Naoise Nunn talks about Mindfield

Mindfield is an international festival of ideas organised by Naoise Nunn who is originally from Kilkenny but now lives in Oranmore, Galway. The most recent event took place in Merrion Square, Dublin and had more than 5,000 visitors over the May Bank Holiday weekend.

Mindfield has four main themes or areas; culture, technology, politics and inspiration. As Naoise explains, “It is about having the big public conversation about where we are at and where we are going and so on. The common thread is that the people are expressing ideas, coming up with ideas, trying to innovate, trying to get us out of the bind that we are in.”

The genesis of Mindfield began with a political cabaret that Naiose runs called Leviathan and is modeled on the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts in Hay-on-Wye, Wales and the TED talk series.

He set Leviathan up in 2003 as a very informal, interactive debate combined with entertainment. in the form of satire, film and comedy. Three years later he was invited to go down to the Electric Picnic and do Leviathan at the festival in a tent.

“Obviously, Leviathan is just one show and we ended up programming the tent for the weekend. The next year we had two tents. The year after that it was eight. Mindfield developed into being a festival within a festival — a spoken word forum for ideas and so on.”

Naoise had been thinking for some time about spinning Mindfield out on its own and make it an urban festival in a park. He says that he could not have picked a better location.

“Here we are in Merrion Square, right in the centre of the City. At one end you have the parliament, you’ve got the Arts Council, you’ve got the Goethe institute, you’ve got the Institute of Architects. There’s also Oscar Wilde’s house and the American College. It is the cultural hub of Dublin and of the country so it is the ideal location for it.”

Based on the success of this event, Naoise says, there will definitely be a Mindfield international festival of ideas taking place next year.

You can also view a video report which highlights the participation of the hackerspaces of Ireland at the Mindfield event and has an interview with Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh, the inventor of Sugru.

GeoLocation: A View from The Dublin Web Summit

The Dublin Web Summit held at the end of last month had six hundred attendees and over fifty speakers, many of them major players in their own fields. The Summit itself was not about specialism but about bringing people together and the range of talks combined with the degree of knowledge and experience as seen in both speakers and the attendees reflects how big the Web itself really is in terms of being an object that affects almost every part of our daily lives and as a subject deserving serious consideration.

It covered a wider field of subjects than any one article could hope to address. So to keep it simple we have focused this article on geolocation. We see more and more of this technology incorporated into our mobile phones and our Social Media services everyday and we think the best is yet to come and probably very soon.

Checking in is a very specific way of indicating your geographic location. Almost any app can use location in some shape or form making location a more contextual and relevant experience to the user.

In his talk at the Summit, Matt Galligan, the Co-founder and CEO of SimpleGeo talked about providing developers with an easy way to understand the coordinates supplied by devices so they can build geolocation functionality into their application. Essentially SimpleGeo is trying to enable a world where app developers do not have to worry about many of the complexities that surround handling geolocation data.

A coordinate is just a coordinate. While latitude and longitude coordinates are a good way to describe a location on Earth they don’t tell you much else. The coordinates could either the centre of a city or the centre of a desert. Translating a coordinate into something useful and meaningful, for example the weather for where an individual happens to be, is what makes geolocation technology useful. Matt spoke about several current apps:

  • Bump is an app that is used to swap contact information (much more environmentally friendly than business cards!) Two phones literally hit or bump each other and contact details are swapped.
  • ShopKick is another useful app by knowing where you are standing it can notify nearby stores of your presence. If those stores are running a promotion from inside the app the user may then receive a coupon or points if they then choose to enter the store.

    Best Buy and Macy’s in the US are currently using this app as a business to consumer experiment instore  to help personalize the shopping experience for the shopper with discounts appearing directly on their receipts at the till.

As we know, many consumer cameras are now being produced with geotagging features. You can now organise your photos by location on maps with geotagged photos. The same goes for music and sounds. These pieces of media can be geotagged and then layered over Google Maps. You can experience a place in the world from an entertainment and scientific perspective. We are able to know more and more about any given place in the world beyond the “this is where I went on my break” abilities we now have. School field trips will never be the same again.

Brad Fitzpatick of Livejournal created an Android App to open his garage door. He has a webserver connected to his garage door opener so he can open it over the network based on his geolocation. When riding his motorbike home as soon as he gets within a certain distance his garage door opens automatically. He can ride right in and park his motorbike in the garage without having to remove his helmet and gloves. Brad has also made this app available here.

Matt Galligan also uses geotechnology to control devices in his home as well. His iphone has an app that connects to his wifi network and then connects to a Control4 box. Control4 is a company that produces home automation control systems.These can control every electronically controllable item in the home. Matt has it connected to many of his devices; his Xbox, his heating and his television. Each individual light switch contains a wireless receiver and transmitter in a little box.

It uses a technology called Zigbee (802.15) which is designed for short range communications. However, the current range of smartphones don’t have this chip in them as of yet so none of the apps can communicate directly with the lights in a home but who knows what possibilities will be developed in the near future.

Privacy issues
 
With all this data available privacy is always going to be a concern. However, the responsibility of revealing your location comes down to:

  • The App
  • The user

The user is responsible for exposing the location and thankfully all the smartphones make this very clear. The iPhone, for instance, tells you when your location is being queried so you know about it.

One Step Further

How we view geolocation information may change redically in the sense that mobile devices may not always mean smartphones. Matt spoke about new glass panel overlays in his presentation. He showed the audience Graphene sheets. These are sheets of carbon just one atom thick. They have great strength, flexibility, transparency, and electrical conductivity.

The information surrounding you in your environment can be made available on the graphene sheets simply by holding them up and viewing objects in the environment through them. For example, you can see the value of houses in your locality by measn of making data and geolocation data on the web explicit in real time.

It seems by the very fact that we are physically somewhere and are always engaged with our environment these new tools offer us ways to enhance our geospatial awareness in ways we are only just starting to be able to grasp. It is clear that in the future geolocation is going to be a large part of everything we do. Geolocation technology is already blurring the edges between our offline and online worlds and the gap is becoming increasingly seamless.

David H. Hansson from Basecamp: Starting Up in the ‘Real World’

David Heinemeier Hansson is one of the creators of Basecamp. It is a web-based application designed to help people share and coordinate the ongoing work they have to do on their projects. At Technology Voice we use it primarily to keep track of to-do lists and schedules, but also for other things such as shared document editing. Last year, David gave a talk at Future of Web Apps which is being held again in London in October, and we thought we would share some of our notes from his session.

Doing a startup in the real world

Something you often run into is this notion of the real world.  The real world is a pessimistic place, no good idea is going to change anything, and often is a phrase that is put to you in a negative way: “It wouldn’t really work in the real world”, “people are not going to pay/sign up/care for that”. The real world is full of only people, not individuals, not different kinds of groups. People don’t all think the same way, but that is how it is presented.  

The problem with the real world is that it is presented as if it has a monopoly on reality. Arguments aren’t fleshed out because of pre-existing assumptions that X won’t work in the real world. The real world can trigger all your worst fears – I’m going to fail, it’s going to fail, etc. The real world is a nasty term, and there are serious consequences for taking it at face value. Lots of people have been discouraged from trying things out because of the real world.

The first thing you have to do as an entrepreneur is ignore anything anyone claims as the real world unless properly evidenced. Even then double-check it for yourself. Living your life based on nothing more than what other people’s opinion is of what constitutes reality is insane. Don’t let the ‘real world’ govern your ability to succeed.

The formation of Basecamp

David had a real task and a real project called Basecamp which launched in 2004. It wasn’t supposed to work in the real world. There were only three people working on it in their spare time. David was the sole programmer.  There were all sorts of objections along the way as to why it couldn’t work:

  • Too simple.
  • Basecamp hardly does anything – message board, to-do list, calendar – what’s complicated about that?
  • Anybody could do it in their spare time.
  • People are already using Outlook.
  • Couldn’t work, too simple.

But guess what?

Simple things work

People like simple things simply because most people have simple problems. There is an endless list of simple devices solving simple problems which were utterly discounted by those purveying the conventional ideas of what works in the so-called real world.

For example (and there are so many of them), the first review on Slashdot by Cmdr Taco regarding the iPod said: “No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame!” The  Flip camera was never a critical darling. Video recording – been around for ages. Innovative – all these big guys have it narrowed down. Quality – beaten on most counts. Yet, despite all real world rationalisations, someone puts a crappy video camera with one USB connection and it sells millions.

Too simple? Strong indicator it is going to work

Conventional thinking says you need a business plan to prepare for the future. Fact – nobody knows the future. Things go up, things go down, things you didn’t think would work! Companies too big to fail disappear from view. If a business plan had been a necessary prerequisite, Basecamp would never have been done. Plans rarely ever work: ask any general.  

If it involves writing it down, your business plan is probably too complex. That time is better spent doing rather than writing about it.

The power of no

The number one attribute to being able to make progress is the power to say no. No, not going to do this feature. No, not going to target this customer. “Basecamp within my firewall?” No, totally different business for that.  

Listen to your customers.  But sometimes you listen and say no. Doesn’t mean you have to say yes. If you will say yes automatically, why bother listening in the first place.

The ability to say no is the most treasured power an entrepreneur has at their disposal and they should use it often. David could not remember a no that he really regrets, but can name plenty of things he has said yes to that he regrets.

Trust your people

It is not about the talent. It is about the environment. “Hiring rock stars is a reckless way to run your business!” It is total nonsense. A much better and saner approach is to have a rock star environment. Let people be who they want to be.

Forget about company policies and all the arbitrary bureaucratic impediments to letting people express themselves as fully as possible. Most company policies are based on mistrust and fear. Assume employees are not crooks, liars or cheats (as per normal corporate policies). Of course, the downside to this sort of thinking can lead to crazy policies like “trusting people”. Well, I never. At Basecamp, all staff get a credit card linked to the company account. One rule: spend it wisely.  

The secret to a having a workplace filled with trust is to hire reasonable people in the first place.  

Easy

Easy isn’t easy to do – it’s pretty damn hard to do simple. It is more about you and your style and what you are trying to accomplish.

It’s easy to create something simple. How did we get an easy-to-use web application?  We chose to have a really simple domain because we wanted simple tools for simple needs.

Don’t be a startup: be a business

David despises the categorisation of startups as a separate business entity almost as much as he loathes the obstructive conceptualisations of conventional real-world thinking.  

People have being starting things since the beginning of time, and calling it a startup doesn’t pull you away from the fact you are creating a business.  

A great idea has to be worth enough to someone that they are willing to pay you for it. A great idea is not enough.  A great way to access the validity of your own business ideas is to ask yourself: “Would I want to pay for this?”, “Would I reach for my credit card?” The baseline thinking has to be that these ideas are going to come together as a business and you have to focus on it being a business from the get go.

Execute and persevere

Focus on execution and perserverance. Mediocre ideas with fantastic execution can be an awesome success. This is because ideas are almost worthless when it comes to creating a new business. But almost worthless is not the same as completely worthless. Have faith and patience in the ideas that you do come up with. Invest yourself! Invest your time and don’t listen to statements about the real world – you’ll be just fine.

XTech 2008 comes to Dublin, Ireland in May 2008

Call for Participation for XTech 2008

Proposals for presentations and tutorials are invited for XTech 2008, Europe’s premier web technologies conference. The deadline for submitting proposals is January 25th, 2008.

XTech 2008 will be held from May 6-9th 2008, in Dublin, Ireland.

XTech’s theme this year is “The Web on the Move”, focusing on the emerging portability of data, applications and identity on the internet. We will explore the benefits, issues, practicalities and fun of a web built on open standards, open source and commodity technology.

XTech presentations should inspire, educate and challenge. Your audience will be people like you, responsible for steering the technological direction of their organizations and the web as a whole.

Last year’s schedule can be viewed on the XTech 2007 web site.

Please direct any questions to the conference chair, Edd Dumbill.

View the calls for participation and submit a proposal

Suggested topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Social platforms
    • Design patterns for social software
    • Social network interoperability
    • Internet application platforms (Facebook F8, OpenSocial, etc.)
  • Identity management
    • OpenID
    • Practical security
    • OAuth
  • Ajax
    • jQuery, YUI, other toolkits
    • Offline applications
    • Comet
    • Professional Javascript
    • Flex
  • The web of data
    • Collective intelligence
    • Semantic technologies
    • Search
    • Markup and meaning
    • Freebase, Twine, Google Base
    • The place of XML on the web
  • Data and databases
    • Client-side databases
    • REST-oriented databases (e.g. CouchDB)
    • XML and RDF
    • Messaging architectures
    • XQuery
  • Operations and programming
    • Web application frameworks
    • Virtualization and appliances
    • Application scaling
    • Multicore and concurrency oriented programming
  • Mobile devices
    • Commodity mobiles
    • Android, iPhone
    • Hardware hacking and personal prototyping
    • Geolocation
    • Getting the mobile mindset