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Webstock 2010 – a review

21 February, 2010

My cherry has been broken. I am a webby or a stocker or a websto or a whatever a fan of Webstock is called.

As conference it was quite superb, not just the venue and the booths and the food (the food! – I went back twice for the brownie on the last afternoon tea – and didn’t feel bad because the amounts available at every session were generosity itself)a and not just the speakers and the content, there was something about the organisers and the vibe. Love, oft mentioned on the days, on slides, in speakers notes, in the breaks was palpable. Not a cheesey – ‘we LURVE the web’ but a genuine ‘look how cool the web is, look how cool it is that we have jobs to make a difference with the web, look how cool it is that we’re all here together – don’t you just love it – we do!’

I’m not a programmer (loved the joke about extroverted programmers looking at your shoes though), not graphic or pure interaction designer or pure UX or info architect, I’m a service designer (so a bit of all the above) therefore some of the pitch was appropriately narrow to the topic.  But all was totally accessible. I record my highlights, lowlights and ‘huh, I don’t think I agree with that”-lights. And I record this some four days later knowing that the world I saw won’t reflect on this – they’d’ve tweeted, blogged on their mobile devices and be on to the next thing. Me, I take a little longer to digest, and take time offline to celebrate my birth and run Round the Bays (41.44 – woo-hoo!). Anyways,


  • Visualising Data workshop with Toby Segaran – technical, but appropriately so, gave me insights and enlightenment on what I like about DataVis, and what is what diagrammatically. Also he put up a slide that said (I paraphrase) ‘provide a service that helps the thing that is everywhere’. Data is everywhere. The complementary service is therefore analysis. I would add, synthesis to that mix – but I’m a service designer who wants to help decision-making with that information, not just hypothesis testing.
  • Opening Speaker, Scott Thomas (Obama’s web guy) saying “design is easy if you do lots of research up front” – yes, yes it is. Most everything else he said we pretty great too.
  • Brian Fling, while not my favorite session whatever it was he said I finally got why mobile devices are the future (now actually) when he said something along the lines of, in a multi-channel world mobile devices connect the multiple mediums.
  • Chris Shiflett – Security-Centred Design – good topic, but more brilliant presentation and presentation style. On the topic, I do love learning about little things that make life better for users – utilising ambient signifiers, or acknowledging change and inattention blindness is the small stuff we’re told not to sweat (bit we do). So let’s help people no to sweat them with smart design.
  • Shelley Bernstein from Brooklyn Museum – great speaker, great museum. Maybe next time I’m in NY I’ll make it across (got to freaked out last time when I realised I was accidentally headed for Brooklyn)
  • Regine deBatty and Rives – everyone raved about Rives (who was pretty amazing, but not the second coming) what I liked that linked the two’s messages was interaction: because you can, should you?
  • Lots of Entrepreneurial inspiration – I liked the affinity of Eric Ries ‘Pivot’ and Mike Davidson ‘Luck Management’
  • Amy Hoy: “To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of the arts” (well, Thoreau actually said that) but she implored us to be like lions. To me, why I love service design, and public sector service design at that, is because of the ability to affect the quality of the day for people doing things they’d probably rather not be doing but have to.
  • Adam Greenfield – a kind of futurist-academic-thesaurus-spouting prophet. Too much to note here but his whole ‘what we think of as now-thing’ to ‘what it actually is-thing’ (e.g. from wayfinding to wayshowing, from community to network) was a semi-nightmarish view of group identity over individuality, fundamental paradigm shift of how we should recognise we are moving towards living in the world we live in. Thought provoking, but kinda depressing. Probably not as depressing (unintentionally I know) as Mark Pesce‘s session – basically the device in your hand is your connection to the network and the network (i.e. the web as service) is your connection to society. Therefore, no device, no connection. And, don’t all the devices take batteries – how cool (not) is it to check your carbon footprint on your device, which is probably a big-toe’s worth of carbon in your hand. Still, making me think is the highlight bit in this one.
  • Great organisation for networking – good spaces, good breaks. I’ve been to a few conferences now and the networking can be hard enough beyond the challenge of walking up to strangers and starting a conversation
  • The volunteers were so helpful and smiled. Sometimes, something as small as that can make an event. Hmmm, that’s a lie, the speakers and venue make the conference, but the help that supports the conference, makes a real difference.

Which brings me to Lowlights

  • A vision of a future totally connected – will there be no excuses for mistakes, will we live forever, will we evolve into a world of no accidents – some of these things are good
  • The demonstration of this ‘future’ as I saw the number of attendees on laptops or phones who spent virtually the entire time on facebook, twitter, tweetdeck. Call me crazy but as evolved as we are we still can’t do two things at once so when you’re tweeting or IM-ing what you just heard to the same people in the room who just heard it (and are also tweeting) you’re not actually listening. My momma calls that disrespectful.
  • The angry reaction from people I spoke with to Lisa Herrod‘s impassioned plea to include diversity in UX testing (disability, second language, etc). It wasn’t the message that cause the anger, it was the delivery. Me – I thought it was fine.
  • Missing Esther Derby’s ‘State of the Art Management‘ because I thought it was about software development from reading the catalogue
  • Not really a low light, but so many speakers referred to their dogs. What of the cats in the world of the web? I’ve never seen a dog eat a spider for you.
  • A highlight was the name-tag with all the information on a string – however the lowlight was mine was put together badly so a third of the content was under the string eyelet. Also, the string wasn’t long enough to look at the programme without creating an un-attractive double-chin look. But I did love the concept and will duly copy it sometime.

Well, that’s my first Webstock. I hope to return. And return. And maybe even speak (hey, why no NZ speakers?). One lasting thing from the conference and the array devices beyond my favorite paper and pencil (still love a pencil on paper) was the ubiquity of the iPhone. It wasn’t until I saw Chris Shiflett use his to progress his slides that I thought “I need me one of those” For all the ‘we love web’ and ‘mobile is the future’ and ‘consumer to constituent’ it was this practical use of an iPhone beyond thousands of to-do-game-news-apps, pinch and slide movement et al that helped me see a use for it. As with the iPhone, more than the ‘It’s so Cool!!!! and the ‘look at the Bag!!!!’ of a conference like Webstock, it is one’s personal connection to a thing that makes it meaningful and resonant. Thank you Webstock for this. (and for the brownies).

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Vicky permalink
    22 February, 2010 9:49 am

    Nice round up. I’d disagree on the heads-looking-at-screens though (apart for the twitter flaming of Brian Fling, that was twitter at its worst) – for some of us it’s replaced taking notes, and is really appreciated by those that can’t attend an event (I’ve been on both sides).
    I always think it helps promote the event and encourage people to watch the videos when they come out … or attend themselves the next time!

    • 22 February, 2010 6:30 pm

      Thanks for your comments Vicky! I do fully acknowledge the fu-duddity of my comment. I appreciate many were taking notes, and appreciate the irony of complaining about inattention by being inattentive myself. I guess, as a person whose job is to present new ideas to colleagues or interview customers I’m very conscious of non-verbal signals and can’t imagine looking out to a sea of scalps instead of faces. That said, the speakers certainly didn’t seem to mind.

      I suspect sometime soon (like Saturday when I purchase my iPhone) I will look back on that lowlight and cringe. And maybe even reflect on my original thought which had something to do with yarn-makers and their initial reactions to the spinning jenny (History major anyone?).

      From A Yarn Maker


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