I build communities, started one of the longest running coworking communities in the world, write a crapload of words every day, tweet a little too much, coach people to be the best version of themselves possible, can't stop learning new things, and do my very best not to take myself too seriously.
I have one goal: to fill the world with truly excellent collaborators so we can all work together, better.
Because let's be honest...most of us aren't very good at it.
These are my most popular and most valuable pieces, to help you get started.
Not only have the photo contributions from BlogPhilly been great, the latest set from Stan Schwartz @ Toonamation have some of my favorites. Stan’s product processes photos and video to give an automated/animated effect similar to “Scanner Darkly”. The product itself is really pretty incredible, and the results are just fun to look at. You can check out the entire set inside the blogphilly group pool, or on Stan’s flickr feed itself.
[tags]blogphiladelphia, photos, photo processing, toonamation, stan schwartz[/tags]
the last 2 months have WHIZZED by. I remember on May 1st when Brian Oberkirch emailed me and said,
“Alex: I thought you might want to tell some of your pals about this.”
By “this”, he meant a social media “unconference” being organized by GPTMC.
I immediately tracked down the organizer, Annie Heckenberger, and offered my assistance in any capacity. Next thing I knew, I was attending planning sessions, discussion how to make the event greener, planning a social event…oh man, what did I get myself into?
Now, 2 months and change later..we’ve got well over 200 attendees signed up, some incredible social media leaders slated to be in attendance and leading/presenting, and some awesome night events.
For those of you playing along (that is, planning on being in attendance), some notes:
The open grid thing:I’ll be giving a presentation after lunch about how this will go down, and why we’re doing it. If you’re interested in leading or presenting during an open grid portion and havent talked to me already, email me at this domain (no www or dotcom) at gmail.com. Make sure you catch my intro though, it will be good.
Social Events: Tonight @ P’unk Avenue for a pre-event warm up with out of town guests. Thursday Night at Triumph Brewery, 2nd and Chestnut for the big throwdown. We’re doing a microsponsorship of the bar tab. How does that work?
Triumph is donating pass around appetizers, but running a cash bar. So to maximize the “having fun” factor of a cash bar, we’re going to be allowing ANYONE to sponsor a bar tab as big or small as they like. This tab will be applied for the group when the previous tab runs out…and if all goes well, nobody should end up paying for their OWN drink for the whole night. It’s the equivalent of “a round for the bar on me!” As a thank you, we’ll send out your or your business name over Twitter, immortalizing your contribution on the interweb!
To kick things off, Independents Hall will be throwing in a $500 tab. Interested in joining us for the first couple of rounds? Find me at the event!
Also, I won’t be liveblogging or anything like that. I’ll send out twitter updates when things get interesting, most likely, but want to make sure my focus is on the event and making sure that I and everyone else gets the most out of this awesome venue for exchange.
MANY MANY thanks to Annie and her team at GPTMC for ALL of their hard work on this event, and for listening to my purist, grassroots banter :-). I’m so excited for this event and can’t wait to see how it leads Philadelphia to the next level.
I’ve mentioned BlogPhiladelphia in my blog more than once, in my recent videoblog, and it was the primary focus of my last appearance on PhillyTip. But with the exception of the last one, I haven’t done a very good job of explaining what BlogPhiladelphia actually is.
Since I started working with Annie (who totally rocks, by the way) on this project, I’ve managed to swing the format into a hybrid format of “Unconference” presenter/breakout session format and Open Grid Sessions, not unlike the hybrid barcamp event Web2.Open. The reason? I (and Annie, of course) see this as a platform for generating awareness in Philly about what is going on in the realm of social media, blogging, collaboration, and all of those juicy things you may have noticed that I get myself wrapped up in. This means that YOU.
Do you live in Philly and do something related to social media, web marketing, innovation, creativity, or any of the above? BlogPhiladelphia could be an opportunity for you to show the world that you’re here and you’re doing awesome stuff.
On the flip side, if you aren’t from Philly, this is going to be the weekend to come check us out.
To make this informational conference as accessible as possible for bloggers and non-bloggers alike, there will be no fee to attend. Participants are only required to cover travel and accommodations. For information on registration; details on sessions, panels, panelists and attendees; links to recommended hotel packages and Amtrak discounts; and details on Philadelphia attractions, visit www.blogphiladelphia.net.
So really, you have no excuse. Block off the dates, set up a place to stay if you’re traveling in, and register now.
In the summer of 2007, before Indy Hall was a place but was undeniably on the path of becoming a thing, we had a group of people who met on a semi-regular basis for a Junto, an event modeled on Ben Franklin’s “gatherings of mutual self-improvement”. P’unk Ave still holds them periodically and on various topics, but in that summer, we all had the same things on our mind: “What’s Next for Philadelphia”.
We’d just come out of BlogPhiladelphia, one of the first large scale events by and for the Philadelphia creative tech community. In a Junto held specifically to discuss the “What’s Next” question, some ideas crystallized that are still a huge part of the visions for Philadelphia today and in the future.
Long time Indy Hall member Dave Speers presented on behalf of his brainstorm group in an oration he should be proud of. He touched on 3 key components:
In the summer of 2007, our shared identity was broadly defined, but unity was found in a notion of “making a living doing what we love“.
Over the last 4 years, we’ve continued the path of mutual discovery of the people in our own backyards making a living doing what they love. We’ve folded this language into Indy Hall’s core mission, too, and it’s become an important part of who we are and how we operate.
Dave called Twitter, “Tweeter”, which had me giggling as I reviewed the footage, but his point was that persistant communication mechanisms were uniting us in unprecedented ways. While Twitter continues to be a large presence, there’s also increased visibility into the interactions of the industries being represented in Philadelphia, online and off. More importantly than loose connections are the strong relationships that can emerge from these communications. True communication – not just talking – opens the doors for emotional influence of the individuals in those industries in extraordinary ways.
Purpose was still left open for discovery in that summer of 2007, but there was a clear hunger for momentum. If we’ve successfully achieved anything in the last 4 years, it’s a momentum that not only has citizens of Philadelphia excited, but has citizens of other cities inspired. That’s an accomplishment in itself.
I think it’s important for us to periodically look back to where we were in order to get a clearer picture of where we’re headed, and how. It’s remarkable to me how much of this language still persists our daily dialogues about Indy Hall, Philadelphia, and the evolution and growth of the creative technology community here.
“We’d love to wait for you to come on board and help us, but fuck it, we’re gonna do it anyway.” – From Scene but not Nerd, January 2007.
The sentiment hasn’t changed for me, it won’t change anytime soon, and this past weekend’sevents illustrate a very important part: the sentiment is shared by more than just this angsty technologist.
DIY, or “Do It Yourself” for the uninitiated, means more than just “bottom up” for this town.
It means that people have a true sense of ownership, and a true sense of pride, in what they make, and why shouldn’t the city that they live and work in be a part of their portfolio?
BeerCamp Philly was more than a party (and believe me, there ain’t no party like an IndyHall Party, cuz an IndyHall party don’t stop), but a framework for achieving many of the important aspects normally not achieved by DIY.
First, the notion of doing it yourself seems to imply two things:
Do it BY yourself
Do it FOR yourself
BeerCamp debunked that in a big way, and put a stake in the ground for an fast growing, almost entirely underground community of homebrewers.
Among the takeaways I heard as the night played out, two important ones were recurring, and I believe the most important.
Many of our participating homebrewers don’t get to taste their beer with anyone outside of the group of friends with whom that they brew. That’s a lost opportunity for creating a feedback loop to learn from.
Many of our homebrewers don’t get to taste other homebrewer’s beer, and compare notes. Yet another lost opportunity to accelerate their learning process, and continue to experiment.
I should point out that it is my intuition that homebrewing is a social activity, and very few people do it 100% solo, but I’m not sure about that.
In one night, we connected 11 brewers to each other, and simultaneously introduced them to our sold-out attendance of well over 200 beer-lovers.
Brewers shared notes about process, junior brewers learning technique from a senior generation (and not surprisingly, some of those newer brewers had some things of their own to teach).
The act of “doing it yourself” for these brewers took something they did for craft, became a shared experience with a much larger audience, many of whom were new faces to our community.
In those series of moments, everything accelerated. Not just during the event itself, but with lasting effects that have yet to be seen unfold.
That’s the difference. Lasting effects because they have skin in the game from here on out.
During BarCamp Philly II, which was probably the dozenth’ or so “unconference” event I’ve attended in the last couple of years, something similar occured.
These people, and the dozens more that are out of frame and that came throughout the day, seized an opportunity to take 7 hour schedule and make it their own.
At 8am, there was no conference schedule. At 10am, 12 rooms had organized into over 50 sessions. The schedule board was full, and the organizers reacted by adding a 13th track, making room for up to 6 more presenters.
For all of the energy put into carefully crafting a conference schedule that’s ideal for an event’s agenda, I think this one came out pretty well.
Note the diversity, by the way. BarCamp Philly has begun to leave the realm of “geeks only” (only a couple of Twitter/social media sessions, and a healthy smattering of tech-oriented sessions), and is now also strongly trending into business, communication, education, law, art, music, and culture.
Back to Doing It Yourself.
For many attendees (I’d estimate well over half based on a show of hands at the beginning of the day), BarCamp Philly II was not only their first BarCamp, but their first exposure to the broader community of people moving and shaking in Philadelphia. At every event since the 2007 BlogPhiladelphia I co-organized with Annie Heckenberger, I’ve heard the same phrase over and over:
“I had no idea so much was happening in my own back yard”
And that’s just it. There is already so much going on in our own back yard.
Much of it, without the traditional focus on “What resources don’t we have and how do we get them?”, and with more of a focus on, “What can we accomplish with what we’ve already got?”.
Also, while it’s a little bit hard to be sure from session titles alone, I think you can deduce (and others can confirm) that BarCamp Philly was much less instructive, and far more interactive and conversational.
It wasn’t just about getting people to share ideas (which is fine, but not intrinsically productive), but about finding ways to help ideas connect.
That’s the difference between being told it’s a good idea to share your ideas, or having ideas shared with you, and having some skin in the game yourself.
Receiving pre-synthesized information leaves out all of the opportunity for self-discovery, idea branching and merging, and ultimately, innovative thinking becomes unidirectional.
Kung Fu Master->Grasshopper.
Those relationships are valuable and important, but it’s not the only way to do things.
We’re doing this a little bit differently, we’re doing it ourselves.
When the participants of BarCamp Philly come together to decide what’s important enough to talk about, and dialogue about it, serendipity accelerates in a big way.
And because they have skin in the game, the lasting effects are strong, and most exciting for me, yet to be seen.
So these events were a success, right?
The organizers totally dominated in putting together an incredible event framework, and worked their asses off to make sure that participants of the events could be effective. Roz Duffy, JP Toto, and Kelani Edmondson are quickly becoming master event planners and organizers. Kara LaFleur joins them as an extraordinary volunteer who just gets things done, and even more, coordinates volunteer efforts in force, allowing big things to happen when all you’ve got is a bunch of willing hands.
That said, as I titled my unusually somber and introspective session with Geoff, “We’re not done yet”.
If my personal goal was to be able to travel the country sharing and learning along with other people working to improve their cities, I’d be happy saying I’ve achieved that goal.
If my personal goal was to generate press (for better or for worse) around our efforts, more than once gracing the front page of established print and digital publications around the world, I’d be happy saying I achieved that goal.
If my personal goal was to be surrounded by, and work with (but not for) some of the smartest, most driven, talented, and incredible people you can possibly imagine, I’d be happy saying I’d achieved that goal.
Luckily, those personal goals are all being achieved as the first chapter of a much longer story is being written. There are a lot of characters already (rivaling a Tolkein novel at this point), and the cast is only growing.
I’m not writing this book, we all are.
We haven’t even finished the first chapter, Philadelphia.
This past weekend we celebrated the one year anniversary of IndyHall’s grand opening. I’ve been making it a point to clearly define what we were celebrating, for a reason. At our party, I added some clarity to the point.
IndyHall existed before the office at 32 Strawberry St was opened, and I firmly believe that if the office were to close down tomorrow, IndyHall would continue to exist.
IndyHall is not (just) a coworking space. IndyHall is a coworking community that shares a vision of making Philadelphia a better place to do whatever it is that they love to do.
The space at 32 Strawberry Street is the most tangible facet of IndyHall, the easiest to identify with. That’s a good thing, for our own community here in Philadelphia as well as the global coworking community and, quite frankly, the entire world. It’s good that IndyHall has a clubhouse at 32 Strawberry (so good that it was worth throwing an epic party to celebrate).
It’s important to have these clubhouses. Without some tangible touchpoint, it’s difficult to share goals, share visions, and collaborate on executions.
I’ve talked a lot about coworking over the last 2 years. I think I’ve talked about coworking more than any other single thing in my entire life, really. Over this time, I’ve realized the most common questions we get, and some of them tend to overlap and create some interesting trends.
Usually, people don’t get it. It’s getting better over time, and mainstream press is helping. But on the whole, outside of the microcosm community that we live and work in, people don’t get it. They don’t understand the purpose, other than the “having a desk in a real office” part.
I used to get frustrated when the thing that got people to understand was when I said, “Well, our business model is renting desks. But that’s really just the way we cover our overhead.” The fact that the least important part of the company (in my mind) was the most obvious, bothered me. Leaving a conversation where someone understood IndyHall on that level meant that they simply didn’t understand IndyHall.
“It’s not about making money, It’s like when you were a kid, and you had a clubhouse… it’s a way to feel like part of a community.”
The people who truly understand IndyHall are the one’s who’ve come to hang out at the clubhouse. And by the clubhouse, I’m still not just referring to the building in which we rent desks, host workshops, and build some of the coolest software you’ve seen this year. I’m talking about a bigger clubhouse.
People who heard me talk about IndyHall a year ago probably heard this analogy from me:
Imagine a bunch of little soap bubbles. Each one is self contained, and adjacent to a number of other soap bubbles. If you were to pop each bubble, the contents would just spill out into the open with nowhere to go. What I want to do is blow one giant soap bubble over top of the little bubbles, reach in through the wall of the big bubble, and start popping the little bubbles in creative and interesting ways, getting their contents to mix and mingle under one common “structure”.
That’s what we’ve effectively done with IndyHall. There was an extremely vibrant community here in Philadelphia, but it went undiscovered due to its fragmented and disparate nature. Think back, Philadelphians, to BlogPhiladelphia. Annie Heckenberger and I put together an event (this was the most “Hurricane” I’ve ever seen Annie, by the way. I wonder when we’re going to get that back) that was a whole lot of fun. But beyond the fun, but the number one response I got after the event was:
“I had no idea what my neighbor/coworker/blah blah blah was up to. They write for this blog/have their own startup/want to take of the world, too!”
It’s absurd that we think we need to have a conference, a meetup, or a party to find out what our neighbors/friends/peers are up to. Totally and completely absurd.
We should be able to simply hang out and go about our every day lives and have a point of contact that has the same degree of effect as a conference/meetup/party, but all the time. Tara and Chris have called coworking “Barcamp Every Day”, and I think that is a more important effect of coworking than the “save money on gas and office space” angle.
Frankly, the “efficiency” angle is an easy sell, and a real boon for the movement and it’s growth. But it says nothing about the value add and the changes that I firmly believe are much deeper rooted in not where we work, but how we work. We’re riding the crest of these changes, but I really believe this is bigger than all of us realize yet. THAT’S why I was upset about FastCompany’s shitty coverage of coworking. They have a massive, and extremely impressionable audience, and were sending the less valuable message. But I digress.
So going back to my soap bubble analogy, IndyHall is so much more than the 32 Strawberry St clubhouse. We’ve got clubhouses all over the city. Bars, restaurants, parks, apartments, offices. We’ve crashed conferences in other cities, together. As new soap bubbles find themselves within the ever-improving community clubhouse framework, they have similar experiences.
Knowing you’ve got a clubhouse is important for setting goals and executing on them as a community.
Knowing you’ve got a clubhouse is important for moral support when things aren’t going quite like you planned.
Knowing you’ve got a clubhouse is important when you need that last little push to get your shit done.
Knowing you’ve got a clubhouse is important for putting things into perspective.
Knowing you’ve got a clubhouse is important when you need to just close your eyes and dream for a minute.
Coming back from Orlando I faced a pile..one of the most daunting piles of work I’ve ever felt myself under (far worse than any string of exams I felt while still in school). To be fair, the pile was my own fault. I hadn’t done a very good job of ramping things down right before swinging into “IndyHall Mode”, where I spent most of August and September. But, I had committed to clients, who had paid for services, and I was definitely pushing the limits of the relationships I have with my clients.
On the record, THANK YOU, to all of the clients I have that were patient and proud of the stuff we did with IndyHall, and understanding while I got back in the saddle and found my way back into my development routine.
That said…2 weeks of hell, 18+ hour days, juggling stacked and overdue deadlines (again, all my own fault)..and there’s finally some light at the end of the tunnel. If I could bottle the refreshing feeling I had as I started crossing things off my to-do list, and sell it, I would. I’m pretty sure that the government would make it a controlled substance, it because the feeling was that good. Ahem. Anyway.
I realized something. These working conditions I put myself under were taking away from one important part of what I did. I develop, because I love to. I was developing these projects, because I HAD to, and the situation I got myself into was leading me towards a burnout. Understanding that my commitments and promises are what drive business and growth, and my loyal customers could have left weeks ago but instead stuck it out with me, helped. But emotionally…the realization that I wasn’t enjoying myself was a little damaging. I did not want to burn out this quickly at doing something that I enjoy so much.
Then, one week ago today, a screenshot came across my desk from one of the sharpest interface designers I know, Amy Hoy. At the top of that screenshot, I saw this:
My good friend Gary Vaynerchuk, recently soaring into the stratosphere with his 300+ episodes of a wine-tasting video podcast, was staring me in the face from the “laid back friday” couch and pointing at me as if to say, “yo man, this one’s for you”. Amy asked if I knew anyone who could build this out for a wordpress template for Gary’s new side project, and something in me said “you’ve got other stuff to do, but this one will be good for your soul”. So I agreed to spend last Saturday banging out this template.
I’m still not 100% sure what about this project set it apart, and realistically, it was only about 3 hours of work, but it was able to zero me out. I didn’t do it because I had to, I did it because I wanted to. Yesterday, I spent part of my afternoon with Gary and WLTV Producer Erik Kastner, at the Wine Library (holy crap, you have to go the place is nuts) talking about some of the things clunking around in my head. We’ll see what materializes from those conversations, I think it’s some good stuff.
I guess the whole reason I started this post was to stress the need to do things that you love. It’s energizing, and it’s healthy. I remember being in grade school and having assigned reading and pleasure reading. At the time, assigned reading may have been something from a composition book, or a textbook…but either way I read it because I had to. On the other side, I’d pick up something I wanted to read (at the time, I remember R.L. Stein “Goosebumps” series was a popular choice).
The act of reading was the same. Eyes scanning pages for letters forming words forming sentences, paragraphs, pages, and ultimately some story. But the book I picked, I had an emotional gratification from. I think this goes for the work I do, too. The act of building out this page for Gary was no different, but seeing Gary’s site live was a different reaction than I had to any of the other project’s I’ve wrapped in the last few weeks.
So where does this realization leave me? Well, I’m still processing that. I’ve got some exciting new things on the horizon, opportunities and events. I have a dream that is being realized day by day. I have some of the best friends in the world that I’m so happy are around for all of this, and many more friends that I’ve made because of the events of the last several months. I’m glad that I have them to turn to at this point in my life as I’m putting all of the pieces together and figuring out the next move. Big or little, something’s brewing.
The only thing that’s certain is that I’m going to love it.
update: seems gary and i were reading each others thoughts and he did his 120 second video today on a very similar topic, his “big picture patch“. A good reminder to put things into perspective, no matter your situation.
Not only is Brian sharp as a tack, but he’s incredibly cool and way supportive of the things we’re doing here in Philly. Feel free to spend 12 minutes listening to his thoughts (this was moments after he and I met, actually).
Bit of Trivia: Brian’s the guy responsible for connecting me to Annie for BlogPhiladelphia.
Sorry this is a day later than I had planned. I’ve got 2 events on my calendar this week that happen to be at the same time. Which one do I go to? I’m not sure yet! MAYBE BOTH!!!
Social Media Club Wednesday August 1st @ 6-8pm
This month’s Social Media Club meetup will be at the upstairs bar of Triumph Brewing, at 2nd and Chestnut (and right around the corner from the new home of Independents Hall…more on that soon!). I’ve never been to one of these, but it seems to be a catchall for social, marketing, and media folks. If you’re interested in any of that, think about checking it out! Plus, Triumph is a sweet, sweet spot, it’s where Indy Hall had our BlogPhiladelphia party for those of you who remember that shindig.
Green Drinks Wednesday August 1st @ 6-8pm
Green Drinks invites anyone interested in or curious about green, ecological, environmental, organic, renewable, regenerative, or restorative issues for drinks and conversation with like-minded individuals in their community.
WHEN: first Wednesday of each month from 6-8pm-ish WHERE: Standard Tap 2nd & Poplar Streets in Northern Liberties Philadelphia’s Center City www.standardtap.com for menu, specials, directions, etc. several local beers, including: Yards, Victory, Stoudt’s, Flying Fish, Sly Fox, Troegs, Appalachian, Weyerbacher, McKenzie Brewhouse and more… A NEW location! We moved recently to support several attendees’ green ideas + requests, trying to support local businesses and breweries, and staying convenient to public transportation, bicyclists, and carpoolers/drivers.
I made promise to some people that I’d start doing an event summary much like I did last week at the beginning of each week. This week I don’t have much new to add, but I’ll re-post in case you missed it from last week’s summary. Also, if you have an event (one time or recurring) be sure to drop a note in the comments so I can add it to my calendar and include it in these posts. But for this week of July 22nd, 2007:
Purple Cow Brainstorming Circle Tuesday July 24th @ 6-9pm
Monthly, the Purple Cows (that’s Seth Godin speak, for those who missed my previous post) have a brainstorming circle. This is kinda like a rapid-fire barcamp. The model goes like this:
You get 3 minutes to pitch an idea. Any idea. This isn’t just tech stuff, it can really be anything. At the end of 3 minutes you give 3 things you need to realize the idea, and 3 things you have to offer to it. Follow up with 3 minutes Q&A. So in ~7 minutes, you’re ready to move onto the next idea. Its fun, efficient, and a great way to inspire and be inspired.
The next one is at Joe’s Coffee Bar, – a socially-responsible business participating in the “Buy Local Philly” campaign. RSVP on the wiki.
Junto Thursday July 26th @ 6-10pm
Another monthly event held at P’unk Avenue. Born out of the pages of a history book, Benjamin Franklin created the Junto as an opportunity to bring everyone from the common man to the aristocrat together to share ideas, interests, and goals with the understanding that you can better yourself by bettering the community, and vice versa. Our Junto follows those goals, but updates it to current times and puts a focus on creativity in the community. Each month we have a different “keynote” topic or presentation, and from there it’s open forum for discussion and industry chat. Rumor has it that the Junto format wants to be a barcamp when he grows up. P’unk Ave chips in beers and tomato pie, feel free to bring other snacks or a favorite drink/mixers if you would like. We’re not quite a happy hour, but we’re not all business, either. You can sign up on the site to get notifications for this event.
This iteration of Junto will focus on a lot of Post-BlogPhiladelphia stuff, what we can do to carry the energy that started there, so if you have ideas or want to keep the ball rolling you’d best show up.
Cream Cheese Session Friday July 27th @ 9am-5pm
Every other Friday the members of Independents Hall come together for a coworking session. Since we don’t have our own space (yet), we move all over the city.
This next event will be held at National Mechanics, on 3rd just south of Market Street.