We talked with Emily Loughnan, Managing Director of Wellington based interactive media company, Clicksuite.
Webstock: Click Suite is one of the older web, or “new media”, companies around. Tell us about how Click Suite started and some of its history?
Emily: We started when Rex and I went to a television industry conference and heard about how TV would be interactive in the future. We were both blown away by what interactivity would do for audiences (removing the old passive couch-potato viewing experience and really involving the
We were so excited by this (and boring to be around because it’s all we talked about!) that just two weeks later we sent in the registration to form a company.
That was late 1993.
Since then we have lead (and followed) with a wide variety of technologies that deliver interactivity. These days the web is commonly featured in our portfolio, but we’re also doing work in digital sculptures, interactive displays, and in new user interfaces etc. It’s a VERY exciting industry to be in – it’s always challenging and changing.
Webstock: AS someone who could genuinely be called a veteran (and we mean that in the best possible sense!), what’s the current state of the NZ web scene?
Emily: I think we’re doing some great great stuff in NZ. We’ve (kiwis in general) made websites that really are innovative, there’s a lot for NZ to be proud of. I know from our own experience that we showed someone in the BBC a site we made here, and he was blown away at how much more efficiently we did it compared to one they made with similar functionality – and how much better it was in terms of quality.
That said, we need to keep innovating. To do that you need great people, but you also need brave clients, or backers. (They’re on my Santa list)
Webstock: What are some of the changes you see happening to the industry in the next 5 years? What are the sort of things we’ll be working on?
Emily: The really exciting developments in touchscreen and even gestural, or natural, interfaces means how we interact with the web is going to change. That means we are all going to have to think about a new paradigm in user experience because as the interface evolves, so too does the audience.
Webstock: Click Suite is associated with Jane McGonigal at Webstock. Tell us why you made that choice.
Emily: Well sometimes games are a great way to connect with certain audiences. We have quite a bit of experience in that space, and we are interested in Jane’s knowledge and experience. Besides, I fancy coffee with a futurist.
Webstock: This is Click Suite’s first time as a Webstock sponsor. What made you decide to become involved?
Emily: we have some serious webstock fans here. You could call it peer-to-peer pressure 😉
We talked with Chris DiBona, Open Source Programs Manager at Google.
Webstock: Chris, you manage the Open Source program at Google. Tell us a little about the aim of this program and your role in it.
Chris: We have two major foci in the group: First, understand that Google uses a fair amount of open source licensed software, and we ensure that Google is compliant with open source licenses. Second, we are tasked with broadly supporting the open source developer community. We do this by creating hundreds of new developers each year through the Summer of Code, releasing over a million lines of Google code into the wild each year and providing infrastructure to over 160k open source projects on code.google.com.
Webstock: Can open source save the world? And is it just about software – are there lessons that can be applied in other fields?
Chris: No. Only people can save the world. But using open source software, they can do so while still maintaining control of their computers. Preserving their software destiny, if you will.
Webstock: Most people have some vision of what working at Google must be like – the free food, the smart people, the free food. What’s an aspect of working at Google that people wouldn’t expect?
Chris: Actually, I prefer people look at the computer science we do, but that’s hard to do from outside the company. I’m personally very excited about our work on renewable energy through our Google.org subsidiary. In particular, Geothermal gets me pretty excited. The food is pretty tasty, though…
Webstock: You’ve been to New Zealand a few times now. What’s your impression of the NZ web and software scene?
Chris: I think that New Zealand is doing something very right. For a country the size New Zealand is to have such a presence in web development, and in technology in general, is remarkable.
Webstock: Finally, Google is the premier sponsor for Webstock (which we’re extremely pleased about!). But why? What does Google get from sponsoring an event such as Webstock?
Chris: We feel that webstock is the premier event in the southern hemisphere for reaching out to our friends in web development. We look forward to meeting people there each year.
We talked recently with Annalee Newitz, geek, writer and all-round sci-fi fan-girl.
Webstock: You get to blog about things like, “Ten of the Kinkiest Science Fiction Books You’ll Ever Read”. You must, surely, have the best job in the world. Can you tell us a little about what you do?
Annalee: My primary focus these days is running io9.com, a blog about science fiction and science that’s part of the Gawker Media network. I work with a team of writers, and every day we deliver a mix of entertainment news in the scifi world, as well as details on the coolest new scientific discoveries. We post about 25-30 times per day, with a little less on weekends, so we tend to spend workdays on tight deadlines, exchanging a million little messages on IM or in our Campfire online meeting room. My job as editor-in-chief is to keep the whole ship running: I write, I edit, I balance the budget, and I try to stay in touch with editors at related blogs to let them know when we’ve posted something interesting.
Oh and then in the times when I’m not doing that, I freelance for Popular Science and New Scientist, and I’m writing a book. Just call me a graphomaniac.
Webstock: What’s coming in the next 10 years that really really scares you?
Annalee: I think the scenario that scares me most is one of runaway poverty, combined with climate change that wrecks traditional food sources like farms and oceans. Octavia Butler wrote a very believable set of books called Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents which describe a near-future United States whose government has collapsed. Gangs are competing with evangelical terrorists for control of local areas, and poverty has exacerbated political differences to the point where violence is part of everyday life. Some might say these novels are about the conditions of the developing world coming to the developed world. I think Butler’s scenario illustrates my biggest fear. Which is that we’ll make choices over the next decade that permanently destroy our ability to develop the planet so we can provide education, health care, renewable energy, and decent livelihoods for everyone.
Webstock: Is the election of Barack Obama the beacon of hope that so many outside of America look to?
Annalee: Well, he’s better than the other guy! But he’s a politician, and has made some poor choices when it comes to tech and science policy, so I wouldn’t get my hopes up too much.
Webstock: Who are the four people, living or dead, you’d invite to your ideal dinner party, and why?
Annalee: Tonight’s ideal dinner party will include early feminist and scifi author Alice B. Sheldon (AKA James Tiptree, Jr.), whose life I’ve been eagerly reading about in Julie Phillips’ fantastic biography. She’d probably have a lot to talk about with second dinner guest, the software compiler geek Grace Hopper. They were both in the military at a time when few women were – and they were both pretty geeky science types at a time when women were pushed out of labs and into the home. Along with the two of them, it would be fun to have deposed Harvard president Lawrence Summers, who has argued repeatedly that women don’t possess a natural aptitude for science. I’d love to see them slap him around. Finally, I’d invite my partner in crime Charlie Jane Anders, since she makes delightful conversation and would love to see Larry get slapped around by Alice and Grace too.
Webstock: On the apocryphal desert island, you’re allowed one book, one CD and one movie. What would they be?
Annalee: Several terabyte drives containing every book ever written, plus my entire music and video collections? Can I say that?
Webstock: Hardly in the spirit of the question! But a suitably geeky and appropriate answer. We’re looking forward to seeing you here in February!
A sense of fevered anticipation hangs over Wellington tonight. An uneasy sleep awaits those select few entered in the Webstock Pub Quiz as last-minute swotting, research and bribing (ha, if only!) takes place. We have over 20 teams, over 100 people eager to partake of Quizmaster Von Lampard’s downright devious questions.
In the interests of starting the trash-talking early, we publish a list of team names. Please feel free to contribute to that in the comments, and we’ll update this entry with the winners after the event.
The quiz night was great fun! Congratulations to all teams that took part, and especially the winning team – Never mind the Webstocks, here’s the Wellingtonista. Well done guys!
Going into the 6th and final round, the Wellingtonista’s were tied for the lead with Stronger than Dirt, but they looked the pressure right in the eye and recorded a perfect 10 out 10.
A couple of special mentions:
To the Librarians who were consistently the geekiest team, giving each of their entries a Dewey decimal number, annotating answers and providing copious footnotes and providing many illustrations.
To Dinosaur in my Speaker, who were dead at the start of the final round, but recorded a perfect 10 out of 10 in that last round to shoot up the table.
And a huge thank you to quizmaster extraordinaire Von Lampard, who kept the crowd entertained and challenged through the night.
And the results …
Never mind the Webstocks, here’s the Wellingtonista
Stronger Than Dirt
Zietguys & girls
INSERT into users (team_name) values (\m/); (METAL)
For the fourth of our speaker interviews, we managed to catch up with Derek Featherstone in the midst of his quest to see how many frequent flyer miles it’s possible to accumulate in a single year.
Webstock: In hearing you talk recently at Web Directions 09 and Edge of the Web, it seems you want to move beyond delivering “mere accessibility” and actively work to create more fulfilling experiences for those who access the web in different ways. What are some examples of this? And why it is important?
Derek: Here’s an example – lets say we need to have a user click on something in the interface. We need to ensure that this is keyboard accessible — we can use a link, some type of button, or even a span with an onclick attached to it, and appropriate tabindex values so that it exists within the natural tab order of the page. All of these can provide a technical level of compliance and be keyboard accessible. However, moving beyond this technical compliance and into the realm of user experience, only one of those options might provide the most intuitive control that matches its purpose and expectation of the user. Which one really depends on the scenario, of course, but making that decision is something that we must do. Just because we can create a technically compliant solution doesn’t mean that we’ve created an interface that is efficient and useful for people with a variety of needs.
Webstock: For developers and designers thinking about accessibility, what’s more important – empathy or technical understanding?
They are both critically important to two aspects of accessibility. The first is truly understanding what problems we’re faced with, what opportunities there are for creatively providing solutions that meet
everyone’s needs regardless of ability. The second is being able to implement something that solves those problems. Empathy helps us realize what the problems are, and technical understanding helps us
with the implementation. I believe we need both to make sure that we’re solving the right problems, effectively.
Webstock: What can participants look forward to in your workshop at Webstock?
Derek: My goal is to make even the seasoned developer or designer look at accessibility issues with a new twist and consider things that they hadn’t before. They will also walk away with new techniques and strategies that will help them when striving to build accessible and usable web apps.
Webstock: February will be your first time in New Zealand. Anything in particular you’d like to do while you’re here?
Derek: I’ve got a long list of things to see and do while there, but I think tops on my list is to go to a Super 14 match. I played rugby union at home in Canada for close to 20 years, and I’d love to see a match while I’m there.
Webstock: Which speaker are you most excited about seeing at Webstock 09?
Derek: It is a toss up between Annalee Newitz and Toby Segaran. And Derek Powazek. I haven’t heard any of them speak before, and they specialize in areas in which I’m not embedded. As much as possible, I hope to broaden my own horizons when I’m speaking at a conference by getting to sessions that discuss areas I wouldn’t normally investigate on my own.
Webstock: Thanks Derek! The rugby scheduling gods are smiling as the Hurricanes are playing in Wellington around Webstock time. You too can experience the unique blend of excitement, disappointment and heatbreak that comes with supporting the Hurricanes!