Saturday, June 24, 2006

Webstock 2006 - a review (Part One)

Finally I'm getting around to reviewing Webstock.

Where should I begin? I guess I'll start by saying it was absolutely BRILLIANT. Well organised, excellent venue, fascinating workshops and presentations, a great atmosphere, inspiring, thought-provoking, and a great opportunity to mix it with a whole bunch of like-minded people and be blown away by the thoughts and ideas of the many highly impressive and well-regarded international speakers. Hell, even the T-shirts were great!

I know from experience that organising any kind of event is a huge amount of work, very stressful, and it takes a lot of thought and experience to get it done just right. So I want to thank the Web Standards NZ team - Ben, Elyssa, Mike, Miraz, Natasha and Sigurd - for having the idea in the first place and then making it happen in such a spectacularly successful way.

One of the secrets of successful event management - especially if you don't have much experience - is effective delegation, and the team got it exactly right. They hired Pardekooper and Associates to sort out a lot of the practical aspects of the conference, which was a brilliant move. Get a company who knows what they are doing to help you organise your event. Genius.

Another good move is to pick the right venue. I love Wellington Town Hall. It's a wonderful building, brilliant location right in the centre of town, and the Town Hall staff are the best. I've organised a couple of events there - two dance parties actually - remember Omnivore and ONE? - and the staff are nothing short of miraculous. Again, they know what they are doing, and they can advise you on everything from catering to cloakrooms, security to sound systems. They rock!

I thought the cost was pretty reasonable, although, as a self-employed web designer/developer at the time, I could not have afforded it without a bit of help. Webstock to the rescue! What a generous idea, to offer 20 scholarships. I was lucky enough to be awarded one (I think it was the fact that I represent two minority groups within the industry that really did it for me - I'm female and, er, slightly older than your average web geek) - so THANK YOU Webstock and sponsors for making that happen.

The sponsorship covered the cost of the main conference so I invested in one of the workshops as well - because I just had to attend Doug Bowman's Inclusive Design: Harnessing the Power and Beauty of CSS day-long session - the man who created (and then shared!) the sliding doors technique! Coolio!

Doug's workshop was totally brilliant. He shared CSS ideas and techniques so generously with us all, and took us through his favourite 3-column layout technique, styling it as he went. What was great about this was that he provided us with all the files we needed, so that we could follow along on our laptops, making changes and adding comments to our own version of his pages. Very useful when you're trying to remember it all later on. He went pretty fast, but it was possible to keep up, as long as you concentrated hard. I felt like my brain was about to explode at the end of it all, but it was so worth it.

I found Doug very friendly and open to questions and comments (although I have to say I probably made more than my fair share!), and he was more than willing to expand on parts of his workshop presentation that people didn't quite get at first, or when we wanted more detail.

Workshop pic courtesy of Webstock's Flickr accountHe also took us through a bunch of other CSS layout tricks - really clever stuff that I could never have figured out by myself. I particularly liked his photo gallery ideas, and I'm going to try them myself at some stage.

Doug's always been known for his generosity in sharing his innovative ideas, and his workshop exemplified that generosity. As well as giving us the 3-column files, he also provided us with a complete set of all the HTML and CSS we would need for all the tricks and techniques he talked about (and a whole bunch more besides). To me that's like gold-dust. Incredibly useful and - in an industry where innovation and good ideas are so important - incredibly valuable too. Thank you so much Doug for being willing to share that with us in such a tangible way.

More in Part Two...

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