“Hack weekends” churn out a lot of creative, disruptive ideas that are always left to languish into digital oblivion. I think this is indicative of a systemic focus on process -- which is great and has lead to great processes driven innovation -- but which has resulted in a general lack of actionability. As the ‘like’ function in social media is often criticised for failing to turn liking into action, so have hack weekends by and large failed to turn good ideas into great ideas that active change.
GSJ12 London (Global Service Jam, annual event) innovated on this by offering a prize of MakeSense consulting to carry the projects onward into investment to the two top services designed. Whilst this is only advice it offers further links to networks with investment possibilities to turn the ideas into viable businesses.
We need more like this.
The two top teams this year were “Snapbooks” and “Peekr”; I am incredibly enthusiastic about both (and will say that those two and “What’s Next” were my favourites throughout the weekend).
My thoughts on each follow:
Snapbooks is a crowd-sourced authoring, convergence project, in the truest sense: it tracks physical content and communities digitally, whilst only offering the content in analogue.
The concept: there are these books that you can write a story or make some art in. They are found in independent coffeeshops and sponsored by independent publishers. The content is only available to you when you are physically co-located with said book. But you can seek out particular books because each book has a QR code, each author a profile on a website that details what they have contributed. The business model is that as content is added, independent publishers have the opportunity to keep an eye on emerging talent.
I thought this idea was utterly brilliant! And practically everyone else at the Jam (except the judges, of course) thought it was completely mad! We are so concerned with creating digital social objects to imitate our physical, analogue world that we have forgotten how much we enjoy the physical touch. Doodle has done something interesting in this analogue space lately -- created an analogue version of itself (pre-iterating?).
I discussed this with Bill Thompson not too long ago when he lamented (via Bret Victor) the lack of innovation in touch - interface design. I’d be very curious to hear Thompson’s thoughts on Snapbooks.
Peekr, the other selected winner, explores emergent conflicts in and core notions of social media -- anonymity, vulnerability, and point of narrative entry.
Peekr augments reality with geo-locative stories but is based on anonymity with the thought that people will share more deeply if they don’t have to say who they are.
At a time when we want to know more about people and find ourselves frustrated (it’s not just me, right?) when someone doesn’t have a digital identity to at the very least refer to, Peekr turns the notion on its head and picks up on our inner conflicts about sharing. How many times have you wanted to share (affectively, recognition or empathy) but haven’t because it was too personal or worried how it might make you look -- like an emotional woman, like a prat, like a softy, possibly because business shouldn’t be personal? Exactly.
Marc Quinn, one of the team members and a friend of mine, pointed out that Peekr lets people be vulnerable, something we have very little space to do in our daily lives but is so so important. Marc used to run authentic game nights in London. Vulnerability, as Heather Gold frequently points out, is the basis for authentic connection, but since it can back-fire, vulnerability becomes like Rousseau’s stag hunt (Hume, too), a conflict of who trusts first.
[Tangentially, there’s another important point here, which is that the future of the economic discipline had better be experimental, a branch of economics that undermines the rest of the tree because it it shows that we are in the clichéd sense “predictably irrational”.]
The ‘stag hunt’ is overcome by anonymity, something that the internet as defined by Google and Facebook mean to kill-- despite years of scholarship that support the opposite conclusion: that anonymity on the internets is vital to a psychologically healthy society because it provides the opportunity to iterate parts of your identity (self) in ‘safe’ ways. (Rifkin supports his arguments about iterative self with two academics: Zurcher, 1977 and Lifton, 1999 -- refreshing to have someone other than Goffman to refer to, don’t you think?; also see chapters in Turkle, Ed. 2008, I could go on…) Understanding these dynamics, our own emotional decision making processes is not only the key to digital literacy but also to the economic of the tech/app economy.
The marketing common wisdom for apps revolves around monetisation via data collection and sale to marketers. One of Peekr’s suggested revenue streams is by advert support. From anonymous users? It begs the question how useful is notional information? Anonymity would preclude sex and age information. But it would still give marketers and businesses an idea about a brand’s emotional perception. I suspect that this is ‘good enough’. If we follow that logic, can we turn privacy concerns and data ownership on its head and provide a more acceptable (private) way to participate in the digital economy?
Peekr also picks up on this notion of leaving behind a signature ‘in the ether’, our own mark on a place in time. It’s a terribly magical-romantic notion that I love -- that there’s something there that’s special and full of meaning that you can’t see.
If this blog post finds its way to any VCs, please invest. You won’t regret it.
The outcomes from GSJ12 London can be found here.
Next year I’d like to see something like a prize that includes direct funding links, like a guaranteed place on EmergeLabs round.