An interesting notion was raised a few days ago at the latest Digital Circle Export and Internationalisation subgroup meeting (whoa, hefty intro I know…)
The meeting touched on a lot of themes relevant to pretty much everyone in the digital industry who is interested in selling outside of NI but for me two things were most pressing and urgent. The first surrounded the idea of what exactly it is that we’re trying to sell and I suppose that spilled into the second notion which was a wider question over how Northern Ireland itself is percieved by people outside of it.
1) WHAT ARE WE SELLING TO THE ESKIMOS (AND ANYONE ELSE WHO’S INTERESTED IN OUR WARES?)
This is really a question of definition and over the years there have been far too many definitions of the digital industry to count. Multimedia used to be the blanket term, Information Technology is another (and better) blanket term but since we’re addressing Northern Ireland here it’s worth noting just how many different ways our industry is classified. For instance Momentum is seen to represent the IT sector and most specifically software. Digital Circle is seen to represent digital content creators under the terms of the Digital Content Strategy that was used to define the organisation, a document that it is clear needs revision in order to stay relevant to the shifting changing industry it addresses.
We’re also lumped in under the creative industries banner, probably more out of convenience than anything else and personally I’ve always struggled with being under that heading and I imagine businesses with even less of a creative slant than ours, like grey box software makers for instance, have even less of a reason to be included.
Also there’s a culture that thinks anything creative is not really business per say, more of a glorified hobby that you get some pay for (if you’re lucky) and I for one entirely reject that notion and see it as a great reason to jettison the creative industries tag immediately. What we do I don’t consider creative anymore than I consider the installation of lighting or the building of a guitar to be a creative endeavour. The guy who designed the guitar, I’ll give you that, but I’m not looking to extend creative kudos to the people in the factory who put it together. Writing a song is undoubtedly a creative endeavour, designing a website is really not on the same level for me.
So for me I’d like to get rid of the defining terms. I’d like us to start seeing a digital industry as a whole rather than drawing lines between mobile, games, web, grey box etc etc etc. The very nature of technology is convergence anyway and as across the board languages like HTML5 become more mainstream we’ll see a lot of skills being applicable to multiple platforms. This should be our aim! And then we have to educate those who seek to define things and pigeon hole disciplines that actually, there’s more common ground than differences. At that point can we start the process of selling our digital industry as a vibrant, connected, multi-talented and highly educated workforce? Maybe. And then we can start dealing with the perception of the North as a low-cost option. If you want best of breed work, come armed with best of breed budgets!
2) WHAT IS THIS NORTHERN IRELAND THAT YOU SPEAK OF ANYWAY?
This was the second big question to raise it’s head. When we’re out there in the world talking to people about Northern Ireland what exactly is it that we’re talking about? What are we really really good at? What size is this digital industry talked about in point 1? What defines it? What age is it? What is it better at that other regions don’t offer? Why would I want to spend my money with people in NI rather than people in more recognised centres of excellence like Israel? Is NI much different from the south of Ireland and if so how? What are the USPs of NI? One dividend of the conflict here is that everyone knows that we exist but what are they’re perceptions of NI now that the conflict is not its most immediate characteristic?
There are a million questions really, some may be answerable by asking the right people others may need some work to really get to grips with. But with less than eight weeks to go before we’ll be both in the deserts of Austin, Texas at SXSWi and in the heart of Silicon Valley I’d love to get my head around how exactly to explain ourselves to everyone we meet. I want to be a good salesman for our region, but really I’m not savvy with what we’re trying to sell.
So I suggested at the meeting that we could maybe start with doing a ‘12 sheeter’ on what Northern Ireland is, something we could all be showing on our travels to make sure we have a consistent message. A Powerpoint presentation really (or Keynote if we want it to look good!)
Anybody got any suggestions? Anybody got any really good images they could donate to the project? Anyone with some time and graphic design savvy they could contribute? Anyone sitting on all the stats we need?? Maybe someone has already done this and we’re playing catchup?
If so post em up here or email them to Matt Johnston at email@example.com with the subject ‘NI Slideshow’ and I’ll rope him in to being the catch all. He won’t mind (much…)
*that’s Web of Spiderman #21 apparently up above, where Spidey saves Belfast from itself. Nice…
Here’s to you Mr Robinson…
What a week it’s been in Belfast. From Monday until yesterday we had the privilege to have the presence of the ITLG, the Irish Technology Leadership Group, a Silicon Valley based group of CEOs, VPs, VCs, private investors and people who are and have been at the very peak of the world in technology, digital media and ICT.
Why were they here? Well they have a long term plan to help accelerate Irish tech companies to a new level through mentoring, infrastructure and investment. It’s been a week of flowery language (boil the sea, hurricane the forest) and big big thinking on both their behalf and on behalf of a shedload of Irish companies energised by their presence, open approach to business and world view. What we all learned fundamentally was simple; we set our sights too low and underestimate our talent and ability to compete on the world stage and this must change.
We had many many meetings with Invest NI, NISP, Momentum, NISINE, the Universities, ministers and too many organisations to mention really all of which were intense but overall positive in their content and outcomes. The ITLG came to help make things better, and from where we sit that’s already a job well done. Many of us will never regard our businesses, opportunities and ultimately our outlook on life quite the same way ever again.
I learned personally when to keep quiet, when to speak and that passion is no crime. I also learned to look higher for what we are trying to achieve and that I’m 33 and not 21 anymore when the exhaustion started to bite!
One moment that resonates was at a drinks reception at Stormont where the First Minister and Deputy First Minister encapsulated the importance of what was going on and welcomed the continuance of what had been set in action with open arms. For two former sworn enemies to come together with a common message and set of goals was an inspiration to everyone who witnessed it, and they understood the gravity of the ask and the task at hand to make it all happen. Let’s help them to roll up the sleeves and muck in with the rest of us, they’re needed if we are to try to reach the goal of having five 50 million plus turnover companies in Belfast within five years. The roadmap for how that is achievable has been drawn in pencil and it’s now up to us to fill the colour and the shape of this for years to come. We have help from the best in the world, and no excuses for not taking it. But we must ask…
And on failure? What’s our alternative? We know that our current approach isn’t working and that we need to up our game. That’s a given. We’re too insular, too inward looking and too fearful of falling over to ever move at the pace required to keep up. The public sector can help us in some ways but it moves too slow to fast track, and that’s what’s needed. It can find a better role though, and support us better in our goals and we’ll start building that route too.
To look down the road and see only stop signs is a worthless approach and not something we should be passing on to the young people who are staying in Belfast for the first time in 40 years, for them and for ourselves we all must do better.
So here’s to you Mr Robinson, Mr McGuinness, Mr Kirk, Mr Gilmore, Mr Hartnett, Mr Johnston, Mr McMillan, Mrs Foster, Mr Hamilton, Mr Orr, Mr Watts, Mr Richardson, Mr Moran, Mr Simon, Mrs Clinton, Mr Kelly, Mr Elchenlaub, Mr McGrath, Mr Sims, Mr Murphy and every other Mr and Mrs with the heart to believe we can get there. Belfast loves you more than you will know…
We are the gangly mob
I wonder if there is a point when you can have too many good things going on? Or is it really true that good things happen to good people? Either way at the minute I’m blessed in my working life, even if it does mean sometimes a few too many nights out on the beer and early rises to cope with.
Recently a meeting happened under the guise of Code4Pizza which saw 20+ developers, designers and such folk in a room discussing how to ‘crowdsource Translink.’ What the hell does that mean right?
Well essentially the rise of the OpendataNI iinitative that seeks to release governmental and other types of public interest data into the public realm has led to a bunch of folk deciding to use the Translink data for bus times, rail times and such to create something that serves the public better than what’s currently on offer from the Translink website and other places that publish bus times.
Ultimately this may be an iPhone app, or a web app or both that allows people to better see what’s happening, maybe even in real time, with bus locations and GPS tracking but perhaps not. Whatever it will end up being, serving the public will be its aim and that is to be applauded. There’s no talk of money here or anything sort of reward beyond just providing a better public service, again a laudable goal.
Of course the whole initiative rests on Translink releasing the data that’s required in a usable format and there’s no guarantee that that will happen, even though a bunch of freedom of information requests (FOI) have been sent in. Translink have, at the time of writing, about two weeks left to reply to these so we’ll know more soon.
Failing the release of the data, we have discussed ways of producing our own en masse, such as geo-tagging bus stops using our phones or Google Maps or some similar method. In terms of the routes information we decided that using Runkeeper for the iPhone would be a good approach, an application made to record the times and route of runners as they run using GPS tracking in real-time. So there are options no matter what happens, and anyone can get involved too so if you have an iPhone and fancy getting a few buses to help us record and map the routes, get in touch and we’ll keep you informed of what’s needed and when. It should be fun!
Check out more on Code4Pizza on the Digital Circle ning and you can get updates and find out about future meetups there.
It’s not a co-incedence that all of these people are showing up with common mentalities and common goals in mind at the myriad of events happening in the tech world. It’s inspiring and energetic and if that energy translates into action it may well be something to behold. Come as you are as always, you will have a part to play. Maybe after all the geek will inherit the earth? Or at least be able to catch a bus more easily.
Ninjas, VCS, Gideons and whatever else I was harping on about (part 2)
So the generous DH Kirk has only gone and made a part two of his little revelatory insight into the seldom combed mind of a VC, and as someone who is currently up to his ears in Executive Summaries and such currently I for one am bloody glad that he did.
Check the good stuff here http://cimota.com/blog/2009/08/24/kirkisms-funding-by-numbers-part-2/
Sorry for the tumbleweeds on the blog lately folks, we’ve been enduring the dual stresses of moving office and servers over the last while. And we also migrated the blog over to Wordpress after Blogger had one too many off days so it’s been a period of significant change. So where are we now?
Happily we’re in a loft style office in the City Centre with lovely big windows, lofty ceilings and pretty as you like brick work and floors. We’ve a few days left in finishing off what we wish we’d never started with the decor but we think the end result may well be worth it. Also all of our websites are now happily chugging away on Amazon’s EC2 cloud computing service and we couldn’t be happier, it’s the way folks, it’s the way.
Over the next wee while we’ll be attending the Trans Urban Arts Academy iPhone Development course that Digital Circle are putting on on July 4th and 5th at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast. There we’ll be getting up to speed on how all this iPhone app malarky works and having a bash at building our own little world beater. Good times.
And our clients have been out in force ripping up the Belfast streets in the name of fun and fitness with the Belfast Carnival having just passed off last Saturday in a hail of confetti and the second Belfast Telegragh Runher event exploding all expectations yet again with near 1000 runners all out pounding the streets of East Belfast on Sunday.
Further from that the inquisitive lens of one Bradley Quinn will be giving you an inside view on the Snow Patrol roller coaster at his Crack the Shutters exhibition of photographs at the Waterfront Hall beginning on July 8th.