Van Dusseldorp's Future of events (6)
Micro-events, digital intimacy & two important questions. Plus Boschbot.
Dear 646 souls in lockdown,
Thank you again for joining me in this exploration of the future of events!
This is not a very newsy newsletter, to be honest, so if it is your first time here, you might want to visit some of the previous issues, like the one on why we organize events at all.
Anyway! Today I want to share some thoughts about really small events and why they are such a joyous part of the present hullabaloo of online events.
Zoom in, zoom out… there is real treasure there.
A personal story first, then three examples of events to underline the idea, two questions for all of you, followed by a random share of the day.
And as always: I love hearing from you. E-mail me!
Monique van Dusseldorp
p.s. This newsletter is quite long. Too long?
Show me your micro-adventures!
[Skip this section if you do not care for my musings]
A night-time curfew came into force in the Netherlands this week. I mentioned before how we have all become 14-year-olds, under an endless curfew, no longer part of the world, just yearning for something, somewhere.
I know, I know. We left 1980 a while ago and have by now truly arrived in 2021. We no longer yearn for random media appearances of our favorite artist… we have all the world on tap!
Any movie, TV show, podcast, concert, game, all there, all the time. Netflixing your life away is easier than ever. Or TikTokking, Among Us-ing, Substacking.. & visiting an endless series of online events of course (that would be me).
My adventurous daughter is 14 right now, and she may well be on her third run of How I met your mother’s 208 episodes. Well!
As Tim Leberecht wrote a while ago in The Beauty of Things that don’t scale:
When everything that’s said is recorded and exploited, when everything’s explicit, rehashed, and hash-tagged, we lose a sense of aura, exclusivity, and elation. When everything is predictable and automated, we abandon the thrill of strangeness outside of our “filter bubbles,” of unfamiliar experiences that have the potential to disrupt our daily lives and grant them an awesome shock of meaning.
One recent day, my daughter set her alarm clock extremely early, got up, and cycled to a cold and dark Amsterdam park to watch the sunrise together with her friends. A bit of ‘‘nightlife’’ if you will, albeit on the other side of the night. She organized her own micro-adventure, an unfamiliar experience to disrupt daily life.
What does this have to do with the future of events?
If you unbundle events and take them online, it not only means you can scale them to your heart’s content, as discussed last week. It also means that you can use all the tools available for something really small.
And that is exactly what people are doing. There is a new space opening up somewhere between the world of private online video meetings on the one hand and the world of professional online events that look like television-with-a-chat-channel on the other.
In a way, this time reminds me of the joyous early days of blogging: suddenly we all have tools to express ourselves in new ways. Anyone can organize an online event, anyone anywhere can contribute, and anyone anywhere can join! Ain’t that magic? The tools at our disposal are awesome.
Let’s have a look at three examples:
Visit a Japanese craftsman in his workspace, organized by Gianfranco Chicco in London
Online talk by a fashion designer in Miami, organized by Manon den Dungen in Amsterdam
Cocktail hour with drag queens in Lisbon, Portugal by Dragtaste and other Airbnb experiences
Visit a Japanese craftsman in his workspace
Gianfranco Chicco is head of Content & Digital at the London Design Festival and the Curator of The Craftsman Newsletter, a labor of love that highlights Japanese craftsmanship in particular. (In What is enough, he writes about what we can all learn from these highly skilled professionals).
In 2020, with all plans to travel to Japan out the door, Chicco did all his research online. Last month, he turned a private video meeting with Japanese master craftsman Takahiro Yagi into a public conversation by inviting his readers to join their Zoom call.
Yagi is a sixth-generation tea caddy maker at Kaikado. During the hour-long conversation, Yagi explains how he learned his craft, how tacit knowledge is passed on, but also what new ventures they have, such as a tea caddy for a wireless speaker. There is a lovely moment at the end where he gives a small demo of how he makes the tea caddies.
I was part of the call and enjoyed the experience immensely! I reached out to Gianfranco, who was equally delighted with the result. As he said
I intend to carry on with these online conversations (they are not exactly interviews) and keep most of them open to the public.
You get the idea: this is not strictly a meeting, and it is also not an event recording; it is something in between.
The fact that you get together with a small group of people makes the experience stronger. If there were hundreds or thousands of people, it would still be an interesting videostream but less of an experience.
We also talked about what you need to make an event like this work. One thing that helps to establish the feeling of digital intimacy is the quality of the video. Light, sound, should all be carefully planned, but..
The most significant difference is made by the lens, which can give you an excellent depth of field (that's the weak spot of webcams). You can connect a photographic camera or get a 4k dongle.
We will dive into the tools and equipment some other time - but it is clear that super high-quality video is now available to more people than ever before.
Let’s go to our second case!
Geek out with a fashion designer
Manon den Dunnen is a digital transformation specialist at the Dutch Police, who also runs IoT Sensemakers Amsterdam, a volunteer-based community that brings together tinkerers, inventors, developers & other people that love to make things. Every month they have presentations, open mic & discussions about IoT-related subjects - or sometimes just a ‘‘let’s work together’’ day. Everything is now online, of course.
Last week’s event was about two speakers, hacker Jilles Groenendijk and fashion designer Anouk Wipprecht - she develops robotic wearables and is based in Miami.
What can I say? They both had great stories, and I stayed around for the full 90 minutes of the event, which ended with a lovely Q&A in which Jilles, Anouk, and some audience members exchanged tips on hardware options & software choices.
Creative people talking about how they create happens to be something I enjoy more than anything. And I am sure you can find an online event that reflects your predilections.
Here too, the recorded video does not do justice to the ‘‘liveness’’ of the session: the closeness to the speakers, the feeling of being part of a conversation even when you do not ask anything.
As I was sitting close to the screen, the robotic dresses were visible in great detail, and Anouk herself had her camera set up in a way that you could also see her hands and her arms move. We were there with her.
I checked with organizer Manon afterward, and she said
Our meetups are actually not that organized. The main thing I do is making sure that the speakers also have questions for the audience, as we do have an excellent audience full of knowledge. In the past, this has frequently resulted in concrete solutions based on suggestions of the participants.
Once the conversation flows and there is no need for any moderation, you know the event ‘‘works’’.
In both of these two cases, an existing community of interest got their hands on the tools 2020 has given us, to organize an event that could never have happened in real life with a group of speakers and delegates across the globe). They shine because of the digital intimacy experienced.
It is no coincidence that both of these events are ‘‘side projects’’ for the people involved, a labor of love like this newsletter. Nevertheless, it makes you think: is there any money to be made with these small events? Well….
Cocktail hour with drag queens, and more with Online Experiences
Indeed there is! Let’s dive into the wondrous world of virtual travel! On 8 April 2020, barely 2 months into our global pandemic, Airbnb launched their Online Experiences program:
a new way for people to connect, travel virtually and earn income during the COVID-19 crisis….. and bring their transformative virtual Experience to millions of guests.
And what are ‘‘transformative virtual experiences’’? Ticketed Zoom sessions!
That’s right: Airbnb launched a platform for paid Zoom sessions, and right from the start, the program offered all kinds of everything. The Airbnb hosts came up with sessions that included meditation with a Japanese monk, cooking lessons from Italy, a walk with the Chernobyl dogs, magicians sharing tricks, etc. (The sessions are curated in the sense that Airbnb selects what will go on the platform).
Right now, you can choose from around 500 experiences in 15 different languages every single day, with most of them charging between $10 and $40— although there are experiences up to $300 (like a podcast course or a Tarot card reading).
Experiences are group activities, where you are joined by others on Zoom who might be located anywhere around the globe - unless you book a private or group session.
As for the ‘‘virtual experience’’ itself: sometimes it is just a live stream or a series of prerecorded video clips presented by a live host. Yesterday, I took a tour in the latter format, traveling the streets of Tokyo.
What struck me: all the people in my group were sitting on a couch, looking at a big screen. Instead of a movie, they had decided to take a virtual trip and had set up their living room for the experience.
One of them was celebrating her birthday- so we as a group learned how to say お誕生日おめでとう: o-tanjoubi omedetou. And after the trip, we all got a photoshopped picture of ourselves in Japanese dress. It was… eh. Nice.
But let’s look at one of the biggest hits on the platform, which takes an entirely different approach. That would be the wildly popular “Sangria and Secrets with Drag Queens,” hosted by Lisbon-based Pedro and his six roommates:
Fabulous Drag Queens will teach you how to make the most authentic, fresh, and delicious Portuguese sangria, ALL from scratch, step by step! We will not only share this traditional secret recipe, but we’ll also be serving up our unique live performances on stage! It’ll be a cabaret-style digital cocktail class you’ll never forget. Get ready for fireworks, smoke effects, lights, and AMAZING costumes that we created, especially for you!
Here we have a totally professionally produced experience, far beyond just showing how to make sangria. According to a recent post, the show is now seven days a week, with over 30 live sessions per day. DragTaste claims to have had more than 100.000 guests already, and with tickets at 35 Euro, that could be close to… 3,5 million Euro in 10 months?
Not bad! A lot of interactive, personal, small size events, day after day… together they make for a big audience.
It does not stop there. Who would have thought of Airbnb as a platform for online events a year ago?
This week, Airbnb’s “Inside K-Pop” Online Experiences offers 14 experiences in English, Korean, Chinese, or Japanese. Those include sessions like Secrets of the perfect K-pop star makeup, K-pop photoshoot with Kevin Woo, or the highly intriguing Making beaded bracelets with The Boyz (sold out!).
So what does this mean?
If you are in the event industry, your primary concern around online events may be audience size and reach. For an event visitor though, the experience was always a combination of moments, a series of small size group interactions: hanging out at the bar, being part of a discussion, meeting your favorite people over coffee, pick up some industry banter, walking down new streets, etc.
Now that online events tools are available to anyone at little or no cost & we are all stuck at home, we develop new ways of interacting online. We can step out of our bubble and search out new and unfamiliar experiences easily. Or just find our posse, and enjoy their presence. Flashes of concentrated interaction!
There is plenty to learn from the plethora of new formats and interactions that small groups are exploring. And there is so much value in small meetings themselves.
Two important questions for you!
Question 1. How can we explore event formats, platforms, strategies in a hands-on manner?
Time to set up a ‘‘Future of events’’ series of online meetings! Right? Tips, ideas, suggestions, more than welcome. (Studio space in Amsterdam, anyone?) I will present my little plan in the next issue and would love to include your feedback!
Question 2. Should we not explore some of the world’s top experiences for inspiration, like real tourists of the digital age. I myself have not yet visited the Lisbon Drag Queen bar, have you? It’s the new Eiffel tower.
Why don’t we go together?! I just booked my ticket for Tuesday, Feb 2 · 9:00 PM − 10:30 PM (CET). There are 27 tickets left for that session. Hope to see you there as a Popcorn or an Apron guest! :-) Don’t wait too long to buy yours!
Metaphoric share of the day
If you spend time on Twitter, make sure to follow Boschbot. Your Twitter stream will show random details of The Garden of Earthly Delights by Dutch master Hieronymus Bosch. You could spend hours in front of the painting in the Prado in Madrid and not get this close… You get flashes of visual fantasy between all those word tweets. Consider every BoschBot appearance an unbundled micro-event!
Tim Leberecht: The Beauty of Things that don’t scale
David Pogue, New York Times ‘I Spent a Weekend Bingeing Airbnb’s Virtual Experiences. Was it Worth It?
L. Kelly Fitzpatrick, BoschBot: Twitter Bots, The Garden of Earthly Delights, and the Distant Reading of a Painting (And if you want even more goodness, check the interactive documentary Jheronimus Bosch, the Garden of Earthly Delights by Dutch public broadcaster NTR).
If you are on Club House, the drop-in audio platform that is making waves these days, I will be a guest this Tuesday, February 7, 19:00-20:30 CET at a session run by the House of Beautiful Business on the future of events. Hey! That’s my topic!
and that same evening, I will hop over to a bar in Lisbon. Tuesday, February 7, 21:-00-21:30 CET Still a few tickets left...
Since the beginning of time, I have been the host and curator of the Cross Media Cafes series of events. The next one up is about Synthetic media (in Dutch, Tuesday, February 16, 15:30-16:45 CET)
And I am a Co-host and curator of the What’s Next series of events. Last week we had a great conversation with venture capitalist Albert Wenger on social media services as protocols, the distribution of moderation tools, and ''programmability'' as an asset. The next one up is Laëtitia Vitaud on the future of work (in English, February 18th, 12:30-13:30 CET).
If you got this far, you are my favorite person of the week. A special welcome if you found me through a link in Azeem Azhar’s wonderful Exponential View newsletter, Benedict Evans’ fantastic newsletter, or via a mention in the fabulous New World Same Humans newsletter by David Mattin (to which I contribute). Go check them out, they are brilliant.
Van Dusseldorp’s Future of Events is a newsletter by me, Monique van Dusseldorp. I am a freelance curator and moderator of tech and media conferences (more here). I love to hear from you! Mail me or connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter.
And tell everyone to sign up for my newsletter! https://futureofevents.substack.com/