What we learned at Webstock

Webstock 2009

Webstock 2009

Webstock, a conference about all things internetty, was held in Wellington last week. Some of us went along, and maybe you went along too. We’re interested in hearing about what you learned, or what excited you. Let us know! Leave a comment.

To get the ball rolling, here’s my two cents:

I learned that the internet can be a place for real emotion. At Webstock there were a lot of people talking about a lot of different things, and while I enjoyed almost all of them, I realised that the web projects that got me really excited were the ones that involve genuine emotion, and people connecting to each other in real ways.

The speaker I thought I would dislike the most was the one who ended up inspiring me the most. Ze Frank was described as a performance artist and humorist, and there was some mention of miming (!?). Quite frankly, I was suspicious. And he did indeed begin with a mime; but then he went on to talk about his many and varied web-based projects, including some sillier things such as a voice-controlled drawing program, ‘My cat Annie‘, and vacuum cleaners dressed as people (mostly – at least one is dressed as a rabbit).

But I found some of his projects genuinely moving, such as ‘From 52 to 48 with love‘ where he invited people on both sides of the political fence to reach out to each other after the US elections, or ‘Scared‘, the song he wrote for a child who is scared of the dark (after being asked by her mother if he could help). He wrote a follow-up for a woman who said she’d like a song for when she was feeling stressed and needed someone to give her a hug and just chill out. He asked people to sing along to the track and send him the audio files, and created a virtual choir. The result, ‘A children’s song for adults: anxiety‘, is currently one of my favourite songs.

The web can be a cold place sometimes, but I think that by writing in our own personal voices, and connecting with people on a personal level, we can help warm it up.

7 comments have been added so far

  1. Comment made by Ross || February 26th, 2009

    I learnt from Meg Pickard that a heckler was a person who used a heckle to comb jute in Dundee – and how the job was so tedious that employers paid people to read Dundee’s radical journalism and all kinds of commentary to the illiterate hecklers, and how that led to hecklers becoming well-informed political radicals who interrupted speakers to ask awkward questions. That’s all about the empowering power of ideas and why we should keep our content standards high, and provide the best information we can.

    I learnt what ‘crowdsourcing’ means, and that you need quite a crowd to draw on to get stuff worth mashing up on your website. Zé Frank’s ‘Ray’ story was the most heart-warming (check out this remixed version of Ray’s song). And I really liked listening to Bruce Sterling, articulate and intelligent, a cultural critic putting things in their wider context. Don’t believe the hype.

  2. Comment made by Matthew || February 26th, 2009

    One of the most exciting things I saw was the work the National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory in London is doing to build a picture of the night sky. They’re inviting astronomy photographers to contribute photos of the night sky to a competition hosted on Flickr, and then running a robot from Astrometry over the photos to automatically match photos to star charts. Where it finds a match, the photo is ‘astro-tagged’ with its location in the sky so the museum can build up an image of the universe. What’s more, where the photo includes something Astrometry doesn’t know about, that information is fed back to its own database. (For more detail, check out Best of 3’s post, Shine a light on me.) The project points to one of the central themes of the conference: how can we get different sets of data talking to each other, in particular, how to get our data out there for use in the wild. EveryBlock was another great example of this – it takes data from the public domain and matches it to local maps so users can see what’s happening in their neighbourhood, down to block level, in terms of local news, crime, restaurant inspections, planning applications and so on. Clearly it would be great to feed some positive news into those maps and what better place to start than local events from NZLive, local history from NZHistory, and all the good local information that Te Ara is publishing.

  3. Comment made by Kristy || February 26th, 2009

    …and don’t forget my Ze favourite: Young me / Now me. I was also really inspired by Russ Weakley‘s talk about letting go of the reins and allowing commenting, keywords and even moderating to come from the public.

  4. Comment made by Rusty || February 27th, 2009

    I was following Ze back in 2003–4, so I found most of his talk entertaining, but familiar.

    Dopplr was a really interesting project.
    I love what they’ve done with their maps.

    I think I’m still processing what Bruce Sterling said. I’ve got bits of his talk stuck in my head, such as:

    ‘Web 2.0 is a structure built from the bones and ashes of Web 1.0 technologies’.

    I can’t wait for the recordings to become available so I can watch it again.

    Russ Weakley’s talk, as Kristy said, was inspiring, probably because he’s encountered a lot of the same problems Te Ara has/is. I wish he had talked more about the solutions.

  5. Comment made by Jock Phillips || March 2nd, 2009

    I completely agree with Matthew. Everyblock was an inspiring example of how to bring material together from many sources to add huge value to each isolated bit of information. Te Ara’s Places entries are perfectly set up to feed into a geographically-based mash-up. We have to do it – so watch out! As last year, I thought that Damian Connor was a superb presenter. He was able to be both excruciatingly funny and teach some really valuable truths about web design and good information architecture at the same time. To learn and laugh simultaneously is a joy. Webstock was a brilliant line-up of speakers and it had a great energy around the place. But one small thought: I know that having individual speakers with their power-points and their six/eight lessons gets across a lot of good ideas really fast. But I would have liked a little more variety in the mode of presentation. A debate, a question-and-answer session, some audience engagement would have been nice. It might have saved Meg Pickard saying ‘ditto’ to everything Derek Powazek said on the wisdom of crowds. If they had been in a conversation they might even have disagreed! And that would have been fun and a good learning experience.

  6. Comment made by Julia || March 2nd, 2009

    It’s true all the presentations were very slick.

    None of them were boring. Both Michael Lopp who spoke on ‘Being Geek’ and self-described creative geek, Meg Pickard didn’t bore me; they just wasted my time. Frustrating, when their experience suggests they probably do have something interesting to say.

    Onto the inspirational, Jasmina Tesanovic, had a question session after she spoke, which expanded her extremely interesting talk and life. And Ze Frank made me want to just go and do good out on the web.


  7. Comment made by Helen Rickerby || March 6th, 2009

    You can see what other people have been saying about Webstock here: http://www.webstock.org.nz/blog/2009/webstock-what-you-said/

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