey TV and creator of Brookside, Hollyoaks and the new series of Grange Hill, included a passionate criticism of channel bosses for failing to address public concerns.

Follow the Barnum & Bailey's Circus principle: Give them what they want. You can't force people to accept gee-whiz technology. This is where mistakes are made
Phil Redmond, Chairman & Founder, Mersey TV

"If you look at the television schedules you're likely to see some kind of celebrity crazed, politically apathetic Britain," he voiced.

"But if you go outside and interact you'll find it's the complete opposite.

"People are politically aware… they're just cynical."

Redmond then revealed that future DVD releases from his production stable would be available for home-burning online, while soap's belligerent anti-hero Jimmy Corkhill would be resurrected as the star of a highly politicized website.

Corkhill, or rather actor Dean Sullivan, will encourage individuals and communities to engage in debate via public service information and links for issues as diverse as literacy, recycling and of course 'drucks'.

Jimmy Corkhill
Jimmy Corkhill: voice of the people? © Mersey TV

Boogie Bytes

Elsewhere, predictions came thick and fast as to the next phase toward a Borg-like assimilation of rapidly expanding technologies.

Endemol, responsible for TV smash Big Brother, revealed plans to roll out a daily soap opera via mobile phones aimed at teenagers.

Others forecast the expansion of the 'blogging' phenomenon - highly personalised online diaries with a limited audience - into an all-singing, all-dancing 'Channel Me' replete with picture albums, audio and streaming video.

Despite talk of the next big thing, it was that old staple alcohol that helped oil imaginations and ankle joints both.

A series of evening events included noWax, billed as digital democracy for the dancefloor as punters plugged in iPods and parried track-to-track at the Albert Dock's Baby Cream.

"You can learn a lot about conferences by going to the loos," joked Phil Redmond.

"In the men's I noticed that the condom machine had been broken open.

"It's completely empty of condoms and Anadin Extra… so it's been a great conference for somebody!"



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