This new tech conference brings together major players from across the media spectrum—and unlike TED, it promises not to bore you.
This Thursday, all day (I’m talking 8 a.m. until 6:30 p.m.; pack right), a five-years-in-the-making conference-cum-expo-cum-cool-hang called Crossmedia Toronto will bring 26 “innovative companies and creators” from gaming, advertising, publishing, mobile, and “motion” to the Toronto Reference Library. Gavin McGarry, the co-founder of Jumpwiremedia, which is presenting the event, describes it as such: “It would probably be one of the best things to go to if you’re someone who doesn’t work in media,” although he also wants “to bring together the different ‘silos’: What I really want is television people talking to gaming people, and advertising people talking to radio people, and tech people talking to everyone.” (The Grid is a media partner, but I didn’t know that until after I got psyched about the unusually inclusive scope of the event, and spoke to McGarry, sooooo relax?)
“Everything is moving and changing so quickly,” McGarry says. ”[Crossmedia] is a little snapshot of some of the things that we think are really innovative, and of the people who have interesting things to talk about.” To that end, McGarry describes it as “a combo of TED meets DemoCamp meets CaseCamp,” meant for people, pros or otherwise, who are “interested in where technology is going, and how human beings interact and behave with technology.”
The presentations are 10 minutes long—seven for the presenter to talk; three for a Q&A—instead of the 17 minutes of TED (too long) and the two to five minutes of DemoCamp (too short). McGarry likens the format to a “theatrical presentation … We want people to get some insight, understand what [the topic or theme] is, see lots of different speakers, and explore and heighten it online.” (The hashtag for the event is #cmto13.) But he emphasizes that the IRL aspect of the event is particularly important. “You want to see the person in 3-D, you want to see them in real life. You can get so much information online that you don’t need an hour-and-a-half of people sitting onstage like talking heads. There are no panels; it’s all about energy and frequency.”
McGarry chose the speakers based on who he wanted to hear, and, “selfishly,” who he wanted to meet. He says, more than once, “I want them to talk about the data of what they do.” Most of the event’s speakers were pre-vetted by video; all of them come with some kind of serious media or tech or whatever-else bonafides. Some of the most interesting include the general manager of Reddit, Erik Martin; Andrew Macdonald from Uber, “which is disrupting the taxi business in every city they’re in,” and who will be speaking about what Uber is doing in Toronto; Peter Vessenes from Bitcoin; and local Jeffrey Remedios, who runs the Arts & Crafts label. All of them will be on the same clock, so, the often-boring discursive nature of most tech-ish, media-ish events—TED included—will be necessarily avoided, although “networking” remains on the schedule, along with food and coffee (which blessedly comes free with the $257.24 regular registration fee).
There is also considerable emphasis on Toronto-based and Canadian talent. Says McGarry, “Dr. Roel Vertegaal, our main keynote speaker, has invented bendable tablets; he was the darling of CES”—i.e., the enormous, annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas—“and it turns out he’s from Queen’s University.” Asked about the tech industry in this city, McGarry calls it “very, very exciting” and says “it is absolutely exploding. Some of the best developers are in Toronto. This is game central—there’s some really innovative stuff coming out of here.”
He adds that a lot of those developers, Canadian or otherwise, aren’t interested in a move to Silicon Valley. “They like the healthcare here.” McGarry points out that Canadians watch more video online than anyone in the world, and says of Jumpwiremedia, “We test everything in Canada. There’s so much exciting stuff going on here. Canadians have been the leaders, at the forefront, of things that are happening online.” (There is also an important and considered approach to ensuring that women are involved in the event, like Ipsa Desai from Google and Deborah Hall from TorStar Digital. McGarry says, “Women are doing some incredible stuff, but still, the tech genre is very male-oriented.”)
McGarry, and therefore Crossmedia Toronto, is interested most of all in “data, data, data” and how that influences and creates human change. By way of demonstrating how data is shaping experience, he says “Netflix actually decided to cast House of Cards based on data”—Kevin Spacey and David Fincher were chosen for the recent Netflix-original series based on how much Netflix users seemed to like films starring Kevin Spacey and directed by David Fincher. Says McGarry, “This, we love: the data side of that sort of stuff.”
Register for Crossmedia Toronto here. Grid readers can save 25 per cent off the $250 registration fee by entering promo code GRID25. Limited amount of tickets remain.