Journal tags: web2expo07



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.