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16 Jun


Thinking about the ThingsCon ecosystem

June 16, 2015 | By |

We just had the second edition of ThingsCon in Berlin a few weeks ago, and are still busy wrapping up lots of loose ends. We’re also getting to the point where it’s time to take a step back and look at where we stand. This is the first of (most likely) a longer series of snapshots of exploring these questions.

Before going any further, I’d like to stress that the following are just some of my personal thoughts to help me structure and keep them for later. This blog post is not a preview of what we’re currently planning, nor does it necessarily reflect the team’s thinking. The four of us – Max, Emu, Simon and I – are thinking hard about where to take ThingsCon, but we haven’t made any decisions yet, and all relevant announcements are going to happen over at (which is about to get a little relaunch, too). This, right here, is a snapshot of my mental #thingscon notepad, and nothing more.

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11 Jun


Evaluation time: What did participants think of ThingsCon?

June 11, 2015 | By |

We always want to learn what works for you at ThingsCon and what could be improved. We hear so through many channels, from more formal emails to quick off-the-cuff remarks during the event. After the conference, we emailed the participants asking to fill out an evaluation form.

By now, the results are in, and they are overwhelmingly positive.

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11 May


ThingsCon 2015 is a wrap

May 11, 2015 | By |

And what a weekend week we had. It was exhilarating and inspiring. And also quite humbling to meet and debate with all these amazing, smart, passionate folks that made the trip to Berlin.

I’ll be processing these last few days for a while, but there are some people that stood out to me, that were particularly memorable.

The theme that emerged at this year’s ThingsCon, the focus on building meaningful, considerate products.

It was great to see how the whole field around #iot, connected services and hardware evolved and matured within just the year. ThingsCon reflected this by moving the debate from “what can we build & how” to “what should we build, and how can we make a positive impact”.

One focal point of this debate was the launch of version 1 of the #iotmanifesto ( that was prepared a fantastic group of participants largely from the Netherlands (including Frolic Studio, The Incredible Machine,, Afdeling Buitengewone Zaken, TU Delft), and then went through several iterations during ThingsCon.

The #iotmanifesto comes from a similar background and impulse as the Declaration of the OpenIOT Assembly that I was involved in a few years ago, and I’m sure we’ll hear much more about this. It’s an important debate to have, and now’s the time.

Once more, the diverse mix of people from all kinds of backgrounds (both professionally and regionally) was truly humbling. That said, this time ’round there were certainly more designers than last year among both the speakers and the participants: Are more designers getting into this field? Are more roles re-framed under the label “design”?

I found countless moments of inspiration, provocation, or fresh thinking: Bruce Sterling’s and Warren Ellis’ keynotes come to mind, the moment several people improvised tiny (purposefully crappy) robots for a competition, debates of how to utilize tech for development cooperation for communities in poor countries. The serious debates around impact next to light jokes and playful interactions, learning by making next to more conceptual experimentation.

As so often, the truly priceless moments happened during smaller group conversations on the edges, in the hallways, in the beer harden or a bar. This is where bonds are forged, collaborations come to life, friendships start. Contributing to this even in the tiniest of ways is a hugely rewarding experience.

Thanks for everything. The team is working on some proper write-ups, videos of talks are being prepared for release online. I think it’s safe to say this won’t be the last you heard of ThingsCon.

11 May


Open World Games & the conference experience

May 11, 2015 | By |

Open world is a term for video games where a player can move freely through a virtual world and is given considerable freedom in choosing how or when to approach objectives, as opposed to other computer games that have a more linear structure. Source: Wikipedia

Examples are games like Red Dead Redemption, Assassin’s Creed or Minecraft. If you’ve ever played one of these, you might have experienced the feeling that on the one hand there’s LOTS to explore, a huge world to walk/ride/run/climb around in. On the other hand, there’s a plot line that runs through the game and provides some guidance, should you choose to follow it.

Keep this in mind as Exhibit A.

Now consider immersive theater experiences like – maybe most famously – Punchdrunk‘s pieces Sleep No More or The Drowned Man:

(I won’t link to any spoilers; the video above is Punchdrunk’s official trailer for The Drowned Man, the links before go straight to their website.)

The worlds that Punchdrunk creates are immersive; they are vast, and rich, and textured. At any point there is a plot – mostly, in fact, several plots in parallel, that you can follow. Or you follow an actor instead. Or just can just go on and explore the world, and dig around the rooms, or look for easter eggs and hidden passages. Or you just sit and let the world play out around you. Either way, you will never be bored.

I got to watch The Drowned Man in London once, and it was magical; one of the most memorable experiences, and certainly by far the most impressive theatrical experience I’ve ever had.

(I hasten to add that my experience with immersive theater is otherwise very limited.)

Take this as Exhibit B.

How can Open World Games inspire conferences?

So I’m wondering: What can we take from Open World Games and immersive theater and bring to the conference experience?

This is a starting point for my thoughts; nothing yet but exploration. I’d love to hear your ideas as I start to evolve mine.

A conference (if we’re not talking about the boring old school type of full frontal grey suit congress) is an interactive format, one that encourages exchange of ideas. Conversations, making, learning. Peer-to-peer interactions as well as master-student type sharing. (I personally believe that there is a good place for both of these types, although I know some will disagree.)

Their main appeal is they provide a simulated reality and allow players to develop their character and its behavior in the direction of their choosing. In these cases, there is often no concrete goal or end to the game. (…) An open world is a level or game designed as a nonlinear, open areas with many ways to reach an objective.

Design principles for open world events

These two characteristics (source: Wikipedia) are what I think can guide this line of thought, and help shape design principles for open world events:

Open world events…

  1. … allow participants to develop their own journey and interactions.
  2. … are designed as a nonlinear, open experience with many paths to explore the event.

Onboarding & guiding the experience

I imagine that the magic is in the right mix of activities and formats, which could and should include:

  • Recurring rituals that help bond among participants and foster group dynamics.
  • A strong narrative that centers and grounds the overall event, a thread that ties everything together.
  • Drop-in and drop-out points aplenty so it’s possible to join for the “main narrative” for a while, but also be able to join or start other alternative activities.
  • A mix of more active and more passive formats, like talks and workshops and immersive experiences and group conversations.
  • Spaces for intense social interactions as well as personal/private spaces to retreat, because sometimes a few moments of quiet save the day.
  • Space & opportunity for participants to start their own activities. Could be physical or virtual spaces, or just encouragement.
  • Allow for a wide range of stakeholder agendas, because where more partners contribute by promoting their own agendas (read: follow their goals & passions, not distribute marketing), the event has more layers and more depth.
  • What else?

At any given time, there should be something to do, something to explore, someone to meet. This could be part of the core program, some smaller-scale, more intimate experience or activity, maybe some personal downtime for reflection.

This would create a richly textured & layered event, and a highly self-directed, interactive journey, and a rewarding overall experience.

I’d be curious to learn about your experiences with things like these, or examples where this was tried (and worked), or generally speaking pointers to other sources/people/projects to check out. Thank you!

20 Apr


18 days to ThingsCon

April 20, 2015 | By |

Over on the @ThingsCon twitter account I just sent out a tweet:

T minus 18 days to go! Sign up today at

Eighteen days to the event. And even though there are still (always) tons of loose ends, we’re now down to the polish. The program kicks ass, the speaker lineup is truly humbling, the team is well organized.

It is so much easier this year. Almost indescribably so. Last year, same time, I was heavily involved in not one but three events that would all go down almost back to back: NEXT, which I curate; UIKonf, which I co-chaired that year; and on top of that, ThingsCon, which we had just launched that year on short notice ]and completely bootstrapped.

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06 Apr


Imperica interviews Warren Ellis

April 6, 2015 | By |

In ThingsCon related news, over at Imperica, Matt Muir has interviewed our friend and keynote speaker Warren Ellis (see all speakers) as he’s getting ready for his trip to ThingsCon. They chatted about #iot, connected products, and all the fun ways they can fail:

What happens when the people who run your front door for you suddenly shut down overnight? What happens when the houselights get bought out by Amazon? And you have to install a new app to heat your home because Apple owns that business now? What happened to your life that you outsourced the operation of your front door to a bunch of kids in the Mission District who pay $15 for artisanal toast in the morning?

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23 Mar


Interview with The Thingcast

March 23, 2015 | By |

The other day Paul Houghton and Ricardo Brito kindly invited me to Futurice’s Berlin HQ to record the second issue of their #IoT podcast The Thingcast, where we chatted about IoT, ThingsCon and the Berlin tech scene.