Tag Archives: webstock

Learning from language on the street

Concept map showing Wellington as a place to  "do" and " be" , in pictures

You’re likely to be a little surprised at some the language around you. That’s if you stop to pay attention.

Rushing around we notice a fraction of the words and messages directed toward us. It’s little wonder. Some estimates put the number of messages we’re exposed to everyday as high as 5,000.

Mostly we don’t stop to think about this. Not the individual words, nor meanings.

Last week, I got a chance to pause and reflect on the language we’re surrounded by. I was fortunate to attend a workshop at Webstock 2014 led by Liz Danzico called “Use Your Words: Content Strategy to influence behaviour”.

Our workshop leader — who who is part designer, part educator, and hails from New York — guided 20 of us through a day-long learning experience where we paid close attention to the language of Wellington city.

After discussing the way language can shape behaviour in many, varied and nuanced ways, the workshop participants where charged with closely observing and recording words in Wellington.

It was a revelation. There are lots of words! Big, small, subtle and bold. Language is everywhere. It was a joy spending an hour noticing just some of the many signs of the city. (The photos from my hour are available on flickr).

Once we were grouped together and sharing our perspectives on the language we’d found (both implicit and explicit), it was possible to read a narrative into the city that isn’t evident when you rush by. Or look at just individual words.

Each of the four groups who workshopped their ideas (using tools adopted from UX approaches to content strategy) revealed different hidden undercurrents or themes.

I was delighted at the conversation about Wellington that emerged from team Headquarters of the Verb. Not only did we reference creativity and nature, but also participation and giving. You can see the concept map we created above.

Even if we didn’t talk at length about the mechanics of websites, the learning Liz facilitated has application. Two main things remain with me:

  • be alert to hidden, unintended meanings of language
  • take time to see your city, site or user experience from a fresh perspective: turn things on their head (so to speak).

As I’ve long been interested in place-making (particularly as advocated by David Engwicht of Creative Communities), the stretch from observations about the city to the web were entirely credible (if not somewhat unorthodox). Liz referred to the Project for Public Spaces, whose examples reminded me of heated discussions about situationalist tactics from my protest days.

Will I pay more attention to language around me, everyday? Probably not. However, I can see myself being attentive to unintended meanings, associations and language at particular key junctures of web content projects I’m working on. And I will definitely stick to one of Liz’s parting shots: “Get outside your comfort zone”.


Use Your Words: Content Strategy to influence behaviour presentation by Liz Danzico. She’ll also share details of her Webstock talk via an article with video. (I’ll add a link when this is generously shared.)

Designing for Behavior Change (2013) by Steve Wendel

Back from Webstock 2010

If the web industry in the USA is anything to go by, there doesn’t seem be a recession. Of the dozen or more speakers from Silicon Valley at Webstock conference not a single one mentioned anything to do with an apparent economic downturn.

Job losses? Shrinking incomes? Not in start-up land.

Indeed we heard about the almost near miraculous opportunities on the web to sweep people from humble obscurity to being super software stars (and still be nice, humble guys).  The pattern of exponential growth on the internet was unchallenged. Reverence for the market is undimmed.

Not wishing to dwell on the downside, these start-up dudes couldn’t really give me the magic answer to how much comes down to hard work, and how much to sheer luck.

The talks didn’t stay on the prosaic level of tips and advice for wannabe software giants or examples of excellent websites/ design/ online community (eg Brooklyn Museum). Once again this year’s crop of thinkers swept us into the future, or somewhere.

I’m not sure what Regine deBatty’s job title is, but her major occupation is reporting on art galleries and installations. Loads of them by the looks from the we make money not art website. Her lateral challenge to participants was to don’t assume you really know what interaction is for everyone. Look again.

Someday virtually everything will be part of the a networked environment, so Adam Greenfield told us. Today we might just have Snapper cards, CTV cameras, eft-pos machines parking meters, displays, cellphone towers, weather gauges and other assorted devices hooked to the network in our urban areas, but in the future many more things will be connected. The chair you’re sitting in perhaps?

Doubtless this will have implications for civil society and the public sphere. This will likely creep up on us whether we choose or not. (Read more Cheap as chips – your networked chair” from the NZ Herald.)

If all this sounds rather grave, thank goodness for the bright yellow yoyos shared with everyone by conference sponsors Intergen. Tactile, non-networked, something my children can play with, without breaking (so far).

Once again, Webstock was a revved-up, idea fest. Not sure where all the web stuff is taking us, but I still want to be a part of it as long as we turn it to social good.

Update (14 March 2010): I spoke too soon. Yesterday Elsa broken the yoyo.

The first thing to go…..

The first thing to go when our son was born in December was not sleep,  but writing posts for this blog. No matter how much I’ve willed myself to jump online and blog, the ink has’t flowed.

Today, the hiatus is officially over. For good reason – I’m at the webstock 09 conference at Wellington Town Hall.  Floating around are provocative new ideas and old ones rehashed. Conversation between real people and 140 character bon mots sound bites on the webstock twitter feed. A  sense of urgency about the state of the world outside cyberspace is pretty evident along with a question about how web designers, et al can lend a helping hand.

I’m going to let things sink in before I write about webstock. Before then I’ve a little catching up to do. Here are some bullet points about a couple of things I meant to write about last year.

  • Wellington ICT helped fundraise for and set up a computer suite at the Secret Level youth centre in Lower Hutt. The suite was officially launched in late November. See “Technology space on secret
  • A poll about how to green your summer features on the Forest & Bird website. Since being relaunched F&B are using lots of online tools to inspire people to get active.
  • The Waikato Management School are again conducting a major national survey of ICT use in not-for-profits. I’m not sure if the survey is still open but find out more about the survey here.
  • Among the Guardian’s top 100 websites from 18 December are a few gems. The list, published every two years, includes new and old. I recommend checkin Zamzar if you can’t read a file and want to convert it.

Okay enough looking back to 2008. From here on in, it’s new stuff.

PS. Rufus is now eight weeks old and growing well. The rest of are adjusting to life with a wee bairn.

Conference watch – heavy duty stuff

To learn all you want to know about Drupal, and probably more, head along to DrupalSouth. The two day event is aimed mainly at developers but there’ll be lots to learn for anyone using the open source content management platform.

I’m wondering if it might be too technical for me, but as I’m currently working on three Drupal powered websites as a project manager or webmaster, I’m bound to pick up some useful knowledge. With CivicActions a sponsor, they’ll be sharing some of their work using Drupal websites for social change no doubt. It might be a situation of learning about things that might be useful in the future, but you don’t know you need to know about something just yet. If that makes sense.

Hats off to Jonathan Hunt from egressive for setting up this event.

Closer to home the programme for webstock 2009 was just released. Next February the 3rd webstock event will be held in Wellington.

The mix of speakers is very broad: sci-fi novelists, an online performance artist, web gurus and online community builders. Derek Powazek, author of the seminal “Design for Community: The Art of Connecting Real People in Virtual Places” (New Riders, 2001) is running a full day workshop on community building on the social web. I read this book a while back and reckon Derek will shed some light on how to engage people online.

Having attended webstock 08 I know next years event will be a buzz: full immersion in web trends, techniques and philosophy with great coffee and a chic conference bag thrown in. Time to start saving for the $895 entry fee.

Event details:

  • DrupalSouth, 1-2 November 2008, Christchurch
  • Webstock, 16-20 February 2009, Wellington

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.