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      CommentAuthorsil
    • CommentTimeApr 25th 2009
     
    I'm toying with the idea of moving down to London. I got asked why; the conversation went something like this:

    q: why?
    me: there's a big web scene in London, which I'd like to be part of
    q: all the web stuff in the UK is in London? Typical London-centric industry, then
    me: sorta. There's a scene in Brighton, too, but Brighton's too far from my daughter, and the Brighton scene seems a bit too self-consciously hip for me sometimes
    q: so it's London, even though it costs a fortune?
    me: yeah
    q: is there nothing in Birmingham? England's second city, etc?
    me: not really. There's the Multipack stuff, which I can never make it to because it's always weekends when I'm with my daughter, and there's Multipack Presents which I was at once but missed the second one, and there are plenty of people around, there's just no scene
    q: why? why's there nothing in Birmingham?

    and...I didn't have a good answer to that question. I'd like there to be a vibrant web scene in Brum, though, because then I wouldn't have to move to London. So, I have a number of questions, on which your thoughts would be appreciated.

    1. What constitutes a "scene"? It's more than just a monthly meeting; I think there's things like:

    * being able to go to particular places and know there will be other web people there without having to arrange it beforehand - regular "hangouts"
    * places with free wifi
    * regular meetups doing cool stuff (yes, there's Multipack, but where's Birmingham Geeks like Oxford Geeks?)
    * things happening during the week
    * web-friendly companies around the place (One Black Bear certainly qualify; are there others?)
    * design/development agencies (again, OBB; who else is there?)

    2. We're all sort of centred around Brum, true enough. But how "centred" are we? Brighton's pretty small; if you live in it you're close enough to any given venue that you can walk to it in half an hour. London has the best public transport network in the world. Birmingham has neither of these things; I, personally, am in Stourbridge, which means that door-to-door it's going to take me an hour and a quarter to get in, which in turn means that I'm not going to "drop by" somewhere in an evening, or go somewhere where we'll only be there for an hour because it's not worth the travel time. If I was living in the centre of town then obviously this would be fixed, but...is everyone else in Brum itself? You count as being "in Brum" for this if you saw a tweet from a few people saying "now going down the pub for an argument about display: inline-block" on a Tuesday evening and you thought "I might just drop in on that, sounds fun". If you thought "that'd be fun if I was there but getting there isn't worth it" then you don't count as being in Brum.

    3. I'd really, really like there to be a vibrant scene in Birmingham. I mean, Brighton, fergawdsake? Come off it. It's horrid. Birmingham's really nice, and it's big enough to maintain this sort of thing. So...what would be needed to make it happen?

    Your thoughts, rants, complaints, comments and opinions gratefully solicited, as are thoughts on where else this should have been written so that non-Multipack Birmingham web people can chip in. (It was here or kryogenix.org, and I don't have good geographical figures for how many of the crew around here read my stuff.)
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      CommentAuthorIgtastical
    • CommentTimeApr 25th 2009
     

    I tend to agree, and I think it's one of the biggest barriers to Brum becoming a 'digital centre' (David Harte, the speaker at the last Presents event, is involved with a city project to achieve this by 2010).

    The thing that has struck me before is that communities exist - lots of them - but it's all really disparate and all contained in very small bubbles and therefore not very scene. I'm aware of things like Social Media cafe, Birmingham Bloggers, the the Twestival meet, the Wordcamp two years ago etc etc - it shows people are engaging, but the fact is we have no common overlap. In fact, I was passed details of another organisation in Brum that meets at Millennium point monthly to discuss web (and sound) stuff only this week - I had no idea they even existed until someone at Matthew Boulton college mentioned it: http://www.creativenetworksonline.com/portal/index.asp

    Clearly there is an ability to build a scene here, but like you say, the fact Multipack itself is made up of people all over the West Midlands (stretching from Stourbridge to Stafford) means that it's just not that easy to build regular, reliable web communities. It's not like Paulo Alto where 90% of the people are web types and live within two or three miles of each other.

    I think there is a real opportunity for Birmingham to lead the way, but I think often the people who can facilitate change (e.g. local government) don't engage the right people, or at least all the people who should be engaged, nor does the Midlands as a whole get treated as a single block when it comes to funding.

    If Birmingham really wants to become the leading digital city in the UK (and I genuinely believe that's a title up for grabs over the coming years - and I don't want Manchester to claim that crown too) they need to invest in venues and centres where we can meet and use for digital ends. For example, somewhere well-publicised, providing free wifi, office/conferencing facilities, a permanent place for exhibition (local and international content), a sort of business-club house for the web industry and based sensibly and centrally near transport (so it's taken seriously) that digital businesses could hire, showcase in and have a say in it's operation would be fantastic and at least provide some higher point which would allow some overlap of these groups.

    It wouldn't want to attempt to merge any of the groups, just provide a central point of communication that actually had some draw for people to come and use it, including outsiders and (digital-related) visitors from other cities to see why we're leading the way in the field.

    It's a big and blue sky idea, but if Birmingham/The Midlands is serious, we need something like that, and it would need to be guided by people 'on the ground' because like with every government-funded project (think Business Link) the money is so rarely well spent when it comes to digital (or at least that's my experience in this region of the country).

    Currently I think the reason we fail to have a serious scene is because there are a lot of independent organisations and individuals, but none of them share any space - people are spread right out across the city and beyond. From the Custard Factory to the Jewellery Quarter, from Fort Dunlop to wherever. There are loads of people engaged in this industry but outside of our own small groups we don't talk or meet because there simply aren't the facilities, lines of communication and we've no ability or finance to do anything about it ourselves.

    And this is one of the reasons that if it were to happen it shouldn't be tacked onto/be part-use of the Custard Factory or Millennium point because these buildings are not central, not really easily reachable and don't provide a good enough reason for people to drive and just use them.

    The idea of a point which could become a well-publicised focus (with adverts on public transport stretching out in all directions from Birmingham) for all people in the region would be smashing. I've no idea if this would even be taken seriously.

    I don't even know if there is a forum for these 'bigger' ideas - why? - because communication between West Midlands based local government and citizens is both poor and disconnected.

    It's a shame because I share Stuart's frustration.

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      CommentAuthorsil
    • CommentTimeApr 25th 2009
     
    Interesting. I wasn't even thinking about there being some sort of "official" programme to make this happen. I think the local government would be way more inclined to nurture a burgeoning scene than to create one from whole cloth. I imagined us leading the way on this somewhat; build it and they will come, sortafing. So, instead of attempting to get someone with loads of cash to construct a "digital hub" for everyone to meet up in (shades of youth clubs in days gone past), we just sort of poke around the city until we find somewhere reasonable for that sort of thing and then everyone starts going. Any coffee shop worth its salt will start doing things to please a particular bunch of customers if that particular bunch of customers goes in an awful lot.

    I'm still worried that the Brum crowd are actually a West Midlands crowd and people aren't actually in Brum itself.
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      CommentAuthorIgtastical
    • CommentTimeApr 25th 2009
     

    I think you're right about the youth club thing, and that's a fear I'd have too. I also understand the practicalities are somewhat complex/expensive! If it were to ever happen I'd be keen to give the stake holders as much control as possible (local goverment, no matter how well intentioned, would not get it quite right) and also that's why I wouldn't want it 'appended' to any other initiative or pre-existing 'center' as they all appear to lack location, location, location.

    The spontaneous coffee shop idea is good, and I know that persons from the social media cafe would recommend Coffee Lounge by New Street station as a fantastic venue for that to happen from. I would agree.

    If you're not familiar with it, it's always packed with businessy types because it's the only coffee shop in the city with free wifi and has (open) meeting space downstairs including a boardroom table (and sockets!). If you don't want/need beer or a proper office space, it's the best place to meet with clients IMO.

    It's great and I've had many business/web meeting in there. The only place in Brum I ever meet anyone.

    That said, I'm not sure how you can grow it from there, I'll self-profess, organising events are not my strong point.

    I agree, this is a West Midlands problem, not just a Birmingham city one.

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      CommentAuthorIgtastical
    • CommentTimeApr 25th 2009
     

    Oh, and as a reference point for my hairbrained idea - think less youth club, more IOD hub, just a little less grand: http://is.gd/uzK4

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      CommentAuthorsil
    • CommentTimeApr 25th 2009
     
    On the "West Midlands" front, I agree there's a WM problem, but my issue isn't really that. It's not possible to create a Midlands-wide scene; there's just Too Much Land. It's gotta be concentrated in Birmingham. The problem is that that will obviously only happen if there are a critical mass of people *in* Birmingham, and it's not clear whether that's actually the case. Thinking about, say, the Pub Standards meets in London, they normally get 20 or 30 people there, and it's quite possible that 20 or 30 people will travel in from Redditch or Leamington or Stourbridge or Wolverhampton every fortnight for one evening. But that won't create a scene; for that you need people in the city all the time, and I honestly don't know whether there are people in Birmingham all the time; if everyone lives in Redditch and Leamington and Stourbridge and Wolverhampton then there's no place where everyone can hang out; would you travel for 45 minutes just to hang out in a coffee shop? I wouldn't. But I might just decide to spend an afternoon working there if I lived in the city anyway.

    The free wifi thing is, I think, not that much of a problem; as mentioned above, you take an existing place and designate it the hangout, and then after three months of their trade going up 30% because we're all in there, you say "what about some free wifi, eh?" :-)
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      CommentAuthorSi
    • CommentTimeApr 26th 2009
     

    I think you've touched on an important issue Stuart.

    Birmingham doesn't have a "web scene", not in the way London and Brighton have. I'm not entirely sure why this is but there are a few issues involved from my point of view:

    • Birmingham - and the West Midlands - is too spread out. Our transport network is mediocre at best but, really, the range of travelling is too far without good transport links.
    • London seems to have a close knit community due to the convenient transport network. On top of that, many of the big IT companies who hire the actively engaged crowd tend to be in the centre of London (Yahoo, GCap, Guardian, last.fm, BBC etc). It's easy for these guys to talk to each other as they tend to have good contacts between the businesses and they all engage in the community.
    • As you've both said, there is no ideal place for people to hang out in Birmingham. The most popular area for hanging out in Brum is the hole that is Broad Street. The masses like it but our geeky friends not so much. The Coffee Lounge seems to be quite popular though and could solve this problem as its next to New Street. I've never been before but the Brum Social Cafe is hosted there which is a good start.
    • It says something when the three early contributors to this conversation don't even live in the County of West Midlands. Stourbridge (Worcestershire?) and Rugby (Warwickshire) is a 53mi journey! Birmingham is approximately central but it certainly isn't close.
    • I've noticed a different mentality towards web development in the region and it tends to not be as motivated nor involved as in London or Brighton. I'm not sure why this is but having worked - and hired - in several organisations (gov't and commercial), there is a clearly different attitude towards the scene. The Multipack and Social Cafe is a clear example there are some motivated individuals in the region though and I don't want to disregard that.
    • I'm not sure whether it would be sensible to get the council involved in establishing/growing a scene. I've been approached by Advantage WM and Digital Birmingham before about how the Multipack want to move forward but it's never been the right time to make the most of those opportunities. I'm sure if we put a plan together and took it to both of these (plus more), there would be support. It's just taking the idea in the right direction and making sure we don't create something counterproductive (how many of you would actually opt for a gov't-run group over a naturally evolving casual group?)

    This is just a brain dump on the topic with no real objective by the way. Don't think I've got a plan.

    If I was to be honest Stuart, I'd suggest you do move to London. I know what a great crowd there is down there, even if my involvement was rather limited. If it was a realistic option for us two years ago, we'd've moved down there too but it just wasn't fair on the rest of the family.

    I don't think this issue will be resolved that quickly neither but I'd like to think the Multipack have and could contribute even more to creating an actively engaged web scene who are passionate about what they do.

    • CommentAuthorMatt
    • CommentTimeApr 26th 2009 edited
     
    Hmm. I'm not sure I agree.

    I mean, random meetups are certainly harder given the geographically disparate nature of the working area. But there doesn't seem to be a week go by without a Brum Bloggers meet, Social Media Surgery, Social Media Cafe, Likemind Coffee Morning, Creative Republic, Creative Networks, Multipack or other event of some kind. You could have a very active calendar if you chose. I consider that quite an active community...

    Sure it's not a scene in the way that you could go into the OJS and always expect there to be a couple of web heads there at lunchtime, but throw stone in the Custard Factory and you'll hit some kind of web person (though they may be dark matter web folks who aren't plugged into the standards mob).
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      CommentAuthorsil
    • CommentTimeApr 26th 2009
     
    Matt: perhaps you're right about that, I'm not sure. Anyway, birminghamgeeks.net now exists and pulls stuff from upcoming, flickr, and twitter; if people could tag a few (relevant) photos "birminghamgeeks" on flickr and a few relevant events "birminghamgeeks" on Upcoming, I can see if it works. Perhaps having a central sort of place to look for Stuff That's Going On will help...?
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      CommentAuthorsil
    • CommentTimeApr 26th 2009
     
    Oh, I know it pulls from twitter, but if you could avoid twittering about it until I know it works, that'd be handy. Also also, anyone who fancies exercising their CSS skills to make it not look like pants will get the love. (Limitation: no images in the CSS, if you please.)
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      CommentAuthorsil
    • CommentTimeApr 26th 2009
     
    mrph mrph mrph birminghamgeeks.appjet.net if birminghamgeeks.net times out. Don't know why it's timing out.
  1.  

    I think most of the reasons for the lack of a web scene in Birmingham have been suggested, but I thought I would chime in with a few thoughts given that I'm now a self-conscious hip Brightonian (yet still regular Multipack attendee).

    I think Brighton and London are hubs for new media is down to a combination of factors, namely location, population density, culture and background.

    • Palo Alto (and the San Francisco peninsula) became a hive of technological activity largely due to the presence of Stanford University.

    • London is a hub of activity almost by default being the nations capital and home to 7 million people (and for that reason probably the centre for a lot of different industries also).

    • Brighton is an area rich for new media geekery due to a combination of it's closeness to London, its small concentrated size, and also it's liberal attitude (see San Francisco) which is attractive to many within our industry (see Open Source, Creative Commons and the like).

    For these reasons, they almost didn't have to try that hard to become home to prominent web scenes. At the same time, none of the same could be said of Birmingham: It's population is spread out across a large number of counties, the city centre has no creative hub whilst all the coffee shops are owned by Starbucks and the area has poor transport connections. At the same time its background is largely industrial, and in terms of politics, historically more socialist leaning than liberal.

    So in order for Birmingham to achieve the same level of prominence as other hubs would require a consistent and sustained effort from a large group of people, over a number of years, as building such a scene is going against the grain.

    One thing I will say however, and this struck me a little after the first Multipack Presents event when this was mentioned - I do sense a slight uncomfortable anti-London/Brighton vibe. I know this is largely in jest, but I do think we should be more open to learning from those areas rather than dismissing them out of hand. I've spoken to a few people in Brighton for example that would be more than willing to travel to Birmingham to give presentations at the Multipack Presents event for example. In fact, accepting such offers would have the effect of legitimising the area as up-and-coming.

    I think your website Stuart is a great first step, but we need more of the same. Brighton's scene seems heavily based around an industry wide mailing list (http://www.brightonnewmedia.org/), so maybe Birmingham should have something similar? In terms of groups, it would be nice to see a few more that meet up on a weekly basis, rather than monthly. There also needs to be some outreach amongst the different groups, as each seems oblivious to the other right now. There are a lot of different blogs and websites that try to promote creativity and community within the area, but frankly I don't think its enough. There needs to be face-to-face contact, there needs to be more events, there needs to be more socialising between different new media companies... more, more, more! Of course this is only possible if there are the numbers of people available and willing to do so, and companies able to host such events.

    In short there needs to be a continued and sustained effort, operating on multiple fronts, otherwise I'm not sure a prominent web scene will ever exist in Birmingham.

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      CommentAuthorsil
    • CommentTimeApr 27th 2009
     
    I knew I was going to get in trouble for having a pop at Brighton. :-)

    It's inferiority syndrome, mainly, precisely *because* there is no scene here (pace Matt's comments above), and we're the provinces and therefore get sneered at by trendy London noo-meeja types. Which is a horrid mischaracterisation, I admit it, but there it is.

    That aside...

    I thought about the brightonnewmedia mailing list, and debated setting something like that up. However, I don't think Brighton's scene begat BNM; I think BNM begat the scene. As Matt says, there's stuff already in Birmingham, it's just disparate and unconnected. Setting up another mailing list (in addition to, say, the Multipack, or whatever) sounds a bit like it'd make the problem worse rather than better to me. Corrections or disagreements encouraged on this point.

    I think the critical point Paul makes is outreach. Given Matt's points about there already being lots of stuff going on, making these things intertwine a lot more sounds like a good thing to me; make them all part of One Big Scene rather than a load of separate never-the-twain-shall-meet things.

    So...how to do that? Thoughts?
  2.  

    Hmm, I don't know enough about the history of the Brighton new media scene to know which came first, but I'll ask as I'm interested to find out. Indeed I will ask around for ideas from people down here to see what they reckon.

    One idea I had regarding outreach, was to make the next Multipack Presents all about doing just that! The Multipack Presents: A Connected Birmingham for example, and essentially force (if need be) a number of people from the different groups to be in the same room and hash this thing out. I think it's important that it not just be the more geeky groups either, as I think there is a large cross-over between the geeks and the creatives. But seriously, get everyone in a room, and not let them leave until they come up with a plan ;-)

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      CommentAuthorabitgone
    • CommentTimeApr 27th 2009
     

    I'll give you my thoughts, for what they're worth.

    Until 5 years ago, I lived in Birmingham for my entire life. For 6 years, I worked in Sutton Coldfield - a relative stone's throw from the centre of Birmingham - and I never heard of anything going on around there. I can blame the place I worked at for enforcing a 'closed' mindset to anything going on, but really, I didn't get engaged to a group of people or choose to start anything.

    In 2003, I moved to Leamington Spa, having landed a job in Stratford-upon-Avon. Again, either down to the fact that I wasn't looking hard enough or the groups round here are not promoting hard enough, I couldn't find anything going on down here on a regular basis. I'm presuming the former.

    Fast forward to 2007. I read on Jon Hicks' blog that there's something going down in Leamington Spa and that any self-respecting web geek should be there. 2007 also saw my first conference attendance, and I start getting this feeling that I'd like to be part of a group of like-minded people.

    I enjoy being part of the Multipack and I would deeply like to be able to meet up with people from time to time and hang out informally without a rigid calendar - being able to drop in is valuable but, personally speaking, I'm unable to get from Stratford to Birmingham at the drop of a hat.

    I do think that the midlands' transport links play a part, but I think people's willingness to travel will inevitably trump that. People come to the Multipack events from all over the place - and I agree with Paul, it's just a case of getting people to come.

    The other issue I see, and I draw on experience here, is that unless you're working for an open-minded, forward-thinking company who recognise the value in community and networking, they won't allow their staff to openly partake in such activities. I know my previous employers would have laughed at the idea of things like the Multipack and other socials, regardless of the fact that our then CTO was heavily involved in business networking breakfasts and the like.

    The Multipack is a great foundation for a good movement in Birmingham and the midlands ("Greater Birmingham") area - I think more than anything, our big hurdle is getting companies and web employees to recognise the value of the community and contributions they make to it.

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      CommentAuthorsil
    • CommentTimeApr 27th 2009
     
    Yep, there's my worry; there aren't enough people actually in Birmingham itself. Readers: can I get you to give some indication of where you are? You don't have to give complete details, of course, but an indication of how far people are from the centre of Birmingham would be handy.

    So, at home, I'm in Stourbridge, and it takes me 1h15m to get from my house to the centre of the city.
    I work from home, so my distance when I'm working is the same.

    How far are you, at home and at work, from the centre of Brum?
  3.  
    Sorry I've not pitched in to this conversation yet. No more to add than what others have said, anyway. For your info, Stuart, I'm lucky(?) enough to live and work (at home) five miles from B'ham city centre. 30 mins on the bus (on a good day).
    • CommentAuthorbrumguvnor
    • CommentTimeApr 27th 2009
     
    This is exactly the kind of thing that a young, keen, technology focussed University should get involved with... - or perhaps a Digitally focussed council off-shoot like Digital Birmingham... - or perhaps a regional development agency like Advantage West Midlands...

    As I see it there should be a small project put together with a small but dedicated staff: just one marketing literate geek could pull it off! - and there should be some "drop-in" meeting space with wi-fi and coffee available.

    I will mention it to Digital Birmingham, Birmingham City Uni and Advantage West Midlands and see if there is any momentum.
    • CommentAuthorMatt
    • CommentTimeApr 27th 2009
     
    For info, I live in Kings Norton (fifteen minutes train ride from the centre) and work in Perry Barr (about the same distance the other side). I also have a fair amount of contact with folks involved in the other Brum webby groups (largely so we can promote relevant info in the newsletter).

    I was talking to Pete Ashton (who does social media stuff and came along to a Uni twittermeet recently) about the need for more cross pollination of Brum webby groups. I know he has thoughts on this and might be worth bringing in to these discussions. The diversity is a strength of the "scene", but also a weakness if there isn't a crossover.

    In an ideal world big events like Hello Digital could act as the hub/glue between the groups, with everybody coming together to contribute, but the last event felt way to top-down and not bottom-up community-involvement driven. I ended up a bit disappointed in it overall.

    Moseley Barcamp might also be an opportunity for crossover, we should be doing something at that.
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      CommentAuthorabitgone
    • CommentTimeApr 27th 2009
     

    Whilst I didn't specifically mention journey times above, the journey from Warwick to Birmingham by car usually takes me 45 minutes.

    By train, from Leamington or Warwick, it takes between 40 minutes and an hour - depending on which train I use.

    That said, I enjoy the journey and I always find the Multipack meetings worthwhile, getting something from every attendance I've made.

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      CommentAuthorIgtastical
    • CommentTimeApr 27th 2009
     

    Well until Friday I was the same as Sil - in the 'Bridge - although I never really experienced lengths of journey over 35 mins into the centre of the city, but I don't travel at peak times (although I always found the train quicker than driving anyway).

    I'm now in the Jewellery Quarter, 10/15 mins walk from the centre of town. In fact I don't know for certain, I've not actually done it yet.

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      CommentAuthorrythie
    • CommentTimeApr 27th 2009
     
    I live in Leamington Spa, it's about 35-45mins by train normally + 15 mins walk to the train station from my flat.

    I find it quite easy to get there really especially with the locations always being in town. I also always find it worthwhile.

    I would note that before this year I not attended anything like Multipack and had only attended more formal conferences (FOWA, Google I/O, LinuxWorld etc.) which were all in London. I expect there are number of people who are unaware of the various things going on Birmingham as I was previously.
    • CommentAuthordaveharte
    • CommentTimeApr 27th 2009
     

    What a useful discussion this is. Really thoughtful.

    As has been pointed out, I work for an outfit called Digital Birmingham. Effectively we're a city council project although we have a range of public/private partners behind us. We do have this broad aim of making Birmingham 'a leading digital city by 2010'. What does that mean? A range of things, many of which are about access and participation - digital inclusion if you like.

    But as the economic development bloke at Digital Birmingham I have to do a couple of things to contribute to the 'leading digital city' stuff. Firstly, increase digital participation by all business sectors (40% of Birmingham businesses don't use a computer as part of the their business - not even a bit). Secondly, support the development of an emerging digital economy. That is, do what I can to draw attention to Birmingham as a place where exciting digital stuff is created.

    So you guys feeling part of a vibrant Birmingham web development scene is really important. Having Multipack as a sector-led organisation contributes to the story I can tell about Birmingham. As does the social media cafe, as do the bloggers meet etc. etc. Obviously I want to do more than seek reflected glory in your achievements and I do my best to bid for and secure project funds, influence external agendas and change hearts and minds in the council itself (not alone there, lots of us at it).

    I did do a presentation at a recent event where I outlined why I think that a strategic push from the public sector can make a real difference to growing your industry. I then wrote a paper on the back of it which I'm due to present to Advantage West Midlands in a week or so. I've dumped the paper on a blog to invite comments and I'd welcome yours.

    I'm thinking this is what you should expect of your public partners isn't it?. They do the strategic stuff, create the conditions, improve the physical links (cos you'll take care of the virtual ones), inject funds when they can, persuade those who want the funds to go to a sector that's dying to one that still seems to be growing.

    Happy to discuss with your group anytime. Enjoyed the meet I came to the other week.

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      CommentAuthorabitgone
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2009
     

    As a side note, I think I know what I'll be asking everyone - on camera - at the next social.

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      CommentAuthorsil
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2009
     
    Dave: I'd be inclined to hold off a bit on public provision until there's a scene there to foster, but what you're describing as the responsibility of the public sector is basically a wet dream for everyone who's ever queued up at a polling booth, so three big rahs for that!

    Wish I could make it to the next social event so I could talk about this in person, but it's (again) my weekend with my daughter...
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      CommentAuthorpeteashton
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2009 edited
     
    Hi All,

    Oddly I've been meaning to come to a Multipack event for about 2 years now but never made it. Could be the weekends thing or, more pertinently, it could be that there's enough stuff going on in the week that by the time Saturday comes I'm all web-ed out.

    From my perspective there's actually too much going in Birmingham and I can't keep up with it, so much so that I'm having to cut back on the stuff I go to in order to make space to actually do something with all the ideas and connections I've gotten out out of it all. There are just too many interesting people doing too many interesting web-things in this city. Which makes Stuart's perception of the lack of a "scene" interesting. I don't have any answers but maybe some observations might help:

    1) Scale. Birmingham is a big city. The West Mids is bigger. The scene I'm part of probably covers between 200 and 1000 people. That's not much and by its nature it's not representative (there's a bias towards the Moseley / Digbeth corridor for a start).

    2) From my perspective stuff in Birmingham seems to happen because there's a vacuum. In other cities such as London, Brighton and Manchester there are already scenes in place, often based around large industries or organisations. Oxford and Cambridge will have a similar thing with the universities. Both from and Digital and Media pov Birmingham has lacked these. This means that what happens here doesn't have a obvious focus and is much more distributed around personal networks (You can invoke Twitter at this point if you wish). While I think this is great because it means we get innovative and are flexible enough to adapt to what's actually needed it does mean what's happens isn't always on the radar.

    3) It's early days. From a social media (for want of a better word) perspective we're only a couple of years into this stuff having any real meaning and impact. In 2005 I could reasonably keep up with all the blogs coming out of Birmingham. Now that's impossible (and really not very useful).

    4) Define "web scene". I've said "from my perspective" a lot here with good reason. What I want to get from this is likely very different to what you want and while I'd hope you'd enjoy the stuff I enjoy there's a good chance what you're looking for isn't happening in Birmingham. My glib response to that would be to use the tools out there (upcoming, meetup, twitter, etc) and do stuff. Arrange meetups during the week. Come to things like the bloggers meets and social media cafes, filter out those who share your interests and start a spin-off meet. It can be as formal or informal as you like (3rd Wednesday evening in PubX at 7.00pm, say) and from that you can see what might grow.

    There are probably people out there. You just need to put the word out and connect with them. And, amusingly, this sort of discussion thread is a good way to do it. ;)

    [edited for typos]
    •  
      CommentAuthorpeteashton
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2009
     
    And since I didn't actually link to anything in my post, here's a handy list of some stuff going in Birmingham over the next month:

    http://www.birminghamsmc.com/other-events/
    • CommentAuthorNick Booth
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2009
     
    Hello Sil,

    I just want to build a little on what Pete has said. Like Pete I'm one of a number of people involved in organising the social media surgeries, bloggers meets and various other ways in which social media folk in brum overlap with each other and people with various digital skills.

    As a result of a lot of effort and imagination from a lot of people over a couple of years or more Birmingham has a strong national (and at times international) reputation for online civic activism of various sorts - plus of course the twitpanto!

    This is why I, at first, found what you say surprising. That's not a criticism, it's a measure of how many interest groups there are around the web and how the idea of a scene is personal. I consider myself to be part of a very vibrant Birmingham social web scene - and very lucky for that.

    I'm not someone who can rattle off html and there are many skills that talented coders have that will remain far beyond my areas of interest. But I'm always keen to connect with a wider range of people who use the web in many ways.

    If there's any way I might be able to help make you stay comfortable in a brummie skin then please shout. Do you fancy coming along top hep at the next social media surgery for voluntary organisations in the city - just as a way of perhaps connecting different networks?
    • CommentAuthorSimon Hamp
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2009
     
    I have to agree with lack of a "scene" in the West Mids. For me it would be great. I'm only 20mins away from the city centre, I work from home now after having started FlipStorm (http://flipstorm.co.uk/) and sometimes it would be nice to get out of the same four walls and chin wag with other geeks at random times.

    If we had offices, I'd be arranging stuff like this all the time! The best I can do at the moment though is the West Mids PHP Facebook Group - http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=171211185175

    I am looking forward to coming along some Multipack events soon. Just gotta think of a good reason to get into the city on a Saturday... bingo, take the Mrs shopping!
  4.  
    I am very interested in supporting a Birmingham web scene given that I..

    a. come from Dudley originally (yes feel sorry for me.. go on)
    b. used to live in London and loved it but felt the call of home
    c. now run a very successful business providing project management consultancy to the web/digital industry

    However, although I have been in Birmingham for 3 years now, my network is still largely London based and it is only since the advance of twitter and other social networks that I have begun to build a network locally. Note I live in the Jewellery Quarter which should be the heart of everything but I'm rarely here as all of my gigs to date have been in either Coventry, Leamington or London!

    I am working on building a Birmingham team to complement the London one but I can only do this through a network and (let's be honest) if there is money to be made in the West Midlands area. I'm sure there are opportunities here and it's just a matter of finding them.

    I have set up an "Agile Web Project Management" social network - if this fits your profile then please join..

    http://magicmilestones.ning.com/

    Might be useful for those moving from tech to management....

    As for moving to London or Brighton (I have staff in both places)I'm sure you would get a tremendous amount from working in either and I would recommend you do this if you want to kick start your career. However, from a selfish perspective I would ask you not to as we can't deal with any more brain drain!!!

    I'm looking forward to devoting more attention to the Birmingham Web Scene in the latter half of this year when I move from my current (very hands on) role to that of "Managing Director proper". Feel free to stay in touch by tweeting @magicmilestones

    Cheers and good luck - hope to meet you soon!
    • CommentAuthorzeen
    • CommentTimeApr 29th 2009
     
    Personally I have no idea what the web scene is like anywhere else.

    Here is my 2c..

    Problem?
    * There are only a handful of companies in Brum that know what they're doing (standards, quality, etc..)
    * Not many "influential" web people. This would encourage other people to meet up
    * Things need to be "cool" to keep my interest
    * A lot of people are in full time work and don't have the time/effort to work on side-projects.
    * Many developers in brum don't seem to be playing about with "bleeding edge" technologies

    What would help?
    * People natually bunch off and work on innovative and crazy projects together
    * More people to show off what they're doing and be proud of it
    * No-one should be scared about "selling out"
    * Get in with "Creative Networking"
    * Creative Presents meetings which will inspire people
    * Marketing

    These points might sound a bit shallow but this is how I see things :)

    I would like to see a good vibrant web community in Birmingham and I think Multipack is doing a great job. "Presents" has only just started and if the events are interesting to web developers then it'll naturally keep expanding.

    I went to a few Creative Networking events but no-one seemed to network and the events are normally based around video and sound - barely any web events.

    @zeeneo
    •  
      CommentAuthorsil
    • CommentTimeApr 29th 2009
     
    peteashton: interesting that there's this much going on. I wonder if it's just not publicised enough; people above have talked about outreach and crossover and that's probably what we have evidence of lacking here.
    I should note that, by my definition, a scene isn't just about events, though; it's about a general feel that I can hang out with people even when there's not a specifically-timetabled event going on. Sounds like we could make that happen, though. (Also, it would be handy if those events on the SMC were in Upcoming or similar -- email someone to update? What is this, the Middle Ages?)

    Nick Booth: the idea of being at a social media surgery sounds interesting; when's that on, then?

    magicmilestones: sounds like we have similar goals in mind :-)

    zeen: absolutely. I agree with everything you've said there.

    All: is birminghamgeeks.net a good idea? It looks like we already have a few sites which perhaps cover its target audience, so maybe it isn't needed...?
    •  
      CommentAuthorabitgone
    • CommentTimeApr 29th 2009
     

    Stuart, regarding birminghamgeeks.net, I think it's a good idea and the more that things are communicated, the better.

    After all, getting more people involved boils down to better communication - perhaps it's just a case that the more active groups need to get together throughout the year to further this.

    • CommentAuthorzenbullets
    • CommentTimeApr 29th 2009
     
    Speaking as a Brightonian, and ex-Midlander, I think any council initiative intended to make Bham the 'digital centre' is a wonderful ambition, but ultimately a fools errand.

    I have seen the Brighton scene grow over the last 10 years, and it has grown organically from the bottom up. There was never a point that Brighton City Council decided they wanted to be the UK's digital hub, it was a grassroots thing, the council simply had to go along with it.

    Birmingham is capable of doing this too, but a great deal of patience is required, and it has a long way to catch up. No single initiative is going to propel Bham to a level where it can compete with Brighton, or London, or even Bristol in the short term. But there are seeds that can be sown for long term growth.

    The Brighton scene started with the aforementioned http://www.brightonnewmedia.org/ mailing list, but has now evolved far beyond that. You literally can't help but fall over other creatives as you go about your business. Self employed copywriters, coders and designers all share desk space at the many co-working venues, wi-fi enabled pubs and coffee shops. Many companies drink in the same pubs on a Friday night. Individuals and companies converse CONSTANTLY throughout the working day, via Twitter, BNM and other mailing lists. There is a networking event of some kind pretty much every night. The FlashBrighton group have to battle the UXBrighton group for the use of a meeting room for a Tuesday evening, with many people struggling to choose which group to attend.

    I would love Birmingham to match this level of inter-connectivity, as I would love to be able to move back and do what I do closer to my family. And I have tried to do what I can to encourage this (see http://zenbullets.com/blog/?p=142 ) but there is a long way to go, and (I hate to say it) a degree of resistance - the Midlands just hasn't got the same attitude to sharing as Brighton.

    The Midlands also has an obvious disadvantage with its geography. But this is not an insurmountable barrier, as microhubs can develop within larger areas. But even Birmingham, which should be the natural site of centralisation, suffers slightly from the industry being split between the Jewellery Quarter and Digbeth at the moment. I suspect if it was more ghettoised it would flourish.

    The only way a New Media scene is going to happen in Birmingham is not through any organisation leading the way, or a council initiative, or sponsors throwing money at it. It starts with like minded individuals talking to each other, hanging out, sharing stuff, and a little friendly competition. It starts with people talking and grows from there.

    But it takes time.

    Two proposals to start the process:

    1. A cross-discipline mailing list. Unmoderated, full of spam, flame wars, raging egos and lots of arguments. This is the way to break down barriers.

    2. A central co-working space. Somewhere for freelancers to hang out and work during the day and for groups to meet up in an evening.
    •  
      CommentAuthorsil
    • CommentTimeApr 29th 2009
     
    zenbullets: what you're describing is exactly what I'm looking for :)

    All: the cross-discipline mailing list like BNM seems to be coming up again and again. Thoughts? Might be worth tying it into birminghamgeeks as a conceptual sort of thing (oi! designers! do me a nice design for free for the site, you know it make sense)
    • CommentAuthorpindec
    • CommentTimeApr 29th 2009
     

    sil: I'd agree - Birmingham does seem to lack a coherent web/geek scene, but I'm hoping that's more because it's not quite organised enough, rather than lacking a critical mass of interested people/companies - there are to my knowledge several SMEs (quietly) doing a lot of interesting things. Equally, my bad, I've never made it to a Multipack event - maybe it's cos I tend to be doing Other Stuff on a Sat afternoon.

    There are indeed loads of social media type things going on, but for me that isn't geeky enough - sure, there's an intersection on the Venn diagram between geek and social media, but I'd identify more with the geek circle. The vast majority of the Soc Med types are extremely very nice friendly people, but in my experience you do get the odd patronising berk, which really puts me off (though maybe that's true for any largish group of people?), plus for me there's a limit on how much I want to chat about blogging and/or twitter - though the cakes at Birmingham bloggers meets are excellent :). I've also had a similar experience of Creative Networks events as zeen - it's just the wrong set of people for talking about web geek stuff.

    I think I'd slightly disagree with one of pete ashton's points - sure, social media stuff is newer, but as far as the web's concerned, it isn't early days. Birmingham's late - I'd be frankly amazed if Birmingham can claim to be a leading digital city by 2010 (though the Digital Birmingham criteria are pretty unmeasurably vague...). I like pete's idea of a geek spinoff of BSMC though :).

    I've been grumbling about Birmingham's apparent inability to hold, say, a barcamp for months, so I finally bit the bullet and started to try and organise one - see @brumbarcamp and/or the blog - though I think at the mo my plan will have to be to scale it down to a one-day event (cos I can probably just about organise that myself unless I get flooded with offers of help) - doing it true unconference style, nothing predefined, so I'm hoping it'll be a good way to get everyone interested in a Birmingham geek scene to at least meet each other & find out what everyone else is into.

    re: public funding of this kind of stuff - Digital Birmingham (pre Dave Harte) seem to have focused on digital inclusion stuff that isn't really relevant to geek SMEs, and I don't really get the argument that public sector tinkering/innovation can drive the SME/digital economy unless it's via consultancy. What I'd really like to see - similar to Igtastical's idea and commented on Dave Harte's site is AWM or some other public body funding a Rapid Innovation Lab for both hardware and software, basically a member-run space for exactly the type of interactions we're all craving, set up in the city centre, with the agenda set by the members not the funders. It could easily host both the soc med and the geek stuff.

    In the meantime, some interested people have set up a Birmingham hackerspace (disclaimer: I'm a member) - no set home yet, but regular meetups to tinker with code / arduinos / RFID readers / whatever (and see also the links on that site to Brum perlmongers and Python WM). Would be good to see you there.

    I'm also biased cos I'm orginally from Brighton way, so I do pine for it occasionally - it's a bit weird being so far from the sea here. I've also worked in London (and with magicmilestones, hi steph! good to see you're spreading the agile skills up here) and fervently hope Birmingham can set up some infrastructure to sustain some of the kind of things everyone's mentioned above and that happen elsewhere like mobile monday, geek dinners, girl geek dinners, hack days etc. etc., otherwise the geek brain drain will just continue ...

    I'm more than happy to help out :). Maybe we should all meet up and thrash this out into a proposal for AWM?

    re: birminghamgeeks.net - the more brum geek sites the better :)

    • CommentAuthorzenbullets
    • CommentTimeApr 29th 2009 edited
     

    I set this up when I last proposed this idea (4 years ago!) - http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/mnmlist/</a> (and a homepage at http://www.midlandsnewmedia.co.uk/ ) - but didn't really do anything with it.

    All you need do is sign up and start talking rubbish.

    Happily transfer these over to multipack, if someone wants to manage it.

    • CommentAuthorspacescape
    • CommentTimeApr 30th 2009
     

    Interesting the human side of this discussion - despite being part of a largely location independent industry, we still seek to nurture a real world, localised community. Not that I'm saying it's a bad thing, or particularly strange - we all like to attach physical roots to our online presence; whether to communicate a sense of trust (as per online retail and services), or identify with an area or group. Still interesting though.

    Like the idea of more regular, less structured meetups but figure that by their casual nature - they are not easily organised. I'm not that interested in the SMC and bloggers meets; Twitter, blogging and social media in general are tools I use daily, on a personal and professional level - not as any sort of communication or promotional medium for an organisation...

    I have lived in Birmingham for over 9 years now, the West Midlands for longer - and been a web designer for all my working life. I've worked for large companies in the region, contracted around the country and freelanced in Birmingham. I've known many local people in the industry - those who i have known well are generally the people I have worked with. The ones I know 'of' are more likely to have been considered competitors when i was marketing myself as a business, and remained at a distance unless i got to know them on a personal level through some other means.

    These days I work for a largish IT services company having little professional interaction with my contemporaries outside of the organisation, and have no need to promote and market my services. A selfish attitude perhaps, but when freelancing I regularly attended networking sessions and saw every social event as a potential business opportunity (Not intentionally - just becomes habit). Perhaps one of the reasons for the perceived lack of a community amongst Birmingham web professionals is the lack of a common purpose. I refer specifically to web professionals, as it has been demonstrated above that there are plenty of community based, web oriented groups in and around Birmingham - but most are related to the use of the internet as a medium, rather than developing for it.

    One of the reasons for the success and longevity of the Multipack, I think, is possibly its standards based bias. This is, and has long been a common goal among professionals who care about the health and progress of the industry - and as such binds people together. It also has the potential to be slightly tribal, risking alienation of those who don't 'get it', and there is the danger of displaying a certain amount of snobbery (for want of a better word) towards those whose standard of standards doesn't live up to one's own standards...

    But I digress :) ... maybe the common purpose that is needed to bind all of these disparate tribes together, is just this - the desire for a buzzing and respected web 'scene' in Birmingham, and wanting the city to receive the deserved recognition for the application of people's inherent creativity and ingenuity to the new social, economic and industrial revolution.

    Oh, and for what it’s worth - I live in the centre of Birmingham (Ladywood/Jewellery Quarter) but now work in Telford.

    • CommentAuthorcharles
    • CommentTimeApr 30th 2009
     
    Hello all,

    Nice to see such an extensive thread and a whole bunch of good points.. (some i might of skipped over .. sorry)

    I live over on the verges of the jewellery quarter (Mr Higgs; you must be close?) just by the bt tower and work over in digbeth (One Black Bear)

    My two pence ...

    As much as I'd like to see a thriving web scene in brum im very sceptical.

    West midlands itself is indeed too large to have a 'web scene'.. Birmingham is still on the large size and very few webby folk live in the actual centre and I think everyones already mentioned the travel issues..

    I agree that all the current web groups in brum very rarely talk to each other; which is a shame. Moseley Barcamp would be a good venue with hopefully lots of overlapping people to bring in to the conversation.

    Maybe consider some form of umbrella encompassing the various strands of Birminghams web groups to get things organised and show some form of cohesion?

    If the council want brum to be the centre of digital excellence etc some form of funding, structure and plan should surely be in place by now?
  5.  

    I don't think you need any kind of 'central authority' trying to promote this, if you want a scene as some of you have described, then move your business to where creative/web stuff already exists, get a unit in fazeley studios or move up into the jewellery quarter with 383 and a few others.

    More communication between groups would be awesome, but I don't think you need anything or anyone to make it happen. If you want to meetup more regularly then just start doing it, piggy back of what's already happening to promote the group to a wider audience.

    •  
      CommentAuthorsil
    • CommentTimeMay 13th 2009
     
    deplorableword: I agree. Part of the reason for me starting this thread was that it didn't seem to me like there was much going on for web people in Brum. Something that's become pretty clear during the discussion is that there's actually quite a lot going on but people don't necessarily know about it. The suggested midweek Multipack meets will really help with building a consistent social scene to tie together all the disparate events, I think. I'm looking forward to it.

    Now, if someone wants to buy my house in Stourbridge, I can move to the city...