Before I moved to New York to finish school, I made a point of keeping in touch with contacts of mine who were based there. Among them were people I’d met through SXSW Interactive, people running startups and creating content for various online destinations. So when I flew out for a pre-move visit last spring, I knew to put on a pair of shorts and a tee under my suit and take the MTA straight from the airport to Central Park for some Ultimate Frisbee.
Tossing discs that day in May were people from Tilzy.tv, Pando, blip.tv and Rocketboom, among others; elsewhere, screenwriter Paul Idol jostled with MAKE magazine personality Bre Pettis to score a piece of Frisbee pie. Overall, very little business was discussed, but the mixture of competitive spirit and cooperative teamwork combined to create a friendly state of ‘co-opetition’ amongst the community players.
It all started when blip.tv CEO Mike Hudack, stuck in the office one Saturday, emailed some friends he thought might want to get together and ride their bikes. “I don’t bike, so why don’t we play some frisbee in the park,” GlitchNYC’s Eric Skiff suggested. So the two, joined by editor Sandra Soroka (pictured together, above), met up in the park and played some Frisbee Golf. Bill Cammack joined them after the match, and posted a photo of the instigators on Flickr. The following Saturday, still more people turned up and soon the gathering had been dubbed Frisbee 2.0.
New York’s cultural contributions have long been organized into “scenes,” ranging from the Greenwich Village poetry circles that produced Edna St. Vincent-Millay to the Beat writers and Andy Warhol’s Factory. New York’s cultural heritage owes as much to Dorothy Parker dispensing cutting remarks at the Algonquin Round Table as it does to MCs dissing each other over breakbeats cut by Grandmaster Flash or, more recently, bloggers looking for link love at The Magician.
Such a community has coalesced in Manhattan again, and this time, instead of cheap magazine publishing, avant garde art funding, direct drive turntables or text-based content management systems, the catalyst is online video. Rather than substance abuse and suicidal tendencies, these scensters have chosen draft beer connoisseurship, Ultimate Frisbee and Twitter as organizational principles.
The Frisbee matches attracted as many as 30 people on any given weekend this spring and summer, and included players from across the continent — from the greater New York Metro area up to Montreal and back out to L.A. But as the after-parties spread across the city, to Pettis’ soirees in his “Loft 2.0” Hell’s Kitchen apartment one night, to Chinatown for birthday karaoke on another, Burp Castle emerged as the watering hole of choice.
“They have good beer there, it’s a quiet place to talk, and it’s nearby,” explained blip.tv CTO Justin Day of the bar’s appeal to local vloggers. “Burp Castle is basically the center of the universe,” Pettis confirmed. When I asked how much the bar’s center of gravity influenced the hunt for blip.tv’s new office space, CEO Mike Hudack admitted, “It’s pretty important.”
“I mean you’re drinking at the same bar with a dude that sends cameras to Iraqis and trains them to be reporters; a guy who creates Theremins, bikes, and his own silk screen t-shirt presses over the weekends; a girl who turned her catering business and film background into a show where she cooks things other people won’t; and a couple programmers who are building a platform and advertising system to distribute all their content seamlessly over the web,” Tilzy.tv’s Josh Cohen wrote in a chat about Burp Castle’s appeal.
I certainly understand the sentiment, as in my home of San Francisco the House of Shields serves a similar function. But on the Left Coast, get-togethers between techies and the creators they enable is taken for granted, whereas New Yorkers have to work a little harder for that kind of geek cred. “There’s no way that we should be behind the West in anything at all,” Cammack said after asserting that New York offers anything and everything a videoblogger might need to succeed.
“However, what’s required is exactly that — a ‘scene,'” he continued, explaining why folks have congregated in a close-knit, but welcoming community. How else to germinate the seeds of nascent new media empires beyond the bounds of Silicon Valley?
Photo by Bill Cammack.