Friday, March 24, 2000

The Cyber Scene in London ~ by Maggie Rosen

Brits & Bytes--or, The Clerkenwell Social evening, March 9 at the St. John's Restaurant and Bakery on St. John's Road in Clerkenwell, EC1

Clerkenwell Socialites Meet Nose-to-Tail at St. John’s Restaurant, London London’s new media community may not yet have a name like ‘Silicon Alley’ or ‘Silicon Valley’, but its heart may well lie in Clerkenwell, EC1. Just a bone’s throw from the boardrooms and suits of London’s City (financial district), Clerkenwell has long been home to the meat-packing, printing and other skilled labor industries and is slowly but surely transforming itself into a cyber-mecca.

And On March 9, there was no better place for 180 of the local brains and brawn to be scene than St. John’s great offal Restaurant and Bakery -- by day, a temple to the little piggie and the fresh focaccia – by night, a cool and calming whitewashed haven where event sponsors Moreover (news dissemination service); Guardian Unlimited (newspaper group and recent winner of Revolution Magazine’s award for “best use of the internet by a media group”) and the sharp-edged Razorfish welcomed a chic t-shirt and jeans-clad crowd, who were kicking, er, back -- and taking names.

What the local scene may lack in “brand” identity, it makes up for in enthusiasm. I had just made it past clipboard-wielding Caroline Sawyer, European bus dev director for news-disseminator Moreover, when I was invited to run the gauntlet of strapping Swedes from Razorfish. No complaints here!

Fredrik Harb af Segerstrad was visiting from the Stockholm office, while his friend Mattias “the Eel” Amstrand is based in London, and tells me he is truly amazed by MP3’s music download software “beam-it.” Note to self: next time, find out more about Mattias’s nickname.

Next, Kevin Sefton from y-creds -- a financial services platform that enables teens to e-shop til they e-drop with their parents’ consent (and more important, their dosh!) -- explained how his product differs from other e-cash, points, affiliate and voucher schemes (see for more detail). We then admitted our mutual affinity for the online payments sector -- sexy as anything to those in the know.

A scene by any name…any name at all

Kevin, his colleague Paul (a self-confessed Yank-o-phile who spent some formative time in this writer’s native New York City) and some fellow journalists (Carlos Grande, from the Financial Times; Guy Middleton of Tornado Insider) tackled the subject of coming up with an appropriate name for London’s scene. A couple of drinks later, ideas included: EC – (for Clerkenwell’s post code, and for electronic commerce); Silicon fen (already located in Cambridge, England); e-souper (a play on London’s famous erstwhile fogs, known as pea-soupers); and e-bollocks, which I cannot explain in polite company. We are still accepting suggestions.

Hacking for fun and profit

Who says Brits are slow to make a decision? Within five minutes of starting a conversation with Clyde Johnson, a freelance intrusion detection expert ( – and another party, the two agreed that Clyde would attempt to hack into an Undisclosed Party’s website. If unsuccessful, the Undisclosed Party’s existing security consultant gets to keep his head. If not, Clyde will have a job – and I will have a story. Stay tuned.

Forget global, go local

By 21h00 (9:00 pm to you and me), I felt right at home in a debate about the relative merits of local vs. global. Documentary film-maker turned site design consultant Vikram Shah ( contends that in their zeal to be international, most companies ignore the customers knocking on their literal front door. ‘What good is it,’ says Shah, ‘to be able to shop for shirts online – if the American company that sells them doesn’t put pockets on shirts the way that English people like them.’ (As an aside, Shah’s business card reads: ‘Tandav: the dance Shiva performed to destroy the world that existed then to create an illusion in which we live now’: what this says about the global-local debate I would not like to
 interpret – but I’m intrigued nonetheless.)

This is where Shah and Dr. Ali Alibhai, a physician specialising in sports medicine, see opportunity for British companies. They believe that the tides have turned in favor of UK companies, and that a “dot co, dot UK” suffix is de facto preferable these days, to “dot com”, which implies that it’s US-based.

Not necessarily so, say Brit Peter Kenyon and American Josh Hanna, who advise that many UK-based e-businesses have dollar signs in their eyes – building into their business plans an exit strategy that usually involves being bought by an American outfit. Maybe this is a bit of latent Stanford MBA cynicism from former classmates. Neither Kenyon, who has just launched – which delivers pre-cooked gourmet meals to your door (no, they aren’t just salmon-based) – or Hanna, whose company is so secret that I’d be dead by now if I knew what they did – would admit to incorporating a potential takeover into their agenda at such an early stage.

Clerkenwell Social, a monthly informal event for New Media companies based in Clerkenwell, is the brainchild of Nick Denton, introduced to me by Sophie Silocchi, who does PR for the Guardian Unlimited. Nick helped establish the very popular First Tuesday group, which matches up folks with the fun with the folks with the funds. First Tuesday (to which I must say I’ve never been, so this is just hearsay) is known for a tradition (if something that has been going on for about a year can indeed be considered a tradition) on the part of participants to don green stickers if they money grubbers (read: entrepreneurs); red if they are grubbees (i.e. i-bankers, venture capitalists, incubators, etc.) and yellow if they are “other” (looking to skim a bit off either side). Or something like that. Nick envisioned that Clerkenwell Social would be a more relaxed, less-money oriented spin-off, and he has obviously hit “a six” (cricket’s equivalent of a home run.)

Tabloids and other notable examples aside, there is a British proclivity toward the quiet and understated. Networking events organisers have not yet cottoned onto the blatant lure of can-you-top-this-hors-d’oeuvres-and- tchotchke-fest that like-minded US new media party-goers have come to expect. Or maybe free booze is enough to draw a crowd – and they obviously know their audience, as there was much letting down of hair as the party wound down.

I have always had a thing for redheads, and Robin Goad, researcher at market analysis company Datamonitor ( is no exception. So as the party wound down, nobody had to twist my arm to accompany Robin; Michael Jemmeson of Moreover; Kevin Sefton and colleagues from y-creds; and Jules Ruston of French company webysm ( to Pizza Express, where after
 trying three other restaurants who had stopped serving dinner at about 9 pm, we were grudgingly allowed to give them our business. (Early closing hours are my one big complaint about the local cuisine
scene – maybe there is indeed a market for the above-mentioned leapingsalmon!)

I look forward to seeing more of the Clerkenwell crowd next month – and/or  at the intriguingly-named Boobnight, another cyber community happening also launched by a Guardianite -- Geoff Inns -- that I heard about from Ellen Spernagel, PR director for ChemWeb (, which may bill itself as the “world wide club for the chemical community”. But I can honestly say that neither the ultra-hip ChemWebbers nor the other Clerkenwell Socialites require chemicals to brighten their future.


Some London corrections: Creative ownership of the Clerkenwell Social should be credited not to Nick Denton, as I stated, but to Vic Keegan, editor of the Guardian's IT section:  the event was Vic's idea and then executed and now maintained by Guardian Unlimited and

=> The Guardian Unlimited and Moreover do not actually sponsor the event, but run it - each month the opportunity to sponsor the event is offered to a different local company (i.e. pay for it in return for credit as a sponsor)

=> The title of the award Guardian Unlimited won it is "Best Use of New
Media by a Media Owner," not "Best Use of Internet by a Media Group."