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

webstock-logo-smlBelow is a continuation of my personal takeaways from Webstock 2013 presentations and how they fit into the three word mantra: Stuff That Matters. Day One coverage is over here.

The WordPress / Automattic interactive Haiku Wall

The WordPress / Automattic interactive Haiku Wall

winning haiku

The haiku that scored me a battery pack (thanks WordPress!)


Karen McGrane – Adapting Ourselves to Adaptive Content

Karen’s main point was that the web is not print. What worked for the desktop web simply won’t work for mobile. You can’t determine how your site will look in every browser, on every platform, on every device. So why are we still letting content authors decide where their content will “live” on a web page? Why do we give in to their demands for a WYSIWYG text editor that works “just like Microsoft Word”? Worst of all, why do we waste time and money creating and recreating content instead of planning for how that content is likely to be reused?

CMS is the enterprise software that UX forgot. In the next few years, organisations are going to realise that their CMS is broken. It’s not enough to shorten the content to make it fit. “Truncation is not a content strat…”. So many probs would be solved in mobile design if every website used headlines and decks, like news orgs use. Every time your staff are fighting with the system, rather than creating great content, you are losing money. Use the shift and focus towards the mobile web as a wedge to help review and challenge the poor existing content management strategies your organisation has.

The age of Stupid Print Dinosaurs is over. We need to adapt to creating more flexible content that can be pulled through into different mediums.

Key Takeaway: The medium matters.


Breakout time between sessions in Civic Square

Breakout time between sessions in Civic Square

Bruce Sterling – Dark Euphoria : What a feeling!

I’m not buying Bruce Sterling’s schtick anymore.  Anyone who saw him at Webstocks past recognised that he simply wheeled out the same lecture and simply replaced turtles with stacks as his metaphor of choice this year. Fun to watch the brain explosions from Webstock newbies around the room, but I didn’t find his group spanking particularly enlightening.

Bruce thinks we are in the depression era of the Web. It’s no longer the wild West, Web 2.0 is over. Now there are private castles and skycraper stacks in cyberspace and we are the livestock of the biggest stacks. We are being monetized and we are their product. Apple’s stacks look like Ivory towers washed with unicorn tears and we’re all fluffy pets of Zuckerberg.

At this point I left to go get ice-cream to avoid throwing myself off the gallery.

Key Takeaway: Nothing matters because we’re all going to DIE.


Tricia Wang – The Elastic Self: What Millions of Chinese Youth Tells Us about the Future of Online Identities and Social Media

Wow, this was a fascinating presentation and my next favorite behind the one given by Kelli Anderson. Tricia is a sociologist and researches how technology makes us human.  She spends weeks at a time at Internet cafes in China, studying the online habits of Chinese youth and is currently writing a book about the Internet as an expressive space for identity change in China.

Although the Internet is global, the experience of it is not universal. The way Chinese youth experience the Internet and US youth experience the Internet are poles apart. China has the largest population of internet users in the world. So what is it like to grow up digitally connected under an authoritarian regime?

The sudden availability of the internet in China, combined with open-market capitalism over the last decade has created a new social space and a new self has emerged, something Tricia calls the Elastic Self. Youth in China face unique risks by going online, which creates a unique set of behaviours.  They are closely monitored online and could potentially go to jail if they post the wrong thing. As a result, there are vast sociological impacts.

Searching for trivial information viewed as unpatriotic. Chinese sex education can consist of simply showing a video of pigs mating. This is confusing for young people in China and they naturally seek answers online. Chinese youth are more comfortable chatting online to strangers about their personal issues than they are with persons IRL.

Grass mud horse has a special meaning in China

Grass mud horse has a special meaning in China

Chinese youth go to extraordinary lengths to defy online censorship, using extraordinary innovation. Most operate under pseudonyms, or create dual identities – one more acceptable to the Communist regime and another *true* identity which they only reveal to their most trusted online friends. Ways they get around censorship include using an online service that converts text to a jpg image which is then embedded and cannot be scanned. Or posting wording that phonetically sounds like what they want to say (e.g. in Chinese, “Grass mud horse covering centre” sounds like “Fuck your mother, Communist party” without actually saying it).

What does this teach us about Internet use in the West? Just because we don’t operate under an Authoritarian regime, doesn’t mean we don’t censor ourselves online. We can’t make assumptions based on how users interact online, because we all operate as different versions of ourselves online. We are operating in a censored Internet, but we don’t recognize it because of our *democratic* propaganda machines.

Key Takeaway: Stuff that matters to me may not matter to you.


Webstock inspired API beer

Webstock inspired API beer, courtesy of Garage Project

Adam Greenfield – Another city is possible: The “smart city“ from above and below

The concept of the “smart city” has been introduced as a strategic device to encompass modern urban production factors in a common framework and to highlight the growing importance of Information and Communication Technologies, social and environmental capital in cities. IBM, Cisco, Siemens and LivingPlanIT all propose smart city definitions that don’t focus on citizens or else they speak in terms of an ideal, seamless framework.

Advocates of the so called smart city often have political motivations and commercial priorities that don’t gel with the society that it is being built for. Take Christchurch as a case in point. It is classed as a Greenfield site in that very large areas of the entire city are to be completely redeveloped.  Greenfield re-frames the smart city as a tool used by institutions of power to maintain their desired socio-economic boundaries.

Smart city proponents would pull the city into various urban developments that meet their own narrow definitions of a smart city, rather than let the urban areas develop organically in a way that meets the needs of residents. Adam sees this as a form of disaster capitalism at best – or at worst – corporate terrorism. Treating post-#eqnz Christchurch as a Greenfield site is deeply injurious to what the city has been and will be.

The real problem with the smart city is it has nothing to do with cities – corporations treat cities as an abstract terrain, not as places with histories that are animated and brought to life by its people. Building a city to represent a singular destiny/united goal is not going to work.

“Cities don’t have goals — what a strange anthropomorphism — people have goals.”

The idea of the Proximate Future where miraculous cookie-cutter solutions for the smart city will happen. What this really means is that the city lives in a consistent state of procrastination and awkwardness.

Another city is possible. Cities are made of people, not buildings. We are the city. Why not use daily activities, culture and history to plan a city that has meaning and value. This requires five necessary ingredients for a framework:

  • broadband connectivity, open and free.
  • smart personal devices.
  • open municipal data in useable formats, open APIs, reusable for low/no cost.
  • public interfaces, to bring data and broadband together, accessible to all 24/7.
  • cloud computing, for a robust infrastructure.

Key Takeaway: People, places and history matter.


Google Maps as watercolor artworks

Google Maps as watercolor artworks

Eric Rodenbeck – Drawing outside the lines: Data visualization done wrong

Eric founded Stamen design in 2001 and works in the field of live information visualization and data interpretation. Eric and his team managed the live twitter feeds during the MTV awards and various other live shows.

Data visualization and online mapping are rapidly achieving mainstream status and even have a bastard stepchild: infographics. We should be expressing data in a more graphic way. Think of Google maps as paintings. Anything can happen with data.  Building live structures is interesting as you don’t know what will happen next. For example during the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010, the fatal luge crash happened, which entirely changed the tone of the Olympics Twitter feed.

Data visualisation makes data accessible and draws the eye to it. Think about the possibilities of data visualisation in your business. Live visualisation of occurring events, interactive maps to show connections and relationships between sets of data, custom cartography, even maps as art, like the watercolor Google maps that Stamen produce.

Imagine using data visualisation to track financial transactions on the stock market? That’s what Eric and his team have done. Dot sizes indicate transaction sizes, while colors indicate stock types, which makes riveting art and lends itself to interpretation. Data visualisation exposes rogue traders and mass robot trading on NASDAQ in glorious technicolor.

Key Takeaway: Data interpretation matters.


Tash closing Webstock

Tash trying to hold it together while closing the conference to a standing ovation (photo courtesy of Webstock.org.nz)

Robin Sloan – Inventing Media

Think of the formats we love: books, two-hour movies, serial TV dramas, blogs… the list goes on and on. All of these formats had to be invented. But how does that happen? How do new formats get started? And how might a person participate in this process of media invention? To find out, we travel all the way back to the turn of the 20th century… and the shadows of the Black Maria.

The Black Maria was the nickname given to the building Edison used to invent the kinetoscope viewer (the precursor to the modern motion picture camera) in 1893. The building was a tar paper covered studio with a retractable roof and moveable platform in the floor that allowed pictures to be taken at any time of day, regardless of the sun’s movements. This opened up a world of new media.

Around 1500, the invention of printing led to the invention of books that could be carried. Italics developed as a response to the constraint of fitting a large number of words on a page. Constraints can lead to invention. We’ve had smart phones and tablets for approx five years, so we’re in the middle of our own Black Maria. The medium is changing rapidly – get inventing!

Key Takeaway: Invent new stuff that matters.


Michael Lopp at Webstock

Michael Lopp on why he keeps coming back to Webstock

Michael Lopp – Stables and Volatiles

You have a deep desire to build. Every so often, a thing you build creates unexpected value and you discover success. But while your success is satisfying and perhaps profitable, continued success is often dependent on two non-intuitive strategies: hiring people who are willing to disrupt that success and your willingness to throw your success away.

Homework: go and talk to a big room of people, you’ll learn things about yourself every time and it never gets easier.

Humans are bad at decision making – just look at the number of power plug types worldwide. Apple recently changed their device plug style. Why? Tech startups are risk takers. We should all use failure as a learning experience. Embrace failure!

The human spectrum is between volatiles and stables – folks with different attitudes.


  • Appreciate direction and are happy to work with a plan.
  • Think that order is good.
  • Dot the i’s and cross the t’s.
  • Play nice with others.
  • Carefully work to mitigate failure.
  • Make good & predictable decisions.


  • Define strategy rather than follow it.
  • Find failure interesting.
  • Get a thrill from risk taking.
  • Code volume over quality.
  • Are reliable when it’s in their best interest.
  • If you tell them what to do, they’ll probably say “fuck you”.

There’s an allergic reaction between Stables and Volatiles. You can probably relate to one more than the other and they usually hate or barely tolerate each other. But guess what?

1) Everyone is right!
2) If you are planning on growing you need BOTH.

In start up terms, 1.0 volatiles generally become stables after 1.1 to protect their work but then their business model becomes “a yardsale of mediocrity”.  They keep and monetise everything, leading to a slow death. Another problem is that volatiles tend to hire more volatiles and this is how companies die.

We need to mix it up, fail often but fail forward.

Key Takeaway: Failure matters.


Jason Scott on stage at Webstock

Jason Scott on stage at Webstock (image courtesy of Webstock.org.nz}

Jason Scott – Wanted: Dead or Alive 

Jason is a filmaker, historian and archivist. He is also the founder of the Archive Team (not to be confused with archive.org), a collective of rogue archivists, programmers, writers and loudmouths dedicated to saving our digital heritage. Jason’s mantra is: trust no-one with your data. He refers to his team as Archive Warriors and appropriately arrives on the Webstock stage dressed as a Steampunk Warrior.

Whenever @textfiles needs grounding, he remembers his cat @sockington has more followers on Twitter than almost everyone (1.4 million).

Jason Scott's cat @sockington

Jason Scott’s cat @Sockington has 1.4m followers on Twitter

History is full of people being awful and ridiculous ideas e.g. insecticide wallpaper for the baby nursery. But there is often a background story that we miss. Artifacts are important as they point the way to that background. But sometimes this history gets deleted. Yahoo! deleted the entire Geocities archive in about 10 minutes – most people didn’t know how or have the capacity to back up their pages (cue rotating images of hundreds of kaleidescopic Geocities home pages).

We think we’re safe because we’re storing data *In the Cloud*. Fuck the cloud! Yahoo! found the way to destroy the most massive amount of history in the shortest amount of time with absolutely no recourse. We might as well be storing data in the Clown. Look out – Clown computing is the future!

clown computing

Clown computing is the future!

Keep in mind that user-generated content is not ballast. Bottom line is that when you make a new thing, document it and make the documents available. Archive your stuff with the help of the Archive Team Warrior, (a virtual archiving appliance). The Archive team are going to rescue your shit (including Posterous). There is no gone, there is only forgotten.

Key Takeaway: Stuff that matters can be deleted. Protect it.


Mike Monteiro

Write, speak, teach, says Mike Monteiro

Mike Monteiro – How Designers Destroyed the World

You are directly responsible for what you put into the world. Yet every day designers all over the world work on projects without giving any thought or consideration to the impact that work has on the world around them. We used to design ways to go to the moon, now we design ways to not get out of bed. This needs to change.

Careless decisions by designers can have serious consequences.  At one point, Facebook group settings could override your own privacy settings. This had a devastating impact on the lives of some people. Despite having carefully set up her privacy settings, Bobbi Duncan from Texas was inadvertently outed as a lesbian to her homophobic parents on Facebook because the gay choir she joined in college automatically added her to their Facebook group and this showed up in her timeline. In response, her father left her a vitriolic and abusive voicemail on her phone and threatened to cut her off completely. Through no fault of her own, Bobbi was the victim of irresponsible design.

So how does bad design happen?

  • They ignore it (fuck it up)
  • They speak up (but then someone says “fuck it”)
  • The chain of command ignores it (someone higher up says “fuck it”)

So who in your organisation can pull the plug on something that sucks?  YOU!
Design is not just how something looks and feels but how well something works and how it affects people. We need to fear the consequences of our work more than the consequences of speaking up. You should be comfortable enough in your role to say NO and you should be willing to lose your job over it. Don’t work for anyone you don’t feel comfortable saying no to.

The work we choose to take on defines us.

Key Takeaway: The work you do every day matters.

We always have a choice.

We always have a choice.


And so ended another magical Webstock, capped off by a geektastic after-party at the stunning art deco Embassy Theatre (home of the recent Hobbit world premiere). Some party photos below.

@belindanash and I at the Webstock after party

@belindanash and I at the Webstock after party

 foyer at The Embassy Theatre

The groovy foyer at The Embassy Theatre

Me with @jbowtie and @textfiles at the Webstock after party

Me with @jbowtie and @textfiles at the Webstock after party

Thank you Tash, Mike, Deb, Ben and the Webstock 2013 special agents for yet another week of magic and inspiration. It will loom large in my mind for a long time.


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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


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.


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


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.


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?


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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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Webstock: An Extraordinary (Un)Conference

I recently had an argument with a fellow non-New Zealander who disagreed with me about how innovative New Zealanders are.

It went something like this:

Me: “Look at that, she’s making a business from broken china. I love how innovative kiwis are.”

Him: “No they’re not.

Me: “Yes they are”.

Him. “They *think* they are, but they’re not.”

Me: “Two words for you: Number 8 Wire.”

Him: “That’s three words.”

Me: “Shut up.”

Him: “Kiwis are too isolated to be innovative.”

Me: “That’s total crap! How the heck do you think they became so innovative? They were forced to innovate because of tyranny of distance, to quote Tim Finn.”

Him: “Who’s Tim Finn?”

Me: “Please tell me you’re joking.”

Him: “Is that someone you met on Twitter?”

Me: “#%%**&^!!”

Him: “Ok, so name some innovations that came from New Zealand.”

Me: “I already did.”

Him: “Something not related to farming.”

Me: “SilverStripe. Weta Workshops…”

Him: “Not…”

Me: “The first iPhone app in the world.”

Him: “I didn’t…”

Me: “Jet boats… bungy jumping… Pavlova.”

Him: “That’s not an innovation, that’s a dessert”.

Me: “A very innovative and complex dessert”.

Him: “You’re kidding.”

Me: “Xero software… America’s Cup yachts.”

Him: “You’re forgetting the long drop toilet.”

Me: “The long drop toilet….”

Him: “Oh come on!”

Me: “Ski planes, egg beaters and… ooh! I know – Webstock.”

Him: “Ok, fine. You win.”

And that’s pretty much why I’m here in Wellington this week. Webstock is as much a celebration of kiwi ingenuity and bravado as it is a web conference.

As I recently learned from the article Raising Webstock, the whole she-bang started out as a bunch of geeks meeting at the library to discuss web standards. This progressed into regular gigs featuring guest speakers, which in turn led to discussions about organizing a proper web conference to be held in New Zealand.

But organizers Mike Brown and Natasha Lampard were insistent that it should be less of a formal conference and more of a geek love-in where they could meet and mingle with Internet legends. Rejecting advice from important conference types, in true Kiwi spirit, they forged ahead with their ingenious plan.

According to legend (well @hadyngreen anyway) during discussions over a few wines one night, Natasha announced:

“Fuck it, let’s get Tim Berners-Lee!”

And get him they did. Berners-Lee opened the inaugral Webstock in 2006 via video link up and the rest is history. Serendipity may have played a role, but so did balls. This joyous combination has created the world’s best unconference that is now in its 6th year.

I don’t say *world’s best* lightly. I’ve attended bags of web conferences and I can assure you that Webstock is the finest of them all. You don’t attract speakers like Amanda Palmer, John Gruber, Ze Frank, Bruce Sterling and Merlin Mann without a radical reputation. And you don’t get speakers like David Recordon, Tom Coates, Amy Hoy and Michael Lopp coming back year after year unless you offer an incredible experience.

And it’s the experience of attending that I get the most from Webstock. Not so much the content of the presentations, although they are usually incredibly inspiring. But no, it’s the thrill of being part of something extraordinary that I cherish the most about Webstock. It’s the only conference I know of where the buzz starts at least a month early – or at least that’s when I feel the need to create a dedicated TweetDeck column for the #webstock hashtag.

Everything about Webstock screams Geek Cool. The barista coffee bar on site, the all-you-can-eat Kapiti icecreams, the grapefruit and lemon Frujus (a new addition for 2011), the Lego building stations, the massage chairs, the luxurious swag, the trading card game, not to mention the incredible after (and after-after) parties. Absolutely no corners are cut for this event and attendees couldn’t be happier. I’ve seen complete strangers high-five each other in the street when they spot matching Webstock gear.

This year’s programme reads like geek viagra. To top off the impressive speaker list, Mike and Natasha have somehow convinced Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley to not only deliver presentations, but also to provide a private concert *just* for Webstockers at the Friday evening wrap party. News of this was enough to make me pay a change-fee penalty and switch my flight home to Saturday.

Such is the prize of being a Webstocker that two Aussie IT guys, desperate to attend after the 2011 event had sold out, turned to begging online this week for help in sourcing the elusive golden tickets.

I feel their pain. I truly didn’t understand how very much Webstock inspires me until I had to miss 2010. I could only watch jealously from afar, scanning the tweetstream, trying to understand the back channel jokes, hanging out for twitpics from the ONYAs, oohing and aahing at the dodgy YouTube version of the amazing $40K light show I’d missed. I was absolutely GUTTED not to be there. And I think my level of guttedness made me love Webstock even more.

So hand me the pavlova – I’m back for the love-in.

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First Peek at Webstock Swag

This week, I’m in Wellington for Webstock 2011.

Webstock has a reputation for having the coolest conference swag around. The question is, can they match their previous swag reputation? The answer? Yes they can:
Webstock 2011 swag

Webstock 2011 Swag Contents:

  • Ultra hip, ultra strong Webstock laptop satchel – available in your choice of black or white (I chose white). It’s rumored that whenever Webstockers bump bags, a LOL cat dies.
  • Webstock 2011 tee – available in any color as long as it’s black. Features Webstock logo on front and list of speakers on back.
  • Conference lanyard – with Wellington map and programme printed conveniently upside-down so you can read it while wearing.
  • Black cap – groovy black cotton hipster cap/hat with subtle logo from gold sponsor Xero.
  • Conference handbook – gorgeous gold trim quarto containing speaker, venue, sponsor and need to know stuff.
  • Stickers – exercise-inspired stickers from sponsor Springload. Weird but amusing.
  • Magazine – a bumper Webstock edition of the Idealog magazine, featuring the must-read Raising Webstock article by @hadyngreen.
  • Pencil – yep, it’s a pencil. But the coolest pencil you could ask for, with Webstock logo on one side and “YOU ARE AWESOME” on the other.

All in all, a pretty sweet swag. Topped only by Webstock 2009 when we all got keys which we had to exchange for matching wind-up robots. I hear we’ll also be getting Webstock Trading Cards on Thursday so we can all play the @webstockgame.

But it’s not just about the swag at Webstock. The conference hasn’t even started yet and as always, the buzz is palpable. Jealous much?

Webstock swag

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