I’m putting together some hands-on workshops, focused on improving online experiences. I’ve created a new site for this little project – please head over to Skyrize.com for all the details.
The first one is Rapid Prototyping in Flash (no experience with Flash necessary). We’ll also be covering many aspects of interaction design. It’s happening on 31 July from 7-9pm. The workshop is for designers, developers, project managers, biz dev and marketing people.
It should be a lot of fun. Be sure to register early, because registration is limited to 10 people, so everyone has quality hands-on time.
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…
This past weekend a small contingent of Xeroes headed up to Warkworth for the annual geek pilgrimage that is Kiwi Foo Camp.
When you roll with Rod anything can happen. This time, on the drive up from the airport to Warkworth we took a quick little detour to do some skiing at Snowplanet. For those of you up north (northern hemisphere), February is a great time of year to go skiing. Down south, it’s the height of summer. Snowplanet is an indoor ski field.
It was absolutely awesome. I didn’t want to leave. When we came out into the hot, humid baking sunny day the utter surreal-ness was intense. Admittedly, the whole time I had a dirty nagging feeling that my carbon footprint was off the charts.
Which made it especially interesting to meet Ian Wright and see his presentation on saving the planet (while going obscenely fast) in his electric car, the Wrightspeed X1.
My takeaways: If you have a late model car that gets 35mpg then you really aren’t a significant part of the problem. In LA, those cars output cleaner air than they take in. It’s the gas guzzling SUV’s and light trucks that are the real killers. Turning those into hybrids can make a very significant difference. That’s Ian’s ultimate plan.
My takeaways: Get your ass on a plane and spend time in your target market. Get in front of the key players and stay in front of them. Just remember that hype does not equal money in the bank.
Nat, the organiser of Kiwi Foo, ran a session on teaching kids to program. He shared his experiences with Scratch, I shared some of my experiences working with kids using Flash and various other people piped up with their experiences using other tools and methods. I came away glad that I’m not the only one who’s underwhelmed by Mindstorms.
My takeaways: Tech ed is wide open and yet to be cracked. I’m very interested in being one of the people to crack it.
There were a whole lot of sessions that I really regret missing, especially one on Meraki. It looks like people are starting to bring Meraki here to NZ. Wellington is ideally suited for it. That would certainly help fulfill my prediction that mesh networks catch on in 2008.
If George can anoint himself “The Decider” then I can confidently take the title of “The Predictor”. I was just crowned (literally, I have the tiara to prove it) 2008 Visionary Of The Year by Unlimited Potential. Which is pretty impressive, considering it happened in the first month of 2008.
It was another fun event and my fellow predictors had plenty of prescient and witty insights. Hopefully UP will post all the predictions somewhere.
The following is my outlook on the year to come. It contains a fair dose of wishful thinking, but sometimes technology and events do sneak up on you quicker than you expect.
2007 Greatest hits and misses
DRM finally goes away
Wellington weather will be shit
2007 Report card
User generated video advertising
Good progress: LiveRail, BrightRoll, YuMe, Adap.tv, VideoEgg, Adotube, Google/YouTube
Good progress: Netsuite IPO, Force.com
Good progress: Macbook Air, gOS, CloudBook
Mobile Media Centers
Not so much: iPhone + Apple TV
2008 Better mobile experiences
3G iPhone with GPS, still won’t be available in NZ
Mesh networks start catching on thanks to Wireless USB (WUSB)
Somebody will provide a standard wifi billing platform (think OpenID + Paypal)
Presence detection gets real, gets fun:
get pinged when social network in proximity,
“scan” a party, cafe, club, biz conference to see profiles,
mixing and mingling privately while standing in a crowded room
2008 Hyperlocal on the homefront
Oil nears $200 a barrel, travel increasingly becomes a luxury,
people start thinking and acting a lot more local
Biofuels start becoming more efficient, demand surges
Aqua Flow becomes a leading provider
Working and learning from home becomes more and more of a necessity, collaborative web applications thrive in response
Lending networks thrive, microloans help ease economic turbulence
Home bio scanners start to hit the market – letting people scan food, detect viruses and germs, capture and analyse medical data, send data to a remote expert for further analysis
2008 Geeks Robots rule the earth
Portions of Google Earth and Streetside become available as realtime video
Mashed on top of this “open surveilance” framework will be
massively multiplayer game experiences
Hardware widgets and software widgets will converge producing very hackable, very personalised, interoperable device components (Buglabs, ThingM, Chumby)
New software driven materials interactively, physically reshape on command
2008 will go down in history as the year the robot uprising started taking shape
Obama wins by a landslide
Helen wins (barely)
Kerry resigns in disgrace over conflicts-of-interest scandal
Tom Beard becomes the new mayor!
Finally, in my acceptance speech I predicted that next year the panel will include a woman!
After Xmas I spent a week doing some long overdue gardening (weeding, to be more accurate). Which is where I came across this beauty!
Then the family hopped on the Interislander to spend two awesome weeks off-the-grid at the top of the South Island. We camped for a week and then we shared a holiday house on the Marlborough Sounds the week after.
To top it off, Emory and I conducted our own personal Amazing Race to see the Police in Auckland. We started with a ferry crossing, rushing to the airport, buying tickets, jumping on a plane, booking a hotel, rushing by taxi to the concert, then we spent most of the concert in an ambulance.
Last year I participated in the ‘What’s UP’ predictions event. They’re having a follow up 2008 event and I’ve been invited back to face my predictions and make some new ones.
Last year was great fun, so I definitely recommend it.
Price: FREE (price includes pizza and beer) When: Wednesday 30 January, 2008, 5:30 for a 6:00 start. Where: Wellington Chamber of Commerce, Level 28, The Majestic Centre, 100 Willis Street, Wellington.
My 20th high school reunion just happened this past weekend in Philadelphia. I wasn’t about to fly to the other side of the globe to attend. Instead, using Ning, I managed to quickly and easily put together a site for my classmates to post their pictures, bios, videos and messages. Most people were on Classmates.com, but that site is such a miserable rip-off, only an idiot would pay for it, so it’s worse than useless.
It’s been really fun catching up with people, learning what’s happened to people I knew so well in a former life. Things I’ve observed so far:
Somewhat surprisingly, most people have not moved more than 30 miles away from our high school
Seeing the photos of kids of people who I can only remember as kids themselves is very trippy and wonderful
Fuck, I’m old
On the tech side, I had my doubts about Ning when it launched. It looked interesting and promising, but completely confusing: what was it exactly and who was it targeting? I’m really glad they sorted it out. They’ve done a great job and I’m really grateful for it.
After seeing my talk somebody pointed me to this video: “The Science and Art of User Experience at Google”. It’s a presentation by Jen Fitzpatrick, manager of the user experience team at Google, talking about their interaction design process. She shares some really interesting examples of how they collect user feedback, particularly how they track usage patterns and monitor support queries.
A usability note on the actual video file: it contains a caption overlay, which is really useful, but it would be much more useful if that text was available to read/search/copy!