Some reflections on being at and helping to run a Good for Nothing Gig
There have been a couple of excellent blog posts about what we got up to at our first GFN Colchester Gig last weekend by Sally and Samra and an excellent Storify Feed put together by Mike.
I wanted to add my thoughts and reflections as part of the motley crew who organised the gig itself.
On Saturday morning we had no idea who was going to turn up. Nervous glances and awkward jokes were exchanged, and we were left wondering if anyone was really motivated enough to come along after breaking loose and partying the evening before.
Our fears were misplaced. People appeared in dribs and drabs. Coffee was made (and spilled) and hello’s exchanged. Briefs were reviewed and teams started to form.
I’ve learnt through painful experience that anything which requires a degree of facilitation can be very unpredictable. Coupled with the fact that I am considerably more shy that my gregarious overcompensation suggests I had no idea what I’d need to do during the gig.
Within 10 minutes of Gaz kicking things off and people really getting down to it I felt it was obvious we’d hit upon the perfect mixture of people. Heads were down, marker pens were squeaking furiously, and the four of us who first discussed this crazy idea back in July were left twiddling our thumbs.
Running one of these gigs is hard. GFN is great because its set up not to require formal leaders, but having spent months thinking and putting this together I felt a sense of responsibility to make sure everyone was getting something out of it.
It ends up this was one of the easiest things I have ever helped to facilitate. I felt a massive sense of accomplishment in being able to have an outlet for my technical and creative juices that I just don’t normally have 
Inspirational is a very over-used word. But there were a few things about last weekend that I think warrant its use. found what happened last weekend
Firstly, the fact that people decided it would be better to do work for free than stay in bed at the weekend. They were prepared to offer their skills to help something that benefits others. I don’t want to sound preachy, but that’s pretty inspirational to me.
Secondly, we had a fine mix of people. People who are used to doing this kind of thing for a living to people who aren’t used to speaking publicly or working in project groups. Everyone managed to contribute something and everyone was made to feel valued.
#gfncol is a perfect example of what can get done when money and politics are removed from a situation.
There’s often a lot of grumbling in Colchester. We can be a confused little town: often filibustering and worrying more about point scoring than Just Getting On. There are so many things that are happening in our little corner of Essex to be proud of — which show we’re a lot more than a poor Channel 4 series about one naff bar. I’m really pleased that GFN Colchester is a part of that.
Two videos from Colchester Borough Council, and an offer of support
There’s been some discussion today about a couple of videos produced by Colchester Borough Council: one about Food Waste Recycling, the other about ‘social media’. Given that I create online content for a living I thought i’d offer some constructive criticism, along with an offer of support to Colchester Borough Council .
The two videos:
First, things first, I think the fact that these exist at all is a good thing. It means CBC have crossed from talking to doing, and that is a scary step. It’s also really important to say that I wouldn’t have approved either of these videos for release to the public, for one important reason.
I don’t understand what they’re trying to get me to do.
Video is an excellent online medium, and it is seductively easy to feel like you’re doing something good with it when perhaps you’re not. Any content you create needs to answer a really simple question: “What’s the story I’m trying to tell, and what do I want people to do once I’ve told them it?”
The ‘Binlings’ video is a great idea on paper, but I know from bitter experience how expensive and time consuming it is to create something that involves good character animation and which feels warm and fuzzy.
I think an alternative might have been to show the real impact of not recycling our food, and what happens when we recycle it: think piles and piles of landfill contrasted with neatly rotting compost or biogas.
My real beef is with the ‘Social Media video’. This is perpetuates so many myths about the modern internet which are just false. Social media is not:
The future. It is the present.
Cost effective or cheap. Done properly it is expensive and can be inefficient. Done properly it will also transform what you do.
About young people. The fastest growing age groups on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ are those aged 45+ 
New. Is what we’ve been doing for years (talking to people) its just using a new channel (the internet).
A social media strategy is not ‘post 3 times a day to Twitter’. It is thinking deeply about how you will use these immensely powerful tools to have a proper connection with the people you serve — in this case everyone in Colchester.
So, my offer of help: I’ll gladly donate some time to help CBC write a proper social media strategy, and to understand what it could actually do for them. Anyone else in?
The internet is great, but it can make it seductively easy to feel like you might be making a difference about something you might care about when you’re not.
Starting next week in Colchester there’s an opportunity to change this a little bit.
Good for Nothing is a national network of groups that get together to do good, for nothing. It encourages people to come out from hiding behind their screen, meet new people and make a bit of a difference. It is not about talking, but doing.
We are hosting the first of a series of weekend get togethers next weekend, bringing a group of interesting people together to look at real challenges being faced by local groups working to make our community better.
What does this actually mean?
It’s a chance to spend a few hours over the weekend contributing (any) skills you have to helping a good cause.
The causes who are looking for help will be present what they need and you’ll have a chance to offer your support to any or all of them over the course of the get together.
We’ll be meeting on the evening of Friday 22nd November and during the day of Saturday 23rd November at the marvellous Waiting Room in St. Botolph’s, Colchester.
But how can I help?
You may be a writer, designer or coder; artist, photographer or business owner.
You also might be none of those things. It doesn’t matter. You can help by wanting to share your brain power on how to solve a few problems for your community.
What do I get from dragging myself out of bed at the weekend?
A few things actually:
Meeting cool new people from across your town, interested in the same thing as you.
A chance to help build something tangible that will help a local good cause.
Food and drink, including beer donated by Adnams and cyder donated by Aspalls
Please may I recommend to you to spend 15 mins reading this outstanding interview of the even outstandinger Merlin Mann. He hits the nail on the head about how to go from want to do something creative and interesting to doing something creative and interesting: actually doing it
It’s about doing something, even if it’s stupid, and getting through it as far as you can. It’s not about thinking that you’ll learn from your mistakes. It’s a matter of saying, “Here’s what I learned that I’m capable of that surprised me,” or, “Here’s what I learned I could do, but it takes a lot more time than I thought.” It’s weird: the things that seem easy can be so hard, and the things that seem difficult can be surprisingly enjoyable.
One popular thesis among Amazon profitability skeptics is that Amazon can’t “flip a switch” and become profitable. The most common guess as to how Amazon flips the switch is that it will wait until it is the last retailer standing and then raise prices across the board, so Amazon skeptics argue against that narrative possibility.
But “flipping a switch” is the wrong analogy because Amazon’s core business model does generate a profit with most every transaction at its current price level. The reason it isn’t showing a profit is because it’s undertaken a massive investment to support an even larger sales base. How does Amazon turn a profit? Not by flipping a switch but by waiting, once again, until its transaction volume grows and income exceeds its fixed cost base again. It can choose to reach that point faster or slower depending on how quickly it continues to grow its fixed cost base, but a simple way to accelerate that would be to stop investing in so many new fulfillment centers.
Right. It’s actually more like “not flipping a switch”.
Of course, every company says it has a strategy. In fact, I am pretty sure most of them have a document labelled “Our Strategy”, or at least a PowerPoint presentation under that name. But, in fact, not many companies really have one. Here are some of the most common mistakes – or poor excuses for a strategy.
5 Alternatives to Jumbo That Would Shut Everyone Up
Take off and nuke the site from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure — Lets bulldoze the site and start again. The building is a beautiful example of Victorian architecture, but is that enough of a reason to use it as a starting point?
If music be the food of love, Jumbo on — Another prominent old relic is regularly used for performances and as an open arts space. Why not run a little fringe to the Free Fest under the legs? Or a beer festival? Or a regular market?
I can see my house from here — The main reason I am interested in Jumbo is because I want to stand on top of its and see what the hell Colchester looks like from up high. How about just doing the bare minimum to make it safe and open it up to visitors for a weekend. There’s been insane interest for doing this at disused Tube stations, and it’s a good way for Jumbophiles to get their fix.
Ebay — Worked for a crusty bridge in London, could work for us. Could even invite everyone in Colchester to bring a sledgehammer and slice it up for sale. Postage and packaging might be an issue though.
There is no Jumbo, only Zool — The building specs for Jumbo show the use of cold-riveted beams with cores of pure selenium, magnesium-tungsten alloys, and gold plated bolts. I think this is an opportunity to establish Colchester as the primary destination for inter-dimensional travel.
"We fly across oceans in airplanes, we eat tropical fruit in December, we have machines that sing us songs, clean our house, take pictures of Mars. Much the total accumulated knowledge of our species can fit on a hard drive that fits in our pocket. Even the poorest among us own electronic toys that millionaires and kings would have lusted for a decade ago. Our ancestors would be amazed. For most of our time on the planet, humans lived on the knife-edge of survival. A crop failure could mean starvation and even in good times, we worked from sun up to sundown to earn our daily bread. In 1600, a typical workman spent almost half his income on nourishment, and that food wasn’t crème brûlée with passion fruit or organically raised filet mignon, it was gruel and the occasional turnip. Send us back to ancient Greece with an AK-47, a home brewing kit, or a battery-powered vibrator, and startled peasants would worship at our feet"
I loved every little bit of this letter that producer Steve Albini sent to Nirvana before the recording of In Utero, the band’s final studio album. In it, Albini clearly and succinctly lays out his philosophy about recording music and has specific suggestions for working with Nirvana. But the…
The Grauniad is sardonic about a new generation of one or two person app shops:
Last month was the turn of Nick D’Aloisio, a 17-year-old who slaved away in his bedroom over an app before flogging it to Yahoo for $30m (£19m). In every profile that played up his normality, and played down his investment-banker dad and funding from Stephen Fry, there was an almost audible sigh: if only more slugabed Britons would do this …
It’s true. Not everyone will be able to have that kind of runaway success, and they’d shouldn’t either.
What we should be celebrating is that more people understand what making good software actually means.
No longer is software made by hundreds of coders in a cube farm, burnt to a CD and stocked on a shelf. It is something we download and use in the bus queue and on the loo.
As even more businesses wake up to the power of having good software (for customers and employees) those people who understand how to make it will become even more valuable – even if they’ve not sold their company for many bazillions.
Another fine post from The Chronic about yesterday’s introduction to Colchester Borough Council by CEO Adrian Pritchard.
But do folk around Sunny Colch know who Adrian Pritchard is? We don’t want to increase to his already heavy workload, but he should be rolled out more often at these type of events. You needn’t employ some hyped up marketing consultant to pay lip service to the town when the Chief Exec is already signed up to the vision of celebrating what Colchester has to offer..
I was there to listen to Adrian last night, and I couldn’t agree more with the quote above. He did a great job of explaining the complexity and possibilities that lie ahead for CBC.
I said during the Q&A that CBC should encourage everyone to communicate more. I think they took an important step forward last night. I look forward to supporting them as they do even more.
Interesting little feature in The Observer on Matt Damon:
The family have a two-week rule, where they will not be apart for any longer. Damon is completely unyielding on it: when he shot Invictus, he flew out Alexia’s entire school class to South Africa and organised for them to do a special project on Nelson Mandela. Damon’s advice on living in a household of five women is simple: “Find yourself a little man area.”
“The values that I have are the values I was raised with, from where I’m from, which is a middle-class place,” Damon says. “So that informs everything about me, my politics and all that stuff. I mean, politically I vote against my own self-interest at every election. I actively ask these people to raise my taxes. But I believe a solid, really strong middle-class is the key to making the country in the best way.”
Fun little piece from the BBC about one of the finest games ever made – The Secret of Monkey Island.
“When Monkey Island came out, it didn’t do very well,” says Ron Gilbert, Monkey Island co-creator and former LucasArts employee.
“It wasn’t a huge seller, it didn’t get incredibly good reviews. It has just been through the years that the game has attracted this big following.”
Only just discovered what might be one of the coolest tools I’m come across in a while.
Feedly is a simple feed reader. It is brilliant because it is not Flipboard/Pulse/another VC-backed social magazine.
It’s amazing how hard it is to make a good app about reading. Flipboard is a pain in the arse because it tries to be too clever. I don’t want a machine to editorialise for me – if I want a magazine I’ll subscribe to one made by people.1
I want a simple, easy to navigate list of articles which won’t die when Google Reader does. Feedly does just that.
You should too, its called The Magazine and its ace. ↩
The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus.
A user exodus from Facebook never materialized. I couldn’t even get my own teenage daughter to look at Google+ twice, “social isn’t a product,” she told me after I gave her a demo, “social is people and the people are on Facebook.”
I think the quite above is the most insightful. Advertising is the real business behind most web companies.
Dot-com’s tried this back in the heydays of the web, but it didn’t work. This isn’t because the model wasn’t right, but for two other important reasons:
Firstly, the Internet is now mobile. Most of us have faster, more reliable connections in our pockets than we could have ever imagined. Companies that are getting the advertising business model right like Facebook are now designing everything for people using their services everywhere.
Secondly, the products were crap. This was partly because the technologies available were still in their ascendancy but mainly it was because of a misconception that people would keep coming back to consume content written for them. It turned out most people didn’t really want to do that, they wanted to share.
This is where it comes back full circle to Google+. They decided to play Facebook at their own game by building a social network. I think all they needed to do was to embed sharing more into their products.
Imagine if Google+ was a great, simple way for you to share and collect things you’ve created or found across Google’s products, without the need to maintain another profile. Google gets what it needs – better data about you so it can target more effective ads, and you’re more likely to use the tool because it doesn’t force you into behaving in particular way, it just happens as part of your normal Googling.
It’s a subtle distinction, but one way Google could have won the next round of social.
Which is why, despite the excesses of the IOC and the 2012 corporate sponsors, he retained his faith in the Olympic ideal, still believing that it’s “a healing and good thing for our kind, our species, for all of us. It brings people together.” He later dismisses pessimistic talk of white elephants, predicting that the Olympic Park will be a cherished part of east London in 20 years’ time, describing a place where friends and families will “come to spend the day”, shopping, going to the cinema, “cycling, picnicking, seeing a show in the stadium in the evening. It will work.”
He did amazing things with that ceremony. Setting a tone that I think everyone really needed to get the most from Olympics. I miss it.