ICT Toronto: Getting It Yet?

No, not yet. But there’s hope.

For a refresher on ICT Toronto‘s intentions and missing the point, see Joey’s critique and his great series on “How to be Silicon Valley” here, here, here and here.

Thanks to Estelle (Recovering VC) Havva, Jay, David and I were invited as representatives of Toronto’s BarCamp community to speak to the ICT Toronto committee at their most recent breakfast meeting, held on Thursday June 15th, 2006. While David was convalescing with DVDs of Battlestar Galactica, Jay and I represented. Jay introduced attendees to the concept of BarCamp, its successful history in Toronto, its values of participation and community and invited members the ICT Toronto committee to come to the next event, DemoCamp7 on July 4th.

As the policy nerd of Toronto’s BarCamp community, my message was about what BarCamp represents to the technology industry in the Toronto region and to ICT Toronto’s stated economic development objectives of creating the 5th largest and most vibrant technology cluster in the world and the 2nd largest in North America. These are laudable goals, but I have yet to see an articulate outline of how they plan to achieve them other than a marketing campaign to attract foreign investment, which is the standard tool of industrial-era economic development policy.

Yawn. Not enough. Not by a longshot. ICT Toronto needs to understand the skepticism it faces. Old mechanistic industrial models of what supports innovative and dynamic local economies are not going to achieve the stated goal. There doesn’t appear to be a true understanding that a global race is on, and traditional thinking and PR pitches are not going to beat the competition. ICT Toronto needs the BarCamp community’s energy and new and original thinking to help it achieve its objectives. A vibrant technology scene is as much about transit, culture, authentic places and creative communities of practice as it is about executive breakfasts and glossy brochures. This is my message of why ICT Toronto should care:

Supernova

BarCamp is the plankton of a vibrant technology ecosystem. It is a series of events that create excitement and showcase the dynamism of our community to ourselves and others. It presents an exciting opportunity to engage young people in the technology industry, support their creativity and connect them with experienced professionals and jobs. It is a marketplace of ideas and talent. It is the battle-hardened stuff of the dot-com supernova mixed with new energy that is the birthplace of future stars and startups. It is a self-organized virtual think-tank of energized and connected leaders, social innovators and agents of change. Toronto’s BarCamp community is part of a global network of leading technology thought leaders and influential opinion-makers. BarCamp is a global movement that links Toronto to Silicon Valley and the rest of the world. BarCamp is the future.

Our presentation of what is BarCamp gathered a significant amount of interest and excitement from the committee, but for some reason it didn’t make it into the official meeting minutes. And no, those minutes aren’t posted publicly anywhere, nor is there a real effort to continue the conversation between meetings or to engage the energy of Toronto’s technology blogging community. Back to business as usual…the Marketing Campaign, 1.0 style.

We tried to inject some new thinking into the conversation about marketing Toronto, but there seemed to be little understanding of the true source of influence of the technology blogosphere in defining what is cool and where interesting things are happening. The power of authentic voices and the absence of public relations speak is something that is difficult for people schooled in traditional approaches to comprehend. I fear that a traditional PR approach is the direction that they are heading, with perhaps a limp attempt at an “official ICT Toronto blog”.

Alicia Bulwyk has graciously invited somebody from BarCamp to work with their marketing subcommittee to better understand blogs and their influence and possible role in a marketing campaign.

So rather than continuing to bitch that government doesn’t get it, this is a call to action. Get involved and contribute. This is a call for the blogger/marketers out there to bring some insight to the suits gathering at City Hall to determine how public dollars are spent to create a vibrant technology cluster in Toronto. Let me know if you’re interested in joining.

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