Earlier in the year, I was invited to speak at Webstock, an annual conference in Wellington, New Zealand. It was a fantastic conference filled with inspirational speakers from around the world who discussed the future of the web, ways in which it sucks now, what we could do to change it.
This week, I had the opportunity to speak at Web09, a similarly named conference in Auckland, New Zealand - just an hour flight north. I was a bit surprised that New Zealanders felt the need to hold 2 web conferences in a year, and wondered if this conference would be different from Webstock. Well, it was completely different - in a good way. Web09 was a cornocupia of real-world advice from both local developers - like Karl Von Randow's talk about gaming the iPhone App store, and global evangelists - like Ryan Stewart's talk about new Flex features. Some of my favorite talks were:
- Dan Rubin gave us a variety of ideas for creating better designs, including adding noise to a background, using your own photographs as the focal piece of a website, and scanning in every day objects to get web textures. In trying to define good design, he referenced Don Norman as the cognitive scientist who originally articulated the problem of doors that are so un-intuitively designed that they require signs - a problem that we have in our new Google building. Norman authored The Design of Everyday Things, which I've now put on my reading list.
- Paul Burnett, Adobe Flash Evangelist, showed off various new features in Flash CS4 and its much better integration with AIR (now better than Flex Builder!). I was most impressed by the fact that Flash now supports adding bones (inverse kinematics) to shapes and graphics, and being able to set weights and properties and tweak the RTS graphs for every animation. It takes me way back (2 years!) to futzing around with character animation in Maya and Max, and makes me want to get CS4 and try animating a few simple characters - zombie, whale, maybe even a streetwalker.
- David Karp, creator of Tumblr, described 5 areas of community building: engagement, use, negativity, change, feedback. Karp suggested that the reason that people participate in communities is for the "promise" of something happening - like the people who upload to Youtube thinking they have a small hope that one day their video will shoot to fame and they'll be a Youtube rockstar. Karp also described how Tumblr went from 1 support email a day to hundreds, and how they dealt with it. They categorized every support email as both "type of user" plus the actual problem - with user type ranging from paying customers and new customers to evangelist users. Visualizing the requests that way enabled them to decide what features were important to growth.
I myself gave a talk called "Avoiding Red Dot Fever: Tips for Improving Usability of Maps Mashups". It was a series of tips for ways web developers could improve the maps on their sites, based on my experiences seeing many badly-designed maps over the past 2 years. The talk went over really well (so well I was asked to give it twice), and gave me an excuse to meet the web developers of many New Zealand mapping sites - Zoodle, Yellow Pages NZ, vodafoneNZ, EventFinder, etc. The slides are embedded below, and there should be a video up in a few weeks.
Overall, it was a great conference, and I hope to see both Webstock and Web09 happen next year.