dConstruct 2008: part four

(Parts one, two and three precede this…)

After the workshop ended, a few of us decamped to Komedia Bar for an ale; at 7pm it was time for the emerging tradition that is the Pre-Pre-Party Burgers, next door at Gourmet Burger Kitchen. GBK had reserved half the restaurant for dConstruct attendees, so it wasn’t too difficult to get a seat. I stuck my coat on an empty chair on a table otherwise occupied by Ross, Mark and Adnan, all of whom were fine burger-eating company, despite having never met me before in their lives ;)

Burgers eaten, we headed for the Pre-dConstruct Party, at Po Na Na’s in The Lanes, the area that was originally the fishing village that eventually became Brighton. The party was sponsored by Chi.mp, a still-in-beta-as-I-write-this service for claiming your identity online and doing aggregated life-streaming. I’ve signed up for a beta invite, but no word yet. Still, I got a free t-shirt and baseball cap, neither of which I’m likely to wear, unfortunately. The t-shirt says “Never mind the bollocks, here comes Chi.mp” and is extra-large so looks like a tent on me: two good reasons not to wear it to work. The baseball cap is one of those trucker’s caps that ironically fashionable people were wearing a few years ago, but since I may be ironic or fashionable but not at the same time, I decided that it’s not for me.

This was to be the start of a large well of freebie-related disappointment at this year’s dConstruct. I had planned to stock my wardrobe for the coming year but, alas, it seems that the economic woes of the wider world have reached Noomeejaland and no-one wants to spend on quality giveaways! What we need is more VC cash to flood into the industry… no, wait: we don’t.

Anyway: there were free drinks, at least, so it’s not all doom and gloom. It was good to see some familiar faces from Bristol and Bath (Alex and Laura Francis, Dan Dixon, Mel Kirk, Ryan Carson, Keir Whitaker) plus Mike and Dominic from Carsonified, who I’d not met before. I also got chatting to some new faces: Andy and Geoff and a couple of guys who work at Cardiff Uni and who’ve just been through the same Groupwise -> Lotus Notes transition that we went through a few years ago (“but at least Groupwise IMAP actually worked!”).

I’m far too old to be partying all night, and I have two young children, so I’m tired by 10pm these days. I didn’t stay very long at the Pre-Party, where the music was so loud that it wasn’t really possible to hold a conversation. I do sound old, don’t I? Off to bed, said Zebedee_Magic_Roundabout.

Next morning, breakfast with friends! Chris Hall and Alex and Laura Francis were also staying at The Kemp Townhouse, so it was a more sociable affair than the day before. The Smoothie of the Day was the same as yesterday’s, suggesting that it’s actually the Smoothie of More Than One Day; it was, nonetheless, delicious. I started with muesli as before, but followed it up with pancakes with smoked salmon. This was a mistake: the pancakes were far too filling compared to the muffin that you get with Eggs Benedict or Florentine, and I couldn’t eat it all. I hate wasting food.

The Actual Conference

As the conference agenda was printed in full on the attendee badge, I could relax a bit; opening remarks weren’t due until 10am. I checked out of the hotel and wandered over to the Brighton Dome, venue for the conference. I realised part-way there that I’d forgotten my invoice, without which I’d fail to claim back expenses. One phone call to the hotel later and the manager promised to leave it with Chris, who was staying the Friday night as well.

With no more checking in to do (as I had my pass from the workshop day) I grabbed a coffee, bumped into Adrian_eggwhite again and we found a seat for the talks.

After an intro from Richard Rutter and Glenn Jones (of Madgex, one of the sponsors) it was time to hear from…

Steven Jones: “The Urban Web”

(Steven is author The Ghost Map, an account of Cholera, Information Design and Social Networks in 19th Century London)

Steven gave a fascinating account of how a doctor (amateur InfoDesigner), a vicar (social networker with hyper-local knowledge) and the availability of open data in a standardised format led to the tracing of Soho’s 1854 Cholera outbreak (the penultimate one in the city) back to a contaminated water pump outside 48 Broad St.

These principles, discovered during the book’s writing, led to the development of Outside.in a (US-only, atm) web site that aggregates hyper-local knowledge, even from non-geocoded sources. This seems fraught with the risk of inaccuracy or outright wrongness; in fact Leisa Reichelt (one of last year’s speakers and a user experience designer) Tweeted: Not convinced by the premise or the implementation of outside.in. I guess it takes some people less time than others to see through a web site’s glossy presentation (and Outside.in is glossy) to see the reality underneath. (Not that glossy presentation is bad, it’s just that it needs to be glossy presentation of something that’s functionally sound.)

Anyway, if you can look past that, Steven dubbed this stuff “The Geo-Web” and gave an example of Outside.in being like virtual CCTV(Close-Circuit Television): a van exploded in Brooklyn, where he lives, someone Tweeted about it and it (somehow) ended up in a geo-specific alert/feed.

But, as Chris Hall pointed out_english/statuses/910538775, there are massive trust issues with all of this (like many Web projects, the creators of which seem to assume everyone’s as nice and cuddly as they are) and the opportunity for cheap, non-destructive “social” terrorism, or at least mischief.

Aleks Krotoski: “Playing the Web”

(Aleks writes for The Guardian, is a gamer and an academic. She’s also a very lucid, funny speaker - not what I’d expected (which was someone rather arch) from reading her stuff in the paper.)

Her talk’s tagline is “how gaming makes the internet (and the world) a better place”. There’s a Games world out there, and a Web world; it’s not often the two collide in any meaningful way.

Web people love games. Why? Stickiness! (which leads to advertising and profit, usually). Games people, however, aren’t really bothered about the Web.

  • It’s not about the graphics - it’s about play.
  • It’s not even about the story - it’s about play.

Games are part of the Experience Economy, which “is a way to make something fun sound really dull” :D

h4. How do they do it?

Controlled systems

** but gamers feel the need for openness
** do anything, go anywhere, meet anyone
** there can be to much openness, though; it’s a fine line

Enabling systems

** The Internet and the Web have always had community
** Games only started getting community later on
** There are people selling games for Second Life for Real Cash Money on eBay; this is virtual stuff with real value

Psychological systems

** Games don’t have to be active - see PMOG(Passively Multiplayer Online Game), which is based on your “real Web” activity

There’s a feedback loop between gamers and game designers

  • They often overlap (i.e. many game designers are gamers)
  • there’s little awareness of formal HCI(Human-Computer Interaction) best practice…
  • but they get it right by gut feel [as do web devs… sometimes?]

Gamers are a pretty homogenous bunch: most likely (though not exclusively) male kidults; web users, on the other hand, are much more diverse: they are anybody and everybody.

The challenge, then, is to talk to and work with people from the world of games and meet them half-way.

bq. “gamers make the best designers” a lesson there, decision makers where I work often don’t use the internet much – Chris Hall_english/statuses/910569529

Should people who are immersed in Web culture have a greater decision-making clout at IOP Publishing? That’s a tough one, as it may be that “ordinary” (i.e. non-Web-immersed) users may be left cold by services designed “by gut feel” only. User-centred (and activity-centred) design is of paramount importance if we are to be truly “customer focused”.

To be continued…