Digital Circle going independent and my thoughts on the Future

On Thursday we announced Digital Circle was going independent. .

This was something that was mooted for a couple of years, decided on March 23rd this year and has been acted upon over the last month. It hasn’t been without stress, it hasn’t been without some heartache and I believe that some of these things will still be ahead because, in the process, I resigned from Momentum and am now working my notice. Giving up a relatively safe full-time, permanent job to go chasing the dreams of Digital Content? Crazy. But then I think it is where my heart has always been.

It’ll mean working different, it will mean being creative with how to get my bills paid (because sadly I didn’t win the lottery last month). I think it will have a little bit of personal adversity in the short term but that in the long term, it will work out. I’m not worried about that stuff because I’m committed, resourceful and extremely excited about the future.

Content and Colourful Software

Digital is all about the 1s and 0s. Digital Media is all really about media. Digital Content is all really about Content. The difference now is that we use computers to do it. The computer is the tool to make stuff, not the end in itself. I always described Digital Circle as being ‘colourful software‘. Momentum dealt with serious software and serious business, whether that be insurance companies or financial institutions, and to reflect that the software was also serious and grey. Lots of forms and spreadsheets. Whereas Digital Circle members made software all the colours of the rainbow in the forms of games and web sites. They took the design and crafting of the product seriously. They would do the right thing for a product rather than the expedient thing. Considering the time I spent at a large financial institution trying to manage a second line support team, I can say that large institutions writing grey software will always choose expedient.

I also love working with the Steering Group. They’re a loose-fit, comfortable-wear group of people whom I respect and am lucky enough to call friends. We don’t socialise together, it’s a relationship that fits because every single one of them has given hundreds of hours towards the betterment of the digital content industry in Northern Ireland. They don’t get paid and, in every case, the time they spend with Digital Circle is time spent away from their businesses. In other words, they pay heavily to contribute to Digital Circle so that you don’t have to. I couldn’t do it without them. And this extends backwards to the Digital Circle Steering Groups who have gone before. And it’s not like they even get to tell me what to do. They advise. They tell me what the industry needs and I try to provide. Their character, their principles are utterly without reproach and that’s the only way I could work with them. And they encourage me to follow what I think is right for the industry.

What I do

  • Promoting creativity in schools through trying to influence STEM agendas (and as government is now calling it a STEAM agenda, it’s working. It’s about appreciating the role of design and creativity in making really great products and services. I spend a lot of time working with W5 STEMnet and I would encourage you to. We have to rely on more than just serendipity to get our young people into skilled careers.
  • Promoting computer programming and design skills in school kids and adults through pushing Coder Dojos across Northern Ireland with the help of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. And our work isn’t stopping there. We have considered how to deliver the software and media component of the NISP CONNECT Knowledge Economy Index targets and we’re 100% committed to exceeding those targets
  • Promoting entrepreneurship in schools through working with Young Enterprise NI. Every year I volunteer to help run their Digital Masterclasses. I would encourage you to put some time in. As I say to the kids (and as was repeated yesterday by Steve Orr at the NISPCONNECT Stakeholders day), entrepreneurship is the fastest way to become independently wealthy other than crime and the lottery.
  • Promoting the digital industry through lobbying and actually just showing off how amazing you guys really are. This resulted in the first SBRI in Northern Ireland being in ‘digital’ and it paves the way for more. And that SBRI came from the incredible work that you did in helping with Code4Pizza.
  • Fighting for funding by dreaming up new contrivances that can only be delivered by the types of companies who join Digital Circle. The CIIF2 project has funded around 150 projects so far and around 100 of them are digital (that’s more than a million quid invested by government into digital companies). The ‘Games on Film’ projects we did with Northern Ireland Screen last year resulted in great projects that have spawned other new ideas, new schemes. The work we did with the Community Relations Council has again influenced outcomes in favour of our industry (and not just our registered members).
  • Providing information on events (you can add yours), jobs (you can add yours), opportunities (you know…) and showcases. We highlight opportunities that NI digital businesses can collaborate with UK and European companies and institutions. I know that not many people consider doing anything but you really should. You have to broaden your horizons.
  • And representing Northern Ireland on a global scale. Digital Circle has been invited to some of the top tables in the world, liaising with some of the top people. Our new independence should make that easier to manage, easier to deliver.
  • Expanding our membership to give us more work, not more cash. We don’t charge a membership fee because we believe that Digital Circle is a movement, not a club. We work to bring hundreds of thousands of pounds of funding and investment into companies in our sector and I don’t feel motivated to nickel-and-dime you for a few quid. I’d rather have some of your free time to help out at Coder Dojo, W5 STEMnet or Young Enterprise. I’d rather you organised events for the industry and put them on our web site. I’d rather you went on an InvestNI trade mission or hired a placement student (and paid her/him).
  • And I’m connecting people for new opportunities and contriving new opportunities almost daily. But ultimately if you don’t get involved, if you stand at the sidelines, then I can’t sell you everywhere I go. Digital Circle has, over the last five years, been ahead of the market trends. We watch closely, we encourage and we promote your business needs within government for the betterment of our industry.

I don’t just work with the Steering Group, either. I visit companies who invite me to visit and I learn from them. I feel immense pride in Northern Ireland when I see our digital media companies do their best work. Working with companies like Iglu Media, Outsider Games, Billygoat Entertainment, AirPOS, Rumble Labs, Venuebooker, Black Market Games and others and seeing their dreams and aspirations is simply breathtaking.


For contract reasons, I will be working through my previous company, Mac-Sys Ltd for a while. For the last decade they have been tirelessly serving the digital media industry in Northern Ireland as the only Apple Authorised Service Provider here. For the last five years they’ve been managing without me. They’re the go-to guys for design companies, for film companies, for web companies because most of these companies tend to own an Apple product or two. (They’re faster than that shop in Victoria Square. They’re qualified to open MacBooks. They’ve a pretty unbeatable service level agreement and have never failed to deliver on it. And yes, they do some PC stuff too). There’s a reason a heap of agencies and studios have given Mac-Sys Ltd the keys to their offices over the years and it’s entirely about trust. The team there are utterly principled in their approach to doing the right thing and not just the expedient thing. The function of an IT department is to make life easier for the end user, not the IT department. (And its worth noting that I’m proud of the pro-bono work they do with helping some primary schools get their IT provision in order. We need more IT companies to do the same). If you want to help me, hire a great IT company to help you. And for all of these reasons, if Mac-Sys Ltd are not your IT provider of choice, then a quick phone call or email can change that. I started Mac-Sys Ltd in June of 2003 after running the Northern Ireland Mac User Group for 6 years, helping Mac users in Northern Ireland for free. It would seem that June is the month for starting new things.

I’m not special, guys. People who can draw, design a web site, or write code, or design amazing games; you’re special. You have talents and skills that I can only dream about. I love working with designers and coders and artists because they’re inspiring. I’m keen to see what comes next. I’m keen to see how people can push the envelope. It’s not always about money, it’s about the eyeball economy. What have you done today which made others stop and look. What did you make today which gave someone a little feeling of delight.

Every now and then, someone writes something nice

From AirPOS on the independence of Digital Circle.

So you may or may not be aware of Digital Circle. If you’re in Northern Ireland and have even a brief flirtation with technology, start ups, film, music, entrepreneurship or sailing (don’t ask) then you’re probably in the loop. Of course the influence extends beyond our borders to the USA, UK, Ireland and other connected parts of the globe, but mostly the impact of Matt Johnston’s tireless, fearless, sometimes uncompromising and bordering on obsessive commitment to pushing things forward will have been felt in our own backyard.

And even when someone is leaving, they can bring a wry smile even when I’m so sad to see them go

Matt is doing his level best (which is pretty damned good) to change this place. Although he can still be an ass at times; patience is rewarded

I’m humbled by you all. I love this place. I’m horrified by it sometimes, but I love it. I’ve made my home here and I hope, not beyond reason, that my kids will love it too. Digital Circle being an independent entity will bring a new dimension to my work. And I’m excited to be part of it.

Remember, Kids… #teenagedreams



The revelation that the TEENAGE DREAMS graffiti from the gateway to East Belfast has been painted over is a shock to anyone who does not feel that a modern society is built on bitterness and violence.

This is a direct assault on those of us who believe that peace and discourse can build society. A sneer at the third part of society that does not hold to sectarian creeds.


From the Belfast Telegraph:

On the face of it, the latest financial package from the Westminster government to Northern Ireland is encouraging.

Many cupboards have been raided and while pinning down exactly how much this is all worth is difficult, the package overall does give Northern Ireland new opportunities.

The problem with an Editors Viewpoint as opposed to actual investigative journalism is there’s no pressure to justify the words, no need to find facts.

The Economic Pact so much lauded by our First and Deputy First Ministers was more of an ultimatum. They’ve been given more powers to get us further in debt but is there any real money in this? Have any cupboards been raided or has it been, as I suspect, an exercise in telling our government that if it doesn’t get it’s act together on a shared future, with real deadlines, then the Block Grant is going.

The government of Northern Ireland has coasted comfortably on billions of pounds that it didn’t earn. Our infrastructure is gorged with cash from lucrative government contracts with (unsurprisingly) mediocre delivery. And the public oversight on projects, so commonly lauded as a success before they have begun, has been so shockingly lax that it beggars belief (for example, few dare to question BT on their BT Infinity coverage numbers and those who tend to be punished.)

15 years after the Good Friday Agreement we have been given a pathway to a shared future with the removal of the Peace Walls in 10 years. Of course this could have happened before this but it was never in the interest of the elected representatives. Now, finally, gripped by the final threat of austerity and still gorged with free money from the UK government, we see our ministers actually try and put some band-aids on the wounds they have inflicted upon us.

We’re held to ransom now by people who held us to ransom during the dark days. At what point will we get past this? At what point will Northern Ireland be normalised?

As I type, President Obama has just touched down in Airforce One and is heading into the centre of Belfast. He comes from a country gripped by separation and hatred. He’s arrived in a country gripped by separation and hatred. We won’t get any answers from President Obama and he’ll tell us what great progress we have made. I won’t know what he means. I wasn’t killing anyone before the Good Friday Agreement and I still haven’t killed anyone. What progress have you made?

An Enduring Shame

The AP piece linked above shows the world our dirty underwear. It shows how much of our civil, shared society is a sham. Whether it’s a housing development that is divided by towering walls or a UK City of Culture so divided they cannot agree on a name for the city.

And it is our current political leaders who have brought us down this road. As more and more people become disengaged from the process of politics, elections and voting, the only people left engaged are the extremists from both sides whose unreasoning hate of the other propels bigots and demagogues into political power. The elected representatives know how they were elected and, unsurprisingly, they work to foment division and segregation; resisting the removal of peace walls, inciting resentment over flags, demonstrating their bombastic defiance against the other side. And, of course, it’s all a facade. They’re playing to an audience who are blinded by poverty, desperation, fear, uncertainty and doubt.

While we see the theatre of a shared future played out under the threat of an economic pact that would reduce our investment from the UK government, we also see the use of an undemocratic blocker, the Petition of Concern, used to attack minorities, alternative communities and the collective and individual rights of women.

I’m not a politico. I just realised in 2012 that I had left the country in the hands of short-sighted fools and the divided, fragile society we have is a reflection of that. I want a better future and there is no sign we will get it under the existing regime.

Everything we do is forced down a discussion of whether it is green or orange. We are individually defined by this. It’s why a polo shirt bought in Spain can be turned away from a bar in Belfast because it has the pattern of an Irish football team. Or the news headlines because a political party the media have defined as “unionist” dares to tweet in Irish. We are letting others dictate our future and these people have proven for over a decade that their interests are not in our interest.

We deserve better. Our children aspire to better. They are not burdened with the hate of people on the other side of a wall until we teach them to fear.

Flight path

I’m attending the Apeldoorn Conference right now. Starts tomorrow and I flew into Amsterdam this evening so I can be in Eindhoven for the start.

I took a GPS trace (turning off everything on the flight other than GPS, which is a receive-only technology)

At the hook at the end, there were some lands and structures I’m interested in seeing again. This will be useful for swooping around Maps (either Apple or Google).

Want to help sponsor a Formula 1 Primary School?

Got this last night:

A Primary 7 team of six pupils from Groggan Primary School near Randalstown, participated in the Formula 1 Primary Schools Challenge at the Ulster Museum in Belfast on Friday 17th May.

This competition raises the children’s awareness of science, technology, engineering and Maths through an exciting learning environment.

The teams were judged on car manufacture, speed, design portfolios, verbal presentation and a marketing display stand.

Our team, G-Force won two awards: Best Portfolio and overall winners. This team will be one of two, to represent Northern Ireland in Coventry on June 25th.

For the next step we have to create a new car and take two identical models along with our display material.

In order for the team to participate, we are trying to raise sponsorship to cover the costs of travel, accommodation and manufacture costs.

Your sponsorship would be much appreciated.

  • Principal Mrs. P. A. Campbell B Ed DASE PQH NI
  • Telephone: 028 9447 2170
  • Fax: 028 9447 8125
  • E Mail:

This is the F1 in Schools Challenge UK.

A Bigger Fear Than Failure – @readmuck


Investigative news blog for Northern Ireland The Muckraker is to follow long-form digital journalism project Matter in publishing a digital magazine where each issue is a single in-depth feature.

The Muckraker Report will publish a digital edition every three months, charging £3 per issue, with investigations covering government and the public sector in Northern Ireland.

The venture will be 100% reader-funded, not accepting adverts and not allowing editorial to conflict with the commercial desires of advertising.

From their own site:

I have a bigger fear than failing. I’m afraid that one day I’ll wake up and I’ll be too old and too exhausted to try and change the status quo, to start a magazine that says “Fuck you!” to power. Better to do it at 23 and fuck it up than to never do it at all.

They need to get a heap of subscribers over a 5 year period to keep the venture going but I’m asking that folk consider picking up a sub, charged pennies for quality investigative journalism in the province. they’ll be asking not only the questions that need asked but also the questions that we are often too ill-positioned or ill-informed to pose ourselves.

You can sign up to be notified. The content may inform, it may outrage and part of me hopes it does both.

Whither e-Ulster?

The BBC on the transformation of Estonia into E-stonia.

Estonia’s e-revolution began in the 1990s, not long after independence. Toomas Hendrik Ilves, then the country’s ambassador to the United States, now Estonia’s president, takes some of the credit.

“We need to really computerise, in every possible way, to massively increase our functional size.”

Estonians today vote online and pay tax online. Their health records are online and, using what President Ilves likes to call a “personal access key” – others refer to it as an ID card – they can pick up prescriptions at the pharmacy. The card offers access to a wide range of other services.

Estonia is 1.4 million people. They don’t get a £10B handout from a kind uncle across a small sea. And yet people say that Northern Ireland could never be sustainable, never mind survive on it’s own.

Of course it could. But we’d need to change into a nation that could. Imagine if Northern Ireland was an asset to the United Kingdom rather than a liability? Imagine if the border poll was a reality because the Republic of Ireland valued us rather than being deathly quiet about unification.

Imagine if the ancient province of Ulster was “wanted” by either of the UK or Ireland?