Better late than never: notes from @dconstruct


dConstruct proved to be a great day out for the second year running. Kudos to Jeremy and the Clearleft team for maintaining excellent quality and diversity of speakers – they prove that you don’t need to compromise on quality to get a line-up that truly represents the issues and subjects people really want to hear about. I’ll even go so far as to say that the line-up both this year and last constituted the best I’ve ever seen at a conference.

Honor Harger wrote a good summary in the Guardian, so I encourage interested folk to read that for a full rundown of the day’s events. For my part, these are the themes that stood out, or at least the bits I scribbled down in the darkened hall:

Cyborg anthropology

Amber Case on cyborg anthropology: ‘Any time you interact with something outside of yourself you are a cyborg’, which I thought was an interesting description of our relationship with technology. Cyborgs are usually thought of as unseeing, unfeeling robots, Terminator-style – is that us? Definite echoes of Kevin Kelly and the technium there.

Diminished reality

Case also spoke about the cyborg’s fascination for augmented reality as against the punter’s desire for ‘diminished’ reality; or a desire to see less of the real (cue landfill ads and ad blockers) – in fact she mentioned glasses created by wearable computing pioneer Steve Mann that essentially did exactly that: it blocked out things you didn’t want to see. ‘Calm technology’ was another interesting phrase she used – technology that is only there when you need it, words that hark back to Xerox PARC in 1996.

Multi-device design

Luke Wroblewski’s talk was more like a lesson in product design through the years; Nymi was a revelation there – between the Oculus Rift and Scanadu it hadn’t come across my radar till then. Luke conducted a workshop on the subject at dConstruct; I didn’t attend it but worth going through his slides, which are up on his site.

The Tantek taxonomy of trolls

We all know about the terrible behaviour of online trolls, who especially target females of all kinds. Nicole Sullivan is an extremely talented front-end web developer with experience at Yahoo and Facebook, who spoke about the kinds of people who have attacked her work in the past, and the (non) qualities of trolls in general. The Tantek taxonomy was an eye-opener. I hope I never have cause to be introduced to any of these people!

Keeping power

As buyers of products, ‘buying power’ is a phrase that is well-used. What if we flip that on its head and speak about how a product feels towards us, whether we have ‘keeping power’ instead? Simone Rebaudengo spoke about his Connected Toasters project – look at Addicted Products for more.

Voice as the perpetuator of your life

Fascinating to know about Florence Nightingale’s desire for her voice to convey the work she did to future generations. Her exact words were:

When I am no longer even a memory, just a name, I hope my voice may perpetuate the great work of my life.

That and other interesting facts from Sarah Angliss (and a performance, of which this was the best of the 3 times I’ve seen her so far) who delved into the history of the castrati and gastromancy as voice was explored as a tool of communication.

You cannot arrest an idea

Security expert Keren Elazari (amazing to be introduced to her work) spoke about people who fight for the freedom of information and what it means. This one single tweet she referenced is going to stay with me for a long time:

Back in 2011, that’s so far got 2901 retweets, by the way.

Social is not a noun

Maciej Ceglowski, founder of Pinboard, gave one of those talks that slowly became better and better as you listened and then at the end of it you go ‘That just blew my mind’. He described his goal to make Pinboard a ‘search engine in reverse’, referring to how people use Delicious as the antithesis of Google by searching for tags (a behaviour that Delicious can claim to have invented, in a sense) and then links relating to them. He spoke about fan fiction and how they guided the evolution of Pinboard, and about the lessons community owners and site owners can glean from their passion. Fanlore and AO3 are fan communities he referenced. He also mentioned how ‘social’ isn’t something you can add to a community like an ingredient in a recipe. Amen to that.

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