Awesome robots courtesy of Verb
Thanks to a few truly dedicated people (I’m looking at you Mike and Tash) Wellington just played host to a geek orgy of supreme quality. First rate speakers, venue, schwag, branding, web site, and perhaps most importantly coffee…mmm…people’s coffee.
A couple of Yahoos
I was particularly looking forward to sessions by Cal Henderson (slides galore), Tom Coates (notes and old slides) and Michael Lopp (notes and more notes). Each delivered a superb presentation. I was hoping for a few radical new ideas to completely rock my world, but it was predominantly a refresher course on “the web as platform”. Which was still excellent and inspiring.
Tom Coates’ sneak peek of Fire Eagle was pretty interesting (tho what’s up with the lame name?). Fire Eagle aggregates and broadcasts geo-data, so other apps can retrieve or publish your geolocation at any given moment. The implications of this concept were nicely amplified by Nigel Parker’s 8×5 session on privacy and pervasive online tracking – some kids (his…doh, mine too) have been online since they were in the womb, while other people are implanting RFID tags under their skin, and a few people currently broadcast their geolocation via GPS.
The fireside chat with Sam and Rowan was fun. Rowan roasted Sam with a hilarious video from the nascent days of TradeMe, when Sam was just a young pup. They waxed nostalgic, but also dissected the TradeMe deal starting with how Sam struggled to get investment funding and then buggered off on his OE just when it started to break even. Upon his return the business started taking off. He got serious buyout offers from Yahoo and Telecom, but upped the ante and ultimately landed the Fairfax deal.
Usability for evil (aka profit)
My world did get unexpectedly rocked by Amy Hoy. Her session was about coercing people through design and language (excellent notes from her session here). For somebody in advertising, this might have been a basic refresher. However, Amy made it especially relevant and compelling by presenting great offline and online comparisons. For instance, I’ve always wondered why Amazon presents people with an overwhelming and chaotic array of information and options on every page. Where’s the usability and good design in that, right? It’s intentionally that way. For the same reason that malls (and casinos, for that matter) are designed with burrowed interiors: to get you wandering around, somewhat lost. It’s there to keep you busy and distracted, because it’s well known that the more time you spend in a store, the more money you spend.
A few gripes
On the downside, many of the sessions were tediously academic. Too many bullets points. Too much bleating and pontificating on theory. There was a frustrating absence of demos and real world case studies from the trenches. It should be an absolute requirement to show demos, which must include a breakdown of the design/dev/business decisions that lead up to the finished work.
Simon Willison was the only person I saw who did a real world demo with live code, showing Django in action. It was interesting and impressive, but not where my head is at these days. His session on OpenID was excellent and it definitely caught my interest, but it still didn’t leave me with huge confidence in the OpenID standard, as it currently stands.
Another serious downer was the Wifi situation. It was utterly disgraceful and humiliating to watch so many prominent visitors from across the globe unable to get a working internet connection. At a web conference. It’s like having a world conference on electricity and we don’t have enough power to keep the lights on. How bad does it need to get in this city and in this country before internet connectivity becomes an angry-mob-inducing crisis? (as I’m writing this my TelstraClear connection has been down for hours – now’s good, huh?)
That’s how Apple rolls
As always, there were sessions I was frustrated I couldn’t attend. I heard from many people that Mike Lopp’s session on design management was fascinating. Sadly, it’s also one of the few that will not be made available online. Damnit! Apparently, he described how Apple creates 10 different pixel perfect prototypes for each new piece of functionality in their software! I can’t say I buy into that approach. I know how much time it takes to finesse every little gradient, drop shadow and icon. I appreciate how important those details are in the final product, but when you’re exploring new ideas you tend to lose the plot when you focus on fine tuned pixel pushing. Worst of all, you get way too precious with your design, since you’ve invested so much time and energy.
Nothing could have capped things off more perfectly than the happy coincidence of Phoenix Foundation playing in Frank Kitts park. It was a beautiful night, the buzz of the crowd was blissful and the band rocked hard. It was purely intoxicating.
To finish things off here’s a short, but brilliant clip from the show…