Monthly Archives: February 2008

Wood for the trees – Webstock08

Jason Santa Maria talking about design at Webstock08 conference. Credit: www.flickr.com/photos/titine/I was looking through the 937 photos tagged webstock08 on flickr to find the perfect one. I gave up because, despite the many historical references at the conference, I couldn’t find a single photo with the past in the background. I choose this one because, well, I couldn’t resist the Gruffalo (thanks to Titine who shares her photos using a creative commons licence).

Definitely the most popular historical subject was 40,000 year old cave art. (BTW: the peoples whose art was shown weren’t acknowledged). Also mentioned were the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale, the first photograph (ever!), the Model T Ford, Napoleon’s march on Moscow (and retreat), the difference engine, the telegraph and the London tube map. Some references to historical figures were thrown in too, including Gottfried Leibniz author of an “Introduction to a secret encyclopedia” (1679), philosopher Otto Neurath, and reporter William Howard Russell.

I can’t help but reflect on the achievements, trials and tribulations and momentousness of these events, people and inventions. Then there’s Facebook (which I’m unfairly singling out). It’s about micro, nano, mini, minor, trivia, and even if it is reallly useful on some levels, it’s ephemeral stuff.

I just can’t see future generations looking back in wonder at some of the web2.0dium, as Damian Conway put it, with any part sense of awe. There’s something about placing current developments in a historical context which is deeply ideological. The latest developments on the Internet merely follow-on from earlier technological ‘advancements’. It’s inevitable.

This takes on slightly more ominous overtones when the tracking potential of data mining and geo-tagging are delved into. My jar dropped at the way Nigel Parker breezily walked us through a creepy scenario of tracking someone’s movements, in realtime. I’m online everyday and my jobs are Internet based, but because I don’t fully understand the social consequences of the technological changes, my inclination is to step back. The lightening speed of developments – quickly before your competitors do! – happens before reflection and analysis can occur.

A fair bit of the time I spent at Webstock conference, I was wondering whether it was trees, wood or the whole of cyberspace I couldn’t see.

Now the trees did get mentioned by the very thoughtful organisers, who are donating $5 to Project Crimson and $5 to Kiva for each ticket sold. They had the good sense not to fill the (very attractive and durable) conference bag with masses of crap literature from the sponsors, used manilla paper for the conference programme, and offer participants fairtrade People’s Coffee.

Given hightened concern about the way we humans are looking after the planet, there was barely a mention of climate change, waste or other environmental problems. I hate to raise something that may spoilt the party, but can’t these technologies be used for environmental and social good.

The opposite is almost true, as the underlying thrust of technological advancement is an inherent logic which requires you to buy more stuff, therefore consume more scarce resources. This was perhaps exemplified by Kelly Goto, from San Francisco, who flipantly was brainstorming in Barcelona one-day and dreading a trip to Vegas (again!) the next.

Anyway, the things that I’ve grasped hold of include:

  1. the web is no longer really about pages, but about content served up in lots of ways (eg through widgets, RSS, feeds, badges as well as humble pages)
  2. mashups, once sort of wacky and wild, are really maturing, particularly with mapping
  3. basic web design and writing rules still apply
  4. there’s a few initiatives that will make web users’ lives easier, eg OpenID
  5. we’re not all aspiring software developers at heart.

And here are some quick tips about the basics, and the speakers who shone some light on these:

  • Rachael McAlpine on effective writing for the web, see Contented
  • Jill Whalen on the best way for websites to be found by search engines, see High Rankings
  • Luke Wroblewski, practical visual design for the internet medium with lots of before and after shots, see his page hierarchy presentation(PDF 3.1 MB) or interface design website
  • Kathy Sierra recommends designing design for our “legacy brains” by making emotional appeals.

As a footnote to history, thanks to the organisers for granting me a scholarship. I’d include this hasty post in the nano, passing, ephemeral category and won’t be waiting for future generations to look back in awe. I think I’ll be in good company.

Don’t take my word for it – Webstock 2008

Don’t take my word for it. Even if I wanted I couldn’t cover everything to do with webstock.

Lots of other people have written something about the 2008 webstock conference, and I’m sure there will be more. After all the other webstock conferences there has been some form of audio or video recording, so the same could be expected again.

If you want to find out more about webstock 08 you could:

Look for what the speaker’s wrote about the conference, including Luke W on Web page hierarchy and Russell Brown singing high praises indeed, “Wellington, you win”.

Search for the webstock08 tag on Google, Technocrati, Bloglines or another search or aggregation websites.

Look at the photographs tagged webstock08 on flickr or look at some pics on the Scoop website, a sponsor who provided a chill-out lounge.

Go straight to some of the bloggers, including:

And there’s even a facebook webstock group.

I’ll stop here.

Some links from Webstock 08

At the two day 2008 Webstock conference last week there was so much information, some many ideas and rich jargon and hype, I grasped for a way of staying in touch with reality. To get away from the highfaluting, I asked people about websites they worked on or liked, plus some tips. Here are some, that I remember.

Mike, from Ok Computer, is rushed off his feet designing websites for tourism operators in Taupo. He’s a keen canoeist and mentioned the New Zealand Recreational Canoeing Association website. It’s very busy looking site with lots of news and other activity.

Hailing from Hamilton is Michele, a member of the Waikato 2020 Communications Trust, a sibling to Wellington Region 2020 Communications Trust. She proudly talked about the free website hosting available to community groups on WaiNet and their current search for a Director (applications close 22 February). The process of encouraging groups to get site hasn’t proved as easy as she thought it would be.

Another person I talked to from the central North Island was Tahi Tait, managing director of naumaiplace.com. This website is part online home for marae and part social networking site. In a brief ‘rave’ as part of the ‘8 by 5’ session, Tahi said “…had he known what he learnt at webstock, he wouldn’t have started”. It looks like things are going well with 100 marae signed up, and interest in the platform from networks in Te Tai Tokerau and overseas. The facilitation and training provided to support adoption of naumaiplace.com uses what sounds like a kaupapa Maori approach.

Now that I think about it, history was something I couldn’t escape, including many references to the past from the speakers (more on that later). I managed to bump into people involved in New Zealand history online (where you can currently find some cool photos of NZ Rail’s Cook Strait ferries) and Matapihi, the National Library’s searchable archive of over 100,000 pictures, objects, sounds, movies and texts.

Over dinner I talked with Terry Bag about recent articles he’s written for Wellington-based experimental arts magazine White Fungus. The end of the Pink and White Terraces and the Siege of Maungapohatu in 1916 added a real counter balance to the relative airiness of Webstock. I accepted the two proffered hard copies of White Fungus with delight (thank god for the printing press!).

Most of the links to websites I collected from the esteemed speakers are pretty technical, but Jason Santa Maria introduced conference goers to Fray which has gorgeous design and publishes true stories online and off. Well, I’m actually struggling to note other sites aside which weren’t about mashing-up, social networking, openIDing, code for freedom, web of data, and all that.

A technical resource for web developers in is Wellington based company W 3 A Ltd, who manually audit websites, extranets and intranets against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines version 1.0, along with a range of other services. I found about W 3 A from a Squiz designer, who talked about the ongoing challenge of getting websites to correctly display simultaneously in Firefox and Internet Explorer.

My final website, inferred rather than directly spoken of, is for the band Wilco. Mike, a big fan from Philadelphia, has seen them live and has a copy of the Wilco book (shooting down my absurdist claim to be the only person in Wellington with a copy). I’m sure Mike love to find other merchandise, link to a long interview with front man Jeff Tweedy from the 12 February Eclectic Company programme broadcast on Chicago’s 93 XRT radio station, and request a song for their upcoming gig in Wellington.

That about wraps up my links round up from Webstock. More posts on the conference are coming.

Open co-design process – ruralnet|uk

Setting out to build a new website or set of online tools can be pretty nerve wracking. No matter what research and insights have been captured, how many people have been surveyed, and advisors consulted it’s hard to know if anyone will actually find what you’ve done as useful and exciting.

The syndrome of “build it and they will come” is prevalent in the online world. This has typically meant websites built from an organisational structure point of view rather than based around the audience’s needs. Many new social networking sites in the world of web 2.0 are no exception.

ruralnet|uk is turning the standard development process upside down. They’ve just embarked on a project “to help create the next generation of web services” with input from anyone that’s interested. ruralnet|uk run confernces, share information and provide support offline and on in their quest to promote a living and working countryside.

Here’s how David Wilcox has described ruralnet|uk’s approach in his post “Re-inventing your online business in public”:

For nearly 10 years Ruralnet has been running an online system linked to their work on rural community development and social enterprise. It has some core services, originally run on FirstClass, with a facility to customise for different organisations or networks, but has been very much “come to our place”. Over the past couple of years they have been experimenting with Web 2.0 tools, and moving some services across. Just before Christmas chief executive Simon Berry sought agreement from his colleagues to re-launch everything on their 10th anniversary in March.

What!!??? How do you do that and hope to get it right? Well, don’t hope to get it right yourself – invite your customers in to help you re-invent your business.

Make them co-creators instead of just “users”.

And there it is on the web for all to see at ruralnet|online – “welcome to this open co-design exercise”. The focus is a multi-authored blog with posts about philosophy, focus groups, techy stuff and much more. There is a lot of activity on the website.

ruralnet|uk generate income running online services and the “next generation” of tools is expected to contribute to this too. In terms of what we’re doing with the collaborative information project, there are lots of similarities. We’ve been talking about user-centred design, and asking our target audience what they want. I’m hoping we can be brave enough to open things up to co-design when the right time comes.

BTW: Simon Berry, who runs ruralnet||uk, rode the length of UK last year, see “Participation ride 2007 – day 3“.