The Journey In For Day Two

Since I’m worthless without a good night’s sleep, I’d decided to head home overnight and return reasonably refreshed for the second day of this event. This means that much like day one, I had to start the day with a journey in from just outside West London and a fight with the London Underground (which was, as is traditional, mostly closed). Unlike day one, though, I couldn’t just sleep on the train. I had a presentation to prepare for, as I’d decided on a topic to speak about and planned for my first act of the day to be picking a spot in the grid to accomodate my session.

I’m not going to write much about prepping my session (or presenting it) as I’ve already covered it elsewhere. Suffice to say that I created most of it on the train and tube, then finished it off whilst waiting for the first session of the day.

First Session – The Future of Barcamp London

Or “Tapdancing for Beginners” or “Dutch for Beginners”, as it became known to the participants who arrived early enough. This was a session presented by several of the key figures of Barcamp London, most of whom were looking like they could perhaps have done with a little more sleep at some point that week! Organising this kind of thing cannot be easy, so they deserve applause for being able to function at all – especially as they were also active participants in the event as well the the organisers.

The session itself was a plea for more people to get involved in running more barcamp or hackday style events, rather than continually growing a single, already oversubscribed Barcamp London. They also talked a bit about how their contacts and experience can help with that, and about how their resources might be brought to bear. Which I think is an awesome idea. Whilst I love the two large barcamp events, I can tell it’s going to be hugely frustrating when I lose out on the ticket lottery for one of them… if there are more events, then missing them occasionally will be less gutting. More events will mean more people will get a chance to participate, and the barrier to getting started won’t be quite as high.

Second Session – Why Online Social Media Isn’t a New Thing

Presented by Glenn Pegden / Tilt

An interesting session with a few gaps and a bias worn openly on its sleeve, this was a bit of a travelogue through early online communities and communication tools, starting with things like dial up BBSs, heading on through MUDs, MUSHes and talkers to things like Usenet and Prestel – all of which clearly are precursors to current social networks. I mentioned the open bias, though… and bias probably isn’t the right word. The speaker is clearly passionate about the Monochrome BBS, and a large chunk of the talk focussed on how that grew and evolved, and how a lot of current social network features could originally be seen there – and still can as it’s still running and in active use.

I never really got on with old-school BBSs and talkers, although I did dabble a little at times… mostly due to friends and acquaintances who used (or, indeed, use) them. Even with that in mind, I’m always interested to heat people who know a subject and care about it – and that’s what was happening here. Now that I’m more familiar with console / terminal based things than I ever was when they were state-of-the-art, I might be tempted to give Mono a look at some point. Back when this kind of thing was the only option, I was focussed on other things. Non text-based user interfaces were almost the enemy to be defeated, or at least the status quo to be surpassed (with the exception of text adventures, which were mighty). The fact that they’re still around says they’re getting something right, and it’s worth digging in to understand that and learn from it.

One thing that was touched on in the talk (which I think falls under “getting something right”) was the idea that the barrier to entry required by something in a terminal window kept the quality of discussion high. When getting in requires a certain amount of effort, people who make it are a) more likely to make worthwhile contributions and b) more likely to stick around. I’ve often said that community is often as much about exclusion as it is about inclusion, and this is a case in point. It’s a community for people who are savvy enough to want to get in and be able to get in.

Third Session – From Faraday to Fender: The Physics of the Electric Guitar

Presented by Dylan Beattie

I may not be a musician, but I am enthusiastic about music… and guitars feature heavily in a lot of music I like. Adding in the fact that I enjoyed a session from the same speaker last year, I kind of had to go to this one, really… and I’m glad I did. This was a fairly rapid run through of how and why guitars work, covering harmonics, scale lengths, string gauges, tension, the whammy bar and a fair bit more besides.

The whole lot was presented with humour, enthusiasm and an electric guitar, making for an informative and entertaining show overall.

Fourth Session – Levels of Digital Engagement with Customers

Presented by Lloyd Davis

I don’t actually remember much from this session. That’s not because it was a bad session, because it was actually quite interesting, but more because it wasn’t what I was expecting. I was expecting something about growing (or differing) adoption of online tools, but got something about engagement between brand and person. Like I say, interesting, but wasn’t what I expected. I’m also not quite sure what I can really say about it based on my hazy recollections, so I’m going to pretend I said something insightful and move on.

I probably just needed more coffee.

Fifth Session – University: Why did I bother?

This was a discussion session focussed around whether or not people felt university education had been worth it, was currently worth it, or would be worth it in future. There were no particular conclusions drawn, but I felt I had to chip in – I’ve noticed a trend amongst tech geeks to do two things… first, they dismiss any subject other than computer sciences and second, they then say that their computer sciences degree wasn’t worth the time and effort. It shouldn’t be too hard to spot the issue there. Thankfully, in this discussion, that didn’t seem to be the case.

For reference, whilst many folks I know seem to have decided that I’m a computer scientist or somesuch… I did my degree in Industrial Design. It was very, very worthwhile for three main reasons. First, it taught me that I didn’t want to be an industrial designer. Second, it taught me how to think design (some other things helped – more later), which is essential for what I do now. Third, it passed the time until my industry of choice became a viable option. I couldn’t have planned to work on the web before starting my degree – the web was there, but design wasn’t really a word that could be applied to it at that point. I was halfway through my degree when it became a career option.

I’m now going to digress a bit and flesh out that “more later” from above. Thinking design was also helped by two other things in particular: Fencing and Gaming.

Yes, my current physique hides the fact that once upon a time I was a passable fencer – I was actually school champion for two years running, one of which I think I even deserved. One of the things my instructor taught heavily was ODA – Observe, Deduce, Apply. See what people do, deduce how to use that, then apply your deduction. Whilst I don’t fence anymore (alas), I still do a lot of o
bserving and deducing… and when I can, I apply.

As for gaming, well, again, a lot of the kinds of game I do rely on being able to help the players suspend disbelief, move past constraints and percieve what you want them to. Learning to mess with people’s heads in a gaming environment has it’s uses for other fields as well.

But enough of that digression…

Sixth Session: A Rough Intro to User Experience Design

Presented by… wait, that’s me!

Yes, this was my slot. I wanted to present a slightly different view of User Experience design, whilst also explaining what it’s about. So I did. With sketches. I’ve already blogged about the session and how it went.

Lunch and Conversation

I ended up sitting having lunch with a few good folks, some of whom I can identify, some I can’t. I know I talked to @jack_franklin and @kaythaney – if you’re one of the other folks, please prod me on twitter and say hi!. It started as overflow questions from my talk… and rambled around a fair bit, including me pimping Leah Buley’s “UX team of one” talk and the UXLondon conference. I’m pretty sure I extolled the virtues of one other thing as well, but I can’t recall exactly what… I also kind of forgot to actually eat much, which was probably foolish.

The Blur & Journey Home

From here on out, it’s a bit of a blur. I know I went to an interesting talk by @DigitalMaverick on crowdsourcing and the closing session… and that I had a reason for not attending a session between the two, but I don’t recall much about any of those. So I’ll apologise for the disservice to those who ran the sessions I was at, and wind this post up with a mention that my first good, uneventful journey of the weekend was the last one, which got me home intact and without incident. Which was a good thing, since my brain had clearly shut down by that point.