It’s taken a long while to put together, mainly because I wanted to write up my very sketch notes into something approximating what I said, and also because I wanted to experiment with a more representative way of publishing presentations online.

Anyhow, I’m very pleased to share Playing Together: What Games Can Learn From Social Software with you.

It went down pretty well at both NLGD and Develop, and I really enjoyed some of the thinking that went into it. I’m working out what to do about that, obviously, but in the meantime, I thought it deserved a wider audience. Do enjoy, and I’d love to hear your feedback on it.

NLGD wrap-up

29 June 2008

As mentioned earlier, I spoke at the NLGD Festival of Games conference in Utrecht a few weeks ago; it’s only now that I’ve got time to write it up.

I had a lot of fun: I got to meet a lot of smart people and as well as seeing some excellent presentations, on everything from interaction design to data visualisation, from storytelling to mobile play. I also got to participate in one of the best beer tracks I’ve seen in recent years, and met lots of lovely, smart, switched-on people and talk to (and at) them at length. I’ve got reams of notes to condense at some point, and lots of happy memories; in my books, that’s a success. Many thanks to the organisers, and to everybody who made me feel so welcome and who engaged me in chat.

I’d love to put the talk online, but you’ll have to wait a few more weeks; I’m going to be presenting a slightly tweaked version of the talk at the Develop conference in Brighton (as part of its Online track). Have no fear, though: once I’m done in Brighton, the slides and notes will all be online.

In the meantime, you might be interested in a brief interview I did with Gamasutra, which is now online, and which touches on some of the topics both of my own session and the rest of the conference.

Some exciting news: I’m going to be talking at NLGD, the Dutch Festival of Games in Utrecht, in two weeks time.

I’m going to be talking about “What games can learn from social software”. There’s lots of interesting stuff going in social software and Web 2.0 as a whole that really isn’t permeating far enough into the games industry – yet – so this talk is designed as an overview of some of the more interesting (and not immediately obvious) aspects of social software, and how they might apply to games. I think it should be both fun and informative, and despite the usual pressures, I’m looking forward to writing it a lot.

The talk itself is spun out of my session at Gamecamp, which turned out to be incredibly successful – lots of great discussion and enthusiastic feedback.

And so I’m going to Utrecht. Looking forward to it, if only because it’s always exciting to attend a conference outside your core interests. I’ve spoken about games before, but never to the games industry, so that’ll be quite exciting: lots of new people to meet, lots of new perspectives to hear.

It’s been about two week since I went to FOWA2007 in London, and I’ve been meaning to write it up for a while. It was an… interesting experience, and I’ve been trying to find a way to frame why that is. Speeding on a train back from the provinces to London seemed a good way to concentrate my thoughts.

Last year’s FOWA was great: a one-day conference for

d.Construct 2006 was well over a month ago, now, but I’ve simply been so busy since then that I just haven’t had a moment to write up my experiences.

d.construct is a “grass-roots” web conference in Brighton, run by the nice chaps from Clearleft. It only lasts a day, and, at £75+VAT, it’s insanely good value. I don’t want that last fact to go unnoticed. It was also a great lineup of speakers, including Thomas Vanderwal, Jeremy Keith, Simon Willison, Paul Hammond, Jeff Barr, and Jeff Veen. £88 just to hear all of them speak is, any way you look at it, a very good deal. And then, of course, there’s the all the networking and the chat and the the pub, with four-hundred web-types who descended on Brighton, which is often the highlight of any conference.

When I filled in my feedback form, I realised I didn’t have time to write what I really wanted to say. So I put down the improvements that were the easiest to fix (and, it seems, the most universally agreed upon): more legroom, more power sockets.

Beyond that, what I had to say wasn’t so appropriate for a feedback form, as I’m not quite show how to improve upon my criticisms. But I still think it’s worth putting them down in writing.

At the heart of d.construct is a very good event. I enjoyed this year’s event a lot. But I think there are some areas that could perhaps be improved – or at least addressed – in future years.

First of all, the format. d.construct is much like the Carson Systems’ Future of Web Apps events – it’s a series of speakers talking, one at a time, one after another, in a big auditorium. It’s not stranded or streamed. At the same time… it’s a bit intimidating in that people tend not to want to break out of it. The moment you introduce two or more strands, attendees begin to realise that perhaps they don’t want to go to either talk, and so they decamp to the back room to mingle and chat. And d.construct had a great “back room”, with power, refreshments, and tons of space. As it was… everyone piled into the hall for every session, regardless of whether or not it interested them. Quite often, I saw a number of people ignoring the talk to concentrate on their iPhoto session, and then dumping their latest pictures onto Flickr. I’m sure they could have done that “out back”, or, more likely, found people to talk about things they were interested in. I cut Aral Balkan’s Flash talk – because, whilst I’m a client-side developer, I have zero interest in Flash – and was disappointed to only find about six people hanging around out back, and one or two in the pub around the corner. The chat I had during the session I skipped was great.

I also found the angle a little curious. d.construct, whilst pitching itself as a “web application and Web 2.0 conference”, is very much a web conference coming from the front end. I was disappointed when Jeremy came over very apologetic that he was even showing code at all during his presentation – and it wasn’t really very complex at all. In the end, no matter how many wireframes and PSDs are drawn, websites only exist in code, and I get frustrated when people have to shy away from that kind of expression.

Similarly, I was a bit frustrated that he managed to talk about REST without mentioning HTTP verbs (GET/POST/PUT/DELETE), as they’re as important to the RESTian concept as the URL structure. But I can understand – given what appeared to be the conference’s target audience – why this was the case. It also meant that Jeff Barr got a slightly raw deal – he was going first, and he was easily the most “corporate” of the speakers, but I thought his talk was a great balance of explaining some of the awesome work Amazon are currently doing, and demonstrating how real users have made use of it. But, if you don’t get the importance of S3 or especially EC2 (which is, in some ways, revolutionary), it just sounds like corporate buzzwordiness.

And I was also frustrated by this because the more general-purpose or front-end talks – Thomas Vanderwal’s IA session on tagging (a pretty complete history and explanation of tagging) and Jeff Veen’s phenomenal closing session – were both reasonably high-level (in terms of what they’re discussing) and well received. And for good reason – Veen was absolute dynamite.

Maybe it’s because Clearleft themselves are, primarily, a front-end consultancy, but I don’t want to trivialise things that far or make such bold assumptions. It might just be that it’s the best common ground over which to bring people in the UK together. But I think there’s interesting things about development to be expressed to general audiences, especially given that buzzword-of-the-moment AJAX is all about the point where the front- and back-ends join. And I’m concerned that whilst Web 2.0 (however you understand that phrase) advocates a more holistic, interconnected web, the design and build process is becoming ever-less holistic.

But I don’t want to be a complete downer. Like I said, it was a great-value conference, at which I met many interesting people, and the speakers were all excellent. Maybe next year it will move to multiple tracks; maybe it’ll broaden its scope. Either way, I’m still going to go; it’s a great mixer of an event, and it’s nice to go to something that’s not in London for once. My congratulations to Richard, Andy, and Jeremy on its success; I hope my comments aren’t taken too hard nor too negatively. And I hope you can see why I didn’t quite have time or space to condense them on the feedback form.

Update: One thing I forgot to mention, that’s surely worth a big plus point, is that the “female quota” at this conference was very high. I’m sure that sounds awfully patronising, but given the amount of coverage of “why women won’t go to conferences” (see Mike Kuniavsky on this), it was interesting to note a percentage well into the double figures – I’d say about 20%+, at least. Whether this is because of the front-end focus – or, rather, the less-threatening, less-technical focus – I don’t know, and again, don’t want to trivialise. But bonus marks for this, for sure.)

Five pages to print off

24 August 2006

Matt Jones asked us what we’d print out from the Internet when it went down for good. I spent a while mulling this over; like Tom, I came to few conclusions. But I wrote some ideas down.

Anyhow, it’s now August 24th, and I’m going to Barcelona for a week tomorrow (because I desperately need a holiday). So I thought I’d just put up what

1) Something on how to make batteries
– Jones has stolen all the useful stuff, and besides, books still exist. Electronics may be dead, but electricals are going to be very useful. Batteries aren’t so hard to make (although they’re not exactly going to be Energizer standard), and might turn out handy. Also, it’s the kind of knowledge I can trade for more useful things.

2) Having remembered to use Flickr properly, dump out a nice flickrToys page of my favourites.

3) Print out everything unread in my RSS account.

4) Print out the huge single page which is every blogpost I’ve ever made (and which, for the sake of argument, resides in secret on my server.

– so, I was racking my brains about what to print out from the Internet that wouldn’t be available in any of the many libraries. I had a really hard time. Most things I was thinking of were available elsewhere – it’s just I came to them via the Internet because, well, it was more immediate, it had search. So there’s not much that only exists in Wikipedia, or Gutenberg, or even the web. And what I can think of that is uniquely online is either experience – be it Flash, or something like Flickr (where the value is not in the content, but the interactions; not in one page, but in the social links and relationships represented across many) – or things like the cartoon strips I read that would never really get published apart from on the web.

Hence why I’m printing out my social interactions – my memories of “the Internet” as a place, rather than any unique information it could offer me. Silicon may be dead in Matt’s dystopia, but books aren’t. I’m planning to ransack the Cambridge University Library pretty much the second the bombs start falling – hopefully it’ll be a less popular target than the British Library.

(Talking this over with Alex, she also said that actually, in an Internet-free-world, that was a great idea; she wanted a wing in the Library of Congress or the British Library just for blogs – everyone prints their own blog, binds it, and hands it over. It’s not about saving the high-value content – it’s about saving all the content people make, just like any copyright library does with books. If the internet’s gone, we should be saving as much of the unique content on it as possible, rather than stuff that might just exist somewhere else; if everyone chose a blog as one of their five pages (because you can probably dump the entire contents to one, massive, page), we’d save so much – not just in the content, but in the blockquotes, in the excerpts, in the criticism, in the memes, in the anecdotes, and in the stories. I’m glad it wasn’t just me being egocentric, then).

5) The original Yahoo homepage. (Actually, the original is a bit too spartan, but this one is a better bet

– Possibly my “slightly up-oneself” entry. I’m interested in this because before the search engines, the web wasn’t searched; it was explored. Yahoo found you things by cataloguing what was out there. Very Dewey-Decimal way of thinking. But I want that original list of categories, if only to remember that this was the structure that much of the Web began with; this was how somebody imposed order on the system in the early days. It’s easier to extrapolate from an ordered beginning. So I want to keep that fragment of the early architecture of the web so that I can remember how it all began – when that was “all it was” – and remember that it all grew from there.

After all, silicon may be dead, and the world might be ending, but once you’ve had widespread shared knowledge, it’s hard to go back. Somehow, we’ll work out how to build another Internet – even though it might be slower, mostly-off, and not very neutral. When we do, I want those categories, just to compare the new effort to.

To conclude: it’s a bloody hard question and I feel my answers aren’t really so good, but at least I tried. And I think it does prove that right now, the Internet is more about the interactions we make than the data therein. Which is Web 2.0, right? So it’s not that the sites themselves are “2.0” or not; maybe it’s the users who’ve demanded more, who’ve been upgraded.