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Echoes of Digital Surrey

Leafy, sunny, and sleepy Surrey… it’s a hub of digital excitement and innovation, don’t you know!

On Thursday evening I spoke at the third Digital Surrey meeting over in Guildford. The venue for all of the meetings of the group so far has been the brilliant Bench bar at the new Surrey Sports Park, and as usual it didn’t disappoint. There was a nice crowd, a little smaller than previous months (not entirely surprising due to the sunshine, holiday period, and sporting excitement), but again there were new faces and the group continues to evolve

What is Digital Surrey all about? Well, it’s not my brainchild (that award goes to the tireless @AbigailH), and it doesn’t have a mission statement as such, but if I was to describe it, I’d say that it’s a group of people interested in online and offline, mostly digital… “stuffs”… Web 2.0, publishing, creativity, new technology, communications, community… all kinds, really. It’s a very diverse crowd – from PR, marketing, journalism, web development, from startups to corporations, musicians, academics, researchers, and those into politics. Quite a fascinating group of people to explore from month to month, and the best part is, it has been growing and changing all the time. It all started last year when some wonderful people from a PR and communications company called thebluedoor, based in Farnham, started a series of irregular tweetups in the area… and it sort of snowballed from there, with the excellent folks from iBundle (home of Raffle.it, SocialSafe, etc) helping to get things off the ground with very generous and much appreciated support. You don’t have to be a Twitter user to take part, nor do you have to be from Surrey… so I sneak across the border on the occasional, uh, reconnaissance mission! :-)

So, fundamentally, it’s a great mixed up, jumbled group of people that meets once a month. Some willing volunteer gets up to say some stuff for half an hour or so somewhere in the early-to-middle section, and then discussions, chat, and networking go on into the evening. See? Surrey really is a hub of digital excitement and innovation!

My theme was essentially all around how organisations need to be more outward-looking… that by blocking off the outside world and constructing an “echo chamber”, they will stagnate and lose touch. I told the story of how I’ve been successful making myself social inside a large corporation, and then talked about how that use of social tools has extended beyond the firewall. I also said some things about how I’m beginning to thoroughly dislike the term “social media” and I don’t believe in the efforts of marketeers to manufacture “viral”, but those are probably rants for another time and place. We had some brilliant conversations about what challenges companies face in enabling their people to go down these paths and enabling a more trusting culture. There’s a brief write-up on the Digital Surrey site, along with some of the lovely tweets that people posted while I was speaking!

Sound interesting? If you want to get involved, there’s a LinkedIn group where we have ongoing discussions, and the website is in the process of being shiny-fied. Next meeting is on July 22nd and I’m assured that Chris Green will have some great thoughts to share on the importance of content. Can’t wait! :-)

[oh, and if you’re interested in meetups of this nature, I also have to put in a word for the great Thames Valley Social Media Cafe, aka #tvsmc, aka Reading / Thames Valley Tuttle, aka a nice cup of  coffee or tea and a natter about the latest happenings… it is sometimes partly populated by folks you might also meet at Digital Surrey… It’s twice a month, alternating between Reading, Farnborough, or a.n.other venue, in the daytime, also on a Thursday, under the excellent stewardship of @BenjaminEllis, @caalie and @JimAnning. Take a look!]

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Thoughts on Thames Valley Social Media Cafe

I’ve long been interested by the Twitterings and blog posts about the Social Media Cafe / Tuttle in London, but since I’m so rarely in London these days I haven’t yet had the opportunity to get along to one of these gatherings. When I read that Neville Hobson, Drew Benvie and Benjamin Ellis were proposing to have a similar gathering for the Thames Valley region in Reading, I was was one of the first to put my name on the wiki.

The event was held at Workhouse Coffee in Reading, which as it turns out it pleasantly close to Reading West station, so I caught a train up on Friday morning and wandered along. Despite the fact that I took both a camera and a camcorder, I entirely failed to take any footage, so I’ll have to refer readers to Drew and Neville’s photos from the event. Workhouse Coffee is a wonderful place – the owner has a great deal of knowledge and the beans are freshly ground in perfect measure to create just the cup you’ve asked for. I noticed on the blackboard that they have a MySpace page… and apparently they are also now on Twitterread Drew’s blog entry for the details! If you want something strong, I recommend the Java, incidentally.

What about the content? Well I wanted to go to meet people, and I had no preconceptions as to what the event entailed. As it turned out, Steve Lamb (@ActionLamb) and Drew (@drewb) are folks that I’d met briefly in the past, and I’ve been following Neville (@jangles) for longer than I care to remember, or so it seems in the modern world where the Internet randomly compresses or extends time in my mind. Everyone else counted as a new acquaintance – it seemed as though we gathered an interesting mix of tech and business perspectives, PR and journalists.

I’m not going to recount every discussion, but just to give a flavour of the variety, there were about 15 of us and in a 90 minute period I had conversations with most people, taking in topics such as: Government 2.0; Agile development, large corporation software development practices, and componentisation; coffee (!); podcasting; Blue Fusion; using social media with a marketing focus; how best to combine social media tools for a seamless customer experience; why it’s still important not to have a Flash-only website; Online DNA; Grown Up Digital; Home Camp; how to use social bookmarking; the slow death of print media and how bloggers might save local journalism; rebranding; flexibility at work; and Twitter (phew!).

A whole bunch of new contacts and, I hope, some interesting new side projects have been generated as a result of the discussions. Based on the meetup I’m delighted to have met (as well as those I’ve already mentioned) @warrilowpr @adrianmoss @nickydavis @ravinar @mattbrady @johnmcg and @saqibs.

I hope to be a regular(-ish) attendee at these, but it’s going to be dependent on schedules. I highly recommend the mixture of people and opportunity to share new ideas – do come along in future if it sounds interesting. Thanks again to Neville, Drew, Benjamin, and our unsuspecting hosts at the coffee shop!

Other write-ups from Adrian, Catherine, Drew, John, Matt and Neville.