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Night in Ashford Castle. Report from #cong15

Friday in Ashford Castle

#cong15 kicked off in on Friday 27th in the private cinema in Ashford Castle. A small group of 36 people were treated to an intimate series of inspiring talks in the opulence of ‘pullmanesque’ chairs. Themed under “A Night of Virtual and Augmented Reality’ the evening kicked off with a far reaching presentation by Damian Costello of Decode Innovation narrating, analysing, explaining and putting into context the wave of disruption we are experiencing. Set against the backdrop of past analysis, Damian harnessed the insights of deep thinkers to weave together a narrative from Evert Rogers S curve to describe innovation, 1950 R. Buckminster Fuller on making old models obsolete, Clayton Richardson on stepping backwards to go forward dynamic and the rule of three by Jeremy Rifkin on the explosion of value creation and third revolution. Damian gave a deep overview of the imminent new economic paradigm based on decentralised and consumption of the communications/energy matrix. Central to the current wave of disruption is the rapidly evolving arena of the Internet of Things and Damian closed with a poignant quote about where we should position ourselves in the digital revolution ‘Winners gather oranges, while others are fighting over apples’.

Damian’s presentation provided an overlying framework and provided a context for the subsequent presentations.

Utilising the full cinematic impact of the room Nicky Gogan presented some curated video on the new views of the world that drones offer and a special screening of a dystopian view of virtual world Second Life called Utopia 1.0. The first screening was called Loitering Theatre and was a short drone view of Dublin from the eye of drone. With no audio narration it documented views of prisons, banks, guardians of data privacy Facebook and Googles offices, the home of the president and the aerial view of a rural site in the Dublin Docklands that resisted the charge of development. The second screening proved to be a talking point for the rest of the weekend with an intelligent but haunting narration of how humanity has treated the blank canvas of a virtual world that is Second Life, called Utopia.

Next up was John Tierney, an archaeologist, innovator and story teller. John gave a compelling presentation that began with some rich local story telling and fascinating archaeology discoveries from skulls in old church remains to rich oral family narratives.

John’s presentation weaved the stories behind images, old buildings and ancient artifacts highlighting the fragile nature and potential loss of heritage especially orally communicated ones. Through his work on historic graves John has fostered an approach of original and locally crowd sourced images and data to build a repository of datasets about names, families etc. Through the simple examples of differences in second name pronunciations.  John explained some of the potential losses and richness of data that can be captured locally using a DIY kit of voice recorders and GPS enabled cameras.

John then moved on to describe how the older 2D drawings of archeological digs have now been transformed with reality computing that captures layers and multiple angles to bring a complex site excavation to life for future analysis. He also demonstrated how he uses 360 photography using smart apps such as the Bubbli app. John gave a snap shot of the power of augmented reality to deliver on his presentation’s title of ‘making the past a place’. By partnering with Bernie Goldbach from Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT) and tapping into his students expertise, John is geolocating datasets for presentation through augmented reality platforms which visitors can access on a mobile phone. This could have a major impact on not only enhancing the experience of history with an almost limitless richness of media options but also in actually driving people to visit historic sites.

Building on the Augmented Reality theme, Alessandro Prest from LogoGrab looked back to the haphazard nature of web 1.0 websites and discussed how social media and web 2.0 scaled through standardisation. As mobile growth has mushroomed so too has the expansion of Augmented Reality on smart handsets. With very big differences in bandwidth and problems getting apps accepted, the challenge for Augmented Reality is how to scale with all this variation. Alessandro demonstrated their approach through a case study, which saw the activation of a global campaign with Heineken and the James Bond Spectre Movie through 85 countries. The campaign centres around the ability to simply take a photo of a Heineken bottle through the web browser on the phone, which then brings the user to unique images, clips and background location information from the Spectre movie. By driving the Augmented Reality experience through the browser it overcomes the problems of variable bandwidths and the need for special software. Much as the web changed fundamentally with Web 2.0, Augmented Reality experiences will also need to go through similar standardisations in order to scale and reach a truly global audience.


Finishing up the Friday evening, Eoghan Kidney gave a run through of the different variants of Virtual Reality headsets, current technology approaches to recording 360° video and seated versus standing experiences. He also detailed his negative early experiences with Virtual Reality headsets and the mental contamination it caused. Eoghan then demonstrated a prototype virtual reality project he created based on the James Joyce Ulysses. In his project he created 360 scenes from the book with a running narrative accompanied with floating words that could be further investigated for context. Eoghan shared the many learnings from the experience of creating virtual world content and how it differs from normal linear film content. He also gave insights into the challenge of having to research ancient maps of the world in which Ulysses was written as the modern day physical environment has changed so much. Eoghan’s closing warning of “Don’t Poison the Well’ reflects the fragility of the virtual reality promise with the impending pioneering dash to the platform. As an immersive platform it connects very deeply and bad experiences will be remembered for a long time.

Proceedings on Friday evening then moved to Danagher’s Bar in Cong Village where everyone made their own Virtual Reality Headset from old cardboard, toy binocular lenses, lollypop sticks and safety glasses – all stuck together with tape and guided by Eoghan Kidney. Although not aesthetically the most pleasing, the motley crew of headsets worked perfectly and transported people from the bar into their own virtual worlds.


#cong15 Submissions Summary

A world of discussion

From its first year, with a focus on Social Media Congregation has evolved into wider discussion around technology and society with thought provoking, considered and discussion-able topics. The level of time, effort and care in their composition reflected a willingness to take time out to ponder the world we live in, where technology has a central role.

After analysing the input of over 80 attendees from 6 countries and 17 counties, trends start to slowly emerge. Although very diverse, reflecting how daily lives are now intimately touched by technology, they can largely be grouped in to imperfect but largely thematic areas of interest covering:

• Education and Concern for Future Generations.

• People centric and impact of IT

• Content – rise, demise, storytelling and new formats/approaches

• Disruption – trying to frame and shape the brave new world

• Technical – predictive data to privacy to drones

• Tips – from Slack to apps to Twitter community building

One mega trend that spawned an entire evening was ‘Augmented and Virtual Reality” with live demonstrations showing how archaeologists are using AR to make the past a place through to using VR to recreate the world of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Both areas also featured in lots of case studies.


Education and Younger Generations

Education popped up with one ex government minister’s post and insights from a primary school teacher teaching coding to 5 year olds, but it was a central theme that surfaced in many of the following sessions. We all struggle with the impact of technology on our working world but equally, and possibly more so, we fear the ability of the education system to deliver the skills that our children need for the 21st century. Most reported school children learning a lot of IT in primary schools, which was not mirrored in the secondary level and that outside school initiatives like Coder Dojo and Mathletes are supplementing and advancing their learning. Another speaker spoke about what we can learn from children and how our maturing into adults can sometimes stop us from dreaming the impossible.


Nurturing the talent of younger generations and the insights from the organiser of an incubator resident programme show the amazing things that passion and youthfulness can bring, when guided and not impeded. Another related and heavily debated topic was on the growing divide between older and younger generations and their use of IT

People Centric Theme

Technology impacts on all of us personally but sometimes in the rush to focus on bright shiny tools or platforms we fail to really appreciate what is happening to society. A talk from a CEO on the struggle with purpose unexpectedly touched a lot of people.

The tail wagging the dog came to mind on posts about being distracted by IT. Nothing like some dark topic to disturb people as we are grappling with some major future changes of man versus machine, what makes us unique and our role. On the other side there is much fear mongering and another speaker brought a balanced debate to the rise of robotics. Man versus platform is also a serious consideration and one debate rationalised its probably best to collaborate even if its likely to completely change your industry. For all the things that technology brings it can really mangle creativity especially as people/companies try to productively skim rather than focus on break through thinking. Contrary views are always appreciated. Blind acceptance that social and other channels are right were severely tested in another forum. Another contrarian view was delivered about the blind acceptance of digital allowing people to ignore business rules. People can get lost in any technology related trend or topic so it was good to be brought back to user centric design and good old customer service. Still focusing on the people theme another speaker gave some great archetypes of social media people and how some people need to saved from themselves.


Thinking community before channel again under scored the people first perspective. A periscope session in a café delivered some great perspectives on what a community means – many things to many different people. Artificial intelligence was bound to pop up but the debate was pragmaticIts easy to get carried away on the euphoria of agency fees and how business can benefit from social so a meander back to the societal good that social media can do was welcome. Still under the people theme I was personally really interested to hear about cyberhacking and the professional insights into the Ashley Madison hack.

One discussion around friction was fascinating as technology generally aims to remove it but it has some merits. The last couple of months have seen lots of chatter about trust and the Edelman Trust Barameter so an Italian perspective on the extinction of trust and the anatomy of trust was useful. Remember your first social media or online post. This author narrated the unsettling feelings that perhaps no future generation will experience.

There were quite a few insights into impairments, disability and IT (universal design) , the deeply personal impact of changes to algorithms and shyness and the value for the technology industry in recognising the value of those with Aspergers Syndrome and Autism.

I could relate personally to the new world of work and efforts to enable new forms of remote working by creating locally focused innovation hubs. Others spoke about how technology allows them to live in most remote part of Ireland and build vibrant communities. One technology journalist narrated his year long experience of living on an island off the coast of Ireland.

The dangerous and crisis side popped up with some great thinking around the popular book ‘You’ve been publically shamed’.

I really enjoyed the retrospection by some people on how comments on articles influence our behavior, thinking and perspective. Communities are clusters of people and not just data but these need to be nurtured and there is lots of examples of how to do it right.

Finally a personal perspective outlining how sometimes it can just be good to take your time.

Content

In previous years content loomed large but this year saw a reduced number of posts on the topic. One questioned if we are at the end of content marketing?

Rather than a how to discussion, another focused on the history of content, explaining the logical move/transition to storytelling.

Given the developments over the last few years it would have been unforgiveable for mobile to not pop up but this year it emerged under the guise of having content geared for mobile.

Although not strictly content and more brand purpose there was a lot of interest in how brands can really articulate their being by creating some incredible content and initiatives.

The importance of Emoji in language and how it is used was fascinating, especially as some suggesting it’s a new form of Esperanto. Related and equally interesting was a debate around students and use of standard English and a question about how right are we in our criticism of the emerging txt speak?

Forget about the obsession on stats and start really thinking about your content can really help content management and relight passion.

Disruption

Disruption was an obvious theme that arose and built nicely on the presentations the evening before. We are in a brave new world but some great insights showed that is the cumulative effect of lots of little changes that really matter. This disruption also works backwards into the manufacturing sector with a post on factory 4.0.

Technical

Predictive data and how accessible it is now kick started discussion long after people had time to digest it.

Privacy continues to be a major central concern for people independent of technology, sector or platform and emerged as the need to have privacy built in rather than an add on after thought. Nothing like the clear perspective of the online world by an accountant but the right pricing model is the life blood of online. Fancy a new form of money, then Money 2.0 is for you. Drones have really taken off but the measured debate was more around the legal and privacy aspects than documenting its capabilities, pointing to a maturing in the sector. Another post on Dark Social (not dark web) pointed out its importance in relation to measurement. The metric junkies and those just confused by measurement vented frustration at the lack of credible standard measurement or even the presence of a strong debate on it. Great reminders on how to produce a quality presentation which was ironic given the day. The implication of focusing on medium over message was given some pragmatic perspective with lipstick on a pig. Crowd Funding would previously have taken up lots of space but this year the debate was around how crowded it has become. Ireland is coming out of an economic crisis with the banks getting their fair share of the blame so an insider take on how they do not get IT was fascinating.


Tools/Tips

Using messaging and collaboration tool Slack allowed one attendee to build a virtual company.

Another had great tips on improving Twitter.

Growth hacking has had a big two years in Ireland, but slightly off the boil this year, but still good enough for a how to guide post.

Ever want a one month marketing plans wrapped up nice and neatly into a set of instructions?

How many times have we moaned when asked to justify why a company should go online. One submission did it all for us?

Looking for some apps to help you through daily life?

Entertainment

One lively session that resulted in more questions than answers was around music and how little it has changed despite a perception of an industry that has endured huge upheaval.

Anyone curious about movie promotion got a sneak inside view from a publicity specialist about what it actually involves.

One notable exception was a well informed discussion around the migration towards messaging apps like Snapchat which I believe reflects the discomfort many older analysts feel with these platforms rather than the important seismic trend that appears to be spreading from the US through Irish millennials.

Looking forward

My personal crystal ball on 2016 says virtual reality will undoubtedly become more mainstream and normal, augmented reality will show its muscle in B2B, content overload will force us to rely on algorithms more and everyone will get more comfortable with data.

Report from #cong15

Summary

Congregation in 2015 or #cong15 expanded to a three day digital media and technology festival that ran from November 27th to 29th with a very diverse range of activities. The Saturday Un-conference was the centre piece event with a Friday evening of presentations on disruption, virtual and augmented reality and finishing up with social events on the Sunday. Childcare and special workshops for the children of attendees were also introduced this year.

Themed around ‘How Digital Media and Technology is impacting Work and Personal Lives’ over 110 outline topics were submitted, resulting in over 83 full submissions with 80 people discussing and sharing the wide variety of topics over the weekend.

Topics ranged from drones, cash, education, content, creativity, cyber hacking, dark social media, remote working, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, innovation and entrepreneurship to the future of music.

Who attended?

The background of the 80 attendees was diverse from:


• consultants,

• entrepreneurs,

• archaeologists,

• politicians,

• teachers/lecturers,

• researchers,

• writers,

• authors,

• journalists

• filmmakers

• accounts

• public servants

• specialist technologists and digital media experts.


Methodology

Entry tickets to Congregation still hinge on the production of a submission, which once uploaded to www.congregation.ie is available for public viewing. Audio and video submissions were accepted this year increasing the diversity of media with tools like Periscope being innovatively deployed and recorded under #cong15.

The methodology behind producing and sharing the content before and after the event is to keep the volume of raw knowledge transfer at a sustainable level on the day so as to enable connections and meetings of minds during the discussions. Knowing that the full versions are available online and published through the eBook allows the participants to be ‘mentally present’ and open to creative thought and dialogue. It also helps to uncover true personalities types while the small ‘huddle’ structure facilitates the active incorporation of quieter voices.

This year considerable effort was made to enhance and smooth out logistics as the group of 80 was split between huddles of 10 people in 7 different venues that alternated after 1 hour, 4 times during the day. At each of the four sessions the group composition was sequenced to maximise the number of people each person would meet. This was done with a spreadsheet on the attendee lanyard which also featured a map of the venues and timetable.

Each venue also has a chairperson, who guided proceedings.

Full report from Friday night here.

Saturday Unconference

On a quiet and damp Saturday over 80 people gathered in Ryan’s Hotel in Cong to register for the un-conference element of Congregation.ie. Discussion kicked off immediately and live streaming Periscope interviews where held without any ceremony. Congregation is a very different type event as organiser Eoin Kennedy explained at registration “Everyone has earned their place here with their blog submission. Today is about sharing those insights and allowing serendipitous connections to form between you”. The principle behind Congregation or #cong15 is the inversion of normal conferences, where everyone is a presenter and each person decides when, where and how they wish to present. There are 7 venues used with four one hour huddles held throughout the day, each one containing over 10 people so that the 80+ presentations could be delivered.

This complicated structure was simplified with an almost treasure hunt like approach where each person was given a lanyard around their necks which detailed where they would be, at what time along with a map of the town. To ensure everything went smoothly each venue had a chair-person who guided proceedings and ensured that two/three people presented in each huddle and facilitated the all important discussions.

The mechanics of Congregation, although complicated, are easy to describe but the magic that happens when a motivated group meet in a social venue to share and discuss insights they have spent time composing, needs to be experienced to be fully understood. The close physical proximity in huddles combined with the friendly nature of Cong village unraveled barriers between people resulting in very engaged honest discussions and insightful connections between attendees.

Outside of the continuous mental stimulation of constantly changing topics, the relaxed nature meant that people’s true personality came out.

Interestingly during the course of the day the chairs revealed that education and the fear of social media popped up numerous times in unplanned discussions.

Childcare – a first

As the attendees were exercising their minds in Cong Village, the brand new Crossroads community centre outside the village was hosting over 20 of their children. The organisers were determined that the children should have an even better day than their parents and they were treated to a Puppet Workshop by Carmel Balfe of Little Gem Puppet of Kilkelly, followed by Clay Modelling workshop by Amanda Hickey of Clayroots. The Hungry Monk delivered lunch for the lunchtime movie and they even had the opportunity to test out the latest virtual reality headset called Oculus Rift.


Saturday’s proceedings wound up at 4.30pm with the traditional photo and wrap up at Cong cross. Over 50 of the group stayed on to continue the discussions over dinner in Pat Cohans and

Ryans Hotel before continuing late in to the night in Lydons and Danaghers Hotels.

Sunday Social

Due to storm damage in the woods the planned guided bike tours did not go ahead but instead there was a drone demonstration and guided singing historical walking tours by the Quiet Cailin.


Venues

The choice of venue is a key ingredient in Congregation, as they help set the mood and calibrate people for active engagement.

This year 7 venues were utilised from cafes to craft venues and the personality and physical setting of each drove a very different type of engagement, presentation techniques and discussion. No one venue was similar and most were open to the public on the day, which ensured that the interactions were as close to normal conversations as possible.

2016 Theme

After enjoying the Christmas market in Cong on the Sunday and leisurely breakfasts in Puddleducks the last of the attendees departed with the seeds of next years Congregation theme – Technology Meets The Future and the Past. #cong16 will run from November 25-27th and balance the attendee perspectives of the future with the deep heritage of the past through guided tours of Cairns, Ringforts, Follies and ancient battle grounds.

Sponsors Enabling Congregation

Checking social media under #cong15 its clear the event was a real success and impacted greatly on people but one of the really impressive parts is that the event is entirely free. This is only possible due to the support by the sponsors Mayo.ie, Blacknight.ie and MKC Communications. The three sponsors have not just invested financial resources but also invested time by participating on the day and in the run up to the event.

Economic Impact

Outside of putting Cong on the map for another area outside of tourism and a expressed desire for many to return to Cong, a quick economic impact showed that over €13,000 was spent by attendees with local businesses over the three days. One of the aims of Congregation was to test the concept to see if the season could be extended with an event that would normally be in a city location by co-ordinating local business venues.

Congregation in the News

Congregation mainly relies on word of mouth and content marketing but media coverage and blog posts really helps. Some of the highlights this year are below.

Irish Times

Silicon Republic

Look West

Technology.ie

Tech Central Podcast

The Persuaders

Social Savvy

Mayo.ie

Connacht Tribune

Mayo News – full report

Digital Marketing Success

Irish Technology News

Conferencing. 3 page interview about Congregation.

Congregation also featured in a book on events that will be published in 2016.

Syndication

A partnership with Irish Tech News syndicated many of the articles and expanded them with additional interviews with contributors. Inc60 also reformatted many of the posts into a podcast series.

Life hack and comments.

The ice breaker for each huddle was a life tip, which frequently spawned its own discussion. A selection of some of the is below:

Cronan McNamara.

“what gets measured gets improved ... use your data”

Olivia Forde

“If you want to have mushrooms like they used to taste when you cooked them on the range - put them on a plate with a little salt in them and microwave for 1 minute - delicious.”

Padraig McKeon

“In everything that we do think of the power of the word ‘Why’ - If we know ‘why’ we do everything that we do, we will get on fine.”

Mary Carty

“Use IFTTT to automatically post happy birthday and congratulations messages on LinkedIn. That way you never leave out a colleague or friend.”

Joy Redmond

“Business: Hire someone with Autism/Asperger or any special needs some day if you’re in a position to make a huge difference to a small life.” Life: Instead of tut-tutting at a parent struggling in public with an unruly child (autistic or not), offer them some help! It means so much.”

Liam Horan

“Voice recognition is now a game changer”

Caroline Lawless

“Sometimes it’s okay to leave your phone at a home. Give yourself a break!”

Declan Clancy

“Be more mindful. Appreciate what is going on in the moment and don’t let life pass you by looking at your phone every 2 minutes!”

Alan O’Rourke

“I suffer from shiny object syndrome, where every idea is great and must be done now... so nothing gets finished. To combat this I have learned to be stubborn and write everything else down to look at later so I can stick with the current project until it is done.”

John Tierney

“Always carry a 4 ink pen - old fashioned but makes the review stage of notetaking far easier - no longer faced with monochrome wall of notes.”

Darragh Rea

“My one was the importance of exercise in your daily routine particularly in and out of work – I walk to work most days and it really helps to set me up for the day and unwind post. I also had a second one which was that in order to give advice to others, you needed to live a life away from your desk.”

Grainne Kirwan

“My life hack was very untechnical. As it is often (bizarrely) cheaper to buy a net of lemons rather than individual ones, to avoid wasting them, slice all leftover lemons and then freeze the slices in  small tupperware container. These slices can then be used as a slice & ice combo when serving drinks (especially over the coming festive season!)”

AckCongregation in Numbers

Congregation generates and shares lots of data but its best seen visually.


Acknowledgements

Congregation could not have taken place without the generous financial backing of Mayo.ie, MKC Communications (www.mkc.ie) and Blacknight Solutions (www.blacknight.com).

I would also like to thank The Public Relations Institute of Ireland (www.prii.ie) and the Irish Internet Association (www.iia.ie) for their continued support of this initiative.

The real heart of Congregation were the amazing posts and energetic attendees on the day who travelled from as far as Italy and Austria.

I also owe gratitude to the chairs who expertly guided and moderated the sessions with professional ease and Sue Power of Power Design for her help in designing the posters.

A special thank you to all the venues in Cong who pulled out all stops with infectious enthusiasm and ensured day long supplies of tea/coffee and lunches for all attendees.

Finally my gratitude to Ashford Castle for the support and use of the private cinema.

I really hope you enjoy reading the submissions from #cong14 and put November, 25-27th 2016 in your diary for cong#16.

Eoin Kennedy

© Eoin Kennedy 2017 eoin at congregation dot ie