With a cup of tea comes conversation, learning and sharing.
Over the past few months, I’ve been involved with something called Brewcamp.
This is about 20 people meeting up at the end of a working day at a cafe in Birmingham.
How did it come about?
Back in 2010 myself and a team of others – Si Whitehouse, Stuart Harrison, Mike Rawlins and Andy Mabbett – staged the unconference Hyperlocal Govcamp West Midlands.
This was a big shindig. We hired Walsall College with catering, there was 12 sessions and it all cost just over £1,000 to put on.
It dawned on us that the planning meetings were actually a sociable chance to catch-up and bounce ideas.
We looked at the idea of Teacamp in London and quite liked the idea of a meet-up between like minded people with a £0 budget and minimal organisation. All power to the Teacamp people.
There is now talk of similar events in the North of England and Derbyshire.
How does it work?
There’s three topics of about 30 minutes, a ban on powerpoint and space for questions and debate.
I’m increasingly struck how this happy accident with milk and one sugar has something more to offer than just a post-work chance to eat Victoria Sponge.
What does one look like?
Why is this a good idea?
- Because tea and cake are good.
- Because as training budgets vanish the informal offers a good alternative.
- Because it’s a chance to meet like minded people.
- Because some good work is being done by people who are just innovating.
- Because anyone can go.
A budget of zero.
A cafe. Or a pub with an owner who doesn’t mind reserving some space.
A flip or a livestream if you like. But it’s not vital.
A few people who have a case study to share or a problem they want help cracking.
A supply of tea.
And if you don’t fancy those rules you can tear them up and make your own.
Birthdays are natures way of telling you to eat more cake.
Marvellous, but what exactly does a slice of carrot cake have to say about local government?
Actually, quite a lot. So do mixtapes as a session heard at the excellent Localgovcamp Yorkshire and Humberside revealed.
Why? Two things. First, because it’s all about messing about on a project in your own time so you can learn by your mistakes.
Second, it’s about doing something in a fun, interesting, creative way.
Why Cake? As a wheeze I built a cake blog based on a rash of pictures of cake tweeted by friends from Twitter. It taught me how to crowdsource, how to use WordPress and where a decent piece of carrot cake can be found in the charming Shropshire village of Ludlow (At the Green Cafe since you were wondering. The review is here.) Stuart Harrison (@pezholio on Twitter) then raised the bar with a beer blog.
The excellent Sarah Lay picked up the baton and created a cake map. She got to know about Googlemaps as a result.
Mixtapes? Same principle. A tweet by Sarah sparked a series of blogs, a Flickr group and a Tumblr site. Why? Because mixtapes even in a digital world spark happy memories of taping the top 40 and crafting a tape to say ‘thank you!’ or even ‘actually, I quite fancy you.’
There was even a mixtape built by song contributions at the barcamp built with the help of Janet Davis (@janetedavis).
So what do cakes and tapes teach? In short, go away and experiment in your own time. You can learn. You can do fun things. Then you can transfer some of those ideas to your day job.
Amongst web developers, there is a useful saying: ‘fail forward.’ If you are going to fail, make sure you learn something about it so you can take things just that bit further next time. Messing about on a scheme allows you to do just that, risk free.
Links: Nice ideas that have emerged by messing around…
- Mixtape Flickr group: Take a picture of mixtapes. There is art here.
- Mixtape Tumblr site: where mixtapes ideas are shared.
- Cake reviews: The Twitter stream of the blog of the cake map @mmmmmmcake
- Cake blog www.mmmmmmcake.wordpress.com. Nice places to eat a slice of Victoria sponge.
- Beer blog www.mmmmmmbeer.tumblr.com Look, this is art. I HAVE to drink another pint, okay?
- The United Cakedom map: Really good if you are looking for good places to eat cake in Nova Scotia or the United Kingdom. Zoom in. Click on a tea cup and search to see if there is a good place for cakeage near you…
Okay. Quiz time. So when was it I realised I took my blog obsession just a little too far?
Was it a) when supermarket giant J.Sainsbury’s started tweeting us?
Was it b) when the excellent @sarahlay designed a superb google map around it?
Or perhaps c) when I loaded my two poorly children and drove to a garden centre just to photograph a piece of cake so I could write a 140 review blog post?
We sat there in the complex’s empty cafe the three of us. Joe, aged five. Libby, one, and me looking every inch the out of touch divorced dad who has no clue of what makes his children tick any more.
I’m not divorced by, the way. I just have a very tolerant wife.
“But Daddy,” said Joseph, aged five. “You don’t like gardening. Mummy says so. Can’t we go to the park? I like the park.
“No, son.” I tell the hopeful faces. “We can’t go to the park.”
“Why, Dad, why?”
“Because, Joe, They don’t sell cake there.”
I write a blog about cake. I’m quite partial to the odd slice but its never ruled my life.
The blog http://mmmmmmcake.wordpress.com/ was founded in August It has received 1,400 hits in eight weeks with almost 60 blog posts. It tweets @mmmmmmcake with 150 followers.
Amazingly, there have been 15 contributors so far from as far afield as Mumbai in India, Nova Scotia in Canada and Brownhills in England. They are people who love cake and enjoy the ridiculousness of pointing a camera at it in a cafe and sharing it with the world.
So why Dan, why?
It began as a wheeze. Make mistakes on your own rather than for your organisation. Besides, I wanted to better get to grips with wordpress.
Why cake? A chance remark on Twitter sparked it.
I introduced a friend new to Twitter. Silence. No followers.
“This is @sarahjpowney. She loves cake.”
Within seconds she had been welcomed on board the Twittersphere with open arms by several people.
“Cake brings people together,” @jaynehowarth enthusiastically tweeted.
She’s absolutely right.
I tweeted a picture of a cake I’d taken in Shropshire. It led to 40 hits on my flickr page in a day.
@brownhillsbob then responded with pics of his own in a kind of sponge and frosted icing arms race.
The penny dropped. This needed a blog to bring things together. From there it’s grown.
But the best bit?
It’s not actually the cake I’ve liked about doing this. It’s the enthusiasm and ideas people are having sparked by cake.
Cake really does bring people together.
The google map by @sarahlay, the Indian contributions by @rbx, the Nova Scotian contributor @halifaxcakes.
There’s a man in Sussex who blogs and photographs cakes with a skill of a baking David Bailey and zeal of a Cuban revolutionary.
Then there’s parallel blogs @mmmmmmwine and sweets and chocolate versions by the writer’s children. There’s @mmmmmm_beer by Stuart Harrison (@pezholio) and @mmmmmmcurry by Philip John.
So what lessons to learn?
Any good social media project is listening, collaboration, trial and enthusiasm to be fun.
Having something that people connect with helps. Whatever that may be. Cake or a passion for your estate, model buses or football.
Twitter has been brilliant for this. It taps into the network of social capital. Post the blog. Post the tweet signposting people to it. Marvellous.
Joe’s favourite cake is chocolate, by the way. He’s rarely happier eating it. Me? I’m partial to Mrs Slee’s flapjack.
Birthdays are nature’s way of telling you to eat more cake. So, happy birthday.
And can you send me a quick review?
Thanks to fellow cake blog contributors:
@brownhillsbob, @smartmatt, @stu_arts, George Cunningham, Clare Slee, @rbx, @englishmum, @jaynehowarth @lindasjones, @jimbosussexmtb, @sarahlay @philipjohn, @halifaxcakes, @thetalleygraph, @pezholio, @darrencaveney
And send your reviews to: