Duh, Community IS the Framework!

A little more than 2 years after David Crow launched the BarCamp unconference meme in Canada with a mighty yawp, it looks like this “community thing” is catching on in Toronto’s technology scene.

The National Angels Organization has found religion, the Financial Post picked up the excitement, the Toronto Board of Trade loves being host to the energy of DemoCamp, Peter Evans and the crew at MaRS are great supporters of the community, John MacRitchie and the Ontario Centres of Excellence is actively engaged, the organizers of the Mesh Conference are kindred spirits and provide an important platform, Greg Wilson and the University of Toronto are onside, Rick Segal, Austin Hill and other VCs and Angels are joining in, Interactive Ontario sees the value and many other established institutions of the technology and business community are taking note of one of Toronto’s main sources of tech excitement.

The community is an open platform for collaboration, where the interests and resources of a diverse set of private industry organizations, educational and public sector support institutions can be pooled for shared benefit.

So who’s not getting it?


More after the jump…

I’m sad to report that the City of Toronto has yet to engage Toronto’s emerging technology community in a truly meaningful way. The ICT Toronto committee asked people from the community (myself included) to participate in advising their initiative, the last visible rump of which is represented by Toronto Technology Week. The City never quite figured out the difference between a community and an industry association and those involved were distracted by the competing agendas of several old-school tech industry associations. Some members mused at one time of creating a new Mega-Association and spoke gleefully of “drowning puppies” as the means to get there. I kid you not.

The Toronto Technology Week concept, a “week long festival of technology” remains interesting in theory. However, Toronto’s tech community is NOT rallying behind it for a number of reasons. Time to face reality: here, here, here, here and in many other more private conversations.

The protagonists behind TechWeek fail to understand what makes a great tech community and cluster tick and how to solicit real contributions from its members. Most critically and fatally, they have no way of separating the wheat of tech awesomeness from the chaff of wannabe pretenders and bottom-feeders. Without that judgement, community gardening is impossible.

Without a Golden Compass of Tech Awesomeness and lacking the community’s trust and buy-in, I’m afraid the ICT Toronto project is doomed to failure. If the City is serious about growing a vibrant tech cluster, it will not continue down this path towards failed mediocrity and will take a moment to re-evaluate its approach in the face of a profound lack of enthusiasm in the tech community.

Fortunately, the Community is Open and it is Creative, and the City of Toronto can join it at any time. But the City first needs to humbly acknowledge that it cannot claim any form of leadership in an area, like technology, that it clearly and admittedly does not understand.

7 thoughts on “Duh, Community IS the Framework!”

  1. Great post Mark! I vote for a week of unconferences happening the week of TorontoTechWeek! Community is definitely the Framework. We all tried to explain it to the city folks but we are speaking two different languages. Perhaps we should chaperon them to a couple of unconference events and re-explain things, highlight them, put the city folks on the spotlight.

    Nice post Mark and that’s why we love you.

  2. Sounds like the mad ranting of a policy wonk.

    if the corporations want a week of patting themselves on the back ( outside the day to day patting of said backs ) I say let them have it.

    The camps and un-conferences accomplish so much more and I feel the separation I think is nice. ICT will come around when they come around, and they can get on board like everyone else did, one foot at a time.

  3. How hypocritical.

    You criticize the TechWeek people because “they have no way of separating the wheat of tech awesomeness from the chaff of wannabe pretenders and bottom-feeders”

    There is a large community of people who justifiably think the same of you.

    Did you think of looking in the mirror before launching into your poisonous tirade? Thanks for the “me too” post. It’s ok for you to attack TechWeek because David Crow criticized it first, with more class.

    Instead of investing so much energy and taking so much glee in slagging someone else, do something, not just coattail riding like you do with the real community leaders whose well-earned reputations you so jealously covet.

    I am not a fan of the people behind TechWeek but I am not a fan of “wannabe pretenders and bottom-feeders” like you either.

    Pretenders in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

  4. Thanks for the comments. I felt it was time to speak truth to power, and I’m glad to finally get it off my chest. This post (and many previous versions) has been sitting around for months.

    Alex, I appreciate your comment most particularly. It gives me an opportunity to clarify the role that I’ve evolved into. I have never claimed to be the centre of the tech universe. I am not a developer nor a software engineer. I was quite amused to be nominated by BlogTO for “best tech evangelist”, because that’s certainly not my job either.

    What I do spend a lot of time thinking, researching and writing about are: community (both the physical and the online kind), public policy, regional economic competitiveness and the impacts of technology on all of the above.

    At the first Toronto BarCamp David organized back in fall 2005, I witnessed the amazing energy potential that an engaged and enabled community could generate. I drank the kool-aid, and I haven’t looked back. I’m a big fan of the work of David, Jay, Joey, Leila, Jevon, Ryan, Eli, Tom, Bryce and many many others who have stepped up in their own ways. It’s impossible to be jealous of such great friends and colleagues when one can only feel honoured to know them.

    This is the way I step up. I am a translator between technology, culture and public policy. When I see a breakdown in the conversation, I’m compelled to step in and help policy-makers perceive and understand the quirks of the community of which I’m a part. It’s what I do, and it’s the way I contribute to the community.

    Not everybody sees this work (it’s rarely public), but those that do tend to understand and appreciate it. Those that don’t, well what can a citizen wonk do?

  5. I like that Golden Compass of Tech Awesomeness you’re talking about here. While I do love technology, gadgets in particular, I am not embarrassed to admit that there are many things I do not know. Hopefully the ICT Toronto Project will soon realize that they cannot exactly lead certain areas or else. I’ve seen many organizations and projects go down because of this.

  6. Great post Mark. Each year I have so much hope for Toronto TechWeek and each year I have had trouble finding anything that is relevant to me personally or to GigPark. Maybe I’m/we’re not the target for TTW, but I suspect that’s not the case.

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