kottke.org posts about conferences
Jason Fried wrote a preview of what’s coming in Basecamp 3. Jim Ray noted on Twitter that “Basecamp vs. Slack will be interesting”. And suddenly I remembered that back in 2002, Jason, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield, and I hosted a “peer meeting” on Simplicity in Web Design at SXSW.1 The meeting’s description:
As the Web continues to increase in complexity, many designers are looking to simplicity as a tool in designing Web sites that are at once powerful and easy for people to use. Join your peers and colleagues in a discussion facilitated by three working designers who are committed to producing work which is simple: obvious, elegant, economical, efficient, powerful and attractive. We’ll be discussing what simplicity in Web design really means, the difference between Minimalism as an aesthetic and simplicity as a design goal, who is and who isn’t simple, how you can use simplicity to your advantage, and plenty more.
It’s fun to see those two going at it more than 13 years later, still focused on harnessing the power of simplicity to help people get their best work done. (I don’t know what the other guy’s deal is. He’s doing…. something, I guess.)
In celebration of its 20th anniversary, Fast Company presents an oral history of the SXSW Interactive Festival.
Within SXSW Interactive’s march from obscurity to prominence is the story of digital culture itself. SXSW was a hive of activity for early web denizens and hackers around the turn of the century, and a birthing ground for the social media revolution that reshaped modern life in the second half of the ’00s. Its emergence from the shadow of the music festival it grew out of mirrors the transformation of geeks into modern society’s newest rock stars.
I went to SXSW a handful of times (maybe five?), met my wife there, and even keynoted (w/ Dooce) in the big room (which was, in my memory, a disaster of Zuckerpudlian proportions). Paul Ford noted on Twitter:
Wow this is just a tiny bit The Oral History of Talking About Yourself.
Totes get that, but South By1 distinguished itself in the early days by being a conference where anyone could participate. Attendees took ownership of this conference as they could not at the other big web conferences of the era. Everyone was someone, everyone was nobody. (I mean, not literally — the Jeffreys (Zeldman and Veen) couldn’t walk three feet without someone engaging them in conversation. But you get my drift.) As on the personal web of the late 1900s and early 2000s, you were the focal point of SXSW, for better or worse.
Aaron Cohen, a frequent contributor to kottke.org famous for his late-night (and, I would assume, drunken) extreme sports posts, is putting on a pair of events in Boston in February. The first is Up Up Down Down, a mini-conference on side projects. Which is such a great idea for a conference.
The second event is Whiskey Rebellion, “a showcase of American brown spirits”. The tasting list includes more than 75 whiskies and bourbons. This one is sold out (unsurprisingly) but there appears to be a waiting list. My schedule for that weekend is up in the air, but I hope I can make it to one or both of these.
PopTech is a TED-like conference that takes place in Camden, Maine each October. I’ve been three or four times…it’s a good conference. This year, they’re streaming the whole thing live…not bad for a $2000/ticket conference. There are a few names on the schedule that you may recognize (Kevin Slavin, Rodney Mullen, Charlie Todd) but it looks like they’ve done a good job gathering folks other than the usual suspects.
I attended the XOXO Festival in Portland, OR this past weekend. I don’t have a great deal to say about it because — and I’m not trying to be a dick here — you had to be there. As in, physically in the room with the speakers and the attendees. But I did want to mention a few things.
- XOXO was put on by Andy Baio and Andy McMillan. They killed it. And they killed it because they really really (really!) cared about what they were doing, so much so that they were (at times unsuccessfully) holding back tears as they did their outro. Do Chris Anderson or Walt Mossberg cry at the end of TED and D? I don’t think so.
- At no point during the weekend did anyone on the stage make a cynical or ironic remark. Everyone was so positive. It would be easy to mistake it for wide-eyed and naive idealism but that optimism is hard-won and tempered by experience. You can do it — we can do it — because we’ve done it before.
- XOXO attendees were generally not on their computers or phones. They listened to the talks and chatted with their nearby seatmates. It was amazingly refreshing. More conferences like this please.
- Though not specifically referenced, one of the themes of the weekend was what David Brooks referred to as “the power of the particular”. From his piece in the NY Times a few months ago:
It makes you appreciate the tremendous power of particularity. If your identity is formed by hard boundaries, if you come from a specific place, if you embody a distinct musical tradition, if your concerns are expressed through a specific paracosm, you are going to have more depth and definition than you are if you grew up in the far-flung networks of pluralism and eclecticism, surfing from one spot to the next, sampling one style then the next, your identity formed by soft boundaries, or none at all.
The whole experience makes me want to pull aside politicians and business leaders and maybe everyone else and offer some pious advice: Don’t try to be everyman. Don’t pretend you’re a member of every community you visit. Don’t try to be citizens of some artificial globalized community. Go deeper into your own tradition. Call more upon the geography of your own past. Be distinct and credible. People will come.
Examples of this power abounded at XOXO. The indie gaming scene is insanely niche but, as documented in Indie Game: The Movie, some of the best and more unique games make millions of dollars. Emily Winfield Martin felt like a misfit in art school but gained a huge following for her illustrations on Etsy and is now living her dream of creating children’s books. Julia Nunes started out playing cover songs on her ukelele in YouTube videos and now has albums and has played with Weezer and Ben Folds and appeared on Conan. Adam Savage told the story of The Adventurebilt Hat Company, which started making replicas of Indiana Jones’ hat from Raiders of the Lost Ark because they were fans of the film and ended up supplying the actual hats for the fourth Indy movie. The PDX671 food cart that took home the judges’ award in the 2012 Eat Mobile awards was parked outside of the festival both days serving cuisine from Guam. Another cart from the XOXO pod, Nong’s Khao Man Gai, serves only a single Thai dish and boasts long lunch lines. Even the numerous craft beers available all over Portland are valued by aficionados for each beer’s particular characteristics.
My pal Andy Baio is throwing a conference in Portland in September and funding the whole thing on Kickstarter.
XOXO is a celebration of disruptive creativity. We want to take all the independent artists using the Internet to make a living doing what they love — the makers, craftspeople, musicians, filmmakers, comic book artists, game designers, hardware hackers — and bring them together with the technologists building the platforms that make it possible. If you have an audience and a good idea, nothing’s standing in your way.
It reminds me a bit of what SXSW used to be. I bought a ticket and am hoping to be there. Only 68 tickets remaining so if you want to go, you’d better pull the trigger on the ticket gun.
A marketing company is using some of Austin’s homeless population as roving pay-as-you-go wireless hotspots during SXSW. The project is called Homeless Hotspots.
Homeless people have been enlisted to roam the streets wearing T-shirts that say “I am a 4G hotspot.” Passersby can pay what they wish to get online via the 4G-to-Wi-Fi device that the person is carrying. It is a neat idea on a practical level, but also a little dystopian. When the infrastructure fails us… we turn human beings into infrastructure?
Matt Haughey’s SXSW talk, Real World Moderation: Lessons from 11 Years of Community, was quite well received so he posted a version he recorded at home to Vimeo.
After 11 years of running MetaFilter.com, I (and the other moderators) have been through just about everything, and we’ve built dozens of custom tools to weed out garbage, spammers, and scammers from the site.
I’ll cover how to identify and solve problems including identity, trolling, sockpuppets, and other nefarious community issues, show off custom tools we’ve developed for MetaFilter, and show you how to incorporate them into your own community sites.
Meant to post about this when it was announced: the Brand New Conference, Nov 5 in NYC.
The Brand New Conference is a one-day event organized by UnderConsideration, focusing on the practice of corporate and brand identity — a direct extension of the popular blog, Brand New. The conference consists of eight sessions offering a broad range of points of view with speakers from around the world practicing in different environments, from global consultancies, to in-house groups, to small firms.
Speakers include boldface names Michael Bierut, Paula Scher, and Erik Spiekermann. Surprisingly, tickets are still available.
If you’re into old school video games and pinball, the place to be in mid-July is at California Extreme, a classic arcade games show. Tickets are $60 for the weekend but the relevant pullquote here is:
Everything is on free play. You can play from the moment you arrive until we shut off the power at closing — Play as many games as you want, in whatever order you want to. There are *HUNDREDS* of games, all set to play for free. This is a your chance to try those older games, or the newer games that you’d never put money into in an arcade. There are also many games that never got produced, and are very hard to find.
I went with some friends several years ago and it was a lot of fun.
The lineup for the 2010 Gel conference in NYC is shaping up nicely. Regular kottke.org readers will likely be interested in hearing Will Shortz (NY Times crossword puzzle dude), the Gregory brothers (Auto-Tune the News), Randy Garutti (COO of Shake Shack), Rachel Sussman (photographer of the world’s oldest living things), and Matt Freakin’ Haughey.
The PopTech conference is going again in Camden, Maine, but you can watch the whole thing online for free from the comfort of your desk, blogging couch, or podcasting lair.
O’Reilly is discontinuing their Emerging Technology Conference.
Since its inception, ETech has been a vibrant gathering of the alpha geek tribe, bringing together some of the most innovative people and projects across the technology community. So it’s with regret that O’Reilly Media has made the difficult decision to discontinue ETech in 2010.
I think I went to Etech twice or maybe three times. The first time was mind-blowing but the second year had many of the same speakers and was generally disappointing. I’ve heard very positive things about it in recent years…sad to see it go. (via waxy)
I’ve been to quite a few conferences and almost without exception, the best speakers and presenters are people who are actually doing things in the trenches…not the folks who write books about them. The engaging and whip smart Geoffrey Canada outlined the four factors he uses to achieve success with his organization in educating kids in Harlem.
1. We have to tackle everything at the same time. Small programs touching unconnected parts of kids lives aren’t that effective.
2. They start working with kids from birth and stay with them until they graduate from college. If they don’t let them get behind, later superhero-type interventions (which don’t often work) are not needed.
3. Scale is important. If you work with lots of kids, their collective action reinforces itself with little further effort.
4. Accountability and evaluation is needed. Canada said that if bad teachers aren’t teaching the kids, they should be fired.
Canada also cautioned about complacency in business. He said that businesses, left to their own devices, find comfortable resting places without periodically refreshing their values and goals.
Update: Canada was the subject of a recent segment on This American Life. (thx, andrew)
Update: The Harlem Children’s Zone has been hit hard by the financial crisis and had to lay off staff. (thx, elaine)
The big themes of the day so far are confidence and experts: should we and do we have confidence in the experts? Malcolm Gladwell kicked off the morning with a talk about overconfidence. He talked about the three types of failure possible in a situation like the financial crisis:
1. Institutional failure. The regulators and regulations were not sufficient.
2. Cognitive failure. The bankers weren’t smart enough and got in over their heads.
3. Psychological failure. The bankers were overconfident and failed to recognize the direness of their situation.
Gladwell argued that the financial crisis was caused largely by overconfidence, which has two key effects. One is that people become miscalibrated. They think that the predictions that they are making are actually a lot better than they are. Secondly, there’s an illusion of control problem in which people think they have control over things that are impossible to control. Fixing the situation will be hard because overconfidence is a useful trait to possess and experts are hard to purge from systems (they’re the experts!).
[Experts talking about how experts are wrong! My brain is seizing up.]
Next up were Nassim Taleb and Robert Shiller. Shiller believes that confidence drives the economy and that macroeconomics is flawed because there’s no humanity in it. Taleb was very quotable and the most full of doom of all the panelists so far. He doesn’t like economists. Like wants them gone from the world, or to at least marginalize their effects so that their opinions and decisions don’t affect the lives of normal people. In talking about why this crisis is different than similar situations in the past, he argued that globalization, the Internet, and the efficiency of global financial markets has created an environment where very large and very quick collective movements of money are possible in a way that wasn’t before. Taleb had the last word: “people who crashed the plane, you don’t give them a new plane”.
The panel moderated by Suroweicki was a little odd. Two out of the three panelists kept repeating in reference to the solution to the very complex financial crisis: “this isn’t that complicated”. There has also been a undercurrent to the discussion so far that the goal of any solution to the financial crisis is to get the economy back to where it was. I’m with Taleb on this one: where we were wasn’t very good, why do we want to go back.
I’ll be at The New Yorker Summit today attempting some sort of live-ish coverage.
With a new President in office, our country is in a period of immense challenges, from unprecedented economic tumult to a worldwide environmental crisis. With more at stake than at any time in recent memory, we are compelled to put forward new solutions and new thinking. In this spirit, The New Yorker Summit: The Next 100 Days will gather economic heavyweights and national-policy voices to look at the formative days of the new Administration, and to explore what lies ahead in the next hundred days.
What We Do is a one-day ad hoc conference being held at RISD on April 11.
On Saturday, April 11th, 100 members of the RISD community (students, faculty, staff, and alums) will share something that they do with the rest of the RISD community and the larger surrounding community of Providence.
Leading up to the day of the event, 8 site-specific “spaces” will be created by members of every department at RISD; majors paired up to encourage cross-departmental collaboration. The spaces that they build will house the day’s events creating a street-fair environment for the open sharing of how people at RISD spend their time and energy.
What we do might include studio work, performance pieces, what you did last summer; anything and everything that RISD does in any manner of presentation.
Announced topics include cartooning, disaster simulations, typography, GPS poetry, and cars that run on vegetable oil. Oh, and the whole thing is free and open to the public.
This continues to be annoying: yesterday’s IDEA conference had 12 speakers, all men. Blech. The Web 2.0 Summit has the same problem. And I stopped updating this because it got too depressing.
The PopTech conference has started in Maine and on the web. They’re streaming the whole conference live on their web site.
Dan Lyons (né Fake Steve Jobs) explains why panels at tech conferences are so pointless.
Was at the EmTech conference at MIT today and suffered through a panel led by Robert Scoble with four geeks (Facebook, Six Apart, Plaxo, Twine) talking about the future of the Web. No prepared remarks, just totally random conversation. Basically they all just spewed whatever came into their heads, at top speed, interrupting each other and oblivious to the fact that an audience was sitting there, glazing over… It was like watching five college kids with ADHD and an eight-ball of coke trying to hold a conversation.
The irony of the post is that many of the blogs in Lyons’ list of “Things I Read” in the sidebar are like that panel, only in blog form.
British architect David Adjaye observed that not only are public buildings built for “the public” but they also create “the public” by establishing a space for it to exist. I guess by the same token, buildings built for private citizens also create private citizens…hence, eventually, gated communities and the like.
Adjaye also described his native Africa as layered combination of its different eras: colonialism + nation building + European + Islam + urban/capitalist.
The chefs panel, with Bill Buford interviewing Daniel Humm, Marc Taxiera, and David Chang, was the most entertaining of the day. Right at the end, David Chang told a short anecdote about a customer who complained to him about the amount of fat in the Momofuku pork bun…pork as in pork belly and pork belly as in mostly fat. Chang told him that’s the way it came and that he wasn’t getting a replacement. Shrugging, he told the audience he had a different idea about hospitality than most restaurateurs…”the customer is not always right”.
Michael Novogratz, the 317th richest American, explained the current financial crisis. Goes something like this. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the opening up of China and India for both trade and labor laid the groundwork for globalization. Lots and lots of cheap labor available made for cheap goods and low inflation. Between early 2003 and late 2007, globalization kicked into high gear and people thought, this is it, this is the end of inflation forever. But the workers in Eastern Europe, India, and China gradually became consumers. They bought TVs and cars and better food and whaddya know, inflation is back. The bubble burst.
Amy Smith challenges her students to try living on $2 a day for a week…that includes food, transportation, and entertainment. This video of a talk that Smith did at TED in 2006 covers much of what she talked about today at the New Yorker Conference. The NY Times covered her clever inventions back in 2003.
Haseltine came from an unusual place to the NSA: Walt Disney Imagineering. Between his overuse of the phrases “bad guys” and “war on terror”, there were a couple of interesting moments.
In Haseltine’s estimation, something called Intellipedia is the biggest advance in the intelligence community since 9/11. Intellipedia is basically an internal Wikipedia for people who work for one of the 16 US intelligence agencies. Its goal is to break down some of the barriers between these agencies in terms of information sharing and colloboration.
Right at the end of the session, interviewer Jane Mayer asked Haseltine if perhaps the Bush administration is overreacting to terrorism…if the mindset that danger lurks everywhere is appropriate and realistic. He replied that since he got involved in the intelligence community, he doesn’t sleep well at night. “I know too much.”
I’ll admit I don’t watch politicians speak that often, particularly in public. So maybe I’m being a little naive here, but San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom is nothing short of a magician up on the stage. He talked for 20 straight minutes (his would-be interviewer could only get in 2-3 questions during that time and Newsom pretty much ignored them and talked about whatever he pleased) and it felt both like 5 minutes and exhausting at the same time. By the time he’d finished what I would term a sermon, I wanted to sign up for whatever he was selling at a price no lower than my heart and soul. I haven’t non-sexually crushed this hard on a speaker since Robert Wright.
Ok, two particularly interesting things that broke my gaze long enough for me to scribble them down in my notebook.
1. Newsom talked about building filling stations for electric cars that relied on exchanging batteries instead of plugging in and waiting for your car to charge. You don’t need to own your particular battery.
2. In SF, he’s hoping to exchange the payroll tax for a carbon tax. In his words, tax a bad thing (carbon use) instead of taxing a good thing (jobs). That way, the incentives are in the right place…people aren’t penalized for working but are penalized for using excessive amounts of carbon.
Update: Oh, don’t get me wrong, I have no idea if Newsom was telling the truth or what…it’s just that it all sounded so good coming out of his mouth. Even when it sounded like bullshit I wanted to believe him. I felt so dirty and manipulated afterwards, but still wanted to believe. Like I said, love…what’s truth got to do with it?
Picking a subject from his upcoming book, Malcolm Gladwell talked about the difficulty in hiring people in the increasingly complex thought-based contemporary workplace. Specifically that we’re using a collection of antiquated tools to evaluate potential employees, creating what he calls “mismatch problems” in the workplace, when the critera for evaluating job candidates is out of step with the demands of the job.
To illustrate his point, Gladwell talked about sports combines, events that professional sports leagues hold for scouts to evaluate potential draftees based on a battery of physical, psychological, and intelligence tests. What he found, a result that echoes what Michael Lewis talks about in Moneyball, is that sports combines are a poor way to determine how well an athlete will eventually perform as a member of their eventual team. One striking example he gave is the intelligence test they give to NFL quarterbacks. Two of the test’s all-time worst performers were Dan Marino and Terry Bradshaw, Hall of Famers both.
A more material example is teachers. Gladwell says that while we evaluate teachers on the basis of high standardized test scores and whether they have degrees and credentialed training, that makes little difference in how well people actually teach.
I’ll be at the New Yorker conference today and some attempt to provide an alive weblogging of the goings-on will be made. On the slate are kottke.org tagholders David Remnick, Rebecca Mead, David Chang, Malcolm Gladwell, and James Surowiecki.
It’s been awhile since the last conversation about gender diversity at web conferences. Here’s a particularly high profile example of more of the same: Google’s just-announced Web Forward conference appears to have a single woman speaker out of 38 total speakers.
This talk by neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor was universally considered the best talk at the TED conference last month. In it, she describes the lessons she learned from studying her stroke from inside her own head as it was happening.
And in that moment my right arm went totally paralyzed by my side. And I realized, “Oh my gosh! I’m having a stroke! I’m having a stroke!” And the next thing my brain says to me is, “Wow! This is so cool. This is so cool. How many brain scientists have the opportunity to study their own brain from the inside out?”
I went to a mini conference put on by Core77 on Friday and I’ll post a bit more about a couple of the participants in a day or so, but if you were in attendance, you may not have noticed that the person onstage claiming to be artist/designer Tobias Wong was not actually Tobias Wong (more).
The setup was an art project on Tobias’s part, they practiced together for some time to make it work. There were a lot of little jokes in fake Tobias’s talk for people who knew what was going on. Tobias was in the audience, actually answered a question for fake-Tobias during his talk.
As they did last year, Poptech is streaming their entire conference live on the web for free. October 18-20. They also take questions from the web audience, several of which they used last year on stage.