WebStock 2011 - Conference day two

Yet another excellent day of thought provoking presentations.  Big thanks to the conference organisers, helpers and presenters for such an excellent event.

For my notes from yesterday check out “WebStock 2011 - Conference day one”.  The collaborative note taking effort was also in action again today at http://webstock.waveadept.com/ .


  • Co-founder of Tumblr, Founder of Instapaper
  • It’s never too late to edit for the good of your product
  • What to build
o   You don’t need to cater to geeks
§  We’re not loyal and will jump to new products
§  We’re unnecessary as an audience; we’re very small
o   Be useful to non-geeks

  • You don’t need to (and probably shouldn’t) rely on another service
o   Don’t give your power away.
§  E.g. using Facebook for login
o   You need them for everything and they use you for nothing
o   No service is universal
o   You can take advantage of services without requiring them
§  E.g. send to Flickr

  • Be useful to the first user
o   “A wonderful nonstick frying pan is useful even if you’re the only person who ever buys one” Bill Gates

  • Your product should be remarkable
  • Remarkable products don’t need to advertise
o   Word of mouth is important
o   If your product isn’t good it won’t work (with either advertising or word of mouth)
o   Bloggers need content for their blogs.  If you make something remarkable, there are people who will make positive remarks about it.
o   Your product can help by advertising itself

  • You should think about revenue from day one
  • You don’t need to publish ads
o   Ads should be your last priority (or a secondary stream).
o   Try to make money by other options first.

  • People will pay money if you let them
  • You don’t need (and won’t get) every customer
  • You don’t need to listen to every feature request
o   Let others guide you but not direct you.
o   Product design is not a democracy
o   E.g. nobody would ever have asked for a glass phone with no buttons, looking at predecessor phones

  • Managing feature requests
o   Everyone wants your product to do “one more thing”.  But it’s a different thing for everybody.
§   
o   “Pick the few features most….”

  • Features requests are one input of many
o   Stand up for your own vision

  • You are going to need a good technology foundation
o   There will never be a good time to change
o   Use technology conservatively
§  There’s always something new
Buggier, Lack Replication, Less ability for problem resolution etc.
§  Boring == stable
§  Don’t be the biggest deployment of anything.
Let the likes of Google, Yahoo!, Facebook fix the problems first
§  You don’t need “cloud” hosting
LAMMP,R,oP
Instapaper
o   Linux, Apache, MySQL
o   webservers: 60+ request/sec
o   MySQL with SSDs:
o   Memcache
o   HA Proxy

  • Be orthogonal where possible
o   Design things so they are isolated from other things as much as possible.
o   Language: Nearly impossible
o   Data store: Usually hard
o   Cache: Easy
o   Proxy: Easy
o   Large-file storage: Easy
o   Host: Easy
o   Cloud host: Hard
o   Amazon S3 is great for storage and easy to move off. Amazon EC2 is a lot harder to move off.  Google App Engine is almost impossible to move from.
o   Write wrappers around almost everything to allow things to be swapped (more) easily.

  • Minimise overhead
o   You can start in your spare time.
§  You do have free time

  • So: A great product + Revenue from the start + Low Overhead = You may not need funding
  • Everyone will tell you to do what they did
o   Do your own thing.


  • http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/
  • Designing information visually so we can see connections we didn’t see before or discover things that were not obvious initially
  • Visualising information is about bringing it into focus.
  • Video showing visualization: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=US4_jFpwJPo
  • Numbers are hard to get; it is also hard to identify relationships in the data
  • Data is the new soil
  • Infotography
  • Infographics is the new photo journalism
  • Tools
o   Uses Adobe Illustrator for designs; lots of manual work.
o   Stores data publically in Google Docs

  • What goes wrong
o   When you visualize data without a story it doesn’t help the situation.
o   Circular isn’t good.  Looks complex.
o   Design should be about taking things out.  Optimise.
o   Ugly cartograms
o   Fear of whitespace
o   Info that isn’t interesting

  • Information design must also uncover a story
  • Data: You should be able to play with it, mix it up and have fun with it.

Main auditorium

  • Touch screen interactions feel more personal, intimate, natural, intuitive
  • Content should define the app, not the machinery.
  • Graphics need to direct the interaction with content.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of “hum-drum”; they have been tries and tested.
  • “Why does an e-book reader need a page-turn effect? Like having a fake needle on a CD player. Or horse-shit coming from the back of a car.” @blprnt
o   Animation provides feedback to your design metaphor.

  • Familiarity & intimacy invite touch
  • Don’t have metaphor clutter. 
o   Choose one and stick to it.

  • If it looks like a physical object people will attempt to interact with it like that object.
  • Think about the purpose of the app and whether buttons are needed
  • Gestures are the keyboard shortcuts of touch interfaces (instead of clicking or buttons)
o   Big screens invite big gestures.

  • Twitter app for iPad encourages exploration, thereby removing the need for a back button.
  • The more features you have the more controls you need
o   Clarity should trump density.  Just enough is more.

  • Touch can help create fluid applications that manage complexity
  • Use content as the controls
o   Was “The medium is the message”, now “The message is the medium”

  • Explore multi-touch gestures
o   It does however require two hands (in most cases)

  • Treat the entire screen as the control
  • We can learn a lot from Game developers, they show us new rules
  • You won’t get things right the first time, don’t give up,


  • There are rules and they are made to be broken
  • How to decide what advice to follow, choose your own path
  • Tech support is sales
  • Blogging can consume your life if you follow the rules
o   None of the rules matter; do what works for you.

  • Lesson
o   1. You set the rules
o   2. Advice has context
o   3. “I’m not a _______ person” is twaddle
o   4. Trust your inexperienced gut
o   5. “That’s how it’s done” is bull5h1t

  • Features are like sex: one mistake and you have to support it forever
  • Dimensions of advice:
o   Rich/King
o   B2B/B2C
o   Bootstrapped/Funded
o   Lifestyle/Growth
o   Pleasure/Pain
o   Confident/Introspective


  • I copy therefore I am
  • Pirate Bay
o   >100k tracker connections/second
o   Responses to US legal threats:
§  1. Photo of a polar bear; We’re being eaten by polar bears
§  2. Circled Sweden on map of world “we’re not part of the US yet”
§  3. Reply to cease and desist font distribution with letter reformatted with fonts they were told to stop using.
o   See http://thepiratebay.org/legal.php for Legal threats against The Pirate Bay
o   No one dares to censor in Sweden anymore after an ISP CEO was sacked for blocking Pirate Bay and other sites
o   A private investigator following Peter registered his car to a company called “private investigators”
o   Social Micropayments
§  Many small streams will form a large river
o   Pay a monthly rate (set by you) and each month it is divided among the people you’ve “Flattr-ed”


  • Formally from Apple
  • Why are you at Webstock?
o   Webstock is about the message
o   “You are awesome” on a pencil
o   Build & ship for human beings
o   Your job has an expiration date

  • You are (at most) three years away from building something new.
  • At the (metaphoric) table are:
o   Engineer
§  Needed so that you don’t end up with chaos
§  Engineers believe in a perfect system
§  Strives to reduce chaos because its inefficient
§  There is a right and a wrong answer
§  Willing to take the time to go deep and understand
§  Predisposed problem solvers
§  They are paranoid, prepare for the unexpected, architect to protect their work
§  Love signal, hate noise
§  An urge to build a thing
o   Designer
§  Without a designer you end up with Gmail (wildly successful but could do with a designer’s input)
§  Needed because the engineer can’t make things look good
§  Understand what the user wants
§  Prioritising, focusing and expertly describing the want.
§  Using the knowledge to surprise and delight users.
§  Responsible for the user experience.
§  Describe the “want” perfectly
o   Dictator
§  You don’t get anything without a dictator.
§  “I’m the one telling you how it is”
§  They know what they want
§  This is the enforcer; the person you can go to for confirmation.
§  Steve Jobs & Bill Gates are dictators; Bill is nerd dictator.  Steve Balmer is not (he’s part of the MBA crowd).
§  Consistency
Team members have the fear of deviating from the awesome
§  Death to Ambiguity
§  Velocity
Getting things moving
Makes decisions
Says no

  • Quora, Facebook and Google are examples of companies run by Engineers.
  • The challenge with engineers is that we think if we can build it we can also design it.
  • Apple stores are designed after museums, because it’s a good way to look at art…. Lickable hardware.
  • There is no evident file system on iPad
o   Would an engineer or a designer have made that decision? No, only a dictator would say “All I want is for people to be able to email a picture of their cat!”


  • Helps make people’s lives more interesting, productive and fun.
  • 1.62GB presentation, 162 transitions on one slide in 32 seconds
  • Networks of the web - changing, evolving, breaking free from the browser
  • The Persian Royal Road wa so effective that armies 30 days march away could get their orders from the heart of the empire the same day.
o   Moved materials, trade and armies.
o   World’s first great communication network

  • Transformative Infrastructures
o   A new infrastructure like this can be totally transformative.
o   An infrastructure like this is not an end unto itself, each upgrade massively increases the possibilities of what we can do.

  • The world has changed dramatically; road, sea, rail, air
  • The history of any object the room around us  is a long chain made possible by the connected network of trade.
  • But what about the web?
o   In the last 10-15years there has been huge progress.
o   We have collectively transformed the world.
o   We started off with silos
o   APIs are the roads between services along which data can travel to be assembled and reassembled.  This means every open site or service is another component we can build on and extend

o   Built totally on other products

  • Upgrades to the web of data
o   Social Software
o   Social Networks
o   Geolocation
o   Real-time data
o   Data Visualisation

  • As cost drops we will see more and more connectivity in all objects.
  • Objects as Services
o   Why bother owning something at all?
§  e.g. a washing machine. Why bother buying one, just rent one and pay per usage.  It could report back via a network that it needs servicing etc.

  • MUJI (http://www.muji.eu/index.asp ) is a Japanese company that specialises in ultra simple, clean design products for the home.
  • Consider how to integrate the network into objects to makes them more useful.
o   E.g. Electronic scales (http://withings.com) that post info to website where it can be analysed.
§  Costly now, but will reduce over time

  • Could link weight data to Nike, Health sites, and other places.
  • Towards the networked city
o   Layer our network over existing infrastructure
o   IBM Smarter City initiative
o   London cycle hire
o   San Francisco Parking Meters
§  People can use phone app to see parks that are free
§  Pricing changes based on time of day etc.
o   Reactive buildings that change
o   Our environment is being network aware and reacting …

  • Where do we go from here?
o   Sites talking to each other
o   Instrumented planet, connected planet, responsive planet.
o   A new network of sites and services built on top of the world that lets data flow through the world like an animated spark making everything more efficient.

  • What happens when Ideas, Building, Objects, Media, Environments, Appliances, Vehicles and Information have Sex?
o   Bloody amazing things happen.
o   This environment of conceptual sex is what is so inspiring.

  • “We want a web of data by any means necessary”
  • Problems
o   Different languages and cultures
§  We need standards for open data
o   Privacy
§  It is not dead, but we need to decide what is reasonable for people to know about us and have that encoded in law. We could be entering a golden age of privacy, because we are having meaningful debate over what is important.
o   Inequality
§  Not everyone has benefited equally.
§  We want to try to stop companies/ people dominating the web of data.

  • Connecting things transforms the world and we are building more and more things every day
  • The planet and everything on it are our canvas and our brush.
  • Everything the network touches is our playground.


  • In any 8” box of air in front of you there is information; until it is decoded it is just an empty box
  • We are animals and it is in our nature to see ourselves in everything.
  • http://picmoticon.com is a great place to go for things and places that look like faces
  • Visual communication is a two way street; it takes collaboration between the artist and the audience.
  • Powerpoint can be a powerful presentation tool
  • Simple imagery can be combined in a modular way to make complex data more understandable
  • Visualisation + Synchronisation males it easier to remember
  • “If I don’t need to THINK it, I don’t need to SEE it.”
  • Static pictures are brilliant as memory anchors
  • Comics have a special syntax.
o   There is a column response; something within the panels and then something to imagine between the columns
§  It comes down to the imagination of the audience

  • Everybody has a need to find meaning; even if there is nothing there.
o   Any two images together will suggest some sort of narrative or story

  • Single panel stuff is not comics because it is not a sequence.
o   Anything tells a story with a sequence

  • Strips and Books are different
o   Strips are very friendly for the web
§  they work within a node of short attention spans (e.g. http://www.xkcd.com/ )
o   A comic book is harder - the overriding goal is that the reader loses themselves in the story

  • Comics are not just cartoons, but even hieroglyphics can be seen as comics due to the space time relationship
  • For graphic novels, print is still where the best stuff is currently happening.
  • It is a terrible mistake to take content designed for one medium and then just use it on another medium without transforming it.
o   Repurposing is evil

  • Why have suitcases only recently been built with wheels?
o   We’ve had suitcases for ages
o   Wheels have been around even longer
o   Why?
o   Lack of imagination

  • Escape is a powerful instinct.
  • Comics are a legitimate window back into the world.
  • They need to play to their unique strengths


  • You’re never going to be ready
  • Even heroes are scared shitless
  • Everybody is scared.
  • What’s the worst that can happen?
  • If you're going to run through the shit storm, let yourself get covered in shit, but KEEP RUNNING.  Keep moving, keep making cool stuff.

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