And then there was Webstock 2013 (day 2)

by kai on 21/02/2013

Let’s talk about day 2 of Webstock 2013.

The first speaker was Karen McGrane. Her session was titled “Adapting Ourselves to Adaptive Content”. Uhhh – you might think, but Karen’s message is much easier than the session title might make you expect. Essentially: It’s just not on to take your print PDF and publish it as your “eMagazine” on the iPad. It’s also not on to get your layout people to create a portrait and a landscape version of your PDF-based “eMagazine” for various tablets. Instead – come up with a “Create Once Publish Everywhere” strategy. Create content, tag it appropriately with meta data and let the rendering devices/apps decide what to do with it based on this information. It’s actually sad that Karen has to give this talk, it should be so common sense by now.

Second session before the morning break was Bruce Sterling‘s talk. I struggle to write more than “I think you’d either love or strongly dislike him as a presenter”. As much as I enjoy his writing, I just can’t relate to his talks, sorry. The same happened a few years ago when he was at Webstock, it’s just not something for me (2 out of 2).

After the morning break Tricia Wang introduced the concept of the “Elastic Self” by explaining how youth in China experience a very different internet and online culture than youth in the US. Due to various cultural differences and due to living in a very oppressive society, the Elastic Self basically leads to a lack of commitment to one identity. This can be seen even in the West when one looks at various Social Media platforms. Facebook on the one end, unbounded platforms like Webchat/Snapchat on the other end of the spectrum.

The breakout session “Code As Writing” I attended was probably my personal highlight of Webstock 2013. Jeremy Ashkenas looked at software and code from various view points. The obvious view point is usually to treat and see code as logic. That’s fair game, but there’s more to it. Code can be seen as law (sticking to a legislative system defined by the hardware architecture) or as art. Even Donald Knuth argued that programming can be more of an art than science. Coming back to the original idea of code as writing: While programming, you’re writing a story. We’re targeting two audiences: machine and the human reader and depending on the language we’re using and the increasing performance of machines we can write more clearly for the humans in our audience. Why I loved Jeremy’s talk? After about 3 minutes, it went right into the philosophy of science, just awesome!

Back in main auditorium, I attended Robin Sloan‘s session on “Inventing Media”. He looked at the process of how media formats get invented – today and in the past. He used examples of the spread of the printed book in Europe in the late 1400s and the early 1500s as well as the development of the terminology “Movies” from the early 1900s.

Michael Lopp talked about Stables and Volatiles (from a personality point of view) and how companies change over time. Stables appreciate things like direction, are happy to follow a plan and think generally that order is a good thing. They play nice with others and try to mitigate failure when making decisions. Volatiles however want to define strategy rather than following it and get a thrill from risk. Very often, Volatiles and Stables hate each other and it’s very difficult for them to work together. After certain milestones in a company’s life cycle are reached (such as a 1.0 release), Volatiles can become protective and turn into Stables, if you’ve got too many Stables, your company might be on the verge of extinction (in a sense of not innovating anymore).

Second-but-last speaker was Jason Scott. Besides having a cat that has more followers than most other Twitter users, Jason is involved with the Internet Archive, Archive Team and He’s on a mission to save forgotten content on the internet – looking at places like Geocities and others, that’s urgently needed. Lots of historical sources of human’s first steps into the internet are just gone. “Cloud-based services” – even modern ones like Posterous – can’t be trusted to be around for a decent amount of time and someone needs to take care of the data being lost when those services shut down. BTW: did you know that Posterous is shutting down April 30, 2013?

The final talk of Webstock 2013 was delivered by Mike Monteiro and titled “How Designers Destroyed the World”. He started by citing an example how bad design decisions on Facebook’s privacy and sharing system led to a young gay female being involuntarily outed to her family. Quite often those design decisions are driven by marketing, business management or other people high up in the ranks and Mike tried to convey the message that it’s up to the designers to stop them from being happening. “The work we choose to take on defines us”. While I agree with that in general, unfortunately the reality for a guy like Mike might be different from the reality thousands of “design drones” out there are facing in corporate and government offices trying to make their next mortgage payment. I’m not saying that there’s no point in trying, but sometimes I feel inspirational speeches like his can unfortunately show a disconnection from the “real life”.

Overall, day two was similarly awesome as day one was. It’ll be interesting to see what Webstock 2014 will bring, given that the Webstock crew will have to find a new venue (as Wellington Town Hall is going through earthquake-strengthening). There’s lots of speculation out there in the community – from finding a different venue in Wellington, moving to Auckland for a year or doing a series of smaller conferences across the country. Interesting times! 🙂

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