And so Webstock passes for another year. I'm still reeling a bit from trying to digest two whole days of unfettered web standards conjecture, opinion and contention! It was always going to be a tough act to follow, the inaugural event in 2006 having been met with rapturous acclaim. Expectation was running very high. So what do you do to cap that? Answer: you come back bigger and brighter than ever! Once again, the organisers totally outdid themselves, offering a festival of the senses for geeks and creatives alike.
My impressions and recollections are mixed, as befits a Creative Director working for a web solutions company. In no particular order, here are my stand-out experiences for Webstock 08:
- Kelly Goto - Getting Unstuck. Moving from web 1.0 to 2.0: Funny thing, I don't know that I really appreciated the significance of Kelly's 08 rant until Webstock was actually over. Looking back over the speakers that I managed to attend, I wonder if, with a bit more emphasis, "Getting Unstuck" could in fact have been the opening speech and theme for the whole event? A simple message well delivered in Kelly's inimitable style - through analogy she challenged us all as web practitioners to become champions for change. A welcome and timely reminder that as our industry matures we must be careful not to rest on our laurels, but continue to innovate and deliver value to both our clients and the end user.
- Peter Morville - Ambient Findability and the future of search: I could write a small essay here, but I'll attempt to restrain myself. Peter was Intergen's sponsored speaker this year (at our request), so we had the privilege of some bonus time with him not available to other delegates. Peter ran an in-house workshop for our Wellington staff and then I got to take the "Father of Information Architecture" out for dinner. Yay! I'm a bit of a fan of his books and, judging by our sell-out book signing at the Intergen "Recovery" tent, it seems I'm not alone. So it was great to also discover that Peter is a top bloke to boot. Despite being somewhat jet-lagged he made great company at Shed 5 for a couple of Intergen's interactive designers, Dave and Mark, and me. As well as learning a lot about Peter, he gave us some great food for thought and will remain an influence over our User Centred Design practice for some time. Did I mention I went out for dinner with Peter Morville?
- Luke Wroblewski - Web page hierarchy: An unexpected treat. I deliberated over whether I should attend Luke's session and am so glad I did. So you're thinking this sounds a bit "Design 101" and you'd be right, but that was precisely the point. Hierarchical design and its importance is something all designers take for granted (and consequently also all struggle to defend when clients inevitably challenge it). I wish all my staff past and present had been there to see just how succinctly and relevantly the hierarchical message can be delivered. I also really hope that all of Intergen's clients who were there as delegates also attended that session. Great stuff and I feel really challenged to build a better story around this to help my customers understand how this fundamental visual design issue has such impact on user experience.
- Amy Hoy - Usability for Evil: I'm so glad Amy made it down under. As someone with an advertising background, I've long felt a solitary voice on the matter of applying traditional consumer behaviour manipulation principles to web strategy and development. Amy did a fine job of combining traditional doctrine with modern context to build a compelling argument for the manipulative powers of well conceived user experience design. A colourful speaker, Amy pulls no punches and had the audience rolling in the aisles with her humorous but gutsy delivery. All laughter aside, I came away with no doubt that this is a portent of the future. In fact, dissertations like the Eisenberg brothers’ "Call to Action" are only the beginning in this rapidly growing area.
- Scott Berkun - The myths of innovation: Scott's website bills him as a "kick-ass public speaker", and being a cynical Kiwi with little inclination to self-promotion, I'd have to admit I went into this session somewhat sceptical about his credibility. Great author 'n all, but how would that translate on the big stage? I'm pleased to report: bloody well actually. Scott really is a "kick-ass public speaker" and left the audience with no thoughts to the contrary from the moment the mike was on. In fact, he went a long way to proving that delivery is everything. Whilst his Myths of Innovation speech didn't really offer anything new for those familiar with the book, the strength of the delivery was such that it remains one of the stand-out events of the conference.
- Damian Conway - Web 2.0dium: I bet Kathy Sierra hated the prospect of coming on stage to deliver the closing speech directly after Damian Conway. Scott Berkun may well be a "kick-ass public speaker", but he could still seriously learn a thing or two from Mr Conway. Damian is just in another league. An academic and prolific columnist who has hit the speaking circuit, this guy takes onstage intellect, wit and delivery to a whole new level. I wish I'd had a lecturer this good when I was a student (I may have attended more lectures, for starters!). If Damian didn't have students queuing for his lectures at Monash University, I'd be extremely surprised. His delivery of an analysis of web usability from the perspective of a real user was just superb. It also must be noted that if there were an award for the most gratuitous use of PowerPoint by one speaker, he should also get that accolade. His ability to make a 400+ slide deck slip past without seeming torturous is truly to be respected. Don't try this at home folks; you will fail...
A potted history to be sure, and overlooking fab contributions from Cal Henderson, Shawn Henry, Nat Torkington, Kathy Sierra and several others...
My biggest frustration, again, was the challenge of seeing all the speakers on offer. With three streams at times all offering delectable choices, it was a very tough call on what to attend. Once the recordings are up on the site I can fill in the gaps I guess, but it's never the same as being there...
And, of course, I can't finish this review without mention of this year’s goodie bag. Forget the contents, the Frietag Style conference bag is totally the bomb. Best vendor give away would have to go to Microsoft - loving my new Popfly t-shirt! Special thanks to Nigel for humouring me with that one. :o)
Can't wait for Webstock 2009. It won't come soon enough.