And then there was Webstock 2013 (day 1)

by kai on 18/02/2013

I spent Thursday and Friday of last week at the awesome Webstock conference. I’m not gonna go into all the details of what it is, why it’s so awesome and why it sells out before they even put the programme together (I got asked the latter by a friend of mine who couldn’t believe the fact that there was no programme until 2 weeks ago or so and that the conference still sold out). Instead, I’m going to write a bit about some of the sessions I attended.

On day one, Clay Johnson started off with a talk that showed in quite interesting ways how we as a society of media consumers literally get served what we asked for. Essentially crap driven by big media outlets and news agencies who just give us what we want to  make us feel “right”. The analogy Clay used was food: “Pizza tastes better than brocoli  – Opinion tastes better than news”. Good advice: go on an information diet – consume consciously, schedule your consumption and produce yourself. Anyone else seeing the analogies to food here?

After Clay, Jim Coudal presented on “Digital is analog”. Very interesting business-related talk about companies and products in the physical and digital world. I enjoyed the talk immensely, but I realised that a bunch of people were right away “zoning out” as Jim didn’t have any supporting slides. I find it myself quite hard to follow free-form talks, but Jim’s talk was worthwhile going through the effort.

Post-morning tea, Jason Kottke and Aza Raskin were on. Jason is the man behind I’d like to call it a social-media-favorite-thing-sharing-and-filter-tool that hooks into various social media services and works with your favourites in there. Jason was talking about his journey from basically being a non-programmer to launching the service. He used the metaphor of “slow hunches” as an example of how it took him years to get from the problem to an actual solution.

Aza’s talk was about design constraints and how they can turn into advantages. Some useful examples: World’s narrowest house, Super-versatile apartment in Hong Kong. He made actually a lot of very, very valuable points. In a lot of cases we humans ask the wrong questions to solve a problem or to get at least closer to a solution.

After lunch the conference broke into two streams. First, I went to see Artur Bergman’s talk about CDNs, which was excellent. Lots of useful technical knowledge and Artur used very clear words and the occasional expletives (yes, it sometimes is very much needed and we beat around the bush way too often in New Zealand) to make sure that people really understand what they  need to fix to get faster delivery of their web content. Did you know btw that Fastly is going to launch both an Auckland- and Wellington-based POP really soon?

Then it was back to the main auditorium for Chris Coyier’s talk on workflows for web designers. This was the first talk I was seriously disappointed with. Chris absolutely knows his stuff and he could have presented so many really interesting things, but instead chose to talk about local HTTP servers, MAMP, FTP, Photoshop and his favourite IDE Codekit. Yeah, nice – but at Webstock? Really?

Next up was Craig Mod with a talk named “Subcompact Publishing”. Very, very interesting and a cry out for stepping back from publishing interactive PDFs or interactive magazines with tools like Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite (which I feel more and more to be the “new Flash” of the publishing world). A great example he showed is The Magazine App.

After the afternoon break it was time for John Gruber. He essentially talked about Pac-Mac and what designers can learn from the game: fun, simple, obvious and challenging. Awesome analogy: iOS = Pac-Man, Android = Mr Do!

In case you don’t know Garr Reynolds you really need to crawl out of your Hobbit burrow. He’s Mr. Presentation Zen. Garr presented on “Story, Emotion & the art of 21st-century Presentation”. It was an awesome 40ish minutes walkthrough covering the art of story telling and how to present and not present information. Here’s a good metric: if your core slide text is around 30pt you probably know your material. If you’re using 8pt font, “you’re a bozo who doesn’t know his presentation, I can read faster than the bozo can speak” (according to Guy Kawasaki).

And finally – Tom Coates, who’s a Webstock veteran. Despite a variety of “presentation-fails” (that earned him the quote “I’m doing a Coates here” on day 2) he delivered an awesome session talking about the internet of things and network-enabled devices. Make sure you check out his house’s Twitter account.

Day one was overall awesome. Besides the talks it was great to see a lot of familiar and unfamiliar faces, enjoy the Webstock experience and the super-cool goodies. I think Wellington’s web community can’t thank Mike, Deb, Tash and Ben enough for putting on Webstock year after year. More of day two in a follow-up post

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