I went to Webstock and I all got was a brown t-shirt

I spent three days last week at the glorious Webstock conference. I was there as a volunteer, so I got to do such cool things as helping with the registration, showing speakers to the conference rooms, making sure the big doors in the Town Hall didn’t slam and looking after the Pleo.

Actually being on the rego desk was good. I got to meet some people I’d only previously known online, and a few people I hadn’t seen for ages. (It’s surprisingly low-key these days doing the online-offline meet.)

I got to met Derek Powazek and Heather Champ, both of whom have been doing cool things online for longer than I have. Derek founded The Fray back in the olden days, one of the first sites that brought together people to tell stories online. I tried not to go all fangirl when I met him, but I couldn’t quite hold it back.

As I was there as a volunteer, I couldn’t necessarily see all the sessions I wanted to. I found myself doing the timing for Matt Biddulph’s talk called “Hardware Hacking For Fun and Profit”. It sounded really lame, but within minutes I started remembering all the fun I had soldering when I was a kid. And I remembered the Vic-20 joystick my dad made out of a pineapple can lid, a kitchen sponge, a block of wood, some screws and wires. I left with a desire to pimp my clock-radio.

You know what I’m into right now? Dancing! Game designer Jane McGonigal had a cool theory of dancing that was behind her Top Secret Dance Off game. Basically, it’s really humiliating to dance in front of other people; if you see someone dancing badly in front of you, you sort of enjoy their humiliation; and if you dance badly with a group of people, you enjoy the shared humiliation. So lately I’ve been dancing badly quite a lot and really enjoying it.

Another unexpected Webstock pleasure was designer Matt Jones. He started off by mentioning Ken Hollings’ “Welcome To Mars” book, architect Richard Rogers, and that future cities book, which just happen to be three of my favourite things. He talked about the past’s version of the future and the present and the present’s version of the future and robots.

Just to prove how geeky everyone there was, there was a sort of hidden layer to the conference – all the discussions taking place on Twitter. Especially during Bruce Sterling’s controversial 2.0 buzzkill talk, I kind of tuned out of listening to him and instead followed the Twitter chat dissecting it.

Twitter tangent: It’s hard for new users to get Twitter because when you first create and account you’re face with a dull blank screen. You have to put in a bit of effort and just sit with it for a few weeks until you figure out both how it works and how you want to use it. And that is a bit of a hurdle, which in turns probably keeps out people who would be bad twitterers anyway.

Ze Frank. was the total rock star of Webstock. His presentation, summarising the projects he does online, ended up being really emotional at points and people cried and it was really beautiful and we are all so in love with the Ze right now.

Webstock ended with the closing night party, starring the Trons – the best band to come out of Hamilton.

I realised that while there were lots of smart, inspiring speakers, what I liked the best was just being around other people who get the web; people who know that a content producer is not an “IT guru” (whatever that is – oh man, I have stories). I came away from Webstock not just feeling inspired, but really glad to be part of the web.

Pleo photo by Keith Bolland
Webstock photo montage by kiwikeith

Leave a Reply