'Annotated reality' on Webstock agenda

Webstock conference kicks off in Wellington this week

Webstock, in Wellington this week, offers its usual rich fare of local and international speakers with an original take on subjects closely or sometimes remotely associated with computing.

The pun on the 1969 Woodstock music festival signals an event concentrating on enjoyment and the more cultural and societal impact of the Web 2.0 era.

Speaker (John G) Rives, known just by his surname, is a poet and storyteller, but when the conference includes developers working on the leading edge of media, museums’ public information systems and cutting-edge mobile data developments, he will clearly fit with the mood; words like “storytelling” are used a lot where Webstock speakers on software development philosophically “come from”.

Mark Pesce, a pioneer researcher in virtual reality technology (a co-inventor of VRML) and a writer on the future of technology, is a personal recommendation of Sigurd Magnusson, director of major Webstock sponsor Silverstripe.

Pesce will speak about using web technology to “annotate reality”; augmenting every object in the real-world field of view with information “brought immediately to hand with a search or a gesture. In 15 years’ time, he says, we’ll wonder how we got along without such a dense “database of everything”.

The Webstock programme, however, is not short of present-day intelligence on practising the craft of computing in daily working life and dealing with the business and management priorities around it. Toby Segaran, for example, speaks on “practical mobile Javascript development” and Eric Ries on “the lean startup” — identifying a profitable business model faster and cheaper than competitors to exploit opportunities in constrained economic times. Ries also promises to tell Webstock participants how to “ship new software at a dizzying pace: multiple times a day while improving quality and lowering costs.”

Esther Derby speaks on management that is still frequently “off-course” and how to refocus it.

Scott Thomas, design director for Barack Obama’s US Presidential campaign and Mike Davidson, founder of Seattle-based collaborative journalism site Newsvine (acquired by MSNBC) are two late additions to the roll of speakers.

Preceding the general conference, from today through to Wednesday, are 13 full-day workshops, ranging from improving performance of websites – led by Amy Hoy — to product-specific sessions such as Jeff Atwood’s hands-on workshop in Microsoft’s ASP.Net MVC.

Derby will run a workshop putting delegates through a small project in agile development, followed by a retrospective, drawing often-neglected experience from the way the project ran. The primary objective is to explore the structure of formal retrospectives and help participants design them for their own teams.

Webstock organiser Natasha Lampard said last week despite a little initial concern over the impact of the recession, “it looks like our biggest Webstock yet”, in terms of attendance. She rejects any suggestion that the $1095 fee for the conference with $650 additional for each workshop has discouraged potential attendees.

At the recent lca2010 open-source conference a fund-raising event was organised to assist people with the cost of attending Webstock. Lampard sees this positively as “an indication of the community wanting to help” bringing in the not-so-well-off such as recent graduates and those made redundant during the recession. “We’ve kept the same price every year,” she says.

“The event is of the highest calibre and I expect every minute of it to be exciting, educational, and inspirational,” says Magnusson. “We wouldn’t have sponsored it otherwise.”

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