The Web Is The World’s Largest Patchwork Quilt

PORTLAND–Makers of Web sites and mobile applications descended from far and near on the Oregon Convention Center today to attend WebVisions 2009, one of the Rose City’s premier events for the digitally inclined.
I caught the tail end of the morning keynote by Jared Spool. He brought up the term “Inukshuk Content,” which got my attention. Inukshuks are rock pile totems in the Alaska wilderness that native people built and placed as a way to say, “someone was here.” Spool said that we also do this on the Web. He gave an example of official “freshman blogs” that describe the college experience and are actively promoted by college admissions departments. Spool also noted that changes its homepage design every day of the year, and that MIT students vie to get their designs published, presumably as a way to declare, “I was here (for a day)” and to share in that experience with other classmates.
The next speaker I saw, Molly Holzschlag, a Web standards and usability expert, said, “What is now is also a conglomerate of things past and future.” No she wasn’t speaking in code. Rather her point is about the importance of continuity, something she believes ought to be baked in to the development process. In one of the more pointed remarks of the day, Holzschlag said, “Versioning is antithetical to everything the core Web ideals express: backward compatibility and future growth.” Naturally, I had to ask her what she thought of the term “Web 2.0.” She jumped on the grenade, and said, “I don’t like it. It’s marketing bullshit. There are no versions on the Web.”
After that, I headed home for lunch and took Lucy to the dog park.
This afternoon, I listened to David Verba, author of Subject to Change speak on “creating great products and services for an uncertain world.” He said it’s important to create “moments of wow!” (or consistently great product experiences) because that’s what customers want and what they remember. He also said most companies believe they’re doing this. He quoted a recent study of 362 firms that indicated 80% of companies believe they’re delivering a “superior experience,” however only 8% of their customers say they are. That’s quite a gap and one more damning piece of evidence in the corporate cluelessness chronicles.
Mark Frauenfelder closed the afternoon with a keynote on the art of making things. Aside from his well known involvement with BoingBoing, Frauenfelder is also the Editor in Chief of Make, a magazine with a print circulation of 125,000. His talk had nothing to do with BoingBoing and was only vaguely connected to making Web sites. Instead, Frauenfelder spoke eloquently about the cultural shifts away from an agrarian society in America (where farmers made things) to a society where those things could be purchased on the cheap. He also said that things like the rise of gaming distracted geeks for a good 25 years, when they might otherwise have been making things. Frauenfelder attributed the return of DIY and a culture of making to the punks.
Frauenfelder asked rhetorically, “Why makes things?” He said we can express ourselves through the things we make. That hand-made is more significant than factory-made. That beauty, necessity and the challenge inherent in doing it are all good reasons to make your own. He added that he recently met Martha Stewart and appeared on her show and that she said, “when you make it, you own it” and that’s not something you can buy in any store.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.