The long and detailed origin of birmingham.io

...and the answer to a frequently asked question

Posted by Daniel Hollands on October 28, 2015. 5.25 minute read.

In early-to-mid-2014, after having lived in Birmingham for just under a year, I started to get involved in the local tech meet-up scene.

The first such meet I attended was HydraHack. This event, hosted at The Church in the Jewellery Quarter, consisted of free curry and a drink, presentations on interesting techie subjects, and networking. I was invited by someone, who, like myself, didn’t fancy the prospect of attending an event full of strangers alone, so we went as each other’s backup. Although I didn’t know it at the time, this was the first time I encountered @sil.

I think it was another three months or so before I attended anything else, but spurred on by the success of not dying of human contact at HydraHack, a chance email from meetup.com prompted me to attend the first Open Code meet, organised by @jesslynnrose. Like HydraHack, I went with backup, but unlike HydraHack, said backup wasn’t a techie - so I imagine that all fun I had chatting with other geeks was matched with equal levels of boredom on his behalf.

He did he a solid though, as I honestly don’t think I would have attended without him, and being a member of Open Code is one of the main influences behind starting the community.

I quickly discovered that Birmingham was brimming with tech groups, and that not a single week went by without at least one interesting event happening. Events attended by people with a real passion for tech. Passion enough to spend their own time and energy pursuing their trade, rather than turning it off outside the hours of 9-to-5.

I joined more groups, specifically:

The more of these events I attended, the more I realised that the degrees of separation between the members of the tech scene in Birmingham was very low. Even if the paths of two people didn’t cross via one group, they almost certainly would via another. This made it easy for me to confidently attend new events, as I had a high level of confidence that I’d know at least one person at said event.

“This is great and all” I hear you thinking, “but what does any of this have to do with birmingham.io?”

As mentioned above, being part of Open Code was one of the main influences behind the community, as it was during an Open Code meet that I discovered Marvel had released a developer API. This is a tool which gives access to information about their back catalogue of comics, characters, et al, and I was desperate to do something cool with it.

The problem is I didn’t know what I wanted to do, just that something had to be done. I’d spoken with some of the other attendees of the meet, and together we threw around some initial ideas, then decided to use the meetup.com comments system to plan something. Unfortunately, we quickly discovered this was a poor system for the purpose. The meetup.com comment system is designed as a tool to informing people that you’re running 5 minutes late to a meet, not for the planning of a revolutionary piece of software.

So obviously, the next step was to find whatever community forum that all the techies in the city used. I mean, there had to be one, right?

Right?

I asked around, did some Googling, but ultimately discovered that no such thing existed. I viewed this as a problem, which I decided to solve myself - the result is birmingham.io.

The site has gone though a few changes since it first launched. One of the first, based on feedback via Twitter, was to remove the splash page which used to greet visitors. Other changes include some subtle, and other not to subtle, changes to the general design and logo. As time goes on I’m sure there will be more changes, as I discover what works and what doesn’t, and of course, based on community feedback.

For me, the single best part of the forum is knowing that it’s providing a central location for the local community to communicate and share ideas, and with (at time of writing) 383 members, 1119 topics, 8589 posts, and 2668 likes (numbers which are growing all the time), I’d class that as a win.

And out of that communication, lots of cool side projects have launched, including Planet Birmingham, Birmingham Freelancers, the Local Tech Events Calendar, and even a community driven Spotify playlist. A lot of these (and other) projects are a currently a work in progress, and could really benefit from additional help, so if you want to get involved, jump right in.

Anyway, I promised an FAQ, so here goes, the single most asked question:

“What does IO stand for?”

The funny thing about this question is that it’s mostly non-techie people that ask it, where as I’m sure anyone with a techie mindset will already know the answer, which is: Indian Ocean.

OK, so that’s the technically correct answer. The actual answer, at least within the context of the tech scene, is probably something like input/output, or maybe because it looks like a binary 1 and 0. The fact is lots of start-ups and other tech-related ventures have opted for a .io domain, so it seemed like a good choice, considering the nature of the site’s target audience.

Anyway, welcome to my refreshed blog. I’ll endeavour to update this one more frequently than my last one, meaning I’ll post more of my ramblings here, and less on the forum.

PS, I never did build anything with the Marvel API.