Journal tags: rickroll



XTech 2008

I enjoyed being back in Ireland. Jessica and I arrived into Dublin last Saturday but went straight from the airport to the train station so that we could spend the weekend in seeing family and friends. Said town was somewhat overwhelmed by the arrival of .

We were back in Dublin in plenty of time for the start of this year’s XTech conference. A good time was had by the übergeeks gathered in the salubrious surroundings of a newly-opened hotel in the heart of Ireland’s capital. This was my third XTech and it had much the same feel as the previous two I’ve attended: very techy but nice and cosy. In some ways it resembles a BarCamp (but with a heftier price tag). The talks are held in fairly intimate rooms that lend themselves well to participation and discussion.

I didn’t try to attend every talk — an impossible task anyway given the triple-track nature of the schedule — but I did my damndest to liveblog the talks I did attend:

  1. Opening Keynote by David Recordon.
  2. Using socially-authored content to provide new routes through existing content archives by Rob Lee.
  3. Browsers on the Move: The Year in Review, the Year Ahead by Michael Smith.
  4. Building the Real-time Web by Matt Biddulph, Seth Fitzsimmons, Rabble and Ralph Meijer.
  5. AMEE — The World’s Energy Meter by Gavin Starks.
  6. Ni Hao, Monde: Connecting Communities Across Cultural and Linguistic Boundaries by Simon Batistoni.
  7. Data Portability For Whom? by Gavin Bell.
  8. Why You Should Have a Web Site by Steven Pemberton.
  9. Orangutans, Oxen and Ogham Stones by Sean McGrath.

There were a number of emergent themes around social networks and portability. There was plenty of SemWeb stuff which finally seems to be moving from the theoretical to the practical. And once again the importance of XMPP, first impressed upon me at the Social Graph Foo Camp, was once again made clear.

Amongst all these high-level technical talks, I gave a presentation that was ludicrously simple and simplistic: Creating Portable Social Networks with Microformats. To be honest, I could have delivered the talk in 60 seconds: Add rel="me" to these links, add rel="contact" to those links, and that’s it. If you’re interested, you can download a PDF of the presentation including notes.

I made an attempt to record my talk using Audio Hijack. It seems to have worked okay so I’ll set about getting that audio file transcribed. The audio includes an unusual gap at around the four minute mark, just as I was hitting my stride. This was the point when Aral came into the room and very gravely told me that he needed me to come out into the corridor for an important message. I feared the worst. I was almost relieved when I was confronted by a group of geeks who proceeded to break into song. You can guess what the song was.

Ian caught the whole thing on video. Why does this keep happening to me?


San Diego is to Los Angeles as Canada is to the United States—it has all of the good stuff with none of the crap. Among its assets must be counted the fine quality of its geeks. There were only a few locals at the Web Apps Summit but boy, did they ever take good care of the out-of-towners.

Gema from Digital Telepathy acted as both tour guide and chauffeur in taking some of us visitors downtown when day one of the conference wrapped up. After sampling some of the local tiki delights, a bunch of us were finishing up the evening with a tipple in some bar or other when, through some series of digressions that I can’t quite recall, I happened to let slip that I had never experienced the peculiar ritual that is karaoke.

karaoke (karēˈōkē)
A form of entertainment, offered typically by bars and clubs, in which people take turns singing popular songs into a microphone over prerecorded backing tracks.
From Japanese, literally “empty orchestra.”

This was somehow misinterpreted as a desire to engage in said ritual and so plans were hatched for the following night that would result in the breaking of my karaoke hymen.

But before that, there was the second and final day of the conference. While we were all enjoying some excellent presentations, an odd phenomenon was manifesting itself in the cyberspace extrusion of our social circle (that would be the World Wide Web). There was a higher than normal count of rickrolling incidents occuring.

To post a misleading link with a subject that promises to be exciting or interesting but actually turns out to be a video of “Never Gonna Give You Up” from one-hit-wonder 80s pop icon Rick Astley. Allegedly hilarious.
A variant on the duckroll.

One of the finest exemples to date was executed by Daniel when he rickrolled a bowling alley full of geeks. While I didn’t observe anything quite on that level, it seems that Trammell’s mischief-making was curiously timed with Stan’s notice of avoidance. This was duly documented on Flickr which then became the site of a new vector of infection.

Cindy was sitting next to me at the Web Apps Summit and she expressed curiousity about the URL Trammell had posted. I didn’t discourage her from entering the URL in her browser which happened to have quite a few work-related tabs open. She seemed strangely displeased with her first-hand experience of rickrolling and twittered as much. That prompted a failed attempt by Tantek to rickroll me (although some people got caught in the crossfire). Things started to get out of control when the rickrolling migrated from Twitter to voicemail.

While the internet was being traumatised, the conference wrapped up and I began to concern myself with matters of the flesh, namely getting food and drink. There was food aplenty at the microformats dinner but that was quite some distance away. Once again San Diego’s geek community came through with flying colours. Keith, Derek and I were whisked away by Patrick Crowley and Theresa O’Connor. I bet those guys throw a great BarCamp.

The microformats dinner was a most pleasant affair but let’s face it, it was really just the prelude to the main event. The prospect of karaoke was hanging over my head like a Damoclean sword. Throughout the day I had been receiving some consistent advice, namely that karaoke was a whole lot easier to bear when alcohol is involved. I began to test that theory as soon as our gaggle of geeks migrated to The Lamplighter, a suitably um… “character-filled” locale.

The question of what song I should butcher to pop my karaoke cherry had already been raised on Twitter and I was leaning towards the suggestion of doing some Johnny Cash (just as soon as my brain cells were suitably numbed). Then Cindy offered her solidarity: she would be willing to join me in a duet of Don’t You Want Me? by The Human League. A good choice: it would be hard to sing it any worse than the original.

Late into the evening and a few tequilas later, my name was called. Cindy and I went up on stage and I began to psyche myself up to deliver my best Phil Oakley impression. I watched as the wizened karaoke DJ tapped in the numbers to bring up the correct song. That’s when the rug was metaphorically pulled from under my feet. The unmistakable sounds of Never Gonna Give You Up began to play.

I had been rickrolled …big time. I had two options:

  1. Run.
  2. Go with it.

What the hell? I thought, and went for option number 2.


I suppose in one sense, I wasn’t just the victim of a rickroll, I was also the perpetrator as I inflicted the song on a bar full of civilians who were completely oblivious to the memetic subtext. And you know what? I think I do a pretty good Rick Astley impression. That’s not something to be proud of.

Rickrolling wasn’t the only meme that was trundled out that evening. Despite Stan’s warning, we couldn’t resist a spot of flap’n’snap. It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. As I reminded the Twitterspherethe internet is serious business.