All for one (one Birmingham, that is)

Birmimgham is a great big city with a bunch of tech stuff going on. But it’s hard to work out, if you live here, all the stuff that’s happening, techwise. I miss out on events all the time. Let’s talk about fixing that.

If you don’t live in or near Birmingham, this will likely not be of interest to you. In fact, if you’re not interested in the Brum tech scene, please don’t weigh into this discussion: I don’t want theoretical stuff.

OK. So, there are loads of tech things going on in Birmingham. And there are loads of people who have thought “hey, I should set up some sort of ‘this is all the tech events in Birmingham’ calendar”. So we now have Stuart Bates’s calendar, Silicon Canal, Birmingham TechEvents, LiveBrum, the Council, Birmingham Startup Digest, Lanyrd’s Birmingham Geeks, Lanyrd’s Birmimgham listing, Gav’s list, Meetup’s listing for Birmingham… this is stupid.

The thing we need is two-fold. The first part (and this is the easy part) is for there to be One Calendar That Lists Everything. The best example of this is
Stuart Bates’s personal calendar, but this could be anything; it could happily be something which aggregated a bunch of other feeds, like Startup Digest and Lanyrd and Meetup and Brum Techevents.

The second part: that’s the thing. We need one place that everyone else recommends.

To explain this, I need to talk about user stories.

In my head, there are three different type of “consumers” for this what’s-on-in-Birmingham thing.

The first is someone who lives in Brum and cares about tech stuff. So, sitting there one evening and she thinks “hey, I wonder what’s going on this evening”, or she looks at the calendar and plans her evenings around it; seeing that there’s a NoSQL thing this evening or a Linux User Goup on Thursday next week; she pays attention to the calendar and everything on it.

The second type of person is someone who learns about the Birmingham tech scene through one meeting. So. she’s a Wordpress fan; she’s interested in hanging with Wordpress people; she goes to a few WordPress Birmingham evening events. Because she’s now hanging with the Brum tech scene, she discovers that Brumgirlgeeks exists, or that Silicon Canal exists… and now she’s going to loads of other things, because now she’s tapped into a calendar which lists all those other things.

The third type of person is not a Brum person; they’re in town for a day or two only, stuck in some corporate hotel, and they think, “hey, this is a big city, I bet there’s some sort of tech thing going on this evening that’d be interesting to me”. So they go and Google for that and discover the List Of Everything Tech In Birmingham and see that Agile Staffs is on this evening, and so he shows up at Agile Staffs for one evening.

So, you’ve got these three types of people, and we’ve got a whole bunch of calendars, all of which want to be The One True Calendar For Birmingham Tech Things, and none of which are.

Building another calendar — one which aggregates all the others, perhaps — isn’t hard. And if you’re reading this, you’re probably thinking in terms of the technology; how to build an aggregating calendar. But that’s not the thing.

Imagine that there’s One True Calendar and everyone agrees to put their events in it — not directly necessarily, but via Meetup or Lanyrd or manual effort or Startup Digest or whatever. Now, think of our Wordpress fan. How does she discover that the One True Calendar even exists? Well… because the Wordpress Birmingham site says “we’re part of Birmingham’s One True Calendar”, that’s how. That’s how this should happen. Everyone agrees that some calendar is the central source for information, and then everyone publicises that calendar. Not their own calendar. That one. Obviously, the people who run Silicon Canal will say “the One True Calendar should be ours”. As will the people who run Brum TechEvents, and the people who run LiveBrum, and everyone else. It doesn’t really matter where the One True Calendar is: what matters is that everyone who runs a tech event in Brum is in it… because everyone who cares about tech events in Brum wants to see a Birmingham tech scene evolve. It’s about being part of something larger. Yes, that involves some humility; it’ll involve some people who believe that they run the One True Calendar already taking a step back and saying “I’ll let someone else do this”. But it’s all for Birmingham. It’s all for our tech scene. And everyone ends up better because of it.

So what I’d like to see is a badge: “We’re part of BrumTechScene”, or whatever the central aggregating thing ends up being called. And then event organisers agree that they are part of it, and talk about it. Put the badge on their event websites. When someone says “hey, what’s going on in Brum”, the answer is “look at BrumTechScene.com”, or wherever the calendar ends up living. It’s the place that everyone agrees on.

So, we have fifty people who could do the technology. What I’d like to see is event organisers getting together and agreeing. Being prepared to take one for the team; to all agree on somewhere to talk about this. Because making it more obvious that Birmingham has a vibrant tech scene already is better for all of us, right? So, event organisers, start talking. Start showing that you want to see Birmingham be a great city for technology more than you want to be the emperor of it all. We’re all in this together. Let’s make it great. Talk about how you want to push Birmingham as a tech city… or about your objections to this plan, about how you think that your event shouldn’t be part of it, so that can be fixed.

Now’s your chance to stand up and be counted: are you in?