Whose time has come? Netsquared for the UK

I’m about to indulge in substantial conflation. Bear with me.

Yesterday on the train from Birmingham to London to take up William Hoyle’s characteristically sociable invitation to explore Dan McQuillan’s proposition for establishing Netsquared in the Old World, I was reading the latest edition of Prospect.

In it American writer Walter Russell Mead confronts us with a curious idea: “suppose Britain is back.. really moving once again to become a global leader in finance, culture and technology”.

Partly through immigration, partly through economic and social change, Britain is becoming tumultuous once again. The City is too big, too successful and above all too revolutionary and even piratical to tolerate the fussy mediocrity that characterised British economic governance for so long. There are large numbers of immigrants who are not sure whether they really want to be British—and there are people in Britain once again who think that religion is important enough to die for or even to kill for. The Scots aren’t sure they want to stay in; the English aren’t entirely sure that they want them. Various loony-toon advocacy groups are running around taking all kinds of interesting causes to foolish extremes. Vulgar billionaires and shady foreign plutocrats with mysterious pasts swank through the streets of London. And none of these people actually care very much what the great and the good think of them. In other words, Britain today is looking more like it used to back when it was actually great. It is looking a little more like the kind of Britain that a Defoe or a Dickens would recognise: snarky, eccentric, iconoclastic. It is looking less like a slightly moth-eaten tourist attraction and a little more like the titanic force for change that not so long ago exported one revolution after another to the world.

Aside from the ironic instinct to hum Jeruslaem as you read that passage it sort of sums up in my mind part of the discussion that was emerging in the Newman Ams last night (reported by David Wilcox). I don’t mean about Britain. I mean about how disruptive technology, people and ideas are driving change faster than the older politer people, structures and ideas can resist change.
Netsquared (whether UK, European or the original US version) should exist to shake up cosy assumptions (“fussy mediocrity”) about social change and who has the power/authority to lead or drive it. Dan McQuillan made the proposition earlier this year:

The proposal is to establish project like Netsquared that hits the sweet spot at the overlap of technology & social innovation. The goals would be

  • To stimulate web-enabled social innovation
  • To create a an online-offline community for learning skills, sharing experiences and developing expertise
  • To sustain socially progressive activity through alternative business & organisational models

and added:

The conference and community could also address ‘the organizational question’ i.e. the challenge that Web 2.0 raises for traditional NGOs and non-profits. The many dimensions of this challenge have been spelled out recently by Michael Gilbert in The Permeable Organization , Steve Bridger in Whose cause is it anyway? and Katrin Verclas in Online Communities Redux: Why They Matter to You. Perhaps, like the second Netsquared conference, it could aim to incubate a new generation of web-enabled non-profits that use new forms of organising to deliver more directly on their missions.

Netsquared UK can offer room for those who are not complacent about their place in the social economy, for those who think “less like a slightly moth-eaten tourist attraction and a little more like the titanic force for change that not so long ago exported one revolution after another to the world.”

Sadly I left early so missed some of the best stuff. Just a thought though on names. My instinct is to stick with NetsquaredUK simply because some of the larger global tech firms will already recognise the concept.

Also there was: Steve Bridger, Michael Ambjorn, Paul Miller, Simon Berry, Nathalie McDermott and others. Please send me your blog adresses and I’ll add them.  Also see Andrew Brown for other reflections on the Mead Essay


  1. David Wilcox says:

    At the Newman Arms get together Dan McQuillan remarked that the Third Sector is broken. Some people said … “let’s fix” … others “let’s do something better”. I hope we can do something of both, with a balance towards something better.

  2. nick booth says:

    I think at the moment people who use web 2 tools outside work to pursue their passions find the organisations they work in/with infuriating. Much of what all of us seem to write about/work on are culture changes within organisations towards sharing trust and collaborating more generously.

    If we can create a net2uk which demonstrates where and how that works and encourages existing organisations to relax into this world, it’s worth the effort.

  3. Hi Nick – wish I’d been there.
    Was only chatting to Paul Webster (ICT Hub/NAVCA) on FB last night very much on the them you mention in your comment above! Also on how we shift the language to be meaningful, ie Social Media, web 2.0 scares the already scared. I think we can help drive that change which is most definately needed here in ye ole UK!

  4. nick booth says:

    Laura you will be there as things evolve!
    I’m growing a touch embarrassed by how comfortably I use jargon that just 12 months ago seemed alien to me. I was talking to a customer about how web 2.0 might work for them and after a while she said that’s interesting but if we make our site web 2.0 will it still work for people who use the internet properly!

  5. As Harry Lime said ‘Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. ‘

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