a personal take on webstock 14

After each Webstock I return with the idea that I should be doing something better; starting of course with writing up my experiences there. It doesn’t happen (with my passive phrasing right there pretty much symptomatic).

This year I won a free ticket, which was very nice indeed. I resolved that because of this I should really really make the effort this year to write it up. Unfortunately good intentions didn’t really result in an epic write-up for each talk. I got partway through this and gave up.

Scott Berkun

The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com & The Future of Work

First up was Scott Berkun. I had not heard of him before. He’s spent a year working for famous blog software company Wordpress, and was asking the question: what value does Management have when all the creative challenges belong to the workers?

Good question, if you are in a narrow range of jobs for which that applies. The answer sounded like: workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your trousers!

You see, I get a feeling of dissonance about the whole pants-free thing. I don’t know about you, but when I think of pants I think of trousers and underpants. So pants-free working therefore implies some pretty horrific mental imagery when thinking about others taking up the practice, as well as a frisson of danger when applied to oneself (after all, laptops can get quite hot).

And sadly (as in, I am a very sad person) I haven’t quite yet put down my pitchfork after that time in 2005 when Matt Mullenweg stuffed the Wordpress site full of spam links for money. So I had a slightly unfair and cynical take on his talk. I started writing some random phrases down and they came out like a haiku:

Trousers optional
For privileged screen jockeys
Then blog ping chat skype

Well, I thought, that worked out quite good. I might do that again!

Josh Clark

Mind the Gap: Designing in the Space Between Devices

I should have heard of Josh Clark. I would have had I done any due diligence on the speakers. My bad: I’ve been busy. He seemed like a really nice chap though.

His issue was that our gadgets just don’t work together too well. Which is true; but the film of cynicism on my glasses had carried over from the last speaker and I couldn’t help feeling like this was a classic First World Problem.

It brings us sadness
Our gadgets don’t kōrero.
Bodge up with more tech!

A First World Problem that of course, people will make billions of dollars from.

Erika Hall

Beyond Measure

Aha! A speaker I had heard of - I knew that she is part of the same design firm as last year’s quite good speaker (but not really the star of the after-party) Mike Monteiro. Her talk was pretty cool: we have lots of data; we think it explains everything… but it doesn’t.

Meaning is tricky.
Stories have power. Data
Explains partially.

I was struck with the thought that we seem to have replaced our reliance on reductionist approaches to explaining the world with the opposite: a big-data statistical prediction of it. Neither tell human stories.

Aarron Walter

Connected UX

This chap came from MailChimp, which seems like another nice internet company. Carrying echoes of the other speakers he spoke of “designing for emotion”, and turning data into information into knowledge into wisdom. All good stuff.

Stories for business
Connect those points, cross those streams
Work your interns hard

Yeah, he lost me right when he mentioned his fantastic intern looking at 10,000 customer emails in a week, a performance that Got Him That Job! I wondered if he was a paid intern. I hoped so. And I hoped like hell that that unpaid intern cultural thing does not make it to New Zealand.

Dan Saffer

Designing with Details At my current place of work we’re building an app, so I was pretty interested in what Dan had to say.

Little things matter
Imbue feeling, quality
Humanise your work

This was the most conventionally useful talk for me. I’m now waiting for his book to arrive.

Liza Kindred

The Future of Commerce

Shopping is awesome
The revolution will be
Live on Kickstarter

I was not a fan of this talk at all - but others seemed to get more out of it.

Nelly Ben Hayoun

Crafting the impossible

Ben Hayoun was an incredibly charming French person who seems to have blagged her way into the most amazing jobs. Once again, it’s clear that talent gets you part way there; but self-confidence and risk-taking will take you to the end.

Discover futures
Extreme experiences
Hammer ooh la la

I have this feeling that she’d make the most amazing star of a documentary. But given that she had instructed that no recording be made of her talk I am guessing that it probably won’t happen.

Jen Bekman

Stick around and fix it - there’s no video of this one either.

Made Art a habit.
Business blew up. Held through with
Doge and the Right Thing.

Persist and fix your mistakes. This was an interesting contrast to a later talk about the value of quitting.

Anne-Helen Petersen

What we talk about when we talk about Brangelina

Through celebrity
Ideologies battle.
Mindfully read it.

I really liked this talk despite the apparently frothy title. Now, when stuck in the doctor’s waiting room, you can parse that stack of Women’s Weeklys in front of you. It’s OK.

Peterson has been popping up everywhere lately, even at my favourite magazine, The Baffler. This is great.

Jessica Hagy

New Zealanders explain the Internet

“…fleas of deception…”
“…you were never just yourself…”
“…culture is about you…”

Charlie Todd

Causing a Scene

In public spaces
People will be creative
Let them have a crack

Andy Baio

The Indiepocalypse

Keep Portland weird, by
Staying independent. It’s
Easy when famous.

Yeah, yeah. We can all be sustainably living indie techno-hipsters. But it helps if you’ve been struck by the lightning of techno-fame already, I thought.

Tom Loosemore

Institutions: An internet survival guide

Fixing government.
Civil Servants attending
Are envy-swooning.

A very genial chap whose talk was eagerly attended by the many government web people in the audience.

Spoek Mathambo

Internet Culture and the South African Electronic Music Scene

When the artists own
Their means of production then
A scene will explode

Later that evening he put on a pretty storming set as DJ. And you should really check out his version of Joy Division’s She’s Lost Control.

Liz Danzico

The Fringe Benefits of quitting

Your project can change
Flexibility trumps plans
It’s ok to quit

Hannah Donovan

Sometimes You Need to Draw Animals

I was looking forward to this - I had heard of her before in a number of connections; most recently as a friend and collaborator of my favourite comic book duo, Gillen & McKelvie.

Yes, you keep making
Care for your abilities
Diversity good

Maciej Ceglowski

Our Comrade the Electron

This is going on
Your permanent record. You
Did this to yourself.

I think of this talk as We’re all going to die (pt. I).

Ceglowski is a wonderful writer. You should check out his blog right now.

Sha Hwang

The Future Happens So Much

Sha Hwang attended Webstock last year; this year he spoke at it! One Of Us.

Ask: are you building
Infrastructures for new crimes?
This is the System.

And this talk is We’re all going to die (pt. II).

This and the previous talk were my two favourites and reflected the slightly more down zeitgeist of Webstock lately. We have designed a monster, maybe by accident, but perhaps we can fix it.

Or not.

Paula Scher

All design is social

A voice of wisdom.
Taking the long perspective:
Be optimistic

Clive Thompson

The new literacies

Cheap ubiquity
Leads to weird usage. Then you
Use to talk to you.

Derek Sivers

The Meaning of Life

In a clown costume.
It’s as good as anyone’s,
This life’s meaning.

I didn’t really get this one.

Lame summation

So that was Webstock 2014. There’s always too much to think about at these events - which is no bad thing - but it does mean that a summary will never do it justice.

If there was one thing which this and recently past Webstocks have hammered home is that we have to be a bit more conscious of our actions as technologists. We’ve built great things, but also some very anti-human things too.


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