Tags: web2expo



Long day’s journey into Brighton

I spent what I thought would be my last few hours in Berlin wandering around with Jessica, walking in the footsteps of Leibniz. There was scant of evidence of the master’s presence in the house of his student, , but the setting still lent itself to imagining him trying to build his , all the while hampered by the ongoing task of researching the family tree of the blue-blooded nitwits whose pictures still fill the walls of the palace.

After that we made our way to Schönefeld airport, accompanied by Stephanie. It was only once we got there that she realised she was at the wrong airport. Nothing a quick taxi ride couldn’t fix.

Jessica and myself were at the right airport but we clearly chose the wrong airline. Our EasyJet flight was delayed by five hours. But eventually we made it back to England and, after an expensive but comfortable taxi ride (because the train situation was hopeless) we arrived back in Brighton.

I enjoyed my time in Berlin although the Web 2.0 Expo was very much the mixed bag I thought it would be: some excellent presentations coupled with some dull keynotes. Still, it was a good opportunity to catch up with some good friends. I was keeping tracking of other good friends on Twitter: some of them were in Boston for the W3C Tech Plenary; more were in New York for the Future Of Web Design. It was a busy week for conferences. Even if I could master the art of , I’d still have a tough time deciding whether I’d want to be a fly on the wall at the CSS working group, listening to Malarkey interview Zeldman or reading a story about Roy Orbison in clingfilm to thousand puzzled Europeans.

Berlin, day 4

After a late night of German beer, I had my first non-early start since getting to Berlin. By the time I roused myself and made my way to the conference, I had missed most of the morning’s talks. I managed to catch Matt’s talk about the Olinda device. His presentation was excellent, as always.

I spent a little time in the corridors metaphorically picking fleas with my fellow geeks before they wandered off to hear the keynotes. Because I am neither a masochist or lobotomised, I passed on the opportunity to hear the latest and greatest corporate product pitches.

Instead, I regrouped with Jessica and we headed to Potsdamer Platz for a spot of wursty lunch at the Christmas market there. We spent most of the subsequent afternoon exploring the film museum. Much as I enjoyed the paraphernalia from Metropolis and The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, I was somewhat disappointed that the exhibits from the ’40s had nary a mention of my heroine, Hedy Lamarr (okay, technically she was Austrian so it’s understandable). Still, the opportunity to ogle large-sized projections of Louise Brooks compensated.

After a game of SMS tag with Stephanie, an evening of more metaphorical mutual grooming followed, culminating with cocktails in one of the few tiki bars in Berlin. They had sand on the floor and everything. Not exactly typisch Deutsch but a fun way to wrap up a conference.

Berlin, day 3

For the second morning in a row, I rose at an ungodly hour to make my way to the Web 2.0 Expo and clamber on stage. There wasn’t a huge crowd of people in the room but I was glad that anyone had made the effort to come along so early.

I greeted the attendees, “Guten Morgen, meine Dame und Herren.” That’s not a typo; I know that the plural is “Damen” but this isn’t a very diverse conference.

I proceeded to blather on about microformats and nanotechnology. People seemed to like it. Afterwards Matt told me that the whole buckyball building block analogy I was using reminded him of phenotropics, a subject he’s spoken on before. I need to investigate further… if nothing else so that I can remedy the fact that the concept currently has no page on Wikipedia.

After my talk, I hung around just long enough to catch some of Steve Coast’s talk on OpenStreetMap and Mark’s talk on typography, both of which were excellent. I gave the keynotes a wide berth. Instead I hung out in the splendid food hall of the KaDeWe with Jessica and Natalie.

The evening was spent excercising my l33t dinner-organising skillz when, for the second night in a row, I was able to seat a gathering of geeks in the two digit figures. Berlin is a very accommodating city.

Berlin, day 2

Today the Web 2.0 Expo kicked off for real and I spent the day hanging out in the cavernous isolated venue. It’s a cold concrete brutalist building that makes me feel small and alienated. Actually, most of the time it feels like hanging out in a university, but that might just be all the bad coffee and cigarette smoke.

I started the day far too early by sitting on a panel. Just as happened at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, I somehow found myself on the opening panel of the design track. The subject matter was pretty similar too. Instead of being called The Hybrid Designer, this one was supposed to be Moving from 1.0 to 2.0 but Leisa and I decided that a better title would be Moving From Islands In The Stream to Super Best Friends’ Web (with the “islands in the stream” portion sung in our best Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton voices). It was a fun panel to participate in; I’m not sure how much fun it was to listen to.

After that I listened in on David Recorden’s talk on Opening The Social Graph. Much as I dislike that term, the subject matter was great and David is an excellent presenter.

I skipped the next set of sessions to hang out with Carole before wandering into the expo hall to peruse the stands. There I found the people from Mister Wong giving away sandwiches. They reassured me that there were no hard feelings about that blog post.

Overall, the expo hall was pretty dull except for the presence of a radio-controlled blimp. Airships are inherently cool.

Then it was time for the keynotes. I had been dreading these. I would have just skipped them except, because I was going to be doing a two minute slot at the end of the keynotes, I had to be in the room sitting in the front row.

It was as arm-gnawingly bad as I expected during the product pitches from Microsoft, Netvibes and Amazon. The only thing that made it bearable was buzzword bingo. Quite a few people played along (it really does make the time pass faster) although nobody had the balls to stand up and shout “Bingo!”

The keynote segment was redeemed by the presence of Kathy Sierra. She gave a talk on Creating Passionate Users that was, as always, wonderful. She was a breath of fresh air in amongst all the self-congratulatory guff.

Then it was time for Ten Great Ideas In Twenty Minutes. Apparently the plan was for speakers to explain in two minutes why attendees should go to their talks. But I asked Brady beforehand if the idea could be a different one from my talk and he said Sure.

So I read a short story about a great idea: wrapping Roy Orbison in clingfilm. Despite my microphone cutting out halfway through (which was a technical hitch rather than censorship, I am assured), I managed to do it just about in time. I had been timing it the night before in my hotel room and a lot of the chapters from the Roy Orbison in Clingfilm novel can be read in under two minutes if you’re fast enough.

Perhaps I should explain myself…

I figured that everyone in the audience had a brochure that listed descriptions of each talk so I didn’t see the point in repeating easily-discoverable information. Given that people already knew the subject matter of the talks, the only reason for having the two minute blurbs must be to assess the speakers themselves; whether they will be entertaining and/or articulate. It’s the singer, not the song. So I figured that anybody who enjoyed hearing me read a story about Roy Orbison wrapped in clingfilm would probably get a kick out of my talk on The Beauty in Standards.

Anyway, isn’t Web 2.0 supposed to be all about social media and disruption? Frankly, I can’t think of a better definition of Web 2.0 than Roy Orbison in clingfilm.

After the two minute synopses, I went downstairs to deliver my talk. Not many people attended. Funny that.

Stephanie was there and, as usual, she did an excellent job of liveblogging the talk.

I heard later that none of the talks in that slot were very full except for the session on OpenSocial, which was rammed. I also heard it was quite lame—a repeat of the video that’s already online combined with plodding walkthroughs of demo apps.

I was planning to head straight back to my hotel after my talk but I got sucked in by Matt’s excellent talk on Coding on the Shoulders of Giants. Then I went back to my hotel before gathering together fifteen geeks and seeking out a good restaurant where we could fill our bellies with bodenständig German dishes. There was an official conference party happening as well but seeing as they couldn’t stretch to allowing non-attendees like Jessica in, I figured it probably wasn’t worth going to. Instead I argued with Tom and Cal about semantic markup and microformats over dinner.

Speaking of which, I’m talking first thing tomorrow on Microformats: the Nanotechnology of the Semantic Web so I’d better get my beauty sleep.

Berlin, day 1

Since arriving in Berlin this morning I have…

  1. eaten at a cute little imbiss,
  2. eaten a slice of with a cup of good coffee and
  3. eaten ludicrous amounts of stick-to-your-ribs gut bürgerliche Küche at a restaurant with some friends while sucking down .

I have yet to…

  1. figure out why I’ve agreed at the last minute to be on a panel at 9am tomorrow morning,
  2. go over my slides for my presentation tomorrow afternoon and
  3. figure out how I’m going to fill my two minutes in the “ten great ideas in twenty minutes” slot.

I’m thinking I could either…

  1. rant about portable social networks, the password anti-pattern and how Web standards and microformats can save us all or
  2. read out a short story from Roy Orbison in Clingfilm.

Berlin schedule

I’m off to Berlin tomorrow where I’ll spend the week immersed in the first European Web 2.0 Expo. I’m hoping that it won’t be the same mixed bag as the US counterpart: despite some good stuff, the lows were very low indeed.

I’ve been nominally serving on the board of advisors, helping to put together the design track. If nothing else, I passed along the names of Brian Suda, Mark Boulton and Jan Eric Hellbusch so the topics of microformats, typography and accessibility should be well covered. I’ll also be giving a couple of talks that I’ve already road-tested; Microformats: the Nanotechnology of the Semantic Web and The Beauty in Standards.

A full schedule is listed on the conference website but it’s marked up as a dead end. It always strikes me as a shame when someone goes to the bother of publishing event information without sprinkling the few extra class names needed to create an hCalender. Here’s a hint to any conference organisers out there: Dmitry Baranovskiy’s conference schedule creator is rather excellent. Brian and myself used it to output a nice hCalendar version of the expo schedule.

I’ve added some CSS and put the markup online. If you’re in Berlin and you want a quick glance at what’s on, here’s a suitably short URL:


From there you can download the schedule or better yet, subscribe to the schedule. That way, if there are any changes to the line-up, I’ll edit the HTML and you’ll get those changes reflected in your calendar.

Web 2.0 Expover

With my San Francisco adventures at an end (for now), I’m safely ensconced back in Brighton tackling the daily grind of emails, work and procrastination. Looking back at the Web 2.0 Expo, on the whole I had a pretty good time.

It was a big conference; really big, like South by Southwest big. I wasn’t quite expecting that. Unlike South by Southwest, the crowd was not dominated by geeky blogging designer developers. They were there but they were in the minority. The majority of people there were either businesspeople or techies working at the coalface of large corporations. In retrospect, this was a really good crowd to speak to: I certainly didn’t get the feeling I was preaching to the converted (which I sometimes get when I’m speaking at Web Standards conferences).

The split in the make-up of the crowd meant that the conference itself had a somewhat schizophrenic feel to it. Really, there were two conferences going on—and I don’t just mean that in the literal sense that Web2Open was running concurrently.

The sessions and panels covered a reasonably broad range of topics. Geeks like me could find plenty to keep them occupied and interested. Some of the ones I attended were:

  • a panel on current state of browser technology that featured Chris Wilson, Brendan Eich, Rael Dornfest and others,
  • a panel on JavaScript frameworks—jQuery, YUI, Dojo, Google Web Toolkit—ably moderated by Simon,
  • a blazing talk by John Allsopp on microformats,
  • a panel whose raison d’etre escaped me but featured Matt Jones and was therefore, for that reason alone, worth attending,
  • a talk on Identity by Identity Woman herself,
  • a tutorial on building an SMS service,
  • a hands-on look at how to implement OpenID,
  • Joi Ito and others talking about gaming and virtual worlds

…and many more. The quality was generally pretty good and if I found myself at a talk I wasn’t enjoying, I could always switch to another room. So overall, thumbs up for the panels and presentations.

But then I made the mistake of going to one of the keynotes.

Whereas the panels and presentations were split amongst lots of reasonably sized rooms, the keynotes were in a giant auditorium. Things started off okay: Tim O’Reilly chatting with Jeff Bezos. It was a bit boring but harmless.

Then John Battelle led an interview with Mena Trott, Jay Adelson and that guy from JotSpot (I think). This was a half hour of John Battelle asking unanswerable questions and the interviewees refusing to answer them. Fascinating.

At this stage, the bullshit was beginning to fly thick and fast. Words like “leverage”, “incentivize” and “monetize” were being bandied about. Just as I was ready to start chewing my own leg off, I remembered my buzzword bingo app. This made the time pass a bit faster. Still, by the time the product pitches started at the end of the so-called keynote session, I was feeling distinctly nauseated.

That was the first day. After that I made sure to avoid the “clap a billionaire” talks and concentrate on the small stuff around the edges. I found myself sitting at a table where Colin from Viddler showed me some really cool stuff he was working on, Chris was refining a microformats side-project and François from Netvibes shared some of his code with me. Now that was more like it.

So the Web 2.0 Expo was a mixed bag. There was a lot of bullshit and buzzwords but there was also plenty of hackery and geekiness. The real knack was avoiding the former while seeking out the latter. By the end of the conference, I had it down to a fine art.

Hybrid Design and the Beauty of Standards

My speaking commitments at the Web 2.0 Expo have been fulfilled.

The panel I gatecrashed on Monday morning—The New Hybrid Designer—was a lot of fun. Richard deftly moderated the discussion and Chris, Kelly and I were only too eager to share our thoughts. Unfortunately Emily wasn’t able to make it. It may have been slightly confusing for people showing up to the panel which had Emily’s name listed but not mine; I can imagine that some of the audience were looking at me and thinking, “wow, Emily has really let herself go.”

I mentioned a few resources for developers looking to expand their design vocabulary to take in typography and grids:

Tuesday was the big day for me. I gave a solo presentation called The Beauty in Standards and Accessibility. My original intention was to give a crash course in web standards and accessibility but I realised that the real challenge would be to discuss the beauty part.

I reached back through history to find references and quotations to bolster my ramblings:

One of the tangents on which I veered off was Joseph Whitworth’s work with Charles Babbage. If you’re interested in following this up I highly recommend reading a book by Doron Swade called The Difference Engine: Charles Babbage and the Quest to Build the First Computer—originally released under the title The Cogwheel Brain in the UK

I really enjoyed giving this presentation and from the reaction of the people in the room, a lot of people enjoyed listening to it too. I was just happy that they indulged me in my esoteric wanderings.

On the morning of the presentation I schlepped a box full of copies of Bulletproof Ajax from my hotel to the conference centre so that I could give them away as prizes during Q and A. My talk was in the afternoon so I left the box in the speakers’ lounge for safe keeping. Once my talk was done and I had time for some questions, I said “I have some book… oh.” They were still in the speakers’ lounge.

Thus began our merry trek through the halls of the conference centre. I continued fielding questions from the enthusiastic crowd of followers eager to get their hands on a copy of my book. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer audience. I was only too happy to reward them with tokens of my appreciation in dead-tree form.

My lovely audience We got books!

Fake tales of San Francisco

San Francisco is my kind of place. I can see why one might leave one’s heart here.

Spitting in the face of superstition, I flew over on Friday the thirteenth. I made my way to the swish studio of Kelly Goto who kindly offered to put me up for my first night in a new town.

Before resting my weary head, we went out to an Indian café so that Kelly could plan her upcoming panel with Emily Chang, Chris Messina and Richard MacManus. Before long, my name was added to the list so now it looks like I’m going to be on another panel; Monday morning’s discussion of The New Hybrid Designer. Should be fun.

Kelly’s place is close to the Mission district so once Saturday morning’s rain cleared up, I started walking around the neighbourhood, stopping for a coffee at that den of hipsterness, Ritual Coffee Roasters—“RitRo” to those in the know. Inevitably, I met someone I knew… but someone I had never met: Matt ‘Blackbelt’ Jones. Upon exiting RitRo I bumped into some more Brits in exile—Paul and Amy (with young Tom) Hammond.

This pattern of just bumping into people has continued ever since. Today I met Eris and later Simon this way. I was wandering around Union Square when I recognised someone from the Future of Web Apps conference in London in February. He also recognised me. We then initiated the “I know you but…” ritual:

Both parties pause and cock their heads slightly to one side. Each one points at the other quizzically. The pointed fingers now begin to wag as if trying to shake the names out of them. At this point both heads are turned almost completely to the side (while still maintaining eye contact) until the movement ends with a “tsk”. By now it is clear that neither can recall the name of the other and so the pointed fingers can be safely morphed into extended hands ready for shaking as each reminds the other of their name—followed by “Right, right…”

This situation is far less awkward than that embarrassing moment when you meet someone who can recall your name perfectly well while you’re still floundering in an attempt to put their face into context. I’m okay with faces; I’m lousy with names. I wasn’t always this bad. I think the first brain cells to go are the ones associated with putting names to people.

I’ll put this theory to test at the Web 2.0 Expo. It looks like most of the geek world is going to be there. I’m starting to get nervous about my presentation on Tuesday. I guess I was expecting something cosier.

Strangely, while the space inside the conference centre seems huge and overwhelming, San Francisco itself feels remarkably condensed, like one big neighbourhood. Just about everything is in walking distance from everything else and there’s decent public transport in case of inclement weather. Like I said, my kind of place.


I’ve got some more travelling ahead of me. I’ll be getting the bus to Heathrow tomorrow to get on the long flight to San Francisco. That’s the setting for the Web 2.0 Expo next week, at which I’ll be speaking on The Beauty in Standards and Accessibility.

I’ve been to the States quite a few times but this will be my first time visiting San Francisco. It’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit so I’m glad that I’m finally getting my foggy due.

The conference proper doesn’t kick off until Monday so I’ll have a weekend to explore the city (and frantically finish preparing my slides). Denizens of San Francisco, if you fancy meeting up and showing a tourist around, grab my contact details. I’ve also got my Twitter account set up to send direct messages to my mobile phone so that’s a quick and easy way to get in touch. Yahoo-ites, Apple-ates, Technoratini and other geeks who want to meet up for beer, coffee, sushi or all three, don’t be shy.

Non-residents of Shaky Town, I will no doubt be taking plenty of pictorial evidence and given the Bay Area’s famed WiFi coverage, I expect I’ll be doing plenty of uploading to Flickr.