ARGNet @ PICNIC 08 LogoEditor’s Note: Daniël van Gool, an administrator at the Unfiction forums, was on the scene at PICNIC ’08 on behalf of ARGNet. We were impressed with Daniël’s work covering PICNIC ’07 and, as media partners of the annual cross-media festival, were invited to a number of special events in addition to the speaker sessions. This is the first part of Daniël’s comprehensive look at this year’s event. All pictures are courtesy of Daniël as well.

The morning of the 24th of September marked the third year I walked up to the intriguing Westergasfabriek area in the West of Amsterdam to attend PICNIC on behalf of ARGNet. In my report on PICNIC ’07 I tried to describe why this area is perfect for a conference that is all about creativity, innovation and inspiration: the Westergasfabriek area just breathes all those things. If you want to try and get an idea how PICNIC looked and felt in 2008, check out the set of rather nice 360-degree pictures made by C360.

PICNIC’s ambition is still growing, and they have taken things another step further this year, welcoming an even larger audience in attendance and hosting even more events before, during and after the main conference in comparison to the previous two years. The PICNIC Club, the central lounging and networking area, was moved to the Gashouder building this year. Previously a huge silo used to store natural gas, during PICNIC it was fitted with large patches of grass, rows of picnic tables, a stage with some impressive lightning, a couple of huge displays of hundreds of images of sheep (I will come to this later) and various booths and domes where demonstrations were held and books and picnic-baskets were sold.

Around 1:00pm. Bas Verhart and Marleen Stikker, founders of the Crossmedia Foundation and PICNIC, opened the event and announced that over 5000 people had registered this year for the main conference and all the partner events. The main theme of this year’s conference was Collaborative Creativity, a subject that has a couple of interesting parallels with the world of ARGs.

picnic08_01.jpgTo kick off the main conference and get it firmly started on said theme, Charles Leadbeater gave the day’s keynote address titled The Power of Mass Creativity. He started out by introducing himself and, naturally, talked for a bit about his book, We-Think, referring to a 4 minute YouTube video that summarizes it.

Apart from being a not particularly well-disguised plug for his book, it was also a setup for his first point: after the video went live, people started commenting, and while he wasn’t too happy with some of the more rude comments that were made, he soon realized that by putting that video out there, he had reached a wider and broader audience than he ever could have done before with any other means of publishing.

He asked the audience to imagine a twelve-year old boy walking into a TV studio, let’s say that of the BBC, and asking the lead producer if he could use their studio and their airtime to produce and air a five minute video of himself playing his guitar, and that his target audience was about 50 million viewers. Not so long ago, they would have probably first laughed at him, then removed him from the premises, but this is still what happened to this rather famous YouTube video.

This is, of course, a trend that has been going on for a while now, and the trends presently show movement from individual ‘production’ to collaborative. Leadbeater’s metaphor for the current media landscape is a beach with boulders: in the past, boulders were getting bigger and bigger, conglomerating more and more. His prediction however, is that in ten years time, those boulders will erode and break apart, leaving the beach filled with pebbles — and so, everyone who blogs or uploads a video to YouTube drops a pebble on the beach. Leadbeater dubbed this the ProAm (Professional-Amateur) revolution.

The ‘problem’ that remains with that situation is that these pebbles aren’t interconnected: they do not necessarily add up to much. The question will be if we’re going to be able to make things out of these pebbles in the future — durable products, encyclopedias, games, and so on — thereby achieving this required collaboration.

Quite to my surprise, Leadbeater then introduced ilovebees as one of the prominent examples of creative collaboration and the start of ‘pebbles’ becoming interconnected. In the game, players around the world collaborated on piecing together the back story narrative and discovered creative ways to help each other. A notable quote from this part of the presentation: “Creativity does not come from an individual most of the time, but from people blending and mixing ideas together.”

It’s pretty cool to attend an event like PICNIC and hear people discuss the aspect of ARG’s that I personally think is most their attractive: collaboration! Leadbeater went on to give 42 Entertainment (creators of I Love Bees, if you didn’t know) quite a bit of praise for their achievements, even comparing them to “the Linus Thorvalds of modern gaming”.

I’m not sure if it was because I was still silently raving over the fact that an ARG was featured so prominently in this keynote, but I thought Leadbeater was given a little too much time to say what he wanted to say, because his speech started to drag a little. He did make some other interesting points, although you had to stay focused through the less engaging bits of his talk.

A note on communities working collaboration: the rule set that governs them tends to be built from a complicated mix of subsets: one part anarchy (anyone can do anything), one part meritocracy (people trust those who have proven themselves in the past), one part democracy (if there’s a dispute, there’s usually a democratic way to solve it), one part aristocracy (when you’re around longer, you tend to have more influence) and one part monarchy (there are often a few “crowned” people around as well). Because of this, it is sometimes complicated to understand the rules to contribute.

Stay tuned for part two of Daniël’s report coming tomorrow!