A new UK initiative for web-enabled social innovation was born yesterday evening in the time honoured way: some inspiration from our friends in the US, mixed with beer and sandwiches in the upstairs room of a London pub.
The result was a decision to set up Netsquared in the UK, loosely based on the US Netsquared conference and community, which has now led to a host of meetups and other activities through which geeks and activists find common cause and do good stuff for social benefit.
William took Dan's earlier call to action one step further by offering us free refreshments in the Newham Arms, Fitzrovia. Among familiar faces were bloggers Nick Booth, Steve Bridger, Steve Moore, Michael Ambjorn, Paul Miller and Simon Berry - remarkably fresh after his recent 1230-mile ride. So no shortage of ideas. We talked about organisating an event, running competitions to stimulate innovative projects, informal meetups and much more.
After a futile attempt to capture conversation in the hubbub of the room, I pulled William off to the pub kitchen, where he provided a very coherent summary.
The focus of discussion was not just about how nonprofits could use Web 2.0: in fact Dan - who has recently left an international charity - went so far as to say "the Third Sector is broken" ... I think. I'm sure he'll correct me if that's an overstatement. While some people felt social media could help in fixing, others of us were more interested in the new set of values and ways of doing things bubbling up around social media, unbounded by historic notions of public, private and nonprofit sectors. We talked about whether the focus should be on enabling organisations, supporting causes, promoting new methods and processes of innovation. Hopefully all of them.
The gender-balance was a bit better than my initial list of bloggers suggests. I'm looking forward to finding more about Nathalie McDermott's Onroadmedia - a social enterprise that "delivers training in podcasting, video blogging and social networks to marginalised groups and organisations so that they can have their say about the issues at the heart of their communities", but there's some way to go on balance. Why is it different in the US - where Beth Kanter, Michele Martin, Britt Bravo - to mention only a few - do such wonderful stuff? Maybe Devon-based Laura Whitehead, who wrote recently on this, would have been along if she were in town. (Which raises another point ... how not to be London-centric. We came around to "N2 in the UK" as a working name - a sort of initial convening brand - to suggest N2-ish activities could pop up anywhere in the UK and and hopefully elsewhere in Europe. Just like the Web - these days people and organisations are seldom just in one place.)
Notwithstanding the desire not to be too London, there was a feeling that this is a hot place for technology innovation at the moment. Paul Miller was lyrical about the experience of the School of Everything crew at Seedcamp. Steve Moore reckoned we could stage something next year in London to equal or better the Reboot or Lift conferences.
I got the feeling that N2 in the UK has legs ... not just because of the ideas developed, but because of the style and spirit emerging from those present ... open, generous, and unbounded. William's beer and sandwiches helped a lot. I particularly liked the fact that he chose the Newman Arms because that was where, some years back, he met his wife when she was supporting her studies by working behind the bar. A bit of real life rooting.
When I left, discussion about next steps was focussed around what the Facebook group will be called. I'll post an update ... but if you are in FB with any friends in the field, I've little doubt you'll get an invite. Do find me there. Otherwise I'm sure William would be glad to hear from you at CTT. There's also an earlier n2eu wiki with more background on Dan's ideas, and a mailing list.
Update: There's now a Facebook group Netsquared - Newman Arms