Close-Up: Forget the Silicon Roundabout tag, the buzz is for real

There is more to London E1 than a bunch of Nathan Barleys talking bollocks in plaid shirts, as Glyn Britton finds out at Digital Shoreditch.

It was the inaugural Digital Shoreditch last week, a new festival celebrating the creativity of the digital community in E1. It was a week of talks, conferences, unconferences, meetups, art installations and parties - think a mini SXSW Interactive, but a bit grimier - this is East London, after all.

But it's not just another trendy festival. It has real purpose - to get the talent in Shoreditch working together better so it can become the number-one place for digital creativity in the world.

As Kam Star, Digital Shoreditch founder and the managing director of game developer PlayGen, put it: "It is a collective approach built on transparency and sharing that is designed to propel Shoreditch to the forefront of the global stage.

Together we can make it easier for prospective clients to find the services that they need, leverage our collective PR and partner up to better utilise the talents of the smart people on our doorstep."

Albion signed on as a founding sponsor because we wanted to do something to support an area that has been good to us, and because we liked the manifesto of blurring the lines between tech start-ups, agencies and artists under the banner of digital creativity.

Picking up on that theme, we chose the week to launch Create Station, our new product created with Arts Alliance-funded start-up Brainient (also in Shoreditch). The software allows users to create their own YouTube TV station, and add bespoke branding to videos. It's a demonstration of real-time video personalisation technology, in a way designed to get the attention of the agency creatives who should be using it.

We also hosted the latest of our bi-monthly Albion Society events, with the theme of "Hacking Advertising" exploring how technology has disrupted the ad industry without its permission.

Our speaker was Gustav von Sydow, the ex-Cripsin Porter & Bogusky creative, and now the chief executive of the Swedish start-up, Burt.

He was sickeningly dashing and sharp, given he'd just jumped off a plane from New York, and he skewered most of what the ad industry has done with technology, claiming "the worst press ad campaign I designed performed better than the world's best online campaign".

His point was that the standard of creativity in digital advertising is poor - or misplaced - mostly because we have no idea what we're working with. Current online analytics don't tell us the basics, like how long an ad is seen for.

Elsewhere, Laura Jordan-Bambach of LBi organised and spoke at the SheSays SCAMP conference. LBi's Jen Heape reported it was "an eclectic look at how digital is influencing other creative industries and vice versa. Rachel Wingfield from loop.PH was a stand-out speaker, explaining how traditional lace making has influenced her stunning ArchiLace designs".

Later, we went along to Geek Off, a "tech pub quiz" hosted by Alex Hoye of the performance marketing agency Latitude. It was a riot of geek glasses and sambuca shots, with questions ranging from code to Lord of the Rings.

Gamification is one of the most hyped and derided ideas around today, and the Gamification day reflected this spectrum of opinion.

Professor Richard A Bartle from the University of Essex thinks gamification is a fad and a bubble because "it is basically bribery - rewarding someone for doing something that you want them to do ... an acknowledgment that your content isn't compelling."

But the standout talk was by the user-experience researcher Sebastian Deterding. "There Be Dragons: Ten Potential Pitfalls of Gamification" urged a focus on users and an understanding of what play is.

But Digital Shoreditch wasn't just fun, games and ironic haircuts. Real business was being done too. An informal coalition of 100 start-ups, who are all looking to hire talented developers, launched a recruitment event called Silicon Milkroundabout, while the government's Technology Strategy Board launched Tech City Launchpad, a competition for start-ups to win a share of £1 million. Neatly, this was also the week it was reported that the local start-up Tweetdeck had been bought by Twitter for "between $40-$50 million".

It's easy to be cynical about the idea of "Silicon Roundabout", to say it's just a media invention, or just a load of Nathan Barleys talking bollocks in plaid shirts. But if you'd been to any of the Digital Shoreditch events, you'd have felt something quite different. There's something real going on, and it's constructive and positive and generous - and it's gaining momentum. Watch out, Soho.

Glyn Britton is the strategy director of Albion London.

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