The core idea “that social networks have value”. Just as a screwdriver (physical capital) or a university education (cultural capital or human capital) can increase productivity (both individual and collective), so do social contacts affect the productivity of individuals and groups.
By social networks I’m really not talking about Facebook or Twitter. They’re just a communication layer. I’m talking about the building of bonds between people. Building trust or even just realising that some people, by their very presence, add value to a process.
Last night I had the privilege of hosting a BLOC54 meeting. BLOC54 is a term we crowdsourced on Google Wave (remember that?) to describe our nascent games industry. It represents a political bloc (in that we want the local developers and designers and artists to stand together) and it’s located at 54° North of the equator.
I have an intention to try and prove the value of a network through the interactions contained within. (Confession: I attempted to try and get this funded as a research project but it’s difficult when the subjects are all pre-revenue. The EU doesn’t value pre-revenue companies.) I have an idea that could vastly accelerate the development of games in Northern Ireland and if it works for games, then it would work for other sectors.
Part of the thinking came from Google 20% Time (which has mostly been abandoned by the search giant) but the major part came from the work I’ve been doing over the last 20 years. Some people might remember NiMUG and other things. We can be better together.
Now, again to reinforce, this is not about bringing some superstars into a network. We have some great people here – they’re the people who organise things while being incredibly talented themselves. They’re always the same faces at things, they’re always on the panels and they’re always the first thought when organising things.
This isn’t about them.
This is about the value of groups as collections of individuals. This means the potential of a small company with two keen developers bring in close proximity to an enthusiastic artist. This is about putting some structure onto their relationship, putting a social contract in place that is designed to contrive collaboration. This is designed to influence serendipity. And if we can use this serendipity to help pay the rent on the building for the small business, isn’t that worth it? Isn’t collaboration worth the investment?
This is what a hub is about. It’s not about providing cheap rents. It’s not about just making people sit near each other. And it’s not about having an open plan office which just has the word “Hub” on it. It should be obvious but a Hub should be some sort of hub. The closest thing to this in Northern Ireland is Farset Labs but this project isn’t supported the way it should be. It’s a credit to the folks there that it still exists at all.
I have tried to implement this (and I’ve invested thousands in the idea over the last 10 years) but I can’t do it alone. My solution isn’t Farset Labs – it’s actually too open and free for my needs. Structure is sometimes good. And through a programme of collaboration we can boost individual success, we can measure the social capital of individuals in groups.
I’ve spoken to local property developers about this and come up with nothing. Without the ability to pay rent up front, without the ability to take on a long lease, without the financial backing of sponsors, without the coalescing of a community, it’s simply not possible.
I look at social enterprises like Bento Miso, Seats 2 Meet and the Dutch Game Garden as examples of how we can do things better. If we value social capital the way we value cash then we can achieve great things.
I have knocked every door and there simply isn’t the will to do anything. The economy here is so tied to property developers that every argument boils down to square footage and rental income. It’s demoralising and it’s disappointing but there simply isn’t the will to “dare to be great” among individuals whose livelihood is based upon rent, rates and taxes.
But, sadly, I know I’m right so I’ve got to keep going.