On running a session at Eurofoo06

I really didn’t know what to expect, or what expectations to set for those participating.

I wanted to use a session to get deeper into the ‘Big-Here Tricorder’ concept I had written about here.

The slot was right at the start of the sessions on Sunday – would this work for me (low expectations i could exceed) or against me (low energy I couldn’t fight)

I put together the most minimal of introductions to the subject I wanted to attack (PDF of the slides here, 927k).

My preconception of Foocamps past was that 1-way “talks” with lots of slides were frowned upon, and anyway I wanted to exploit the group of people there to help build something.

The timeslot was only 1hr, so in order to try and produce as much as possible I elected to split the group into 3 streams.

Fortunately, Matt Webb and Simon Willison kindly stepped up at very short notice to help run an interaction design stream and an S60 python coding exploration stream.

Meanwhile I roped a few people into wandering the streets of Brussels to ask the questions on Kevin Kelly’s ‘Big-here’ quiz and capture their answers on video in a sort of ‘lightning documentary’

So – what happened?

It was a bit of shambles TBH, and I’m not sure any of the three streams were particularly successful.

First of all, it seemed that being thrown into a ‘workshop’ situation seemed to confront people a little in terms of it being the first session and on a sunday too! I think also the introduction I gave was hurried and perhaps lacking in concrete details for people to work from. Also, despite the ‘hey, we’re an emergent democracy’ vibe, probably not a good idea for the workshop-leader (me) to leave the room for 30 minutes.

Our small group, despite valiant efforts lacked anyone who spoke the native language(s) and so the barrier to understanding once one went beyond the most basic of questions was impossible to surpass.

Matt’s stream (at least from the impression I got walking back into the room) – at best had trouble getting down from discussion at a very high-level about the ‘big-here’ as a concept, and at worst slipped into stale old LBS concepts such as ‘find my nearest pizza’ etc.

Simon’s stream looking into how to code the thing seemed at least to make the most tangible progress – managing to analyse the bits and pieces of code necessary to make something in the area of the problem come to life. Hopefully I can get some of the notes and links off Simon to add here.

For a first timer, I still think I could have done better. Being generous, perhaps you could say that people left the session with some thoughts of their own that they might pursue. In hindsight, I should have done more work to constrain and concretise the problem in order to get the most out of people in the limited time, and also I think ideally something like what I wanted to achieve would have needed half a day really – in order to get people warmed-up and cranking.

Or perhaps we should have all just wandered around Brussels with videocameras asking the unsuspecting populace questions from KK’s quiz?

[Here’s a movie hurriedly made from clips taken with my Nokia N93, Vimeo, Quicktime, 5.8Mb]

It was great fun, wandering around Brussels asking people where their poop went…

0 comments
  1. Claus said:

    A valiant attempt none the less. I definitely think less talks and more conversations/hacks would have improved the camp in general.
    I walked out of the session because of poor python skills and not wanting to join a too general concept discussion. Should have joined the interview crew, but the courage to cross the language barrier failed me at the end…

  2. It was quite an ambitious session – 40 mins to specify, design, and build an application that no one has done yet in much longer timeframe.

    In the future, I think a better plan of attack and guidance from the coordinators would be better. And perhaps a slightly more realistic goal (e.g. just identify all the pieces and plan of attack for the future), then get all the contact info of people and guide it after the conference.

    Overall great idea and good effort! Thanks for putting the session together. Hopefully it can continue forward.

    Did you attend the GeoScope session on Monday? There are efforts being made on the data, aggregation and display that could work in very well with the mobile and user interface that was started in your session.

  3. JamesB said:

    That video is hilarious! what did you glean from this?

    What did you want to achieve from The Big Now quiz? Is it a proposition to provide a framework to literally network ‘people’ and in the process create ‘place’? I like the idea of having an emergent psychogeography but wonder if this is well, a bit wanky? I mean, where’s the use case or is this just a means to an end?

    In terms of location based proposition the work of de certeau / deleauze could be useful … can you start to articulate ‘territorialization’, a geography of power? there’s a lot of public information/data about how people navigate cities and of coursea lot of semi-private data on mobile cells etc and then there is lots of data on public / private space, cctv positions etc. comparing your own movements through a space with the formal data could give insights into how space is terrtorialiszed, how power is made real or subverted [through for instance de certeau’s notion of ‘walking’ as ‘creating place’….]. This sounds like even more wanky academic, navel gazing shite. And it probably is.

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