Webstock: Making Magic and Other Stuff that Matters (Day One)

webstock-logo-smlThere is a quotation etched in the cement in Wellington’s Civic Square. It’s by Bruce Mason – a famous Wellington playwright – about the impact of theatre on community.

It reads:

bruce mason quote: "I ask not only that my city, but all, give themselves to the essence of our cult - the ritual assembly of an interested coterie in a space where magic can be made and miracles occur".

Quote by Wellington playwright Bruce Mason

I’ve been to Civic Square many times, but I only noticed this quote last week. I found it particularly poignant, because a kind of theatrical magic happens in Wellington this time every year: Webstock week.

Some people see Webstock as a web conference, but those of us who attend regularly know it as The Week That Magic Happens. Mike Brown, one of the Webstock organizers, recently commented to me: “I love that you book your Webstock ticket without even checking who the speakers are“. For me, that is the impact of the Webstock brand. I don’t need to justify the ticket price by seeking out the headline acts, because regardless of the programme, Webstock is guaranteed to be magic.

What do I mean by magic?

Let me explain. I don’t cry very often. I didn’t cry while watching Titanic, heck, I didn’t even cry while watching The Notebook. I certainly don’t cry at other conferences. But I cry at Webstock.  Every. Single. Time. This year, I cried at three different points. Once when Garr Reynold’s voice broke while he was sharing a video of his now-deceased parents. Once when Mike Monteiro told us about Bobbi Duncan from Texas who was inadvertently outed as a lesbian to her homophobic parents on Facebook and again during Tash’s closing speech, when she was given a standing ovation before she even got halfway through.

Registration desk

Even the registration desk is beautifully designed. (Photo courtesy of Webstock.org.nz)

If you were peeking in through the auditorium doors at any point during Webstock, you could be forgiven for thinking there was some type of Christian Revival meeting going on. And you wouldn’t really be too far off the mark. The eloquent speakers carefully chosen for Webstock are evangelists of sorts – preaching to us about the importance of creating a better world wide web and therefore a better world, making us stand up and yell out affirmations of our commitment to the cause with passionate gusto – “Yes we can!”

But although, as one non-attending Twitter observer wryly commented, the Webstock speakers seem to be inspiring rousing renditions of Kumbaya, in reality, they just serve as a reminder that we CAN change the world, one pixel at a time.

It’s not the speakers who make Webstock magic, it’s the inspiration they spark within us, the audience, that makes Webstock magic. We leave the conference believing in our own superpowers, our talents and our ability to make stuff that matters.

The thoughtful Webstock swag

The ever thoughtful Webstock swag (thanks to Diane for sharing the pic)

I hadn’t been at the conference more than an hour before I made the decision to radically change my business. I realized that if I’m going to make stuff that matters, I have to throw myself into my online training business and make it my #1 priority. Because it matters. It matters a LOT. It’s not enough to Write. Speak. Educate.  I have influence over students in 57 countries and counting. That matters. I can no longer treat my company as a hobby or a second job. I need to set an example and the only way to do this is to stop working for clients and start working on stuff that really matters to me.

From my perspective, Webstock 2013 can be summarized in those three words: STUFF THAT MATTERS. Below are my own takeaways from some of the presentations and how they fit into this three word mantra.

work on stuff that matters

Clay Johnson kicks off the Conference mantra

DAY ONE

Clay Johnson: Industrialized Ignorance

Clay Johnson is best known as the co-founder of Blue State Digital, the firm that built and managed Barack Obama’s online campaign for the presidency in 2008.

The fact that we know the name of at least one Kardashian but NOT the child poverty rate in New Zealand is because of the way we consume media. Pizza tastes better than broccoli. Opinion tastes better than news. Confirmation bias is the new H1N1.

It’s up to us to be responsible and create a more honest media. Clay says we should try to write 500 words first thing in the morning before checking email or Twitter. Consume with care. Stick to a healthy information diet and stem the tide of industrialized media. Your clicks are votes for crappy content. Produce rather than consume.

Key Takeaway: Work on stuff that matters.

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Jim Coudal: Digital is analog

There isn’t room to be afraid, be open to serendipity. If you don’t get started, you won’t get started. You need adversity in order to change your goals. Ideas take the path of least resistance, and it is very easy to talk yourself out of something. Don’t talk yourself out of a good idea, treat it like a regular client, give it the respect it deserves. If that means sacking all your clients to concentrate on your passion, do it without fear.

Why make profits for your client when you can be creating opportunities for yourself? Trust your instincts.

Key Takeaway: You make stuff that matters.

Webstock inspired nail art

Webstock inspired nail art, courtesy of @narelle_nz

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Jason Kottke: I built a web app (and you can too)

Listen to your slow hunch. You can do it – things you don’t know how to do are documented. Creating is about showing up and doing the work.”Sit in the chair and do it.”

Key Takeaway: I built something that matters.

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Aza Raskin – Design is the beauty of turning constraints into advantages

It’s not about thinking outside the box. It’s about finding the right box to think inside. It’s the box itself that matters. Context is important. Perceptual scope is crucial because perception is different for everyone depending on how you phrase a question.

Aza demonstrated this concept by showing us beautiful architecture created within extreme size constraints. One example was the architect who wanted to keep the tiny Hong Kong tenement apartment he grew up in and made it work by using sliding walls and panels to create 24 beautiful, functional rooms within a single tiny space.

The power of constraints is learning to choose the right problem. Constraints force us to overcome obstacles and create solutions. Find your creativity within contraints.

Key Takeaway: Constraints matter.

Aza Raskin on Perceptual Scope. Do you see H's or S's?

Aza Raskin on Perceptual Scope. Do you see H’s or S’s?

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Miranda Mulligan – Your Survival is Designed

The work of the typical web designer goes well beyond pixel-pushing beautification and rare is the project that has no need for a designer. At one point or another, nearly all departments cross paths with “design” in order to conceive or execute a project, and the most successful ones engage a designer from concept to completion.

Therefore, the designer is uniquely positioned to be one of the most informed people in any organization, knowing most of the idiosyncrasies of all the moving parts.  Understanding our medium makes us better storytellers. But most journalists dont understand the Internet: Terrifying! Therefore, journalism needs more design thinking.

Key Takeaway: Design matters.

Miranda Mulligan on why media needs design

Miranda Mulligan on why media needs design

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Artur Bergman – The Internet, performance and you — mysteries of a CDN explained

Speed is good, slow is bad – self evident. If you decrease your site load time by 1 second, you might half the bounce rate for your site. Make the Internet fast:

  • Avoid latency
  • Appear fast – users can be tricked in to thinking your site is fast with good UI
  • Be fast.

Key Takeaway: Deliver stuff that matters faster.

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Kelli Anderson – Finding the Hidden Talents of Everyday Things

Although they were all brilliant, Kelli’s presentation was the one that probably inspired me the most.

We can all make disruptive wonder. The familiar face of a thing often belies the complexity of its underlying material (or digital) conditions. You should regularly “hack” your mindset and experience to find the hidden awesome. You should better understand how things work in order to demonstrate the surprising capabilities in the world, hiding in plain sight.

To demonstrate this point, Kelli showed us how she created a Fake New York Times and what happened when she distributed it to a bunch of people outside the NYT offices. People were forced to change their perception of the world for just a few moments and wonder “what if…?”

She also showed that you can take mundane, everyday items and make them into something magical. For her friend’s wedding, she made plain paper into musical wedding invitations. Paper became a completely different, unexpected medium with a little clever thinking and thoughtful design.

Key Takeaway: Use disruptive wonder to make stuff that matters.

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Kitt Hodsden – Set yourself up to succeed

Many of the successes we hear about these days are the big ones, the ones that are most sensationalized, given the loudest voice or the most coverage.  What we often don’t hear about are the small steps that, over time, avalanche into those big successes.

Learn to streamline your digital work. Utilize digital shortcuts and the power of the command line in your day to day routine so you can make more stuff that matters in less time.

Key Takeaway: Small steps matter.

Refreshments, Webstock style

Refreshments, Webstock style

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John Gruber – In Praise of Pac-Man: Lessons all designers can learn from the perfect video game

“You’ve done your best when people don’t notice what you’ve done” is an adage that applies to designers in nearly any field. Game designers have created a body of work that can serve as a model for all software designers, whether they’re creating apps, websites, or anything else.

In the first few years, Pac Man earned more than Star Wars. It was so successful it had a cartoon and song on the radio. John thinks Pac Man was successful because it was:

  • Fun
  • Simple
  • Obvious
  • Challenging

If it’s meant to be simple, you should be able to explain it in one sentence. Simple designs are often the most popular – complexity doesn’t necessarily add value. Keep that in mind when designing for the web.

Key Takeaway: Simplicity matters.

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Garr Reynolds – Story, Emotion, & the art of 21st-century Presentation — aka No Sleep Till Webstock

Garr talked about the importance of storytelling principles and how to evoke emotions in modern presentations.

Things that annoy us about presentations include :

  • presenters who read slides
  • too many transitions
  • cat photos!
  • incorrect information
  • too many fonts/colours/words/lines

Things that make for successful presentations include:

  • no bullet points
  • beautiful images
  • simplicity
  • story telling
  • moving away from the podium
  • knowing the content
  • confidence

Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) once said:

Dilbert on Powerpoint presentations

Dilbert on Powerpoint presentations

Powerpoint slides should be more like zen gardens – a few things are given power by the empty space that surrounds them.

Key Takeaway: Create presentations that matter.

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Tom Coatest at Webstock 2013

Tom on stage (image courtesy of Webstock.org.nz)

Tom Coates – An animating spark: mundane computing & the web of data

The way we think about the future is betraying our present. The goal is to demonstrate importance of tech, but they are overselling its power.

We need objects that are useful and practical, with an incremental value. We don’t need network computing, we can add value for 50 cents. Everything we need is sourceable from Alibaba.com. Imagine what would happen if any powered object over $50-100 was connected to the internet? What would that look like? What could we do?

Screw the impolite devices  – the fridge door alarms, the frenzied microwave beeps – instead, give me useful connected devices like fridges that tell me when I’ve run out of milk, or vacuum cleaners that tell me where the floor needs vacuuming. Sensor based door locks make sense but expensive Twitter-enabled Internet fridges don’t. We need connected computing devices that solve everyday, mundane goals and core functions.

The future isn’t *future enabled products* it’s just *products*. The future is already here.

Key Takeaway: Make stuff that matters work smarter.

The Plotting Tom meme develops in response to Tom's presentation

The Plotting Tom meme develops in response to Tom’s presentation

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That was my summary of Webstock 2013 -Day One. My Day Two summary is over here.

 

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Off to Webstock 2013 : Expect Postcards of Joy

webstock-logo-smlSo tomorrow I’m heading off to Windy Wellington once again to experience the geek love-in that is Webstock.

The last time I punched my timecard in at Webstock was in 2011 and it literally made me rethink my life and my business direction. After chatting with some of the speakers and attendees, I was totally inspired to creatively mess up my business model and take some risks. The notes I made during the plane trip home loom large on my laptop to this day.

Unfortunately, my post-conference euphoria (and renewed business confidence) was rudely interrupted by the Christchurch earthquake on 22 February.

It’s taken two years of emotional turmoil, financial hardship and physical displacement to get back some semblance of life, let alone confidence in myself and my business. The earthquake stole the passion I previously had for my industry, as well as my ability to write and educate. My interest waned, my writing ceased and I stopped going to conferences. I moved with my family to Australia and had to cancel a whole year of speaking engagements because of mental and physical displacement.

We moved back to Christchurch a year ago. I thought about attending Webstock 2012, but an empty wallet and empty heart conspired against me. Plus I knew I wasn’t in the right headspace to soak up the inspiration and actually DO something with it.

Well, fast forward a year. We are back in our Christchurch house, repairs are underway, the business is humming along and I am about to roll out some of the exciting concepts I came up with during that Webstock week of 2011.

Booking my ticket for Webstock 2013 was an absolute no-brainer. I feel great, the cobwebs are clearing and I am can’t wait to get amongst it and speak geek non-stop for 2 days.

Expect postcards of joy and inspiration from me for the next few days!

 

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Twitter Wins the US Election By a Landslide

Despite the final vote tally, Twitter was the clear winner of the 2012 US Presidential election.

No matter what your political bias, the Twitter feed for the past 24 hours has captured the highest and lowest points, the heckling, the gags, the tantrums and the vote count. Once again, Twitter was the place to be to get the most up to date vote tally as State by State fell to each of the candidates. With news agencies reporting inconsistent or biased results, confused voters turned to Twitter to get faster updates via the hashtags #Election2012, #USElection and #USAElection.

According to Twitter staff, election conversation saw Twitter reach a peak of 327,452 Tweets per minute this evening, with not a single Fail Whale in sight – something Twitter staff were extremely proud of.  The company has clearly improved on their server load contingency plan since the last election.

And just as well too, because newly re-elected President Obama (@BarackObama) chose Twitter as the medium for his first acknowledgements of victory:

President Obama claims victory on Twitter

More than half a million people retweeted President Obama’s victorious “Four More Years” photo tweet.

Four More Years for Obama

However, not everyone was happy with the election outcome. Outspoken Republican Donald Trump (@realdonaldtrump) surprised everyone with his vitriolic, bizarre and seemingly unpatriotic stream of tweets immediately following Obama’s victory:

Trump Tantrum

Possibly the most amusing point about this epic tantrum was Trump’s incorrect assumption that Romney had won the popular vote and that the world was laughing at America because of a miscarriage of democracy caused by the electoral college system.

The tweets highlighted with the green pepper were actually deleted from Trump’s feed within an hour of them being posted, suggesting that Trump’s minders may have stepped in to prevent him from further embarrassment.

Trump’s tantrum prompted a wave of hilarious responses from the Twitterverse, some of which are highlighted in the images below.

Trumps Tantrum Trumps All
But for those of us who stayed on Twitter during President Obama’s victory speech, the hilarity continued. About halfway during his speech, someone on Twitter pointed out that the woman in the crowd directly over the President’s left shoulder had decided to stick her US flag into her hair and was waving it about with great enthusiasm.

hairflag FTW

The gesture generated an instant Twitter meme, similar to the one NASA employee @tweetsoutloud prompted when his space-influenced mohawk was spotted on camera during the recent Mars Rover landing.

Within a minute or two, the hashtag #hairflag was born, with witty tweets temporarily hijacking responses to the President’s moving and heartfelt speech.

Hairflag wins best meme

I couldn’t resist a #hairflag tweet of my own! By the time President Obama walked offstage, the #hairflag meme was in full swing, with inspirational posters, Facebook pages and parody Twitter accounts.

So Election Day closes with 31 million tweets posted and Twitter a clear winner, once again. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

 

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25 Percent Discount Coupon for Search Engine College

coupon code for Search Engine CollegeI just realised that I hadn’t yet shared this promotion on my blog so here we are.

If you’re a newsletter subscriber, you’ll know this already, but to celebrate the milestone of Search Engine College having enrolled students in 56 countries, we declared September to be Study Month. For the entire month of September, we have been offering a 25 Percent Discount on ALL our courses, including our popular multi-course Certification Pathways.

Study Month came about after the fantastic response to our CRAZY Day Sale in July. Many of our readers contacted us, asking if we could offer specials on courses other than our Search Engine Optimization Starter. We listened to your feedback and decided to celebrate Study Month with 25 PERCENT off any / all courses at Search Engine College.

You read correctly! If you order ANY course/s from us in September and use the Coupon Code – STUDYMONTH - you will receive 25% off your shopping cart total. That’s 25 percent off the total amount in your cart, so the more courses you add, the more you save.

Remember – the coupon is only valid until midnight on 30 September 2012, but your course key is valid for 12 months from the first day you enter it, so even if you don’t have time to study now, you can lock in your savings and study when it suits you.

But you’ve got less than 72 hours to take advantage of the discount so get cracking before the coupon expires. Be sure to read the instructions for using the coupon.

Happy Savings!

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Google Delights Trekkies with Interactive Star Trek Doodle

Star Trek anniversary Google doodleAs soon as I laid eyes on today’s Google Doodle I knew it was going to be my favorite so far. I’m a huge Star Trek fan, so my heart started racing when I typed in Google.com and recognized the familiar uniforms from the Starship Enterprise adorning the letters in the GOOGLE logo. But it’s a far cry from your regular doodle. Today’s Google Doodle is a fully interactive game of sorts.

To mark the 46th anniversary of the iconic TV series Star Trek, Google has put together a really fun commemorative doodle. Ryan Germick, Google doodler and keen Trekkie, led a team of animators to create the multi-scene Star Trek animation to celebrate the show’s launch 46 years ago.Google Doodle Star Trek anniversary

My initial delight in spotting the doodle grew as I discovered the incorporated interactive elements. Clicking on highlighted areas of the Google logo triggers a series of tributes to iconic Star Trek episodes, including “The Trouble With Tribbles” and pilot episode “The Man Trap”, which aired on Sept. 8, 1966. Various letters from the Google logo play the crew of the starship Enterprise. Captain James T. Kirk is played by the central “o” in Google.

There are a few different scenes with various highlighted areas you can click on to make the scene play out. My favorite is the tribbles hiding in the ceiling of the Transporter Room. How many others can you find? After the final animation plays out, Google redirects you to search results for Star Trek the Original Series.

I declare this to be Google’s Best Doodle Ever!  You can watch a full video of the interactions below :

 

 

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