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Tech Community and Coworking in Chiang Mai

PunSpace Coworking Chiang Mai, ThailandI’ve been working this week from a coworking space in Chaing Mai, Thialand called PunSpace which lucky me just opened 2 months ago (March 2013).

Meanwhile back home on Maui many parties are continuing discussions about opening a coworking space there. Obviously being back working in a coworking space has gotten my neurons firing on the subject as well so I had some thoughts to share.

Community

I was super fortunate to have first dropped by PunSpace the day before a bi-weekly BeerCamp night they host. For those unfamiliar with BarCamp see wikipedia here, for BeerCamp however I quote the BarCamp Chaing Mai website:

Beercamp is a continuation of the discussions and connections that emerge from Barcamp. It’s a bi-weekly tech meetup. We get together every other Wednesday. Roughly half the time we have a presentation and/or discussion about a selected topic.

— BarCamp Chaing Mai

Not clearly stated in there is that they really have two things: BeerCamp (socializing) and BeerCamp+ (Socialiizing + a talk). I presume this is in part because they don’t always have a volunteer willing to speak. I actually think it’s brilliant , which Ibecuase it means people meet regardless of whether someone volunteers to speak or not lending consistencny of schedule and the more familar people get with eachother the more willing the shy ones are to share thier knowedlge.

This week one of the several ex-patriot business owners (runs a web development shop) gave a talk about “Programmer Optimization”. He was test running it as a talk he wanted to give in Singapore in a few months (I assume BarCamp Singapore). The talk was about 15 minutes and we had about 15 minutes open discussion/comment period afterward. We then all refilled beverages and hung out chatting for the rest of the night. Being Thailand the rest of the night invovled changing locations at 11pm to the Blah Blah Bar for late night food and more drinks. It was a GREAT intro to the coworking and ex-pat tech scene here, I’m glad I didn’t miss it. This is tech and ex-pat community at it’s finest.

Coworking Chickens and Eggs

I had many nice discussions with both members and owners of the coworking space. The thing that struck me was that there was a small, but active and growing, tech scene in Chiang Mai before the coworking space opened. The tech community seemed to be focused around BarCamp, TEDx and Creative Chiang Mai and it was a little ragged, but it existed and it had leaders. There exists a paradox as to which comes first, the nucleous that a coworking space can be, or the energized cloud of folks that orbit it. IMHO this hasn’t been, and needs to be, discussed in regards to Maui Coworking.

Seeing the evolution of tech and creativies here made me realize that one of the things lacking in Maui is any sort of tech/dev meetup where geeky creatives get their geeky creativeness on with like minded folks.

Neither MauiSMUG nor MauiWP is that venue. As many know, I’d really hoped MauiWP would someday be the spark to ignite that, but it’s not and I’ve come to realize why. The meetups are far too much community help group where new users come to learn and far too little sounding board for new ideas (don’t misunderstand, I love helping my community, but that is a while different mode from a user group).

Plain Wrap Tech

The Beercamp+ talk was pretty generic, it could be applied to anyone working on anything, not just a programmer. Someone who knitted for fun could easy draw analogs from the topics of avoiding burnout and maintaineing focus. I’m sure there are talks that are very narrowly focused, but the talk itself is only a small part of a BeerCamp night which is in part why I think it’ll work.

Bringing it Home

I’m thinking we need to reach out to a larger audience on Maui and put together some sort of BeerCamp+/BarCamp style gatherings.  Something to start to build community around the creative tech arena. Such gatherings would principally be to build community (which I crave) but would also act as a gauge for the critical mass necessary to support a coworking space (something I also crave).

I feel the key to these gathering is that they would NOT be another user group nor a group where any one narrow thing defines it (ie. WordPress _or_ Social Media _or_ Drupal).  It would try to draw a broad crowd.  People could come for 15 minutes and leave, or stay for 4 hours if they saw fit.  I know there are a few tech folks I see 2-3 times a year that I could try to pull out to an gathering like that.  I also think the Maui Makers folks would be a perfect fit.

TechHui used to do socials of a sort on Maui, but I haven’t seen one in more than a year. Perhaps the approach is restarting those, or restarting those with a modification.

I wondering if I make any sense… please share your thoughts!

I’m also specifically wondering:

  • if you know anyone you think might be interested in something like this?
  • When and where to do it?

(One thought I had was piggybacking onto one of the Friday Town Parties to start, ie meet then mingle, or maybe with our own booth…  maybe that’s crazy.  I also seem to recall there is a Pau Hana or Maui Happy Hour group that meets somewhere, wonder when/where they do their thing.  Finally, maybe something like what MSB did, start with some coffee meetups?)

Comments

  1. What you wrote about MauiSMUG and MauiWP are spot on and the reason I don’t attend.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with providing education and help for newbies. It’s simply not something I’m interested in.

    Not sure how you’d keep the newbies out and have it devolve once again into a “help group?” Perhaps “invite only” to start. Then slowly open it up to others? That may go against the whole “create community” goal. “Community” and “interactions” are not really something I find myself craving and so my energy and thoughts don’t naturally float in that direction. What I find fascinating about this whole concept is the possibility of building a business structure around it… 🙂

    • I think the fact that it’s more social and more BarCamp style (where speakers OFFER to talk about something and if someone wants to listen they do, rather than where questions get asked) would help with that. I’m kind of shocked there is no evidence of a BarCamp on Oahu that I could find. I’m going to try to get something started when I get back, we’ll see where it goes…

  2. Great article… PunSpace looks and sounds awesome! As far as MauiSMUG, MauiWP, Maui Makers and TechHui… they each have their own attraction, benefits and audience. If any future Maui Coworking were to ever get off the ground, those four “meetup” groups would be critical to the success of said coworking for many reasons. A Coworking space also isn’t a guarantee of that “tech/dev meetup where geeky creatives get their geeky creativeness on with like minded folks.” But a combination of those four “social self-help clubs” and a coworking spot might just do the trick. If you’re willing to help shape it.

    • Thanks Erik! I do think coworking is a different thing than the community side of things. I was really trying here to talk mostly about the community side things which I think is still anemic on Maui.

      I love all to coworking spaces I’ve worked at they are all different but they did all have some sort of greater community around them. From what I’ve seen the relationship between coworking spaces and a local tech community is mutually beneficial one. That symbiotic relationshop tends to benefit the coworking space as a major marketing vehicle for the coworking space. The community benefits from stable and affordable space to cluster around.

      • I think you’re 110% correct Jon. Maui is unique, and that symbiosis may also be something completely surprising to you and I, but if it works on Maui, it’ll be awesome.

  3. I’m so glad that you are sharing and talking about this. I would consider myself a wanna-be-entrepreneur who’s just trying to keep up with the modern tools I need to be successful. From that perspective, I would welcome a coworking space for the community, synergy, useful practicality, and possible spin-off groups that you mention (idea sharing, geeky stuff, etc.) I think of all the people who work at home alone and are not tapped in to any resources beyond their own networks. I love seeing the opportunity for more cross-pollination across industries and skill sets.

    • I agree Malia. A group of us here on Maui are working towards a coworking here, and when complete, we hope the community with help us by investing in its success.

    • Right, but from what I’ve seen coworking spaces doesn’t by itself create the, “community, synergy, useful practicality, and possible spin-off groups”. The two are symbiotic after a while, but there some what different things.

      Coworking space by day is necessarily a pretty boring place. People sit. People work. People don’t socialize. Occasionally a few people will go out and get coffee/lunch/dinner together but that happens outside the coworking space. That’s a huge part of why I think location (as having walkable dinning/food options NOT as in geographic location on the island) is important for a good coworking space.

      It’s easy enough with a little or a lot of money to remodel a space and make if comfy, but one can’t make a good coffee shop and a few good lunch options magically appear.

      Community is something that can exist both with and without coworking space and that’s I guess where I’ve decided to focus my efforts this year. MauiWP will continue and while I certainly support a coworking space I want to invest some time and energy building and expanding what little tech community we have on Maui.

      • The good news is that we’re well on our way to starting a coworking space on Maui, and the places we’re looking all have nearby places to eat, good coffee, and some other cool stuff within walking distance. Everybody has different reasons to use coworking and each has unique needs and preferences, so we’re trying to meet as many as we can without being generic.

        The space I looked at today was affordable, and within 500 feet of Wailuku Coffee.

        Soon enough…

        • I always felt like the center where MauiTime is directly across from Wailuku Coffee would be a perfect location. I’d thought maybe there was some affordable office space in back that would be good but never looked at actual space. I mentioned elsewhere the idea I recently had of having Bar/BeerCamp nights in conjunction with a Friday town party too and it’d score there too!

  4. I think punspace is a great addition to Chiang Mai’s increasing online work community

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