Webstock – the past and the future

So, there’s been some changes going on at Webstock and we thought we’d tell you about them by way of telling you where we’ve come from.

Webstock didn’t start as Webstock. It started from Russ Weakley and Peter Firminger’s Web Standards Group mailing list and the idea of holding city-based meetings for people interested in web standards. This was in the days of battling over web standards, the days where you felt alone as a proponent of “standards-based” web development and needed all the support you could get.

I had the idea of seeing what interest there might be in a Wellington web standards group that met occasionally and so, late in 2004, emailed everyone I knew in Wellington to see who might be interested in a meetup. There were 70 responses to the email and around 40 turned up to meeting in December 2004. There was initial help from Terry Wood, who spoke at that first meeting, and also from Signify, my employer of the time, who generously allowed me to spend time during work hours on Web Standards Wellington and Webstock up until 2006.

It seemed at the time that we uncovered a need for people to get together and talk about this stuff. There was a buzz at that first meeting and even more so at the second one I organised in early 2005. We brought over Russ Weakley and John Allsopp from Australia and Jonathan Mosen up from Christchurch and had 75 people attend to hear them talk. In the true traditions of these things, a committee of myself (Mike Brown), Natasha Hall, Ben Lampard, Miraz Jordan, Siggy Magnusson, Elyssa Timmer and Susan Skelton was formed and we set ourselves up as Web Standards Wellington and then Web Standards New Zealand.

Through 2005 we ran a number of evening events, with speakers presenting on topics as diverse as a case study of the weta.co.nz site, data tables, social media, writing well, usability and government web standards. We really didn’t have any plans beyond this, although did look a little enviously at the Web Essentials conference that had been started in Sydney in 2004. We approached the organisers of this – Russ Weakley, Peter Firminger, John Allsopp and Maxine Sherrin – and asked if they might be interested in running the conference in Wellington immediately after it was held in Sydney. Or if that didn’t work, perhaps allowing us to approach some of their speakers to stop off in Wellington after the conference.

The word I’m searching for is rebuffed. We were rebuffed in those attempts and in true “screw those Aussies” fashion, we thought we’d have to do things ourselves. And so Webstock was born.

See, we’ve always been fans first and foremost. Perhaps the main motivation for Webstock was that we realised we’d never see or meet so many of the people who’ve inspired us unless we ran a conference and asked them here. Webstock literally started one evening when Tash turned to Ben and myself and said, “let’s just run our own conference and let’s invite Tim Berners-Lee to speak at it”.

We had no experience in running a conference. We had no money. We had no track record. Luckily, and amazingly, GOVIS provided us with a promise to underwrite any losses up to $10,000, and armed with that and our naivety, we started asking people to come to New Zealand and speak at our conference in May 2006. And they said yes.

Our first budget for that conference had a expected attendence of 150 people and we were going to hold it at the Paramount Theatre. That was the budget, but we always kinda knew it would be more successful than that, so we quickly moved venues to the Town Hall in Wellington. Some 400 people attended that first conference.

I remember calculating I had two weeks of buzz and walking round with good feeling from that conference before the grind of everyday work took it away. That’s completely meant as a compliment to how good the first Webstock was. Through the remainder of 2006 and 2007 we ran a series of Webstock Minis and one-day workshops. And planned for Webstock 08 in February of this year. The core Webstock team for that conference was myself, Natasha, Ben, Miraz, Siggy and Debbie Sidelinger. We ran it as volunteers, outside of work hours and, again and mostly, as fans. Around 500 attended in February, and again it had a wonderful feeling of community and being part of a wider New Zealand web industry.

What became clear to us after February though, was that things weren’t sustainable under the same model. Webstock had become too big, there was too much work involved to keep things running as they had been. What also become clear to both myself and Tash was that Webstock is where our passion lay.

So in the last month we’ve both quit our jobs to work on Webstock. Well, Webstock and whatever else is needed to keep us afloat, but in principle on Webstock!

What changes will this mean? Well, one is that we can now run a conference every year instead of every two. Aside from that, we hope not a lot. At least not in how we operate and what we stand for. If our passion for Webstock, and the community and the industry in New Zealand dies, or if we ever stop being fans and excited to bring really interesting people over to New Zealand, just tell us. We’ll either change or stop the whole show.

It’s an exciting time for us personally, but more importantly for what we hope Webstock can achieve and mean. We really hope you’ll enjoy the results.

23 thoughts on “Webstock – the past and the future

Comments are closed.