Tagged: webstock

Webstock and why words matter

I’m fresh out of Webstock, and as usual, I have many thoughts. Sadly though, it’s not the usual “OMG I am so inspired and happy and my work will be amazing now and I will kick ass and take names” kind of thoughts. I mean, there are those too, but mostly, I am really disappointed in some of the choices made by some of the speakers.

Disclaimer first: I love Webstock, I mean I really love it. Mike and Tash and Deb and Ben put together the most amazing couple of days every year and I am super grateful that I get to go along. But here are the things that I had problems with, so I can express myself a little better than on Twitter.

The very first speaker was Clay Johnson, whose talk was Industrialised Ignorance. He used the line “Cheese tastes better than broccoli  and talked about the “obesity epidemic” (my quotes, not his) and how we know the names of the Kardashians but not what the child poverty rates are (22% in New Zealand, according to Twitter).  This is what my problem is: he talked about how left wing and right wing media would use bullshit phrases as boogeymen (like “Obamacare” or “socialised medicine”), but that is exactly what he was doing with his use of “obesity epidemic”, because omg being fat is the worst thing ever. Except it’s not.  And he used graphs about how obesity was growing, and while there wasn’t a reference for his figures that I caught (I could be wrong), I would be willing to bet they were based on BMI measurements, which are extremely problematic. When I tweeted at him about it, he said “I’d say childhood life expectancy going down for the first time in recorded history due to obesity is, yes, “omg worst thing ever”.  So we have differing opinions about obesity, and have read different things. Okay. But this is where I come back to the “cheese tastes better than broccoli  line. Sometimes, cheese is much easier to buy than broccoli  Sometimes cheese (or whatever junk food boogeyman we’re using)  is cheaper. If you’re living in poverty, you need to go for whatever food options you can. Not everyone has the luxury of time, or the knowledge of how to cook, or even just access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and I think Clay was going for an easy laugh, because hey, showing a picture of a pizza in Japan that comes with hamburgers and nachos on top is much more funny than discussing the actual real issues around nutrition and poverty and health. And I think if you are of the calibre of speaker who is invited to Webstock, you should do better than that.

One of the next speakers was Aza Raskin, and while I absolutely loved his talk about how constraints can actually be a really good thing and I was hella inspired, he started his speech with a summing up of how the world is in trouble or some such “and obesity is spreading like a virus”. SERIOUSLY? I made sure to touch as many people as possible after that, so that my fatness would spread to them. Using fat as shorthand for “bad things and health problems that might not actually be related to actual size at all” is just incredibly lazy. This is not what I expect from some of the brightest, most articulate voices from around the globe.

Then Garr Reynolds spoke, and his topic was on how to give a good presentation. There was a lot of talk of death by PowerPoint (oh I feel that, hooooooooooooo boy do I feel that), and then he showed us bad examples of graphs ,and good examples of graphs. What were the graphs of? Obesity rates in Canada. You know, without any context. Because FAT IS BAD.  The graphs could have been about anything at all. Later he used one about deforestation rates in Germany. But why not go ahead and push the OBESITY IS GOING TO EAT US ALL message a little further?

If you think I am being oversensitive at this point, you’re damn right. Lots of surface area here for all these messages to be absorbed through. My tweet at this time was “Once more, obesity, obesity, obesity. Is this a web conference? Or are all the presenters actually medical experts?”. My friend Emma and I started texting each other playing Fat Bingo every time it was mentioned. Jason Scott in his really great presentation about saving data was telling a story about an evil tow truck driver, and used fat as shorthand for “this was a bad person”. Unnecessary. Michael Lopp referred to designers as “guys” and then quickly added “and gals” which I really appreciated, because the huge gender discrepancies in tech are not going to get any better unless we actively work on them, but then he too used the whole “FAT IS THE WORST THING EVER” laziness. And then there was Mike Monterio. Oh boy. We’re going to need a new paragraph.

Mike’s talk was How designers destroyed the world. Read the first line of that description – “You are directly responsible for what you put into the world.” His talk started out great, mentioning how bad design decisions had made Facebook privacy settings terrible, how people got outed by them, and how Facebook Graph could have devastating effects for homosexuals in Iran, for example. I had a slight sense of unease at his “no one is forcing you to do anything, you can just quit!” mentality, because actually there aren’t a whole lot of jobs around and bills still gotta be paid, etc, but I understand he was there to inspire. And then he started talking about killing your ego, and also misogyny and how it needs to go, and I was like yes, thank you. But meanwhile, every time he talked about designers, he referred to them as “he”. I tweeted at him that maybe not doing that would be a really good starting point, because when you’re standing on stage talking to 900 people, you are a role model, and you should model good behaviour. When he retweeted me, I thought he was like “cool, point noted”. But instead, he came back “what’s the female term for ‘troll’?”. Oh, awesome. You know, I get drunk and say stupid stuff on Twitter too. All the time. But not on my work Twitter account. I wouldn’t bother trying to engage with YouTube comments because I know that people there are idiots, but when it’s speakers at a conference I love, who are very smart articulate people, yeah I think it’s worth trying to talk to them about something that’s problematic. I don’t think asking someone to be more careful in their language deserves this kind of abuse.

A couple of years ago, I went to one of the speaker’s website, and saw that their basic speaking charge was around $10,000 for a keynote. I don’t remember who that speaker was, and I don’t actually know how much Webstock pays their speakers (Mike hasn’t sent those financials out to the entire mailing list. Yet). But they are experts in their fields, and all of them are professional speakers, who make a living from it. Assuming that they get paid $10,000, and speak at around 120 words per minute for 40 minutes. That’s around $2 a word. Is it really that hard to make sure that those words are picked very carefully?

Webstock10: bringing back the love

2010 was my third time at Webstock, and my first time attending it as myself, not as an employee of the State Services Commission, which also meant that it was my first time having to pay for it myself. I was lucky enough to receive some partial funding from the Midnight Note fundraiser, and also from some work I’ve been doing for Craft 2.0. Because the Midnight Note was a community initiative, I was determined to try and contribute something back to the community, so I organised a pre-webstock tweetup for people to meet each other, helped create Webstock Bingo and also set up an anonymous twitter stream called Webstocklove in which anyone could declare their love for any part of webstock. Awww. Adam.

The community aspect of Webstock is a huge part of what makes the event so special and why there was no way in the world that I wasn’t going to attend, but hopefully I will come back to that part again and again as I go through the speakers that I saw and what I took away from it. It was all kinds of adorable though that in his opening speech Mike Brown dedicated the event to Darren & Amanda who were getting married the next Saturday – especially since I actually introduced them at a Halloween party quite a number of years ago. But on to the speakers!

Scott Thomas was the design director of the Obama presidential campaign, and since that was something I was very passionate about at the time, I was really interested to see what he had to say. He spoke about how to really get the message out there, they opened up all their resources so that people could assemble their own channels – like putting things onto Youtube, having branding material available, transcripts of every speech, etc. I can see how that would be applicable in pretty much any kind of marketing campaign, although it’ll take a brave agency to adopt that attitude. I was also fascinated at the language Scott used, that he said things like “because Obama was so open” etc, not “because one of our campaign strategies was to make Obama’s language open” – you could tell that he was still inspired and given that I’m probably going to be a life-long public servant, I’m hoping that one day I’ll have a leader like that too. My notes in bullet point form:

  • “Obama is the first presidential candidate to be marketed like a high-end consumer brand” – Newsweek
  • important that every single part of the website was consistent and organised.
  • “giant button lovers for obama” – supporters brand very important, so created downloads page. Let everyone do what they wanted with images and stuff.
  • We get so stuck into how our organisation is organised that we don’t think about how the users are using the site
  • If you could create an account on a website, we probably had one for Obama!
  • Think about the human experience. Ask what humans know, not what computers know. Have a conversation with your users, use real questions. That way you know what to ask next.

Brian Fling was a great presenter, but he didn’t seem to have very much to say. Nevertheless, my notes:

  • In less than five years, the mobile generation could have more buying power than any other group.
  • Mobile industry is worth a TRILLION dollars. Twice that of the publishing.
  • Six ways to make money: ringtones & wallpapers, games, subscriptions, web-based subscriptions, advertising, native applications.
  • In less than five years, the mobile generation could have more buying power than any other group.

In contrast, Lisa Herrod had a lot to say in pleading for people to design with diversity in mind. It was really interesting to hear that she had come from a sign language background (especially because we were missing the added visuals of signers that Webstock normally has – learning how to sign “whip somebody’s ass” during Ze Frank’s presentation last year was particularly awesome). She endeared herself to me straight away by suggesting that everyone who doesn’t have an iPhone should leave the auditorium straight away and go watch her presentation on a tiny screen somewhere else instead, because as a non-iPhone-owner, it was kind of a bit extreme how very few of the other presenters would shut up about them, and seemed to refuse to acknowledge that not everyone owns one, or will indeed ever own one. It was also really nice to hear her praising the NZ Govt Web Standards site which so many of my former colleagues did good work on – which is also where you’ll find my introduction to Government Use of SMS.

The main point that Lisa drove home was that many people have many different experiences of the web, and saying “oh, my users aren’t like that” isn’t good enough. Hear hear.

  • WHY ARE WE SEGREGATING PEOPLE? Why are we not taking an inclusive approach to user design?
  • Everyone has the potential to be disabled at some point. It’s all about being inclusive, don’t disregard people just because its too hard or you can’t be bothered or you don’t have the budget.
  • You don’t have to understand every single thing about accessibility, you should just be taking a little bit more time and care to make your projects more inclusive and less exclusive. ‘
  • Do you conduct userbility testing as part of your work? So, if you’re doing user research, if you’re interviewing people and doing testing, howcome it’s so hard to find someone who uses user-assisted technology? Why is it so hard to call up someone and ask?

I was looking forward to Bek Hodgson’s presentation because I am all about the participation, but since her flight was delayed and she swapped with Lachlan Hardy, I ended up going to see Toby Segaran‘s Beautiful Data instead. I’m not entirely sure (yet) if it was directly relevant to the work that I do, or the work that I hope to do, but he was fascinating non-the-less. I wonder if we succeed in opening up govt data after all if people will build Radiohead videos out of Ministry of Education league tables some time…

Ben Cerveny‘s presentation was likewise fascinating and somewhat over my head. I felt almost as if I was in an XKCD cartoon which is not a bad thing at all!

Shelley Bernstein present at the National Library last year, I was seriously looking forward to her talk, and I wasn’t disappointed at all. The Brooklyn Museum’s use of social media is absolutely fantastic and inspirational. So many of the things that she talked about are all really cheap to build (in cash terms anyway, they do require significant time investment, especially at first) and really help to enhance the museum’s reputation. I admire the way that they use social media not just to celebrate their successes but also to talk about the bad bits too. That’s an important lesson that agencies in New Zealand really need to learn.

Jeff Atwood didn’t deliver interpretive dance as the programme promised, but he did talk at great length about building a community of users. Even though StackOverflow itself as a site doesn’t interest me as I’m not a programmer, the ways that they’ve developed to foster knowledge and community are totally transferable to really any community site, such as using rewards systems, and allowing users to vote comments up and down as per usefulness.

Regine deBatty and Rives were both a little more out there than some of the other presenters, so were more inspirational rather than practical. Rives in particular was absolutly astonishing to watch. I love that the last slot on the first day is saved for the really emotional experience, ala Kathy Sierra or Ze Frank. They’re the speakers that make you want to do your damn best to make the world a more beautiful place, at work and outside it.

Day Two was really startup orientated so I’m still processing how to transfer what I learnt from those talks into such a different environment here in NZ – especially if I’m going to continue to work in government. My notes are thinner on the ground here, but I do recommend seeing anything you can get your hands on by Amy Hoy. Her presentation style is so absolutely personable, she uses really informal language, interesting slides and talks about octopodes and other things that you woudn’t immediately think would be relateed but somehow she works them in. She’s my personal presentation idol. And I really should check out Freckle to manage my time.

I’d met Seb Chan when I represented the SSC at an AGIMO roundtable on government use of Social Media back in 2008, and I’ve really respected the work he’s done for the Powerhouse Museum, but since he was up against the re-aligned Bek Hodgson, I decided to check her out instead. I was really interested in to find out more about Etsy and their huge community base, but her presentation didn’t really speak to me very much, unfortunately, and it was really short. There hadn’t really been many speakers who’d taken questions before, so I didn’t think to have any ready to ask.

talk on elements of a networked urbanism was fascinating, and I would love to see him co-present with Matt Bidulph who spoke last year because I think they would really feed off each other. It was the sort of presentation where the auditorium goes darker because everyone shuts their laptops and really listens instead of twittering about it. Jeff Veen was similarly enchanting, with the way he managed to link ice sales to CSS. Meanwhile Mark Pesce‘s history lesson about how the web has really only been around for 15 years (and I’ve been online that whole time!) was well-considered and made me really optimistic and full of plans for the future. It was a wonderful note to end on.

Except that of course it didn’t actually end there, not really, because there was of course the ONYA awards, and it was lovely to see great sites getting rewarded for their goodness. I’m hoping to see more government nomineees up there next year, and/or something I’ve worked on. That’s my goal for the next year. To quote Mark Pesce’s blurb,

” Everything we thought we knew about how the Web works, what the Web does for us, and who controls the Web is up for grabs, once again. We will see bright shining stars – and sudden, brief supernovas – just as we did in the Web’s early years. The opportunities are breathtaking, the innovations will be flying fast and thick. All of this is now within our grasp.”

Thank you so much Webstock for inspiring me again,  and thank you to all the amazing speakers and attendees that I had insane amounts of fascinating conversations with during the past week. Despite still being underemployed, I’m excited to be a part of this community and world once again.

How Webstock Bingo came to be

One of the highlights of the sideshows at Webstock last year was playing the Webstock Card Game – collecting trading cards and trying to get the highest score. Game-playing was a big aspect of 2009, as Hadyn Green wrote in his Public address post:

Bruce Sterling’s “Web 2.0 guys: they’ve got their laptops with whimsical stickers, the tattoos, the startup T-shirts, the brainy-glasses — you can tell them from the general population at a glance” caused us to start a game where we had to find that exact person.

It was me who won that challenge, pulling Darren Wood out of the crowd, which meant I got to set the next challenge. We hunted through the afterparty looking for content creators, foreigners and public servants and the like. We got to meet new people and start new conversations and it was a lot of fun.

Conversations on Twitter lately centered on what kind of games we could play this year that would enhance our Webstock experience. I think that so much of the value of the conference lies in the people you meet, both in terms of new friends to make and also new business contacts, so I figured that meeting as many people as possible should be part of the game. Collecting business cards would be one way, but what if we could use Twitter to keep track of what was going on? So I tweeted this, in hopes of some crowd-sourced help:

“We need random bingo sheet generator with twitter icons to cross off when you meet that person @ #webstock. Who can make this happen please?”

Walter replied back, and I showed him the game of Hipster Bingo that I was using as inspiration. We decided to use twitter profiles instead of hipster stereotypes, and he got busy building.

Because we were doing a lot of our planning over Twitter, we’d already started using a hashtag #webstockbingo to keep our thoughts together. We decided that people should opt into the game, so we asked them to tweet yes and include the hashtag so we could keep track of who wanted to play. Using our accounts and also the Wellingtonista twitter account, we soon found over 50 people who wanted to play, even though they didn’t know quite what to expect.

Testing the autotweets from the game, we saw some negative feedback from people who weren’t playing, who didn’t want #webstockbingo cluttering up their timelines. Although some people use twitter clients that can block particular hash tags, I realised that the easiest way to keep people happy would be to set up a new twitter account so that only people who were following @wsbingo would see game updates, and then only ones from people they were already following. Having a specific webstock bingo twitter account also makes it easier to do official announcements and follow people who are playing the game who I wouldn’t personally follow.

Now the challenge was to explain the game to everyone. 140 characters wasn’t really enough space, so we wrote out some rules, and then added an FAQ. Hopefully it all makes sense to people. Walter’s done a lot of tweaking behind the scenes, and I’ve been talking the game up everywhere, including making sure it’s included in the other Webstock Game.We’re launching it this afternoon before the Official Wellingtonista (unofficial) Webstock Warm-Up that I’ve organised, so hopefully tonight and tomorrow and Friday all our participants will have even more incentive to meet new people and have a great time. So, if you get me on your board, come say hi, buy me a drink for extra points, and let’s chat. Awesome.