Webstock 2010: the verdict

On Thursday and Friday of last week I attended my second Webstock web conference. Basically it involves someone new bombarding you with ideas and examples and insights every forty minutes. Despite having had a weekend to recover and reflect, I’m still trying to sift though it all. The next step is to figure out how to actually use some of the ideas and inspiration on Te Ara.

It’s obviously impossible to encompass the whole thing in a short blog post, but I’ll share some of my impressions and highlights, and hope you’ll do the same by leaving a comment.

One thing I liked about Webstock 2010 was that several speakers made time for questions. Last time, despite a lot of discussion about the importance of interaction on the web, there was very little interaction with the speakers. I also liked speakers who had something to say (most of them), and didn’t like the ones (fortunately few) who didn’t have anything to say or who didn’t really manage to say it.

The main theme of the second day seemed to be internet startups (new entreprenuerial companies). While I don’t see starting a startup in my future, there were still lessons we could learn from the experiences of the entrepreneurs who have been there, such as Eric Ries, Mike Davidson and Kevin Rose – like the advantages of taking an iterative approach and the importance of looking at how your users use your site. It did seem a pity though that all those speakers (and in fact a vast majority of the speakers overall) were from the US, which surely is a very different environment for startups than here. My co-attendees and I agreed it would have been nice to have had a New Zealand perspective.

My three favourite speakers were on day one, and I’ve realised that there is some commonality about them, even though they all work in different areas: they passionately believe in what they’re doing and they’ve made it personal.

The first was designer Scott Thomas, who kicked off the conference. He talked about being the web designer for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. He showed how they used design to change the way people perceived this junior senator – so the public could start to imagine him as president. Clearly they were very successful.

I had been lucky enough to see Shelley Bernstein speak last year about her social media work for the Brooklyn Museum. She’s passionate about audience engagement, and had lots of great examples of how the Brooklyn Museum has been using technology to connect with people. After her session I got all excited about the idea of running a Te Ara video competition (based on this one), where our users could contribute short films they’ve made about something somehow relevant. In the sober light of day, I’m still considering the merits of this.

Despite being a poet myself, I have to confess that I was a bit dubious about Rives, the final speaker of day one, who was described as a poet and pop-up-book designer. I needn’t have worried – he was awesome. He did perform some poetry, but mainly showed us digital stuff he’d made – videos, photos and other kinds of multimedia. While Shelley Bernstein made me want to make you make videos, Rives made me want to go out and make more videos of my own – especially ones with poetry.

I can’t remember who said this first, but someone earlier in the day said ‘People love things made with love’, and things made with love were certainly the things that got me excited.

12 comments have been added so far

  1. Comment made by Heath || February 22nd, 2010

    This year webstock was much more practical. No one mentioned “web two point oh”, this year they were all selling the “Agile” approach. Go live as quickly as possible, see how users use it, iterate, etc. It was great to hear this message come from so many different directions.

    I was also dubious about Rives, a poet, seemed like a good excuse to leave early. But like Ze Frank (who appeared at last years Webstock) he was incredibly entertaining.

    The highlight for me was the Daniel Burka workshop and talk. I’ve always liked his design style and am fascinated by the evolution of the Digg.com comment system which he covered in his talk.

    I was disappointed by how few designers attended. Webstock last year had very little covering design, but they had fixed that this year. But when asked to raise our hands, I think I saw more more UX (user experience) consultants than designers.

  2. Comment made by Kristy || February 23rd, 2010

    I went to a fantastic workshop by Amy Hoy and Thomas Fuchs called Performance Bootcamp. It was filled with technical tips, tricks and techniques for optimising web pages so that they load faster, are quicker to interact with, and offer the user a far more enjoyable (and less frustrating) experience.

    I really responded to Amy Hoy’s recommendation of making a division - in terms of coding practice - between development and publishing. And was also really interested to learn about reflow and the exact steps a browser must take to fully deliver a web page.

    Overall I was thoroughly impressed and am already looking forward to next year’s line up.

  3. Comment made by Matthew || February 23rd, 2010

    As usual I stumbled away from Webstock awash in its brilliance. Oddly enough I found it less technical this year but that’s probably just what I was listening more closely to, or the streams I chose. I thought too the organisers were trying to follow in the mould of TED talks.

    I really enjoyed the big picture presentations - the ones that remind us that what we’re doing isn’t really new, it’s just a new(ish) way of doing what society has always done. Humans have always been about ideas and communication and the web is just the latest way of fulfilling those needs.

    Stand-out presentation for me was Adam Greenfield on the good and bad of the digital overlay and underlay that’s weaving into reality – by us, and by others, but not always, or perhaps not even often, for us. Big challenge thrown out to reclaim and democratise the data that’s being “hovered into the network” (to quote Mark Pesce).

    Good talks too from Shelley Bernstein, Jeff Atwood and Regine Debatty with a common theme: make interaction meaningful or don’t bother making it.

  4. Comment made by Lisa Herrod || February 23rd, 2010

    Hi Helen,

    Just one point to clarify re your comment “several speakers made time for questions”. We were all asked to speak for the full 40 minutes and told that there was no time allocation for questions during presentation slots.

    So it wasn’t a matter of speakers not allowing for question time, we were doing what was requested by the conference organisers…

    Sorry to hear you didn’t take anything from my presentation, there was a lot more time for Content focused info in the workshop than the presentation.

  5. Comment made by Helen Rickerby || February 23rd, 2010

    Hi Lisa

    Thanks for your comment. I wondered if that might be the case about questions – the speakers who had question time just seemed to have finished early. I’d be keen for the organisers to incorporate question times a bit more – where appropriate – and perhaps they could consider having a couple of panel discussions.

    I’m sorry if I implied that I didn’t get anything out of your talk – I did, but the meaty stuff (for me at least) seemed to come in a big rush at the end. The useful things I took from your session were that accessibility doesn’t have to be that hard, and that small steps are better than no steps. And in discussion with my colleagues afterwards, we did start talking about some improvements we could make – so obviously your message got through. More examples would have been helpful to me, but I guess that’s what the workshop was for.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Comment made by Basil || February 23rd, 2010

    There were some fantastic speakers: my favourites were: Shelley Bernstein,Amy Hoy, Mark Pesce, Kevin Rose, Chris Shiflett, Scott Thomas, Jeffrey Veen.

    While international speakers are vital for the conference, it would be nice to have a group of NZ speakers. Richard McManus of Readwriteweb, or some interesting nz bloggers (public address/whale oil/David Farrar). How about someone from Trademe? Sam Morgan is obvious, but I’d love to hear Rowan Simpson talk about his trademe manifesto . Maybe Nat Torkington. I could keep going. Point is, there are interesting, world class Kiwis that would be great to see.

    That’s not a gripe, just what I’d like to see. Webstock was still awesome.

  7. Comment made by Lisa Herrod || February 23rd, 2010

    Hi Helen,

    Actually, you know the most ironic thing is that I’d been trying to connect with web content writers all week prior to Webstock to discuss accessibility. Do you remember the survey I referred to? (I’ll just post a link here, not to advertise it, but to illustrate http://scenarioseven.wufoo.com/forms/accessible-design-why-you-do-or-why-you-dont/) I only managed to get 12/224 responses from web content writers and am *so keen* to hear from more :) Also, there were only 2/40 content writers in my workshop.

    I wish I’d met you all at the conference! :) If you know any web content writers that might be interested in the survey, I’d love to hear from them.

    Sorry, I hope this hasn’t come across as spammy. What a bummer we didn’t meet up :(

  8. Comment made by Helen Rickerby || February 24th, 2010

    Thanks Lisa. I’ve filled in your survey, and we’ve tweeted about it, so hopefully others will fill it in too. It will be interesting to see your final results!

    I’m not really a content writer - except on this blog. I’m a web editor with some technical/production responsibilities. At Webstock I didn’t really know quite where I fitted. I’m sure there must of been many other people who weren’t designers, developers, writers or user experience folks, but I had a small identity crisis about being an ‘other’. Most of the streams seemed to be for designers or developers - I found sticking with the designers at least meant I understood what was going on!

  9. Comment made by Mike Brown || February 24th, 2010

    @Basil - a number of the NZ people you suggest have previously spoken at Webstock:

    Sam Morgan
    Rowan Simpson
    Nat Torkington -

    I agree totally re world-class Kiwis. This is the first year we haven’t had any speaking and it really just came about, no specific reason. That said, we do value bringing overseas speakers to Webstock on the basis that those here are unlikely to see them otherwise, whereas there are more opportunities to see Kiwi speakers elsewhere.

    @Helen - re questions… Yeah, we’ve made a call in general not to encourage questions from the floor - although of course if speakers ask for them (eg Adam Greenfield) that’s totally fine. We have done a panel discussion once, at our first conference:
    . It’s hard to get panel discussions relevant and interesting for the whole audience.

  10. Comment made by Mike Brown || February 24th, 2010

    Meh. I wish there was clear instructions for how to incorporate HTML and links :)

    Sam Morgan
    Rowan Simpson
    Nat Torkington
    Panel discussion

  11. Comment made by Mike Brown || February 24th, 2010

    @Basil - Also Russell Brown (Public Address). Three times! :)

  12. Comment made by Basil || February 25th, 2010

    @Mike - Thanks for the comment. While I didn’t go last year, I did know that Russell Brown had presented then. I was just trying to illustrate that NZ has a good core of top class people who wouldn’t be out of place among the international contingent. I’m sure the list is much longer than the short one I started. I’d like see some kiwi flavour every year, 3 to 4 speakers (which is quite small out of a total of around 24 speakers). If there was concern that some attendees only wanted to see international speakers then the nz speakers could always go in parallel sessions to give choice. That said, it’s worth noting how much I much I appreciated the calibre of the international speakers which was truly impressive.

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