I go to events to learn things, to have my mindset challenged. Anil Dash
(See also Anil's The Essentials of Web 2.0 Your Event Doesn't Cover.)
Just read (yesterday) the Stanford Magazine online, The Effort Effect (a piece about Carol Dweck's work), and that connected with what Anil said last month (quotation above). Challenge is the common thread, be it new ideas and perspectives or dealing with difficulties and failure. Of course, if you're impressed with the new, challenging ideas, implementing these in your life and the life of your organisation may lead you by a very short route to difficulty, failure — and renewed effort. Challenges.
It always takes me time to digest a good conference and there's plenty to praise about FOWA07 (which I want to approach by asking what's lasted). The mp3s of all the talks are now available, by the way, and the presentations are there, too. (For Flickr 'most interesting' FOWA07 photos, go here.)
A couple of riders first. I agree with Tom when he wrote, 'It was a shame that the conference felt quite so aggressively targetted at the web-app-as-startup crowd; last year's was much more about "applications on the web", and richer for it'.
My other rider is about something I missed, the Adobe Apollo demo. When I do see these (or other) impressive demo vids I want to have this advice from Tim O'Reilly in my head (as it happens, he's talking about an Adobe Apollo demo, 'a special product preview summit today called Engage'):
Is what's easiest for the producer of content (asset reuse and the ability to create integrated experiences across platforms) really what's best for the user? Only if content developers use that power wisely. Kathy Sierra reminds us that success in the social media era is about creating "I rule" moments for users. So when I hear a software vendor talking about creating "I rule" moments for content suppliers, I worry that they're on the wrong track, unless they work to offset the natural tendency towards "efficiency" for the provider rather than great experiences for the user.
At times I feel completely saturated with 'wow' experiences that don't turn out to 'put the user first'.
And so to what's lasted. The Last.fm talk was excellent and I blogged a little about it here. Presentations by Tara Hunt, Khoi Vinh and Simon Willison also stand out for me. Simon Willison has posted his slides here and went on to write Six cool things you can build with OpenID. OpenID is on all our radars now but there are issues (see, eg, O'Reilly, Tim Bray, Mike Migurski, Dare Obasanjo … well, the list goes on).
Earlier, Tara Hunt posted her slides (here). Tara knows a thing or two about how to turn an audience on (recognising it in others, too), and I really enjoyed her talk, packed with lots of insight into how online communities grow and work. I'm grateful to her, too, for the link to John Coates' Cyberspace Innkeeping: Building Online Community (1992, '93, '98): 'at its essence the advice is to be kind, be interested and pay attention. Not so different than the rest of life. And that's the point. As virtual as you may want to make it, it is still reality governed by the same operating principles as the rest of life. Cyberspace doesn't live outside the rest of the universe.'
Above all, though, it's the Last.fm presentation and those by Vinh and Horowitz that are still with me. I made a scatter of notes from Khoi Vinh's talk but I don't need to look at them to recall my surprise when he pointed to the NYT's innovation of permalinks for its articles — I twittered that: 'NYT hasn't publicized well (yep) its new permalink feature — remains good for "several years" after article goes b/hind paywall'.
He spoke about the new kinds of functionality consumers of the NYT are demanding (readers are approaching the NYT online with a different mindset, not just through/in a different medium) and the degree of uncontrol the NYT has to learn to live with, and I remember clearly his spelling out that most users are intermediates and beginners are more easily offended than experts — these points I can apply directly to the experience of new ICT developments in my school community. The testing of usability must not be done by executives, and what must be tested is usability and not the preparedness of users to accept something. That's also very pertinent to my work.
The most interesting thing he talked about was the Twitter interface and the difference between this and Twitterific. This goes back to a post on his blog made earlier in February, Writing and Sizing Twitter — a post which has now been del.icio.us'd some 40 times. It was an electric moment for this conference-goer, one of those times when something is being dissected before your eyes with intelligence and in such a way as to illuminate design and function and user-experience. I wish I had a Mac and could try Twitterific for myself …
Finally, I also really enjoyed Bradley Horowitz's talk. 'VP ADD, Yahoo!' — what a job title (VP Advanced Development Division). He came across very well — an interesting man — and spoke about 'Social Interaction: What the Future Holds'. I twittered friends: 'Listening to Bradley Horowitz: from a hierarchy of creator(s)/synthesisers/consumers (1:10:100) towards a web world of participation (100).' He showed his pyramid of creators, synthesisers and consumers, followed not by three concentric circles (which, when I'd seen them last month, at the OII talk Yahoo!'s Ricardo Baeza-Yates gave, had had me a little puzzled — if I didn't dream it all, the circles were presumably to be understood as temporary enclosures, permeable to each other and changing places?), but by one yellow circle labelled '100%' — 100% participating users: users becoming editors, user becoming neighbours. Yahoo! is a huge company, yet Ricardo Baeza-Yates, 'Director of Yahoo! Research Barcelona and Yahoo! Research Latin America in Santiago, Chile', talks in Oxford one day and then, the next, I'm hearing a presentation in London that overlaps very much with Ricardo's talk, albeit with a different image at its centre. That's some coordination of vision, but there seems to be a search on for Best Metaphor/Best Summative Image — something which came out also at the end of Bradley's talk, when he spoke about the move from sampling to synthesising (from orchestra-but-discrete-instruments to rich remix/quilting). What is the best metaphor to catch what's happening?
Other parts of Bradley Horowitz's talk echoed things he'd written about a year ago in the post I've already referred to, Creators, Synthesizers, and Consumers:
… social software sites don't require 100% active participation to generate great value. That being said, I'm a huge believer in removing obstacles and barriers to entry that preclude participation. … One direction we (i.e. both Yahoo and the industry) are moving is implicit creation. A great example is Yahoo! Music's LaunchCast service, an internet radio station. I am selfishly motivated to rate artists, songs and music as they stream by… the more I do this, the better the service gets at predicting what I might like. What's interesting is that the self-same radio station can be published as a public artifact. The act of consumption was itself an act of creation, no additional effort expended… I am what I play - I am the DJ (with props to Bowie.) Very cool.
I spoke a lot more about this in the Wired article. In the new paradigm of "programming" where there are a million things on at any instant, we're going to need some new and different models of directing our attention. … Everyone becomes a programmer without even trying, and that programming can be socialized, shared, distributed, etc. …
Listen to Bradley's talk, and listen out, in particular, for the explanation/exploration of interestingness and clusters on Flickr — not to mention Highway 66. (These will be familiar to anyone who's been following Flickr closely over the last few months. He wrote about Flickr and interestingness in Creators, Synthesizers, and Consumers: 'Without anyone explicitly voting, and without disrupting the natural activity on the site, Flickr surfaces fantastic content in a way that constantly delights and astounds. In this case lurkers are gently and transparently nudged toward remixers, adding value to others' content'.)
Finally, I had forgotten that Yahoo! owns MyBlogLog:
MyBlogLog turns on the lights, and invites people to look at (and dialog) with each other in addition to looking at the screen. Maybe the right analogy is a sports bar. The game is on the big screen providing the content and context. But the fun part is hooting and hollering with your mates, heckling the guys there to support the other team the next table over, etc. It's communal. It's interactive. It's participatory. It's fun.
Oh, and, inevitably, there were Pipes: the summary runs — HTML was pumped out and pumped out; RSS is mashups for the masses, but Pipes is a much richer palette. Then, his next point: the pyramid is back — a few will create the Pipes of value to the many. … (I still haven't given Pipes the time they merit.)
For full running notes on the talk, go here. Nodalities has a write up here, and Lars, as ever, a mindmap here.
There are so many ways a conference can be challenging. A lot about Yahoo! has really come to make sense to me since hearing Horowitz and Baeza-Yates talk (and see now Caterina's post), and Horowitz and the other speakers and presentations I've mentioned here have sustained me over the last three weeks or so with what they said. I've suggested above a number of points at which what was said at FOWA bears directly on my experience as a very new Director of educational ICT. Yesterday, re-writing a part of our online help for our intranet, I was consciously changing language to try to speak to my non-geek colleagues (the great majority) and to suggest a more collaborative, dynamic purpose to our shared resources. That's the easy bit. I don't imagine for a moment that explaining what is meant by 'The act of consumption was itself an act of creation' ('I am what I play - I am the DJ') will be like simply walking across a ready-made bridge … There's a huge, huge chasm between FOWA and the world of the many and we, the people in this organisation, have to make the bridge together. Challenges!