Treat yourself for Christmas

So, along with everyone, and most of all Heather and Derek, we were really sad when they told they’d be unable to make it to Webstock. However, that did leave us with an opportunity to invite some more speakers to Webstock.

If you’ve been holding back on coming to Webstock, then the three speakers we’ve got lined up should be the tipping point! Tell Santa you really need a ticket so you can see Molly Holzschlag, Cal Henderson and Chris DiBona.

We’re really excited to welcome them to Webstock and can’t wait to see them and the rest of our speakers in February!

I Can Has IceCream!!

In what some are hailing as the single most important factor in their return to Webstock, organisers are pleased to announce that You Can Has IceCream! Yes, those divine tubs of ice cream will once again be freely available for your culinary and psychological pleasure.

The free ice cream was one of the true highlights of last year’s Webstock, with speakers Steve Champeon raving about the Hokey Pokey flavour and Rachel McAlpine seen returning again and again to the Lemon and Gin. Attendees marveled over the freezers seemingly filling by magic during the breaks and this feature is sure to be appreciated in the heat of February.

In related news, Red Bull will not be freely available during Webstock. Organisers are tight-lipped about this decision, with Mike Brown only saying that, “It’s for health reasons”, and that, “We’re seeking to avoid another ‘Amanda Wheeler incident‘ caused by excessive Red Bull consumption.”

Ticket sharing – just say no!

A few people have written to us asking about sharing their ticket to Webstock and querying our policy that we’re not allowing that. So we thought it would be a good opportunity to explain.

There’s the logistical reason that it’s just a pain in the butt to administer. We’d rather spend our time on things that make a difference to the conference as a whole. There’s the “value for money” reason in that we think Webstock provides the best value for money of, well, just about any web conference, anywhere. We regularly get brochures (Brochures! Yes, print is still king in the corporate conference world) about web-related conferences charging $1,995 early-bird price for a two day conference. Webstock is less than half the price of that and we’ll stack our line-up of speakers up against any other conference in terms of value.

Those are important reasons, but in a sense they’re kinda trivial. It really comes down to one reason why we don’t allow ticket sharing at Webstock. We’re committed to providing you with the best experience we can.

We believe everyone at Webstock benefits from people being there both days. It makes the experience better all round. The chance to “step away” from work for a couple of days and immerse yourself in a supportive, educational and inspirational environment is one with immense benefits, both to you personally and to your employer. But this only works if everyone commits to it – we don’t want a situation where people are flitting in and out of the conference. It makes everything feel much more rushed and less meaningful. It makes it so much harder to form those connections and networks that you leave the conference enriched by. And it devalues, just a little, the time and effort and money those people who are there the full two days have put in.

As Nat Torkington said in his interview with us, “The best part of every conference is the hallway track – the people you run into between talks, the people you talk with at lunch, the people you go drinking with after sessions end for the day.” This is absolutely true, and it’s why Second Life and virtual conferencing, though they both have their place, won’t replace the shared experience of something like Webstock. But it doesn’t work so well if the people you want to hang out with aren’t there, or someone else is wearing their nametag!

Webstock isn’t a cult, honest! But we do want you to drink the kool-aid while you’re here, and to get the best from the Webstock experience really does mean being here for the full two days.

Oh, and of course, like piracy, ticket sharing funds terrorism!

Speaker interview – Nat Torkington

Nat Torkington lines up in the next of our speaker interviews. There’s some very quotable stuff here!

Webstock: You’ve made the move from the the hotbed of Silicon Valley to, well, let’s just say when Warkworth is the nearest big town you’ll be looking hard to find yourself on Google maps. Why the move?

Nat Torkington: I grew up here, first and foremost, and wanted my kids to have the same kind of upbringing that I had. It’s expensive to buy a house in the country and live close to the beaches, the sea, and farmland. My kids may never be able to afford to do it. So I felt I should give them those experiences while they’re young, before they have to pay for it all themselves. And I missed home πŸ™‚

It’s also wonderful to have distance, literal and emotional, between Silicon Valley and myself. It’s easy, when you live there, to buy into the bubble. From this side of the world, idiocy is easier to see. There are drawbacks, of course – it’s considerably more difficult to evaluate from afar the applicability of a product to the US market.

Webstock: Which four people, living or dead, would you have at your ultimate dinner party?

Nat Torkington: Oscar Wilde, W.H. Auden, Douglas Adams, and my great-great-grandfather. The first three are all writers I admire: witty, insightful, interested in diverse things, and with nanometer-precision language skills. All have travel, exile, and dislocation in their stories: Wilde fell from grace in London society and was exiled to France, Auden rejected England for New York, and even Douglas Adams moved from his famed Islington flat to Los Angeles.

My gggf would have an amazing story to tell. He was a builder in Manchester, and we have stories of him doing handstands on the chimney stacks of factories. He and his wife lost seven young kids to the ills of Industrial Age Victorian England before she died in childbirth, leaving him with only three living sons. He went from Manchester to America, South Africa, and New Zealand, then returned to New Zealand to buy land (walking from Auckland to Leigh then Mangawhai before walking back and saying “I’ll take Leigh”) and then moved his sons out. It’s astonishing to think of the state of mind of someone in that circumstance – the sadness, the vulnerability, the strength, the determination to provide and survive. I’d gladly foresake conversation with the other three just for a dinner with the first Torkington in New Zealand.

Webstock: If programming languages were religions, what religions would Perl, Ruby on Rails and .Net be?

Nat Torkington: Python would obviously be Catholicism: there’s only one way to do it, that’s our way to do it, and if you try to find another then you deserve to burn in hell. Perl is hippy new age 1970s spirituality: a hodgepodge of angels, Tibetan monks, whalesongs, animism, meditation, and underground cities. Even though Perl practitioners sometimes seem crazy to outsiders, they’re still calm and productive. Ruby on Rails is the efficiency religion of the 2000s, as exemplified by Getting Things Done. It looks practical and efficient on the surface, and everyone raves about it, but look too close and you realize it’s the same hippy bullshit as Perl but with great marketing and positioning.

.NET is Scientology: bullshit manufactured to profit from the gullible.

Webstock: Teh Interwebs – what more should New Zealand be doing as a country?

Nat Torkington: This question comes up a lot and for a long time I struggled to find an answer. Now I believe there isn’t one, because this is an invalid question. New Zealand doesn’t act as a country. There’s government policy, there’s business behaviour, there’s education, there’s consumer sentiment. There’s no one answer that works for “New Zealand as a country”.

The open question is whether a Kiwi can build an Internet product that attracts consumers overseas. It appears, at first glance, that you have to be in the market, be in the same environment as your customers, to create a killer product. So the whole Knowledge Wave drama of living in NZ but making a killing overseas could well be a pipedream. It’d certainly explain why, as David Skilling points out, our top 10 exports are the same now as they were in the 80s.

Xero and several other companies are hoping to score well internationally while still keeping their core operations in NZ. I wish them luck – I know they’re learning a lot about the challenges of doing this. I hope fervently they can find a way through for the rest of us.

If it turns out that you have to be embedded in local markets to succeed, that might be an opportunity for the Kiwi exodus. We have the number 8 wire mentality behind us – generalists, ingenious, used to doing more with less – so as our brightest find themselves overseas they may see opportunities. The trick is relating that to those of us back in New Zealand! We can’t compete with China on price for manufacturing. Software might well go that way, too.

I have some thoughts on what might work for us, but I’ll save those for my talk!

Webstock: You’ve attended and organised more conferences than most of us have had hot dinners. What makes for a good conference?

Nat Torkington: The best part of every conference is the hallway track – the people you run into between talks, the people you talk with at lunch, the people you go drinking with after sessions end for the day. A good conference enables and encourages these off-the-grid interactions rather than attempting to channel everything through the formally-planned sessions. A great conference is one that has attracted fascinating, diverse, talkative people as attendees, so everyone you talk to is exciting and enlightening.

Webstock: Which other Webstock speaker are you most looking forward to seeing, and why?

Nat Torkington: Don’t make me choose! I know Kathy, Damian, Tom, Simon, Russell, and Amy already. I’m a big fan of Dan Cederholm’s designs, so I’ll be trying hard to pick up even a skerrick of his talent while he’s here. But I think it’s Tom Coates I’m most looking forward to. When I think back to the presentations on web technology that have blown my mind in the last ten years, Tom’s name crops up again and again. I’m thinking of the BBC Program Information Pages [and PDF presentation], and Using Wikipedia to Give Structure to Flat Lists. If you haven’t read his Native to a Web of Data talk, do so. Similarly, Greater than the Sum of Its Parts is simultaneously mind-expanding and useful.

Scholarship considerations

We overworked dispensers of Webstock 08 scholarships have now received all applications and are about to start reading, thinking and plugging our formula with its 37 secret components into the decision spreadsheet.

We will reveal our decisions soon. Promise.

Meanwhile … if anyone can offer any scholarship funding please let us know — we have heaps of excellent applicants who deserve a chance.