On 11 and 12 February, three SilverStripers spent two days taking in tips, advice, and basking in the general awesomeness of Webstock 2016—the 10th birthday of the web technology conference held in Wellington.
It’s an event that inspires you for the next year and gives you hope for the future. Where else would you have a chance to hear the first mommy blogger, a NASA UX specialist, and a former MI5 whistleblower talk on the same stage? Over the two days of Webstock, we learned about mindfulness, screen time, dealing with rejection, creating graffiti, launching rockets, rebuilding identity, rediscovering museums, and the future that the Internet of Things (IoT) can bring.
Several of the talks focussed on responsive vs adaptive design, and stepping away from just considering the devices or screen resolutions that people might be using, but also the distance from the screen—on mobiles it might be 30 cm, while on a TV it’ll be 2-3 m, and the implications this has on our designs. Another consideration might be the context our user is in, and context might not just mean what they are doing at the time, which would be guesswork, but concrete data we might get from their device, such as location, time of day, temperature, or velocity, all of which might have implications for what content we decide to serve them, or in what format.
An interesting and entertaining talk was by Anna Pickard from Slack. She talked about the company’s attitude towards user interaction and customer service. Not sure if you’ve ever read the release notes for your Slack app when it gets updated, but they are definitely worth paying attention to! Release notes can almost be a literary genre in itself, and with Slack, they let the company “personality” shine through—you know there are real people working there, and making an effort to make their users happy when you read those notes.
Another thing that was mentioned by Anna, if you type the shortcut :th the thumbsup/thumbsdown emoji are ordered emotionally instead of the alphabetical default, which I thought was an awesome personal touch, and the world that they want you to live in.
Heather B. Armstrong talked about her authentic irreverent mom blog Dooce—how people tell her she is exploiting her children by writing about them on the website and collecting sponsorship money for it. Sponsorship is a slippery slope, because the sponsor will want control over what you write, reducing the writing's authenticity. She talked about how the Brokeback Banana post she wrote, and how the sponsor objected to some of the content, which she was reluctantly forced to change.
There are computers everywhere. Tom Coates talked about how this year 1.5 billion smartphones will be sold, and computers will increasingly be put into everything. However, the IoT is more than just Internet-connected toasters. The traditional approaches to IoT is either connect a physical object to the Internet (e.g. a Smart Fridge), or taking an existing Internet service and giving it a physical representation. Instead, Tom suggests we should focus on the service layer. A rich service layer creates the best IoT experience. He gives the example of ZipCar as an amazing service with very little physical hardware, but a rich service layer that creates real value.
A great part of Webstock is meeting and getting to know the web community in New Zealand. I made the point this year to sit at a different spot around the theatre for each session and introduce myself to the people around me. It was a great way to break the ice and deconstruct parts of the previous talk with someone that might have a different perspective. I encourage others to do the same at any conference. You never know what contacts you will make and what will come from these brief encounters.
Last but not least, check out what happens to your browser when you Google the word "askew" —one of the many gems you can pick up at the conference.
Happy 10th Birthday, Webstock!
Photos by webstock.