Come Have a Corporate PICNIC!

On: September 28, 2008
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About Marijn de Vries Hoogerwerff
Marijn de Vries Hoogerwerff is a New Media theorist, Web researcher and Internet entrepreneur. In 1999 he started working as IT professional at the broadband Internet Service Provider @home (a franchise of the ISP and search engine company Excite@Home). After working here for over eight years he decided to pursue a study in New Media at the University of Amsterdam. During this study he has been an active member of the Digital Methods Initiative (DMI) research group, working together in a strong team of designers, programmers and theorists to develop new Web-specific methods and tools for doing online research and has written in depth about Internet censorship research, code consciousness and cyber-cosmopolitanism. Next to several stand-alone projects he also started up CYBERLIFE, focusing on building Web-applications, sites and tools, Web hosting and doing Web research. After receiving his Master degree in New Media he continued his contributions to the DMI, has helped organize the Society of the Query conference for the Institute of Network Cultures and has been a thesis supervisor at the University of Applied Sciences (HvA) for Interactive Media. His current company, nochii BV, focusses on utilizing theoretical knowledge and practical experience to help companies get a better understanding about the Web, their network and the space they occupy and its relation to the offline. He holds the strong believe that the Web, both as infrastructure and as concept, can aid in dealing with the increasing complexity of the world (both online as offline) and the relating problematics.

Collaboration…If there’s one word I would suggest to compress PICNIC’08 into, this would be it. To be perfectly honest, the whole concept has gotten a bit hollow after three days of this greenly, grassy, commy conference. A small impression of my corporate PICNIC experience…
Wednesdays started of with and intro of Charles Leadbeater and later a discussion between him and Clay Shirky. Leadbeater’s presentation already gave a hint of what was to come in the 3 day PICNIC, an effort to stimulate and explain collaborative creativity and innovation. He expressed some very concrete ideas and examples on the state of the contemporary web and the changes in collaborative power of users on the web. Although the talk was meant as an introduction, I expected (given the audience) a bit more zooming into some of the major discussions circulation the field of collaborative power, creative industries, user generated content and so on. As Inge Ploum in her post already addressed, he expressed a rather simple view on the web as natural space, where people can freely express themselves without a corporate agenda. Leadbeaters main point however I believe was that the web is inherently collaborative and changes the business logic of today. The logic of old organizations is to do things for you, end up doing things too you whereas the logic of the web is with and by you. The question, which also seems to go trough the whole PICNIC’08 convention, is how companies should change their business logic or services to garnish the great potential of the web. Listening to the talks and getting a feel for the audience, I had the feeling it was not so much the potential of the web, but more-so the economically interesting free time investments of internet users was what the crowd was after.
Thursday was the day of the HOT100, the hundred up-and-coming creative media talent of the Netherlands. Although the first part of the day was more hanging around and waiting then anything else, the team of the Virtueel Platform did a nice job getting some interesting speakers to present before us. A previous post already discussed the HOT100 day in more detail, but what I want to point out is that the focus of this gathering was again mostly focussed on how to make use of the web in our new (upcoming) businesses. Although art and research where somehow acknowledge when the group was divided into a reseach group, an art group and a commercial group, it still all felt highly business minded. From my point of view ‘creative media talent’ do not all have to hold corporate ambissions and having had the bad fortune of sitting in the commercial corner, the whole experience in the end was a little tiring. Being a New Media Master, I was hoping for a bit more critique, resistance or dancing on the border of what we already know. Luckily the virtueel platform e-Art dome (read Alejandro Ortega Lozano’s post) was more in line of my expectations. Projects like the Satellite Sounders by Yolande Harris (listen to examples of her satellites to sound project here) and the BIOmodd project by Angelo Vermeulen both presented a way to join art, research and technology, aspects of the contemporary web which I think cannot be separated.
Friday was the day it all became a little to much for me. Although there where some interesting talks on data visualisation, the second part of the day was a huge celebration on corporate planet earth. One of the most shocking examples was the introduction of ‘paint the world orange’ where Saskia Korsten earlier wrote a post on. With a big explosion lots of orange ribbons where shooting in the hall and overly happy boys and girls where dancing and waving orange flags. This was followed by a ADHD speech of Michael Tchong of the trend watchers company Ubercool. He was the embodiment of my sorrow. Although he was indeed skilled in his way of presenting, this type of marketing minded looking at the trends of our contemporary society are too much for my stomach to bare. Although I was ready to run to the cafe to get some beers, I wanted to hear the talk of Gisel Hiscock, director new business development – Europe Middle East & Africa at Google. It however was nothing more then a short introduction on corperate Google, consisting of some facts on Google I believe nobody at PICNIC was unaware of; innovation, democratizing information, users first/money later, fully data driven, clear mission/best service to name but a few. If the newly appointed director of Google Europe wasn’t such a charming lady, I would have left the space in a few minutes. To not sound to pessimistic, there was one interesting part when she mentioned the morphing of non-popular tools instead of killing them. Richard Rogers has shown an interesting movie on Wednesday on the Demise of the (Google) Directory in the e-art dome, which is telling the story of the popularity battle between the libarian and the algorithm, in this case the search engine. Although the disappearance of the google directory might be seen as a victory of the search engine, listening to Hiscock, there might be a revenge of the morphed directory in the future.
Glad to come up  with this amusing coparison, but with morphed feelings of a corporate collaborative selling out of my online experience, I ran to the exit at the end of her speech to see some like-minded people. I hope the decrease in government funding for PICNIC next year will spur more e-art like domes to generate more contrast between the different disciplines. A cross media event should incorporate all colors of the media spectrum, something PICNIC’08 did not manage to do.

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