There are conferences and then there are conferences. When Andres Colmenares got in touch late last year to ask if I was interested in speaking at their Internet Age Media Conference in April this year, I was curious, and all I read and saw about it online was positive, so I said yes (it was also in Barcelona!). In the following few months leading up to the conference, I got to know the IAM team better, met them in person when they were over in London on work, and began working on my talk.
I’d like to mention the collegial culture – more of a community – that Andres and Lucy, the organisers of IAM, are creating, two years on from the launch of the conference. A few of last year’s speakers were in attendance again, for no other reason than to be part of it again. It helped that no one really had to dash away to their offices, and it was a fairly global audience, from all over Europe and some from the US – you didn’t feel like you were just speaking to the same people you know from work.
The passionate talks by the publishers of niche media really stood out for me: Oslo-based Recens Paper (a youth culture magazine targeted at 16-25 year olds founded by 16 year-old Elise By Olsen), Brownbook Magazine (based in Dubai, and catering to the Middle East and North Africa region), Freunde von Freunden (or Friends of Friends, by Berlin-based agency More Sleep), and Stack Magazines (a subscription-based business that sends out a different indie magazine every month). It wasn’t surprising to hear more than one member of the audience ask the same question: ‘how do you make money?’ (there’s no easy answer).
Zach Seward on the genesis and evolution of Quartz’ new-ish bot-based iPhone news app was also fascinating. It is impressive that every single talk by a Quartz employee that I’ve seen so far (mostly in London; this was the only non-UK based one I’ve seen in person) has been so open in terms of truly opening the business up to the audience. You really get the sense that they are about the future of publishing, not steeped in legacy as so many news publications are today. The only other publication that comes to mind when I think of that ethos is Medium – which I know is not a ‘publication’ in the traditional sense of the word, but their engineers are so focussed on product and market fit that yesterday’s news of the $50m Series C round did not seem surprising to me at all; witness this from an interview this month with Ev Williams:
“If you look at feedback loops like likes and retweets, they’ve been very carefully crafted to maximise certain types of behaviours. But if we reward people based on a measurement system where there’s literally no difference between a one-second page view or reading something that brought them value or changed their mind, it’s like – your job is feeding people, but all you’re measuring is maximising calorie delivery. So what you’d learn is that junk food is more efficient than healthy, nourishing food.”
Anyway, that was an aside. Back to IAM – also check out Exposed Magazine, which came out of the incubator at CIID in Copenhagen last year: a dual media publication in the form of a printed magazine and a free iPhone app that recognises images inside the magazine, with additional content. I got a copy.
John Willshire gave a thought-provoking talk on meta-mechanics (or how the internet works, or should) in true Smithery style – it’s up here. The ‘future of museums’ was also neat – the past meets the present and future – and we were brought up close and personal with people from Rhizome (affiliated to New York’s New Museum), the Tate (their Tate Collectives division, working to engage young people with museums, has some cool projects like last year’s hilarious 1840s GIF party in their portfolio) and the V&A (who launched a sleek new website last week in collaboration with Made by Many).
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the very experimental internet-y things during the conference, like Domestic Data Streamers‘ real-life emoji experiment after each talk (you had to put up one of 5 emojis that were handed out at the beginning of the conference, to indicate your opinion about it), and Sergio Albiac’s code-as-art experiment with the attendee badges. This was mine (it involved speaking into a laptop for a minute, and getting a picture taken):
Anyhow, back to my talk, which happened to open the first day of the conference (no pressure). It was broadly about internet culture, seen through the lens of my work with Ada’s List and the Other Valleys. There’ll hopefully be a video soon, but till then, here are my slides.
Lucy and Andres, thank you for the opportunity. And to the entire IAM family – YOU ROCK.