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Meetups: the hidden underwiring of UK tech

Data & research

Henri Egle SorotosHenri Egle Sorotos, June 11, 2018

What are the top emerging UK tech innovations? Where do new tech product ideas comes from? How do famous lightbulb moments happen? The likelihood is that some of them started life in a meetup. We’ve been mapping meetups to understand the conversations powering UK tech. 

On a weekly basis, hundreds of informal gatherings of professionals are taking place across the UK – meetups. These are groups of professionals generally organised through online platforms such as meetup.com, and for tech, Open Tech Calendar. Unlike one-off events which often mark a launch of some kind, these gatherings recur weekly, monthly or even quarterly to allow knowledge share and innovation to grow and thrive. Think of them as a series of professional ‘clubs’. There isn’t a significant reason for people to meet, just a thirst for knowledge and some good old fun.

The hidden underwiring

We’ve been analysing tech meetups in the UK to understand what’s going on in the network of gatherings – the hidden underwiring. Crucially, there are two things we’ve examined – a) where meetups are taking place and b) the topics being discussed. Based on data from meetup.com (the most commonly used platform) there are 3,527 UK meetups, so it wasn’t feasible to go along and join every group, and listen to the conversations taking place – haha. Luckily tech and a bit of nifty data science was on hand – meetup.com have a great API, so we can get real-time UK data with a huge range of variables.

Meetups across the UK support 1.6 million members in 263 different locations. The 3,500+ groups can be found spread across every county from Cornwall to the Highlands. This is important – informal gatherings are a ubiquitous part of the UK tech economy. Whilst you do find the largest concentrations of these groups in major cities, there is still appetite for peer-to-peer learning in digital suburbs such as Guilford, Burnley and Livingstone.

Cambridge conversation

Cambridge has a thriving meetup community, and a larger scene than London when analysed proportionally to the number of tech workers there. The city is renowned for innovation, and is home to a world-famous research-intensive university. Personally, I think meetups are a crucial source of innovation in tech, and the large number of groups in the city is no surprise.

In addition to analysing the number of groups, we were also interested in what conversations are taking place in the gatherings. Here’s where the nifty data science comes in – hold on to your hats. A form of natural language processing was used to categorise meetups based on the text descriptions they have online – each meetup was summarised by two topics from an extensive taxonomy developed by the meetup platform. From there, we used an unsupervised spacialisation algorithm to cluster similar meetups. The diagram below depicts the 400 largest meetups in the UK based on membership, clustered based on topic.

The colours are pretty, right? They are also important as they represent the different clusters of meetups by topic. They are as follows – Artificial Intelligence, Web Design, Open Source, Emerging Technology, Software Development, Java.

Spotting emerging trends

In almost all cities there is a large cluster of open source and software development meetup groups. Essentially these two groupings are programming language user groups, and agile methodology knowledge-sharing events – these are the informal foundation of any successful tech ecosystem. However, using this technique we can see what emerging trends there are in UK tech, both nationally and regionally. Meetups dedicated to AI and emerging technologies such as blockchain are popping up across the country. In particular, Cambridge and Bristol have emerging AI meetups clusters, whilst Manchester has an increasingly important set of blockchain meetups.

I have clustered meetups for 11 key tech cities across the UK. You can view them in all their glory full screen, but best on a desktop – Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Leeds, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Reading.

The Tech Nation Report is now open

Some great news. All data featured in the 2018 Tech Nation Report is available online for non-commercial use by third parties. The data can be accessed through the data.world platform. If you use the data, please let us know. We would love to showcase your work.

If you’d like know why we are doing this, check out our blog.