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11 Dec

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ThingsCon early bird tickets: available tomorrow morning

December 11, 2013 | By |

A quick announcement: We’re about to launch the website for ThingsCon. Along with the first few confirmed (and amazing, brilliant) speakers, we’ll also start sales of early bird tickets. Supply is limited, so be there on time – the shop goes live at 10am CET (that is, Berlin-time) sharp. First come, first serve!

Also, juggling Call for Proposal forms and Twitter accounts and emails really drove home one point:

Next May will be insane for me. I’m heavily involved in three conferences within just about two weeks:

This might turn out to be brilliant planning or a disaster — I’m guessing it’s a 50/50 chance — but as you know I somewhat thrive on these intense peak times.

So, see you on the other side – and if you consider coming to ThingsCon, make sure to hit refresh at 10am sharp tomorrow morning.

29 Nov

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It’s time to take a fresh look at THINGS

November 29, 2013 | By |

Things

 

We’re organizing Things, an independent two day event about the future of hardware and the hardware business. This is why, and what we’re planning.

Basic info

  • Date: 2-3 May 2014
  • Location: Berlin (details TBD)
  • Format: 2 day conference full of talks, demos, learning & networking
  • Website: thingscon.com
  • Twitter: @thingscon
  • Sign up for launch news here

Why ThingsCon? Why now?

Over the last few years, we’ve been seeing three trends — or rather, narratives — emerge.

1. Hardware and software are increasingly merging

Hardware and software are merging, and in many ways becoming more similar. This goes by many different names, all strongly related and with only slightly different focus. To name just a few: Internet of Things (IoT), connected devices, post-digital, smart things, machine-to-machine (M2M), physical web. (There are many more names.)

No matter which terminology you prefer, what we see is the culmination of a number of developments that lead to devices of all sorts being connected to the internet.

That kind of changes everything: Devices can communicate, so they produce data that can trigger actions beyond said devices. Devices can respond to external triggers. They stop existing as a discreet unit and rather become part of a larger system, an ecosystem, a responsive environment.

It also means that product design becomes a whole different beast. Now a device isn’t “done” once it leaves the factory, rather it can be updated like software (because it is part software), it evolves over time. We need to rethink obsolescence, maintenance, compatibility over time. Once connected, devices — more than ever — have implications for privacy, security and data ownership (see the Declaration of the Open Internet of Things Assembly).

Once devices are connected, it means they become more responsive, maybe even context-aware. The same goes for environments, like your city, once a layer of data covers the world.

All this is somewhat vague as terminology, understanding and ethics aren’t fully matured in this space yet – in fact the space itself isn’t fully defined as of yet, as lines are blurry. Yet, we see lots happening there, and the impact can be felt already – only, as so often, this particular part of the future isn’t equally distributed yet.

 

The Good Night Lamp from Good Night Lamp on Vimeo.

An example of how connectedness changes everyday objects: The GoodNightLamp, a family of connected lamps.

2. New manufacture changes production

Related, yet a distinctly different thread, is the emergence of new manufacture, or what’s often referred to as 3D printing and related technologies. (Here, the terminology is much more clearly defined, but in the mainstream discourse mostly turns up referred to as something like “3D printing and stuff”.) Additive and substractive production methods, rapid prototyping, open hardware all have reached a point of maturity where capacities once reserved to big industry is more or less in the hands of individuals that a few years ago wouldn’t have been able to access it.

As a simple example, think of 3D printing. The automotive industry has long been using additive manufacturing (laser sintering, etc.) for rapid prototyping of their models. Dental clinics are printing a good chunk of their dental replacements these days. Architects have been 3D printing and laser cutting models for ages.

Yet, only over the last few years amateurs (in the sense of “non-professional, interested individuals”) and tinkerers have gotten their hands on similar tech. Starting out in the hacker and DIY scene, these production capabilities are entering the mainstream. Not mom-and-pop stores just yet, but almost certainly in every major city you’ll find a maker space that lets you use a printer should you need it. And with more patents expiring every month, we see the field maturing to a point where the production quality gets very close to industrial grade manufacturing, and prices drop to allow for a wide range of new products, services and business models.

 

Makie Makies are dolls, made possible through custom, on-demand 3D printing.

3. Berlin’s emerging startup ecosystem

These trends lead to a whole new emerging ecosystem of startups, entrepreneurs, ideas, services around the globe. But it’s still early days. So far, the most promising hubs include San Francisco, New York, London and a few others.

I believe that Berlin is in an excellent position to establish itself as a leading hub for the new hardware business. The city’s emerging startup ecosystem, its strong hacker and DIY culture, relatively low cost of living that allows for experimentation, and Germany’s strong tradition in industrial production means Berlin should be capable of enabling a new crop of entrepreneurs to take their ideas from prototype to business, at scale. A number of policies and initiatives aimed at fostering innovation and the connections between industry (Germany’s famous Mittelstand) and the entrepreneurial scene certainly won’t hurt.

This isn’t about competing with other cities — it’s about realizing Berlin’s huge potential.

 

Electric Imp demo at IoTBerlin Prototype demo at an IoT Berlin meetup.

ThingsCon is where these three narratives connect

We put together Things because we think it’s important to interweave the three narratives laid out above — it’s where they culminate in a concrete time and space. Because it’s exchanging ideas and fostering lasting relationships — in other words, building a community — that in my experience helps more than any big initiative. Peer exchange, learning from each other, helping each other — and knowing who to call when you hit a wall of some sorts — is incredibly valuable.

We believe that Things can help with that, and provide the kind of space for these kinds of connection to be built. So let’s get this done together!

So what are we planning to do concretely?

Primarily, we aim build an awesome event for exchange, learning, networking. A space to connect and foster lasting relationships. To learn from others who’ve been there, done that. To learn how to best get from prototype to designing for scaling, to building a business. Hosted in Berlin, but with an international focus, the focus is on building connections between Berlin and not just the rest of Germany, but all of Europe (and beyond, wherever possible). We’ll get the most interesting folks from all over Europe together in Berlin, put them in a room, shake it up thoroughly, and surely some amazing things will emerge.

 

ThingsCon target audience Sketch: Our mental model of who ThingsCon is for.

 

Leading up to Things, we’re currently planning a road trip where we take a number of entrepreneurs, innovators, tinkerers, startups and what have you to meet more of the Mittelstand, to visit production facilities and industry representatives and researchers. By fostering that dialog, we believe we can help create lasting relationships and lots of value as both sides can help each other and learn from each other. And, of course, do business together.

Third, we’ll announce Hardware Day Berlin. Think of it as a flag in the ground for other events to gather around and turn Berlin into a hardware hub for the day, with lots of workshops, meetups, events of all kinds. Hardware Day Berlin will (most likely) take place on 2 May 2014, the first of two days of ThingsCon.

If you’re interested in attending, stay tuned for updates here, on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter. If you’d like to get involved in some role (as a sponsor, by organizing an event on Hardware Day, as a speaker, or as a partner for our IoT-meets-Mittelstand road trip), or if you just want to learn more, please ping us.

Thank you and see you soon at Things!

22 Aug

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The Declaration for a Better Berlin: I’m signing up for this.

August 22, 2013 | By |

spring.

 

Earlier today Alper posted his Declaration for a Better Berlin. We had chatted about this before, and I really like his initiative. As he is saying…

This particular city, Berlin, is doing better than it has in ages but is still in terrible shape. What it is sorely missing is the idea that it can be better and that we can make it so. To offer a start on that path I have drafted a list of ten points that should be improved. By now I’m sick of complaining and I imagine that I’m not the only one. I will be putting my weight and any weight I can borrow behind changing —initially— some of these things.

So what are his core demands/wishes? In short:

  1. World class bike paths
  2. Fiber to the home available everywhere.
  3. Better public space
  4. Fully digital government services
  5. Food independence
  6. Energy independence
  7. All government data and documents public
  8. A functioning hub airport
  9. Balanced property market
  10. Not a single sub quality school

I’ll do whatever I can to support this and make Berlin the best it can be. And I recommend you read the whole thing.

24 Jul

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Thinking out loud: Your friendly neighborhood incubator(-ish) thingy

July 24, 2013 | By |

The last few days, I’ve been working from Nova Iskra, a space in Belgrade. It’s a fantastic, gorgeous, buzzing place that’s kind of office, coworking, design incubator and education space all wrapped into one. And it’s great.

Nova Iskra, Belgrade Workshop in an aquarium, kitchen in the background. Office space on all other sides.

Nova Iskra, Belgrade Phone booth.

When Matt and I expanded from our two-person office to five people and re-labeled as @kantberlin, a similar vector emerged to some degree: To go beyond desk sharing and into heavy (or lightweight? What’s the appropriate metaphor here? Anyway!) collaboration.

But the time spent at Nova Iskra and the chats with the team there were inspiring and triggered all kinds of thoughts. And like so often, thoughts are shaped better, collaborators found more easily when they are shared publicly.

So let me just think out loud, keeping in mind that this is nowhere a solid idea, or even set of ideas. It’s really just a brainstorm of sorts, pretty much unfiltered.

Building on what I’ve seen at Nova Iskra, what if we set up a thing that has (all of? some of?) these elements:

  • A core team/company (one/some of us) runs the space. Given what we’ve been working on at KANT, this would be where we (the core) work on product prototypes that might eventually be spun out.
  • A space, a shared office. Maybe with a focus on tech/design/creative tech/iot/social impact projects. A few coworking desks to be a bit more flexible, too.
  • A support team that takes care of a lot of the logistics and of careful scaling: An office manager, but also coders, designers and project managers that can help out with projects. I imagine a kind of partner structure where the members or privileged partners, in exchange for being part of this thing, commit to spending a fixed amount of time on internal projects for free or a symbolic price, and in exchange are part of a network that is sure to attract market price client work on top of what everybody is working on.
  • A sort of incubator-like program (see below) for the teams on the ground, including access to a fantastic network, mentoring, peer teaching and external experts, business advice: This can all be custom tailored more or less based on demand.
  • To ease things along, I’d throw in a legal framework of sorts that can be used to initiate, grow and potentially spin off projects and products. I’m thinking contract templates and the occasional lawyer open hour.
  • Consulting business. Tapping into that network, client work (consulting on strategy/product design as well as curation services like I/we are doing now) should work nicely in this context. This would help me/us support this whole thing financially. At the same time, the same skills and methods can also be applied to help the teams in the space as well.
  • Management support. What might be helpful to more inexperience teams is support in basic management tasks. This is something that gets a lot easier with experience, so it’s something that could be arranged here, too, in an interim CEO or advisory role, depending on a team’s need.

So what would that look like?

Imagine a large industrial space. In a corner, an admin office. 2-3 meeting areas, some open, some closed. A small maker workshop with laser cutter and 3D printer/scanner as well as photo booth or green wall for product and promotion photos. Desks for another 5-10 people, to get access to full production capacities (webdesign, dev, etc., which always comes in handy, particularly if there’s client work, too). Kitchen area. Space to showcase stuff being built. Workspace isles for 3-4 teams at a time to build their stuff. Public facing coffee shop for meeting and to get some walk-ins, and for the occasional yummy pick-me-up. Throw in a small event space (up to 30-50 people) and we’re golden.

Update/note: This would be different from coworking spaces insofar as the business model isn’t renting out desk space. Desk space would be available based only on a skill and chemistry match — on likely contribution to the people in the room — rather than on a who-wants-to-pay basis. This is important as it means that desks don’t need to be filled just for cash flow, and thus allows a much stronger focus on the community.

Your friendly neighborhood incubator(-ish) thingy

The incubator-like part of this might be particularly interesting. And before we get into a semantic discussion on what exactly constitutes an incubator or if we need another one, let me quickly clarify what I mean when I say — for lack of a better word — incubator: A mix of mentoring and advice, access to a network, support with finding financing and investments. A general support structure for getting the ball rolling. Come to think of it, maybe non-incubator might be the better word. Anyway, think of it as your friendly neighborhood version of just that.

Thinking off the top of my head, I wouldn’t go with traditional startups (these seem to be taken care of nicely already) as much as more sustainable or more hard-to-fund projects. There are quite a few out there with tremendous potential and ambition, but that don’t fit the more established funding structures. As a small, agile player, this could be worked around more flexibly it seems.

While I don’t think we could fund projects directly, I think we could help hustle up angel or seed funding for the teams. (Maybe down the road, we could even set up a proper fund, but it’s not top priority.) As for the things I think this thing could provide, the network including peer and professional support, attention by investors and media, coaching of all sorts, and access to top notch developers and designers on top of everything else — I think there’s tremendous value in this beyond the merely financial. It would probably be less of a strict incubator, and more of a (buzzword alert!) incubator-innovation-tech-hub-cluster thingy, or in other words, the cool place to be if you and your team want to work side by side with some of the best people out there.

It’s just gut feeling, but I have a hunch that partnerships with tech and media companies should be doable; the good kind, where useful and needed stuff (ranging from financial support to access to tech infrastructure or media attention) is provided.

All in all, and at first glance, this seems to be a lot of work (funding, finding a space, getting everything off the ground, etc. etc.) — and very exciting.

Makes sense?

Given the right circumstances, support and potential partners, I might be willing to own up and take the lead in building something like this – to some degree, it ties right into many threads I’ve been working on over the last few years anyway.

For now, it’s just a bunch of unfiltered ideas. Could be implemented, or simply dropped. Maybe some elements mentioned here could be worked out independently, too.

Would this whole thing scratch an itch? Would it be as valuable to the community as I think it might be? What do you think?

15 Jul

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Bad idea: Berlin considers turning Tempelhof Airport into a model Smart City

July 15, 2013 | By |

Drachenfest Photo by Axel Kuhlmann (CC by)

 

As Morgenpost reported, there are plans to turn the former Tempelhof Airport into a model Smart City.

Currently, the whole former airport serves as a gorgeous, fantastic park that attracts thousands who run, lounge, barbecue, kite surf or run community gardens, and it hosts a number of music festivals, just to name a few things. It’s really quite the magical place.

So what’s the motivation behind this push for a model Smart City? According to the quotes published by Morgenpost, conservative Berlin’s Senator for Economic Affairs, Technology and Research Cornelia Yzer is keen on building the eco/smart city to attract private investments (my translation):

We should rethink Tempelhof. It could become a model neighborhood, a real Smart City.

And, referring to the currently delayed plans to convert the (still operational) Airport Tegel into commercial space after it will be closed:

The moment an investor shows up, we need to be able to offer them an appropriate location. We can’t just say ‘Please come back later, then you can buy space at Tegel.*’

*To avoid confusion: We’re talking about two different airports here. Former airport Tempelhof, now a park. And current airport Tegel, soon to be closed when the third airport (International) opens up. She’s referring here to plans to sell commercial space at the still operational airport Tegel that was supposed to be converted once Berlin’s new international airport is opened, which has been delayed by several years. So I imagine there would have been deals to be made that are now postponed. This might be part of why the focus is shifting to Tempelhof instead.

 

Blumen Pflückerin Photo: Robert Agthe (CC by)

Why should citizens and local businesses be treated worse than investors?

And this kind of sums up the problem, doesn’t it? It’s city planning at its worst: Driven by a very unhealthy mix of lack of money on one hand, and naive planners on the other. Why exactly is it that the city cannot say to an investor “please come back later, when there’s anything to invest in.”?

Why, in other words, should investors be treated better than the citizens and local businesses?

Trying to plan a city by budget alone is always a bad idea, and in a city with debts as large as Berlin’s it’s a sure path to a bad, bad future.

How would a model Smart City help Berlin?

There are some things I find particularly interesting (not necessarily in good ways) about this Smart City proposal.

  1. Smart Cities are a bad idea. If we’ve learned anything in the last few years, it’s that a top-down plan for a Smart City won’t create an actual, living city. It’ll be a showcase for a tech company of sorts. If anything, we need to learn how to best “smarten up” existing cities, infrastructures and citizens. It’s incredibly hard, but the only way to empower citizens and lead to a (culturally, socially, financially) richer, better city and life.
  2. What’s the connection of Berlin and Smart Cities? If Berlin was a hot spot for Smart City-related technologies, it might be worth considering. But it’s not! As far as I can tell, Berlin doesn’t have a whole lot to gain from showcasing a Smart City in terms of economic development. Green/solar tech? Maybe. Smart Cities? Not really.
  3. There’s no long-term vision! Sacrificing a huge plot of land in the city center for a Smart City is short-sighted. By definition, if Berlin sold the land to investors to build this model city, it’d be outdated within a few years – such is the nature of cutting edge technology. Maybe the investors would upgrade the tech; more likely, they’d abandon it at some point. Berlin would be left with a snapshot of a very peculiar flavor of top-down high tech architecture, rotting away.

A park is a park is a park. It might not be visionary, but it is sustainable and adds tremendous social value as well as quality of life to a city. In other words, it’s the very thing considered (in the political science sense of the word) a service the government offers to its citizens.

A long history of bad (abandoned) plans

What are the other options for the area? Other proposed plans include building apartments and light industry along the edges and leave a bit of park in the center; building a library in the center surrounded by park; and simply leaving the thing as a park or improving that park by building a climbing area and other features.

 

Sun and Fun [Explored] Photo by Tekke (CC by-nd)

 

It also seems worth pointing out that Berlin has produced (and luckily, dismissed) a lot of other bad plans for Tempelhof Airport, like turning it completely into light industry or — one of my all-time favorite lows — a plastic surgery clinic with a built-in mini airport.

To me, the model Smart City proposal seems to me to fall in that latter category.

 

Disclosures & some context: I co-organized Cognitive Cities Conference. Occasionally, I speak or do a workshop on related topics, like this one at PICNIC. I’m sharing an office and collaborating frequently with people who like myself spend a lot of time thinking about the implications of smart cities, connected devices and an engaged citizenship.

19 Mar

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Recent reading (8 links for March 19)

March 19, 2013 | By |

San Sebastian film fest

Irregularly, I post noteworthy articles I recently read. Enjoy!

 

Who do you trust? You are surrounded by bots.
Bit of a bummer that the article tries to go deep into bot panic territory, but the questions are legit and we’ll have to answer them – more and more – in the future. – by O’Reilly Strata (link)  

 

Berlin challenges its ‘anti’ vibe
Bit of a pet peeve of mine, this topic. Always torn on how to deal with the two ends of the scale you hear in this town day in, day out: The legitimate and serious issues around gentrification on one hand, and a creeping, deeply despicable anti-foreigner stance that just disguises as anti-gentrification on the other. (link)  

 

Words on tour
Lovely review of The Alpine Review. – by Nicola (link)  

 

Flattr now lets you crowdfund content by liking/staring stuff on Twitter, Vimeo & Instagram
Crowdfunding platform Flattr will now allow donating money to content producers in much simpler ways than before: by using Facebook Likes and Twitter Faves. – by Tom Cheredar (link)  

 

Digital Transformation in 2013: The strategy is delivery. Again.
Yes! The UK really has been on a roll with the Digital Government Services. This is just one more example of all the things they’re doing right. (Another example here.) – by Mike Bracken (link)  

 

Making Money from 3D Printing – Square Helper
A great example of a product where 3D printing actually makes sense, at least initially. Niche products like the Square Helper are super useful to some, which is the perfect definition of a legitimate market segment. Stuff like this (and much more complex designs on the other end of the scale) is what we’re also looking at over at Makers Make. – by Ari Honka (link)  

 

Wollen die auch arbeiten?
Ziemlich gelungenes Profil einer neuen Generation von Arbeitnehmern. Würde ich so oder ähnlich meinen Eltern weiterleiten, wenn ich gerade frisch von der Uni käme. – by Kerstin Bund, Uwe Jean Heuser (link)  

 

Sci-Fi’s Underground Hit
No matter how this continues, this publication is going to be a classic example for the role of digital self-publishing and for studies of business models in publishing. – by Alexandra Alter (link)  

19 Feb

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Announcing THE NODE – the easiest way to keep track of what we’re up to

February 19, 2013 | By |

The Node There’s lots going on in the Berlin web scene. Over the years, I’ve tried to contribute my share through both work and community events.

To name just a few, I was involved in Cognitive Cities Conference, Ignite Berlin, TEDxKreuzberg and atoms&bits, and am just getting ready for UIKonf. Topics, locations and formats change, but there’s always a great community both on and off stage.

As many people out there don’t like regularly checking blogs or every tweet, I created this email newsletter. It’s the most simple and low-frequency way to keep track of what my friends and I are putting together – ranging from conferences to companies or art projects. As a recipient, you’ll be among the first to know when we’re planning a new event or starting something new. Whenever possible, you’ll also get the chance to sign up first.

Please note that this is a personal newsletter, so it is by nature somewhat unstructured. I’ll post in low frequency, only when there are any news to share. From today’s point of view, I’m expecting maybe one issue every two months or so; maybe around major events a little more often.

Also, my privacy policy is simple – of course your addresses won’t ever be given away, sold, leased out or anything like that. It’s a list for friendly pointers, notifications & reminders. And naturally it’s free and super easy to unsubscribe at any given time.

To receive these occasional updates, please sign up here.