Sunday, February 20, 2011

Webstock 2011

Webstock is a weird kind of conference. I enjoy it a lot, but it isn't all that practical. I'm impressed by the number of people who convince their jobs to pay for them to go given that it mostly suggests quitting, starting a startup or becoming a musician. There are some more practical talks mixed in there though; they're the ones I enjoy least.

Frank Chimero opened the conference with a talk about the importance of story in content of any type. And the number of really good talks that were more story than collection of useful cool things really reinforced this message. Unfortunately he says his favourite book is Catcher in the Rye, so I can't approve of him as a person.

One of the major draws for me at the event this year was Jason Cohen as I've been reading his Smart Bear blog for a couple of years now. He didn't disappoint. Giving a humble tale of his experiences with learning how to do the non-geeky portions of a startup. From dealing with shark-like salesmen trying to join his company and take %50 for his troubles, to learning to sell himself and the misplaced feeling of being in a room where they say, "Hey did you see the big game last night", and know which game it was. Jason is one of the best examples of a successful solo founder who still comes across as completely geeky.

The best story of Webstock was probably Peter Sunde, the tales of the pirate bay would fit perfectly well in some kind of surrealist novel. Featuring lines such as, "There was a private investigator following Hans for 4 weeks. Saw him once. He doesn't go out much" and "We tried buying a country. It's a thing we do when we're bored". Sunde's story is completely insane and really shows how unique the pirate bay has been in it's place in internet history. Sunde's latest project, flattr is a very interesting answer to the problems that all the record labels raise regarding artists losing money.

Sunde being there to talk about flattr was particularly well timed as when I asked Amanda Palmer the day before about what she wanted on the internet as a musician, she responded by speaking about the need for some way to perform the equivalent of busking online. Even though her attempt at busking in Wellington only made her a dollar, perhaps not the best endorsement of the business model. She did manage to crowd surf in the middle of civic square though.

The other speakers were all very good and covered a wide array of information and good stories. With the final talk being Merlin Mann giving a very thoughtful talk about things people are scared of. A surprisingly downbeat talk to end on, but one that really rounded out webstock nicely and made it feel like the talks had been crafted to mesh together better than anyone had probably really intended. It was a good thing that it was to be follow with lots of free alcohol though.

Wrapping up Webstock with an Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley gig was very successful. They have a surprisingly large number of very geeky tunes that I don't really notice when I'm just listening to their albums at other times. And Amanda Palmer dedicating a performance of Pirate Jenny to Peter Sunde and the Pirate Bay is all kinds of badass.

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