28th October, 2010

Brilliant Brooklyn Beta

Back in May (during a drunken Beer Friday in New York’s DUMBO) my friends Chris and Cameron outlined their plan to put on a unique event for the web community. If they pulled it off, it would be fantastic. Well, they did it, and the result was the incredible Brooklyn Beta.

Taking place on October 21st and 22nd in the wonderful borough of Brooklyn, this event brought together a diverse group of attendees from around the globe. We gathered not just to hear some fantastic speakers and attend some wonderful workshops, but also with the aim of getting to know each other a little better, spark new ideas, forge new working partnerships… and drink a significant amount of ale.

I’ve been very fortunate to meet most of the people I always wanted to meet at events over the years, but Brooklyn Beta was overwhelming in that regard. I didn’t just find time to meet established practitioners and (dare I say) heroes, but also a number of really exciting new folks who have come to my attention over the last year or so. Cue ideas for collaborations, and secret reveals of amazing projects that I desperately wish I could write about. All I can say is that people are making so much smart shit that it makes my brain hurt.

Diverse presentations

The program was well curated, and the general theme was based around investing what you do with love. That might sound obvious, but the stories we heard on the day were incredibly inspiring. Shelley Bernstein from Brooklyn Museum shared a warm and funny story of her battle to attract funding coupled with her drive to engage the community through the really smart use of social media. Cameron Moll explored the journey he’s taken to make Authentic Jobs such a huge success, with refreshing honesty and personal reflection. Elliot Jay Stocks was even more honest as he explained the successes and mistakes he’s made with the excellent 8 Faces magazine.

It was wonderful to hear Kevin Cheng reveal so much about how the Twitter team arrived at #newtwitter. Venture capitalist Fred Wilson gave us a fantastic insight into what makes an app worth investing in, drawing on his vast experience whilst demonstrating an empathy with developers and a sharp awareness of their limitations and problems. Last but not least, Marco Arment eloquently described the steps he’s taken to make Instapaper such a must-have application across numerous devices. Apparently he doesn’t do many presentations. You’d never know.

My workshop

My Analytical Design workshop took place on Thursday afternoon, and I don’t mind admitting that I was unusually nervous. This was down to a combination of my attendees (the likes of Jason Santa Maria, Jon Tan and others) and also my decision to explore ideas and interests that as of yet I haven’t truly formalised. This meant that the three hours was a bit of an exploratory journey, with me sharing my investigations, wishes, and motives with the group. Thus, it wasn’t a traditional workshop format, and might even have been hard-going for some, but the feedback was really positive and has given me the confidence to push these ideas forward for my writing and speaking in 2011. Thanks, all.

Mapalong and Gimme Bar

We saw a number of demos on the day, including the brilliant Mapalong, a tool for personalising and sharing maps around events, places, ideas… anything really. A cleverly designed app, Mapalong is fantastic and will be available to play with to a testing audience very soon.

We also had the first public demo of a rather brilliant scrapbooking tool called Gimme Bar. Cameron first showed me this at his place the week before, and I was honestly thrilled. It is rare that someone identifies a problem, solves it so elegantly, and really strikes a chord with someone like me. I’m quite a tough judge of new ideas, but Gimme Bar is wonderful for collecting images, videos, text, web pages, and much more. Mark my words, when they make this thing available, designers like me will go giddy with pleasure.

A team effort

Chris, Cameron, and everyone from Analog and Fictive Kin deserve a huge amount of credit for making this event so special. Kudos also to the army of assistants and helpers from across NYC who chipped in to make the event run smoothly, and invest it with a grassroots integrity that made everyone feel welcome. I for one cannot wait for next year.

As a final note, let me tell you that this was the only event where I have been given a free pair of socks. Now, that’s unique.

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