Thursday, 20 January 2011

The GeekiFesto

This updates the earlier version I posted last year - the Geekifesto is the document that we share with anyone who wants to do their own Geekfeest and, as much as anything, defines the event. This should help with the discussion that will be taking place tonight:: where are we going?

GeekFest is intended to be an offline social for online people and should be interesting to anyone who's involved in the online world and in using technology to create, educate, entertain, inform, drive change or just play around.

It’s a purely social event (not a networking event – it may serve that purpose but does not aim to) and is purposefully kept organic, free and easy.

GeekFest must never actually matter to anyone. If you’re holding a GeekFest and five people turn up, you should be able to shrug your shoulders and have a chat with the five people rather than die a million deaths that your attendance was low. If people don’t come, they don’t want it and we’ll simply stop doing it.

There have, to date (and to our surprise), been GeekFests in Dubai, Beirut, Cairo, Alexandria, Damascus and  Amman. Each one has been different in style and content, reflecting the diversity of our region but also reflecting how the very loosely defined template of GeekFest allows people to do their own thing the way they want to. Only Dubai has kept to a (very rough) two-monthly calendar, but that’s part of the beauty of it. It gets done when people feel like it.

GeekFest Ramallah is happening on the 16th February 2011 and there are plans and intentions for GeekFest Abu Dhabi, Doha and Khartoum. Each regional GeekFest has happened because someone liked the idea and wanted to give it a try in their community. Nobody owns it, nobody sets rules – the only guiding principals have been shared in iterations of this very Geekifesto.

We are very proud of the fact that GeekFest is, as far as is practical, UNorganised. There are no officials, gatekeepers or people telling attendees what to do. There are no rules beyond the ‘no corporate behaviour, selling and stuff’ one. The only reason there is a start and finish time is that people insisted. There’s no registration or entry requirement. There are no badges, tags or wristbands, but we do put stickers and marker pens by the front door so that people can label themselves if they so desire.

However, there are some guiding principles that we’ve established, mostly by trial and error.


Guiding principles
No corporate stuff, no bossing people around, no gatekeepers, no hassle, no drama. In general, a major guiding principle is no commercially motivated activity.

GeekFest consists of four elements – GeekTalks, TechnoCases, GameFest and ArtStuff. Other than that, it’s just a room full of smart people who have stuff that is interesting, engaging and even possibly visionary to discuss. We have added Beanbag Workshops to the mix, but they haven’t been terribly successful in the environment we use in Dubai (The Shelter). We might revive these in the new venue.

These have evolved as a series of four 15-minute talks/presentations on areas/issues of interest to the audience. They take place in an area separate to the main area (in The Shelter we use the private screening room, a 40-seat cinema) and can be wide-ranging, with no real theme laid down for them other than that they should be interesting and engaging and user-generated content (ie: we’re interested in an iPad user, not in hearing from Apple).

GeekTalks in Dubai have covered contemporary mosque design, trekking in Nepal, HDR photography, the future of publishing, Arabic rap, small children with cancer, wearing niqab and gigapan imaging. It doesn’t have to be (although it tends to be) technology driven or related.

The speakers are responsible for sorting out their own technology requirements between them (we provide an LCD projector and screen and a slightly rocky Internet connection) and for their own time-keeping. Nobody tells them when to start and stop talking. They are also responsible for bringing their own audience – there’s nobody to tell people they have to attend a talk.

A year and more in, we’ve learned some lessons here. We’re introducing an (analogue) alarm clock to help with timekeeping!

We started out with the idea that talkers nominate their successors, but that has actually required so much organising that we’ve dropped the idea. But talkers are more than welcome to suggest successors for the next GeekFest. We try not to be gatekeepers.

Holding a TechoCase at GeekFest absolutely DOES NOT include, ever, a talking slot. Talks are user views and never, ever, ever sales pitches. Beirut and Jordan gleefully broke this rule.

GeekTalks typically take place from 8pm-9pm at GeekFest Dubai.

The Technology Showcases give companies a chance to interact with the attendees at GeekFest. It’s a dialogue – they’re not an invitation to scream slogans or brand the event, let alone run competitions -  they’re a chance to show funky stuff and engage with an audience of highly influential online thought-leaders.

Companies can bring a bunch of laptops, a gadget or 15, a display case or free-standing display. Whatever is sensible, really – and doesn’t dominate the event, get in the way or otherwise be an irritant or eyesore.

Within those sensible constraints, companies mounting TechnoCases can use areas within GeekFest as they see fit – but do sign a contract agreeing, literally, not to hassle the Geeks.

Mounting a Technology Showcase at GeekFest does NOT confer the rights of sponsorship. We’ll include companies generally in promotional stuff and take care of them when we remember to, but there are no branding elements, logos or other promises made. They’re coming to the party to talk to people interested in engaging with them and that’s the deal.

GeekFest Dubai has been charging companies $1,500 for a TechnoCase. The venue partner raises invoices and manages settlements and maintains a separate GeekFest account. The proceeds are mainly spent on food and drink, although last year we ended up with a surplus, which was donated to the fund for Ola Abu Jarmous. GeekFest paid for my FlyDubai air fare to attend GeekFest Beirut last year, and I’ll be expensing my trip to GeekFest Ramallah. We also use the GeekFest fund to pay for stuff like our Vimeo account.

This sprung out of nowhere but is basically a network set up at the event where gamers can bring their ‘rigs’ (or just notebooks) and hook up to play multiplayer games. In Dubai, which is the only GeekFest to have a GameFest so far, it’s usually put together by the chaps behind websites or The gamers like to ‘frag’ each other, but otherwise tend to behave quite well for gamers and we’ve had no bitings or other attacks.

Beanbag Workshops
This is a neat idea which we’ll try again in the new Shelter venue, but hasn’t really worked in the open area of the ‘old’ Shelter in Al Quoz. The idea is to gather a bunch of people around a subject expert who can share knowledge – we’ve had them on how to do HDR, how to build your SEO and stuff like that. The content and interaction have been great once they got going, but the problem has been starting them in the noisy room environment and getting people to sit down for them without organising them. In the new venue we can set up a sideroom  for them, so we’ll try restarting the idea.

Art Stuff
The art stuff at GeekFest has happened spontaneously but we’re now careful to try and include an element of art ‘happening’ at each event – wherever possible of a digital variety. This would be a graffiti artist, a digital artist, a photographic display, an installation or some such, filming video – the more the merrier – and accessible to everyone, too!

GeekFest Dubai has a back-beat, a funky soundtrack selected by Shelter DJ Simone Sebastien. We’re fine if other people want to contribute a playlist.

GeekFest’s strong and dazzling iconography is down to the work of Lebanese graphic artist Naeema Zarif, whose guiding hand has provided GeekFest with a unique ‘feel’ that somehow was part of a whole brand strategy of mad glasses, green and blue artwork and geekinees. That’s changing in 2011 as she redesigns those elements, moving in line with her own artwork, a juxtaposition of calligraphy, images and visual design elements.

Yes, I know. It does rather sound like bullshit. Naeema does great art for us. Howzat?

Food and Drink
We use the TechnoCase revenue to subsidise/fund the food and drink (pass-around food like quiche, kebabs, pastries, sandwiches, cakes and fresh juices) at the event.

When GeekFest started in Dubai, The Shelter had a mOre cafe, but that’s gone now. In the meantime we’ve been using The Lime Tree Cafe’s excellent outside catering service – they have been marvellously flexible given our refusal to take organising anything seriously.

We don’t have alcohol at GeekFest Dubai in deference to Muslim attendees. Each GeekFest will have its own cultural environment, however. Beirut has a bar (the last one there was IN a bar!), which is fun.

Social Media Accounts
We do set up accounts centrally and generally try to help promote them, but the volume’s too high to do it well, so effective ownership by each GeekFest has been critical. Beirut put together a nice site based on a Wordpress blog. At some stage we might need to consider something serious like a website, but that’s getting scarily organised! Right now, each event has a Facebook page, Twitter account and some have blogs. Alexander’s blog is generally abused for GeekFest stuff. Insider Emirates and have been very supportive, as have others around the region.

We promote GeekFest Dubai using FaceBook, Twitter (an important platform, actually) and blogs – Alexander’s in particular, but also the UAE Community Blog, Insider Emirates and Some blog partners with solid ‘geek reach’ or even an ongoing blog (if you can maintain it!) is a great scheme. GeekFest isn’t about any one group (Bloggers, Gamers, Twitterers – it’s NOT a Tweetup!, FaceBook) but about integrating everyone regardless of the platforms they use.

There has been quite a bit of media interest in GeekFest Dubai but we haven’t ‘pushed it’ or made formal announcements or anything – word of mouth has been very strong. We have done a number of interviews ‘on demand’ with media but don’t actively pursue any media outreach.

We’ve found that making announcements closer to the event is best – although we set the date early. GeekFest Dubai is now running on a steady-ish two-month cycle, typically the last Thursday of the month or so – 2011 will be Jan, Mar, May, Jul, Sept etc – Ramadan and Christmas etc obviously require some judgement calls.

Last minute excitement runs quite high, particularly on Twitter. We tend to stoke this a bit by holding back speaker announcements and other stuff. Being tarts, basically.

GeekFest Dubai was originally a two-wo/man team – Alexander and Saadia. Alexander looked after promo and the geeks, Saadia owned and looked after the venue (including F&B etc). Saadia’s moved on now and is living in New York, so it’s just Alexander and the guys over at The Shelter, who have continued to be fantastically supportive. Perversely, GeekFest has become one of the biggest events held at The Shelter!

There’s no pre-registration or anything like that. This makes placing the food orders interesting, but we’ll live. We try not to talk about the great over-ordering pies disaster for GeekFest 3.14.

A quaint trend of wearing especially geeky t-shirts has started, BTW.

The best way to UNorganise a GeekFest, we think, is that two wo/man team – someone to take care of the geekiness and someone to take care of the realities. UNorganising the venue isn’t hard – book the date, book F&B for a broad estimate of attendees. Arrange a speaker area and projector. Err. That’s it. We think the geek/blogger and venue owner combination is tops, but a geek/blogger and event organiser would do job just as well. It really helps if the venue cost doesn’t eat all the  budget – a venue partner is ideal. Beirut’s Art Lounge, for instance, was a fantastic venue, but charged an amazing $650 for the use of the venue (and it had a busy pay bar for the events! Cheek!) and so we’ve had to strike out in search of venues new.

Regional expansion has been interesting – events have happened all over the place, but they haven’t turned into regular calendar entries. Without a central organising intelligence, GeekFest tends to happen in fits and starts, but that’s just fine. One of the decisions awaiting us in 2011 is whether to actually take this all seriously in some way, or whether to let it carry on being an utterly UNorganised phenomenon.

Either way, GeekFest is there purely for enjoyment and for its community. Whatever and wherever that is!


the real nick said...

the GeekiFesto
is the besto
is much better
than the resto GeekiFesto

(h/t to Wallace & Gromit)

Rupert Neil Bumfrey said...

Lamentably late on this one, but just a teeny weeny question.

Tonight's event is taking place in The Shelter we have previously been in, or the "new" venue?

Oiling my zimmer frame ;-(

alexander... said...

The old one! New one's not built yet, but next GF will be at the new one...

Rupert Neil Bumfrey said...

We truly need yet another building, when so many are incomplete or unoccupied?

Grumpy Goat said...

Highly enjoyable GeekFest. Tell the Lime Tree Cafe that their snacks were splendid.

Unlike my lamentable performance on the video games.

Dubai Travel said...

Firstly, thanks for writing the article. I've been hearing so much about this GeekFest on Twitter and so many people using the hashtags that I was somewhat getting confused! Thankfully you've clarified it.

Quick question, is this for people in Dubai only because I couldn't find much reference to it on the net.

Also, is it like an informal thing just to capture the concept and make people aware of it? It might seem a bit obvious but sitting here in London I'm still somewhat scratching my

Thanks for a really good article and I think its a great blog.


Sarah Walton said...

Really annoyed I missed this - I didn't get enough notice. I'm sure you are going to tell me that you were touting this for months before now, but I'm sorry, I didn't see any of it. Is this a yearly thing or more than that? Hope you all had fun.

alexander... said...

DT - It's an actual event and, as it says in the post, it's taken place in Cairo, Damascus, Amman, Beirut and Alex and will take place in Abu Dhabi, Ramallah, Doha and potentially Khartoum.

Sarah - sorry, but we usually set the date well in advance (usually on Twitter) and make a mild fuss the week before on blogs and the like. Next time! :)

Monsignor Goat - you did look rather dervish-like on the Kinect, given the sartorial accoutrement. Agree on the Line Tree food - splendid stuff, I thought!

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