Dunedin IT scene - cultural attraction for the tech savvy

Social media strategist drawn to city because of its musical heritage

Dunedin has long had a reputation that draws people south - often as tertiary students, but sometimes as professionals looking to set up home is a small, vibrant city.

Andrew Long moved to Dunedin with his wife 13 years ago after being hooked on the “Dunedin sound” (music made famous by bands such as The Chills and The Clean).

He has spent the past 10 years as a lecturer at the department of information science at Otago University and teaches a social media course for undergraduates (as part of the course students must sign up to Twitter and create a successful online community).

However, recent work with the Otago Chamber of Commerce has prompted Long to start his own business consulting on social media to organisations and he will leave teaching later this year.

He says two years ago there was ignorance about the role that social media tools can play in communicating with customers. But there is now widespread understanding that these tools are a necessary part of doing business and the next challenge is to encourage staff to use them appropriately and effectively.

“Businesses are closed and proprietary and social media, when you look at it, requires a culture within an organisation where people are happy to be open and authentic, and share and be responsive,” he says. “That is quite hard for established businesses.”

There are pitfalls and people don’t always read the 'fine print', Long says. “In Twitter all public information is going to the Library of Congress for researchers in years to come. In the terms of service you are agreeing that Twitter can have non- exclusive rights to your content forever. People are so enamoured with the experience they don’t consider that long-term thing.”

Long, who minored in philosophy and majored in art history, says the humanities subjects are declining in popularity with undergraduates. Yet, he believes they are as important in helping to solve the issues of privacy and security that these new technologies bring, as they were to understanding the way people interacted in Socrates’ day.

And that's maybe the best thing about the Dunedin IT scene – the idea that the academic and the practical, the business community and the local council are all in it together. Combining the social justice ideals practiced by Samuel Mann and Jason Leong, with the Creative Quarter vision of Graham Strong and Peter Harris.

As Otago University head of computer science Brendan McCane puts it: “The act of programming is by its nature creative. It happens to be combined with rational thinking. There’s this notion that those two things are at theopposite ends of the spectrum. But you look at the most successful artists and you will find that they are the most rational.”

This is the fiffth article in a series about the Dunedin IT scene that Computerworld has featured online this week. On Monday Sarah Putt looks at Scott Technology and considers the city's burgeoning IT scene in the context of what it can contribute to the New Zealand economy.

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