My wrap on the Emerging Writers’ Festival Digital Masterclass

The Emerging Writers’ Festival Digital Masterclass was held on Friday 24th May at the City Library.

The full day workshop featured an inspiring range of speakers. The broad theme was creating digital content to support your writing and to build your profile, with a focus on blogs and social media.

The diversity of content and speakers made for an information-packed day. There was plenty to learn and take away, depending on your background and interests. The content ranged from the very practical (how to produce a video, podcast and ebook), to the more strategic (planning and goal setting).

I was impressed by the presenters’ expertise and their passion for their craft. What they all had in common was that they had a good idea, and had a go at executing it, even if they didn’t have the technical skills at first. They tried, they failed, they learned and they got better at it. They sought out advice and collaborated with others. They tapped into their community, or built a new one to support their work. They knew what they wanted to achieve, even if the path wasn’t clear. They found their niche. And the warm and fuzzy part is that they are now sharing what they learnt with others.

I love this video that Mark Welker showed us on the creative process. For me, it really summed up the overarching message I took away from the day. Don’t be scared to try new stuff. At first you won’t be so good at it, but if you keep trying and learning, you will get better at it, maybe even become great at it.

 

Here are a few of my personal highlights from each of the presenters.

Rose Powell (@rosepowell) took us through practical exercises on strategic planning, risk identification, asset mapping and goal setting for establishing a successful website/blog. The take away message from Rose’s presentation was to be strategic about what you want to achieve, make the most of your networks, have clear goals, and find your niche.

Jo Case (@jocaseau) took us through a case study of The Wheeler Centre Dailies site, with a focus on how they both generate and commission content. She included a practical exercise on pitch writing. The content model Jo presented included a wide range of different formats and sources including feature articles, curation of content from other sources, reviews, news, entertainment, events and book extracts. Her model was really useful in thinking about how to keep a website’s content dynamic, interesting, and fresh with limited resources.

Thang Ngo (@ThangNgo) is Australia’s #1 video food blogger. He talked about finding your niche, producing unique content, creating an online community, supporting others, and building your profile. Like Rose, he emphasised the importance of having clear goals.

Johannes Jakob (@jojojakob) gave us the low-down on creating podcasts, based on his experience creating the JOMAD podcast.

Mark Welker (@mwelker) from Commoner Films spoke about moving from one medium (writing) to another (video) and the parallels for story telling in both mediums. He stepped us through the video-making process and shared his tips including: capturing natural light, using a controlled camera, getting up close to your subject, and focussing on texture and detail.

Ash Davies (@PhotoGuides) from Tablo Publishing gave us a crash course on creating, marketing and distributing ebooks. He showed us a demo of his new product Bookmaker. If only every 20 year old had Ash’s creativity, initiative and drive. We would have solved the world’s problems by now.

And so, that wraps up my summary of the digital masterclass. Did you go to the workshop? What did you learn?

Ebooks and libraries: the digital disruption

Ebook publication and use has grown exponentially over the last few years. Libraries, publishers and rights holders are all struggling to adapt to the new digital landscape, and to find a workable commercial model which preserves rights and revenue, but also meets the information needs and preferences of library users.

The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) held a think tank (#aliathinktank) in Melbourne today to explore some of the issues for libraries related to ebooks and elending. Similar sessions are being held around the country. From these think tanks, ALIA hopes to develop a sector response to assist libraries to navigate the challenges associated with collecting and lending ebooks. ALIA has developed an issues paper on the topic.

We heard from several speakers who presented from the perspectives of different types of libraries, including public, academic, state and special libraries. Panel sessions invited audience participation and dissected the issues raised in the presentations.

While ebooks promise many advantages such as reducing shelf space, and meeting user preferences for digital content and 24/7 access, there are also many challenges facing libraries in relation to ebooks. Libraries account for around 12% of book sales in Australia, so they don’t have great market power. There are difficulties negotiating reasonable contractual terms with publishers and ebook aggregators. Costs are high and escalating. There are a lack of consistent ereader devices and ebook formats. Technologies for searching and discovery do not integrate well. Ebooks are not being developed to offer the functionality promised by the digital content experience. There are licencing and lending restrictions. Libraries perceive a lack of engagement by publishers to understand their role. It is a bleak picture.

Publishers are also facing uncertain times in the wake of ebook popularity. The presenters raised thoughtful points on the opportunities for libraries in this environment. Library associations around the world are increasing their advocacy efforts to raise the public awareness of the role of libraries. Libraries hold library usage data that is of value to publishers. They meet a market demand for those who want free access to ebooks. Libraries create new audiences for buying books. They build spaces to encourage interaction with ereading. Libraries train and educate the public in ereader technologies. They provide a nexus between print and digital content. Libraries can influence publishers to produce content that meets the information needs and preferences of readers.

These are all positive and interesting points but they are not ground breaking. After 600 years of print as the dominant technology for reading, ebooks are part of a digital content revolution. As the think tank progressed it became clear that the response needed by libraries is to break and rebuild the library business model. The music industry, magazines, newspapers and publishing are all seeing their old business models disintegrate and be reimagined. Libraries are no different.

Ebooks are merely containers for content. The containers will be replaced by new ones. Just think of VHS, floppy discs and CDs. Libraries should focus on their role in facilitating access to content. Maybe this means self-publishing, forming direct relationships with authors, and curation of content. Perhaps it means becoming co-producers in partnership with publishers or others. Or it might be facilitating access to content through education, training and integration into the workflows of users. It is probably a combination of these depending on the library and the context in which it operates.

At a fundamental level libraries need to ask: what is their core purpose? Who are they serving? Who are they competing with? What is their role?

Whatever the future, it is disruptive. Ebooks are the thin end of the digital wedge. It will be fascinating to see how ALIA and the library sector responds to the challenge.

Presentations from the think tank will be available on the ALIA website.

On hipsters, melancholy and the digital future

Over the weekend the City of Melbourne (CoM) ran the #comconnect unconference. There were around 150 artists, techies, public servants, gamers, community leaders, thinkers, designers, researchers, urbanists and makers gathered to generate ideas, raise challenges, propose solutions, build collaborations and cultivate projects to help CoM to kick start their digital strategy planning.

It is great to see a local council getting such a high level of participation and engagement at the inception of their strategy, rather than consulting when the creative thinking is finished and a strategy document is already drafted. Think of it as uber-brainstorming.

There were up to 6 concurrent sessions running over 4 time-slots over the 2 days, introduced by ‘lighting talks’ by experts, and summed up with plenary sessions. We (the attendees) designed the agenda at the start of each of the two days, opening up the floor for ideas to emerge and develop organically. Sessions were chaired by whoever proposed the idea. Session outcomes were captured online via Google docs. This is a pretty innovative approach to planning for a local council – both the level of engagement and the format.

The agenda was a smorgasbord of digital centered topics such as: future work in the digital age, knowledge sharing for a sustainable Melbourne, the self-aware city, emerging role of government, encouraging digital incubators, open data, sharing the agenda in decision-making, future-ready content, art & technology, who’s in the hood, digital play in the city, using games for positive change, making feedback easy, social cohesion, digital public libraries, digital inclusion through policy, future of civic engagement, data visualization, and experience mapping.

My vote for the session with the best title was ‘NBN WTF?’

Notes from the sessions are online with further summary reports to come.

To get an idea of the flavour and themes of the discussions, check out the word cloud generated from the Google docs summaries.

Word Cloud from CoMConnect

With so many sessions running at once I always felt like I was missing out on some other interesting conversation happening somewhere I wasn’t, but I began to see consistent themes and parallel discussions emerging and a coming-together of ideas. The organisers did an impressive job of facilitating and synthesising.

There was an amazing amount of energy and passion in the room from a bunch of people giving up their weekend to help CoM shape the digital future. The event has generated a lot of buzz for CoM, both amongst the people there on the day, and also via social media. The hashtag #comconnect has generated over 1.3m impressions and reached an online audience of over 153 000 people.

Some of the themes that emerged for me from the unconference were the:

  • Need to support digital spaces/ communities with physical spaces and face-to-face events.
  • Importance of government not starting a raft of initiatives from scratch when there are great community projects already happening that could be supported and strengthened by government.
  • Power of citizen and government collaboration and connection to solve ‘wicked problems’.
  • Exciting possibilities of new ways of working that the digital age offers *jargon alert* – co-working, crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, microniches, gamification, data visualisation, collective action, and social enterprise & entrepreneurship.

The experience of the event mirrored the experience of the digital age itself. I made connections to new people, heard and generated new ideas to mull over and walked away feeling deluged with information.

The weekend left me with these questions:

  • How will CoM synthesise and use these crowdsourced ideas to generate a cohesive (and achievable) strategy?
  • How will CoM engage unconference attendees in further development of the ideas generated over the 2 days? And more importantly, how will they engage the broader community?
  • How will CoM cater to the digital poor and digitally illiterate in the execution of their strategy?
  • Can 150 hipsters effectively represent the diverse needs and views of CoM residents, workers and visitors?

The weekend also left me with a melancholy feeling. 150 people spent a whole weekend trying to figure out ways we could connect and communicate better with our fellow humans, with digital technology as the enabler. The overarching theme was bringing the village back to the city. In becoming urbanized, have we become so disconnected from each other that we have to deliberately construct and orchestrate our community?

I guess so…