Thursday, June 29, 2006

Wellington Great Blend - and why youth heart MySpace

I just got home from the Wellington Karajoz Great Blend, put together by Russell Brown from Public Address, so I though I'd give you a brief review.

Nice venue (the Boatshed), great (free) coffee (thanks Karajoz!), excellent to see so many familiar faces and a bunch of new ones, and a group of quite fascinating speakers.

Russell showed us the StarLords mash-up which he also screened at Webstock, and then we got to hear from its co-creator, Matt Gibbons (who happens to be an old friend of mine - hi Matt!). It's a great piece of sampled creativity - basically taking bits from LOTR and bits of the Star Wars movies and mashing them together to create something new. Matt has a dance and choreography background, and it shows in the way that he's cut together the different elements - there's a lovely (and very funny) flow to it. Disco!Gandalf!Darth!Vader! Check out Matt's website Misshapen Features for download and more info - or just watch one of the many versions on YouTube.

The main guest speaker at the Great Blend was danah boyd of Berkley University. She's been studying online communities for a while now, and she's pretty much a world authority on MySpace and associated phenomena. Her piece on Identity Production in a Networked Culture: Why Youth Heart MySpace makes fascinating reading.

She's also a brilliant speaker. She spoke for ages on the subject of MySpace, youth culture, the history of the site and why it's been so successful. She spoke with no notes, just a few powerpoint slides of her main points, and she absolutely didn't miss a beat. She was like an amazing wind-up toy where you just turn the key and let her go!

The most important thing about MySpace is that grownups.just.don' It's disorganised, and inconsistent, and full of noise and music and bleeping flashing icons and animations and - stuff - everyone's profile page is different because users long ago figured out how to change the HTML on their own page. Each person's profile expresses the work-in-progress that is their unique identity. Kids use MySpace to figure out who they are, and how social networking works, and how to relate to friends, and strangers, and most importantly to hang out.

Many parents in the US are so terrified of "stranger danger" that they never let their kids out of their sight except for school or when they're at a friend's house. Kids have no "private" space any more - and what's perhaps more important - they have no "public" space either - because adults are too afraid to let them venture into it alone. It's all "controlled" space. MySpace allows young people both a private and a public space, within a virtual environment. Did you know MySpace hosts 2 terabytes of photo upload traffic per day? Wow. That's a lot of pictures of you and your mates getting trashed.

Of course, parents are also completely terrified of stranger danger on MySpace - but apparently they don't need to be. Any creeps who are lurking there don't get far with the real teens - who simply delete their messages - and any responses they do get are likely to be from Department of Homeland Security guys masquerading as scantily-clad 14 year olds. Heh.

After dana's talk (I wonder why she doesn't like capital letters?) we had a panel session that included dana herself, Justin Zhang of SkyKiwi and Trade Me founder Sam Morgan.

Did you know SkyKiwi has 120,000 registered members and is more popular than the Xtra website? It's responsible for probably 80% of the Chinese community's online traffic - and you've probably never heard of it - unless you are part of the Chinese community, that is. It was originally set up to help Chinese and other Asian students when they first arrived in New Zealand, and now you can do everything from ordering Chinese food online, to blogging, posting in forums, reading and discussing the news and developing your network of friends. Justin told us that now SkyKiwi has reached critical mass, he believes his biggest challenge is to try and bridge the gap between this online Chinese community and the rest of the NZ community - to try and be a conduit between the two. Good on him!

Sam told us lots of cool stuff about the self-policing community that is TradeMe. Including that fact that they decided to stop a guy auctioning off his amputated leg the other day (nice!) because the community wasn't happy with it (and cos it's against the law!), but they allow stuff like on-selling of Rugby Sevens tickets because the community likes it - even though the NZRFU would like it to be stopped. When you're the "dad" of something this big, you have to trust that your "family" will self-regulate, because there's absolutely no way you could police it all yourself.

The panel discussed online communities from each of their different perspectives, and I have to say it was far more successful and interesting than the last panel I saw Russell chair - which was the one at Webstock which I blogged about the other day. I think the difference was that this panel brought together a group of people who all have something in common. It allowed them to have a real on-stage conversation - riffing off each other's ideas and comments, and taking questions from the floor at the same time.

We finished off the evening with some great music from Samuel Flynn Scott and Bunnies on Ponies. Nice one! Thanks heaps to all the sponsors for their support, and to Russell and the team for making it happen. I'll definitely be there again next time.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Suffer the little children

[pic of lurid tabloid cover]I'm trying to put my thoughts in order about the murder of the Kahui twins. I've got all sorts of conflicting emotions running around in my head - anger, sorrow, frustration, sympathy. Anger was the strongest one this morning, for a number of reasons. And the media's not helping by printing stuff like this lurid tabloid cover...

I'm struggling to find the right words - because this case touches on so many tapu subjects in any society. Cruelty, racism, poverty, justice and injustice, finding a balance between blame and understanding, the role of the press in fuelling anger and misunderstandings between cultures trying to live together – it's all here.

Firstly let me position myself and my politicial/social beliefs in all of this - because I think they're an important part of how a person reacts to any situation.

I'm a lefty, a greenie, a "bleeding heart liberal". I'm Pakeha. I value our bicultural/multicultural community enormously, and I applaud New Zealanders' ongoing attempts to put right past injustices and to learn to live together in harmony and in an environment of mutual respect and understanding. I have friends from many different cultures, including Māori, and I feel honoured to have been allowed, as an immigrant from across the other side of the world, to live in New Zealand and make it my home.

I'm immensely proud of our little nation and what we have achieved, and so the events of the past few days have made me sick at heart, to see what some members of our society are capable of, and the damage caused by their actions to the Māori community as a whole.

Two little babies - "cared for" by their extended whanau - are dead. The family's response? Grab yourself a bunch of lawyers, hide behind tikanga and refuse to help police find out who's responsible.

I'm disgusted. This family knows what happened. They know who killed those children, and yet they appear to be protecting them.

This case seems to be, for the majority of New Zealanders, the straw that broke the camel's back. We have an appalling record of child abuse in this country - third worst among 27 developed countries for child deaths; a child killed every five weeks by caregivers.

Child Youth and Family Services dealt with 1010 cases of physical abuse involving Māori children for 2005, compared with 613 Pakeha cases and 451 Pacific Island cases. Māori babies under one year were most at risk. Out of 91 child killings in New Zealand, occurring between 1991 and 2000, Māori babies accounted for 52 per cent of cases. Pacific Island children made up four of the cases, Asians another four and the rest were Pakeha*. - Dominion Post

*Approximately 13% of New Zealanders are of Māori ethnicity, 5% are Pacific Islanders, and 2.5% are Asian.

As a new New Zealander I don't pretend to know everything about our nation's history, but I've done enough reading to realise that many appalling injustices took place in the years following the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. I know Māori land was stolen. I know many Māori were killed or unjustly imprisoned by Pakeha. I feel shame for what members of my culture did. I think it's only right and proper that we make reparation for those injustices, and I admire the work done by the Waitangi Tribunal in righting those wrongs.

But it makes me mad to hear Tariana Turia say "If you look back into our history, we didn't hit our children, so obviously there have been things that have happened where we have become culturally alienated and these situations arise."

Culturally alienated??? WTF??? I'm about as PC as you can get - and even I couldn't stomach this. I'm pleased that Tariana followed up by saying "there is no excuse for violence and there is no excuse for the death of children." - but still...

And yet... am I being an ignorant middle-class whitey here? What do I know about poverty and being caught in that endless spiral? How would I know what it's like to be part of a culture that has suffered discrimination for generations, and for whom the playing field is no longer level?

How do we tease out the threads of this tragedy, the factors that have combined to lead us here?

If we're saying, for example, that poverty can lead to stresses that may manifest themselves in child abuse (which I saw for myself as a teacher in an inner-city school in England) - and that Māori make up a disproportionate number of those living in relative poverty - why is it that Pacific Islanders (many of whom are also found within the lower socio-economic brackets) don't kill their kids in anything like the same numbers?

I know why this is so hard. It's because race and culture's all mixed up with child abuse. And the actions of the Kahui family has made it all too easy for anyone who harbours racist tendencies to come out and say "See? I told you so? Bloody Māori - they all live like Once Were Warriors! They can't be trusted!" And that makes me mad and sad and totally frustrated. Can't the Kahui family see what damage they are doing to the Māori culture as a whole? Don't they care that Māoridom as a whole is being blamed for this?

I don't often agree with John Tamihere, but I think he's spot on when he says:

"Chris and Cru were horribly failed - by their parents, whose job it was to protect them, and by their whanau, who were given the role of guardians but who have made a sick pact of secrecy to protect their killer or killers. This whanau's conspiracy of silence shows an absolute disregard for the murdered twins - and to Māoridom, which is bearing the brunt of community fury." Sunday News.

Maybe we need to try to separate the culture from the crime. This family is protecting a murderer (or murderers). Can we look at the crime, and forget for a moment that this is a Māori family? Problem is, the whanau themselves have brought race and culture into it. They're the ones who requested time-out for the tangi. They're the ones who are bringing up the fact that "in the olden days" Māori were charged with no legal representation - as a justification for them all getting lawyers and taking their time in speaking with the police.

I think many New Zealanders were initially tip-toeing around, afraid of causing cultural offence. The balance seems to have tipped in the last couple of days. Now we're all angry as well as shocked and horrified by the crime itself. We're feeling angry because we respected tikanga, and allowed the family to grieve in peace, and now they appear to have broken their side of the bargain. Kiwis don't like that. We're all about fair play.

I don't think their spokeswoman Ani Hawke did herself any favours on Susan Wood's show last night, either. Her entirely unsubtle attempts to avoid the hard questions put many people's backs up. At the same time, I've felt more than a little uncomfortable with Ms Wood's Doberman-like eagerness to skewer this family in the most public way possible. The media has jumped all over this story and stirred up the hornet's nest, while the police continue to tread carefully.

We live in a society that believes a person is innocent until proven guilty, and where everyone has the right to legal representation. We live in a multicultural/bicultural society where, for the most part, we get along. Within the Kahui extended family there is a murderer or murderers - but within the same family there must also be people shocked and grieving at this terrible tragedy.

I'm not sure how the police are going to sort out this mess, or whether they'll ever figure out the truth. It's human nature to start circling the wagons when you feel threatened, and the Kahui family is no different - but ultimately, the facts remain that two babies are dead, and those responsible may well be members of their own family.

I know there are a lot of non-New Zealanders who read my blog, so here's some background to this sad story:

Three-month-old twins Chris and Cru Kahui were taken by relatives to Middlemore Hospital on June 13, with multiple injuries including brain damage. One twin also had a broken thigh. They died 5 days later in Starship children's hospital and police began a double homicide inquiry.

Having spoken with a number of family members, none of whom were able to tell them how the twins had died, the police allowed the extended family to grieve in peace during the tangi - on the understanding that they would talk to police once the tangi was over. But instead of coming forward, it appears that the family decided to close ranks, and has refused to co-operate - either with police, elders within the Māori community, or politicians from the Māori Party. Instead they 'lawyered up' and, through a spokeswoman, indicated that they would talk to police "when the time is right".

Today police once again visited the family, and 3 members of the whanau left (apparently voluntarily) with police for questioning.

Search results from on "Kahui"

Glossary of Māori words:

  • Māori - the native people of Aotearoa/New Zealand
  • Pakeha - non-Māori New Zealander of Caucasian descent
  • tangi - Māori funeral service
  • tapu - holy or sacred - now also means taboo, forbidden
  • tikanga - Māori customs and traditions
  • Treaty of Waitangi - our founding document - an agreement signed in 1840 between the chiefs of the Māori tribes and representatives of Queen Victoria, and the basis on which the British Crown acquired New Zealand
  • Waitangi Tribunal - a permanent commission of inquiry charged with making recommendations on claims brought by Māori relating to actions or omissions of the Crown that breach the promises made in the Treaty of Waitangi
  • whanau - family
Other Kiwi blog posts on the subject
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Monday, June 26, 2006

Toasty warm again...

marigoldsYaay! Nigel fixed my central heating today! Fantastic!

He's been so great - and it didn't take as long today as he thought it would, so it wasn't quite as expensive as we'd thought it might be.

Kiwi wooden villas with a 12ft stud definitely need central heating, I have realised...

The cats are very happy. Winnie spent the whole evening sitting right on top of one of the heating vents. I think she had a bit of a sauna actually. Heh.

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Webstock 2006 - a review (Part Four)

Webstock bannerPhew! Well, I've certainly written far more than I planned to, but there's still the wrapping-up to complete. It's all good!

Oh, and BTW, here's the rest of this massive review - Part One (intro and workshop), Part Two (Day One presentations, Part Three (Day Two presentations).

OK - here we go. I felt that Webstock exuded a generosity of spirit:

  • From the speakers in being willing to share their ideas and secrets with us.

  • With the catering, which was absolutely fantastic, flavourful, always on time, full of variety, and always a vegetarian option.

  • In the official gear that we were each given - a very nicely-designed satchel filled with cool stuff, an excellent T-shirt (which I have actually worn!), information-packed programme, free software and chances to win more - and even a giant cookie, a bottle of water and a packet of Chit-Chats.

  • Coffee! Photo courtesy of Webstock's Flickr accountFree real coffee at break times, made for you on the spot.

  • Free pottles of Rush Monroe ice-cream from the freezer, whenever you wanted it.

  • And from the organisers who were always available and who have spent such a lot of their own time making this event happen.

It's often the details that make something special - and as well as this overall feeling of generosity, I really appreciated things like the fact that the whole conference ran pretty much on time; the break-time refeshments were ready when they should be; and the main conference was set out with large oval tables, so you could sit with people you knew (or didn't know!), and put your laptop or your notebook (and your coffee, snack and water bottle) on the table. It felt much more friendly and welcoming than if we had been sitting in rows of chairs instead.

I liked the fact that the conference spaces were always clean and tidy (there were catering staff who cleared the tables periodically which I thought was a nice touch), and that there was always water available from the water-dispensers scattered around the venue (which BTW were the most un-intuitive pieces of machinery I've ever seen!).

We had wireless connections throughout the venue (thanks, City Link!), and, in addition to the website, the Webstock team created a blog and a Flickr account, to which many people contributed. I think it's brilliant that they have also made available video, audio and presentation slides for virtually all the presentations - it's another example of the generosity of the whole event.

Main conference hall. Photo courtesy of Webstock's Flickr accountThe design and branding was superb - well done, DNA! Everything looked great - from the stage with its huge Webstock banner across the front and two massive screens on stage for the presentation slideshows - to the very attractive and user-friendly programme, the name tags, the conference satchel and T-shirt - to the Webstock name and slogan - Code for Freedom! Fantastic.

The after-conference cocktails and dinner were excellent (although it was a bit difficult to see the buffet - the lighting was a little low!) and the after-dinner entertainment from Odessa was great. It might have been nice to provide a quiet sit-down space for those of us (introverts) who need a bit of down-time in amongst the social stimulation, but it's a very small suggestion for improvement amongst a very big success.

It was wonderful to hang out with like-minded people for a few days, to catch up with friends and ex-colleagues, and to share ideas in such a friendly and geeky environment.

I came away completely exhausted, and totally inspired. I know the organisers were initially planning to make this a bi-yearly event, but with the success of the first Webstock, I wonder if they are thinking of doing it all again next year. I certainly hope so. They’ve set the bar SO high on their first attempt that it would be a shame not to capitalise on that success and keep it going on a more frequent basis. We shall see. An announcement is due soon.

In the meantime, THANK YOU to everyone involved in making Webstock such a success, and to everyone who attended and created such a great buzz. Roll on the next one!

Other blogs about Webstock
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Webstock 2006 - a review (Part Three)

If you haven't read them already, here are Part One and Part Two. Part One is my intro to the event, and Part Two covers Day One's presentations. This post (Part Three) covers the presentations on Day Two.

Remember you can download video, audio and presentation slides of most of the sessions from the Webstock Recordings page. Check them out!

Day Two

Russell BrownRussell Brown - Content and Community

I need to revisit this presentation now I actually have my own blog. Russell talked about the importance of content in encouraging users to return to your website day after day, and about the relationship between bloggers and their audience, the MSM (MainStream Media) and each other. He gave lots of interesting local examples, including his own experience with Public Address.

Russ WeakleyRuss Weakley - Let go and allow users to control their own experience

Absolutely bloody brilliant. And especially impressive as Russ only had about 3 weeks to put this presentation together as a last-minute replacement for a speaker who pulled out.

This presentation, along with Darren Fittler's on Day One, produced more animated post-preso discussion amongst Webstock attendees than any other. It was positively inspirational!

Russ spoke about working for an organization - let's say its a big museum in Australia - which has a large website with inconsistent and unwieldy structure. And let's say they gave you total freedom to redevelop the website from the ground up. What would you do?

Russ would give control back to the user.

Initially they did a lot of research into the content on their existing site, and attempted to divide it into a series of sections (portals) that would allow users to easily find and access the info they wanted. They ended up with 13 portals, which was far too many, and which seemed to mix concepts - some were sorted by content, others by user groups. Plus the user pathways to and through these portals looked like they were going to be inflexible, based on taxonomic or department structure (as opposed to the interrelated ways people think), and would lead to "silos" of information, in which you were trapped and couldn't easily get across to deep-level information in another portal.

So they chucked out all their initial assumptions and ideas and came up with a radical concept. How about if a website consisted of only three templated pages, from which all others were made? A front page with a search tool, a search results page and a content page.

The makeup of each search results and content page would be determined by the user. Search on "birds" and you'd get results on bird behaviour, bird research, birds in backyards, bird watching, how birds fly etc etc. Search on "bird behaviour" and you'd also get links to frog behaviour, human behaviour, behavioural science etc. You choose which you want to explore, your page of content is generated by the database on the fly (no pun intended!) and it contains links to all sorts of other stuff that shares tags with that content.

Tags are the key. Tag your content with keywords and a completely inter-related collection of pieces of content is suddenly available to your users. Pages can be indexed using tags. Search results can be based on relevant tags. Instead of creating a fixed side navigation, a range of tag-based related information can be provided.

So now take it one step further (this is the point at which most organisations run screaming for the nearest exit!) and let your users tag the content too. Horrors!

They could tag anything - pages of text, images, podcasts, video, audio, whatever you have on your site. Searches can then show results for all these different kinds of media.

Tags move away from the concept of pages as single entities. Pages would become containers for keyword-based data such as content, related content, related images, related podcasts, etc etc.

Next - allow your users to post comments. Allow them to interact with you and each other, encourage discussions and the flow of ideas within comments, bring the collections alive!

Then - encourage Flickr-type membership, where users have their own favourited pages, their recent comments, keywords they have added, and customised feeds from areas of the site.

By this point, of course, there is probably not a single old-school "owner" of a large website left within a 30-mile radius. They all headed for the hills at the first whisper of "giving the user some control".

I could hear people all across the room thinking "Bloody BRILLIANT!!!! Now how in hell do I get my clients to see the light and agree to this radical idea?" And that, of course, is the rub. How DO we get our clients to consider this, and allow us to build a website like this for them? I'll get back to you on that once we achieve it... meanwhile, check out Max Design, where Russ hangs out.

Ben GoodgerBen Goodger - Firefox: Success and Challenges

Of course I loved Ben because I love Firefox. A very informative presentation on the history, the triumphs and mis-steps of non-IE browsers, and what FF has planned for the future. Great T-shirt, too! :)

The non-IE browser story is full of ups and downs, tragedies and triumphs, and I'm just SO glad that out of it has come Firefox. Because it's such a great browser, and its extensions (especially the Web Developer tool) absolutely rock!

Dori SmithDori Smith - Moving to Unobtrusive Scripting

A bit of a disappointment, this one. I was hoping to find out lots of stuff about Ajax, and instead Dori asked us if we'd heard of Ajax, and when we replied in the affirmative, she said "oh good, well I don't need to bother with that then". Rats! Sorry if we gave you a bit of a hard time with our questions, Dori. Check out Wise-Women.

Rowan SimpsonRowan Simpson - Trade Me Unplugged - The inside story of NZ's largest website

How has a website based on "people sending money to sellers they've never met for goods they've never seen" managed to grow into New Zealand's most popular website - with over 3.2 million visitors per month and over 1.3 million active members? In a country of only 4 million people?

Rowan gave us a few of the TradeMe secrets of success, including the importance of speed, measuring everything about the way visitors use your site, being honest, listening to feedback, trying new stuff, and ultimately remembering that if you build a great website, people will visit and if it's good enough they will tell their friends.

Tony ChorTony Chor - Internet Explorer: The Good, the Bad, and the Future

Just as I was inclined to love Ben because I love Firefox, I suppose I might have been inclined to seriously dislike Tony because I seriously dislike Internet Explorer. So Tony was quite a revelation. Of course he played to the audience he knew we were, but he did it with such skill that I really didn't mind.

Firstly he apologised on behalf of IE for all their screw-ups, and then after a bit of a historical review he gave us a good idea of what IE7 has in store. He was funny, self-deprecating, shamelessly used pics of his kids to charm us, and didn't take himself or IE too seriously. An excellent ambassador for a product that has an appalling image within the web industry. Check out the IE7 blog.

Erm....who wants to answer that? Photo courtesy of Webstock's Flickr accountPanel Discussion - with moderator Russell Brown

I think Russell realised that the panel pretty much lost our attention about half-way through. It was partly because we were all quite filled up with info by this point, and 4 o'clock in the afternoon isn't the liveliest of times of the day at the best of times. I also think the choice of panel members wasn't the greatest combination. His questions were a bit too serious for both the time of day and for the situation.

I think it would have been better to aim for sillier questions, more fun, less deep and serious, encourage more personal anecdotes and interesting examples - basically just a bit more "shallow" and a little less "brainy". A session near the end of the second day should require a lower level of concentration on the part of the audience, IMO.

Kathy SierraKathy Sierra - Now go change the world

So you might think that Kathy Sierra had a big challenge ahead of her, waking us up after the snooze that was the panel discussion, and energising us at 5pm on Day Two of a very intensive conference. Well, she did all that and much more, in a final session that was clever, funny, inspiring and absolutely fascinating.

I was writing notes like crazy during her session, because everything she said was just so useful and so relevant. She even interspersed her visual presentation with a "pop quiz" on who had said what during Webstock, which was just such a nice touch, and showed how much effort she had gone to, to make her talk specific to our event.

Just how do you create passionate users?

Passion requires continuous improvement. Being better is better. Improvement involves a richer, higher-res experience. But being better at what?

When a person picks up a digital camera for the first time, they want to get better at photography, not at using the camera itself. In the same way, if they use your website or web app, it's not getting better at using it that motivates them, it's what they can get out of it, what it gives them that makes them happy, and what interests their brain.

Things that interest the brain include: stuff that is novel, surprising, weird, different, scary, people looking at scary things, beauty, young and innocent things, joy and play, funny stuff, things that are not quite resolved, stuff that encourages curiosity, interest, mystery, faces, action pics, people doing stuff, changes in light and shadow.

Did you know that conversational language beats formal language hands-down? Using the word "you" on your website can increase visitor retention by 40% - because the brain thinks it's a real conversation (rather than a written one) and pays attention in case it has to respond. I'm not kidding! Kathy said so, so it must be true!

People who persevere with something have a compelling picture of what it will be like when they are great at it (otherwise, as Kathy said, why would you ever learn snowboarding?), and/or you are shown a clear path towards achieving your goal. So as designers/developers and information architects we must paint that compelling picture for our users, and show them how they are going to get there.

"The user must achieve something cool within the first 30 minutes" So, for example, within half an hour of having clicked on Blogger for the first time, I had my own blog set up, and I was starting to play with the template and make it my own. Brilliant!

Once people have taken the first step, how do we keep them motivated?

The psychology of optimal experience is known as the "flow state". You can think of it like a spell your users are under - and it's therefore very important not to break the flow. If there's no challenge/increase in knowledge/skills, there's no flow. Anything that slams the user back to reality is BAD.

Keeping the flow going is related to the user experience spiral - motivating benefit -> interaction -> scale up -> and so on

Games developers do this very well because of "levelling" - if you get to the next level you receive new superpowers which you can use in that level - and this maintains motivation.

"Wouldn't it be cool if you could do ______?" and then once you've learned this, "Wouldn't it be cool to do _____?" (harder thing, better thing etc.)

It's all about the superpowers!

The user experience ultimately has to be "I rule!!", and reducing guilt (and ensuring your user doesn't feel confused, or angry, or embarrassed, or stupid) is the killer app.

So how do we get there?
  • Via the generous web
  • Through being part of Webstock
  • All of us together.
Now go change the world!

What a great final presentation! Check out Kathy's extremely interesting blog - Creating Passionate Users.

In Part Four (which is the last part, I promise!) I'll do a wrap-up of the event and my overall impressions.

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Saturday, June 24, 2006

Webstock 2006 - a review (Part Two)

Code for Freedom!If you haven't read it already, here's Part One.

OK - on to the conference itself. I'll write a few words on each of the presentations first, then I'll summarise my overall impressions of the event. This post covers the presentations on Day One. Almost all of the presentations were recorded on video, and many have presentation slides associated with them, which are available on the Webstock Recordings page. Check them out! You can also download mp3 versions if you don't want to download the video.

Day One

Doug BowmanDoug Bowman - Standardising page structure

Doug looked at ways of standardising websites and web pages so that you aren't starting from scratch every time you create a page or template. The combination of elements, ids and classes can be standardised, at least to some extent, by the use of microformats, and on the macro level we can work together to create a site structure framework that would work for us all, and would enable a higher level of structural consistency between sites. Check out Doug's yummy website, Stopdesign.

Joel SpolskyJoel Spolsky - Shiny Geegaw vs Great Design

Heh. Heh heh. Joel was just so darned funny! What does Brad Pitt have to do with whether or not people choose a particular website or new piece of technology over another, and what does this have to do with the iPod versus the Creative Zen Vision SomethingSomethingSomething? A great presentation, sadly not available for download, so you'll just have to take my word for it. Check out Joel on Software.

Darren FittlerDarren Fittler - Web Accessibility - a user's perspective

A standout presentation - for me, one of the most useful and interesting of the conference. If you've ever wondered how a blind person navigates the web, and what pitfalls to avoid when designing for accessibility - go watch this presentation. It takes a while to really get going, but stay with it - it's so worth it.

Darren, who is vision impaired, used the JAWS screenreader to take us through a number of websites - first the bad, then the good. With the first website he showed us, it took at least 20 key presses to actually find out where you were (the homepage had no title) and in one page on the site he counted a massive 72 key presses before he knew which page he was on. Insane. No titles, nested tables all over the place, no alt tags on images, frames, no skip links, no access keys. Horrible.

In addition to the obvious (like not using tables for layout, using alt tags, including skip links, using the correct tags and hierarchy for headers etc) there were some fascinating insights.

Like: do you know why it's a dumb idea to include all those links that say "find out more" on your web page? It's because a blind user can tell their screenreader to collect all the links together in one list. "Find out more" when taken out of context into a list like this suddenly has no meaning at all. Find out more about what?

Solution: either word your links more carefully - eg "Find out more about wankle-rotary engines" or put the detail into the link title (you do include titles on your links, don't you?) like this:
<a href="wankle-rotary-engines.html" title="Find out more about wankle-rotary engines">Find out more</a>.

Skip links - did you realise that you can have more than one skip link in your page? Darren showed us a site where there were a bunch of skip links: "Skip to main content", "Skip to search", "Skip to member login" etc. Great idea, and one that hadn't occurred to me before.

Altogether a fabulous presentation - and one well worth downloading. And whoever knew that anyone could listen so fast? Talk about utilising the senses you have, to their best advantage...

The 8x5 sessions

A chance for eight Webstockers to speak for five minutes each on an aspect of web usability/accessibility/whatever that interests them. Great stuff! Immaculately time-keepered and a great range of thoughts and ideas.

Everything from using Flash prototyping for wireframes (hi to my colleague Philip from Shift!) through an overview of Ruby on Rails and a look at what accessibility really means from a range of users' perspectives - and much more besides. Concluded by an inspiring rendition of The Web Times They Are A-Changin' by "Bob", ably accompanied by Zef using large-pieces-of-paper-with-the-words-on. Sure you can nick my idea, Zef - after all, I nicked it from Bob D in the first place...

Rachel McAlpineRachel McAlpine - From plain language to F-language: we're ready for rules

Did you know when most people scan web pages they make a sort of "F" pattern with their eyes?

When we're looking through a web page to see if it contains the info we need, we don't "read" the whole thing from top to bottom, we "scan" it. Quick scan across the top from left to right and back again (taking in the logo, main nav and hopefully the page header). Then down the left-hand side (side nav, the first couple of words from sub-headers and paragraphs) and another horizontal scan further down the page (checking on a sub-header in full, or maybe a line or two of a paragraph which caught our eye). It takes just a few seconds, and if we don't find what we're looking for, we're gone.

Everyone it seems, writes for the web these days. "I say, have you see the report Jones has done. Let's stick it up on the website/company intranet". Writing for the web is a specialised skill, and one that doesn't necessarily translate well from print documents. Rachel talked about the need to start with plain language and then add the F-rules - where online content must be F-patterned (front-loaded and top-loaded), focused, functional, factual, fast, fresh, and frugal. Fabulous. Check out Rachel's website - Quality Web Content.

Kelly GotoKelly Goto - About Interface: Designing for Lifestyle

Kelly discussed how interaction design is now not just about web. It's about all sorts of mobile devices and web apps and how we interact with them, in both our business and personal lives, and how the lines between the two are merging. She talked about how our approach must also shift into cycles of design and research centered around the way people actually live. Do you feel emotionally attached to this website/web app? Do you think it's useful? Does it meet your needs? Can you integrate it into your life? Ethographic-based research involving "deep hanging-out" helps companies to figure out how useful and viable their interface can be - both offline and online. Check out Kelly's blog on mobile usability and user experience.

Steve ChampeonSteve Champeon - Simplicity, Web Standards, and Spam

Ah, Steve... I'm afraid I just got a bit lost during this presentation. Lots of technical and historical detail about web protocols and how this translates into the development of protocols for email. I think the uber-geeks liked it, though...

The Taste-off. Photo courtesy of Webstock's Flickr accountThe Trans-Tasman Tim-Tam, Chit-Chat Taste-off

Well of course New Zealand's own Chit-Chat beat the pants off the Aussies' Tim-Tam in the blindfolded taste-off. 'Nuff said. :)

More in Part Three...

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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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Friday, June 23, 2006

Reasons to be cheerful (part 3)

WinnieOkay, so my blog doesn't include parts 1 and 2. It's just the title of an old Ian Dury and the Blockheads song which I thought was quite appropriate for this post.

This evening I can be cheerful because....

  • Even though my central heating didn't get fixed today (the spare part got stuck in the snow on the way down here from Auckland. Or rather, the truck carrying it did), all being well it will be fixed on Monday, and that's better than the two weeks I was originally going to have to wait.

  • I managed to get my gas-fire-but-it-looks-like-a-real-fire going in the living room this evening. Yaaay! I tried and failed last night, so I'm really glad I gave it another go tonight. It's toasty warm in here now! (15 degrees, as opposed to 9 degrees which it was in my living room last night!)

  • I love my new job - it's interesting, and comfortable, and I am left in peace most of the time to do my work (which is the way I like to work), and the people are great, and they respect my opinion, which is very nice indeed.

  • My cats are both home, curled up in the two warm places in the house (Winnie with me on the sofa in the living room and Bailey on my bed near the fan heater) which means I don't have to go out in the middle of a storm looking for Winnie (which is what I did the other night when she stayed out really late).

  • I'm not stuck in the snow down south with no power (although that would certainly be pretty).

  • My Teevy boyfriend, Clay Aiken, is bound to announce the release date of his new CD SOON, and then I'll get to hear some more of that heart-stopping voice. Yaay!
Of course, there are lots of other reasons, like being happy with my life, and having great friends, and thinking about visiting my sister and her babies soon, and being healthy, and having the incredible good fortune of living in New Zealand, and heaps of other things, but these are my reasons to be cheerful for this evening.

BTW, it's Friday night - so I promise I'll have something more profound to write about tomorrow... in the meantime you'll have to make do with this little fluffy piece of positivity...

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

"Give the lady your seat, dear"

I haven't been writing much in my blog this week. I think the cold has reduced my inspiration levels :) Or maybe I'm experiencing my first taste of writer's block. SCREAM!!.

Wellington trolley busI was on the bus to work the other morning. I had miraculously managed to get up at a reasonable hour (I mean "reasonable" for the rest of the world - it's "inthemiddleofthenight" as far as I'm concerned) which meant that the bus was pretty full and I had to stand. More people got on at each stop as we headed towards town, until the aisle was full too.

There was a little old lady who got on sometime after I did. She had to stand. If I'd been sitting down, I would have offered her my seat because it was how I was "trained" as a little kid.

"Give the lady/gentleman your seat, dear" my mum would say. And I quite liked doing it - people were always grateful, and it made me feel like a bit of a hero. Everyone did it back then, though. It was kind of expected. Good manners and all that.

For the entire journey into town this poor little old lady clung to the nearest hand-hold and tried not to fall over as the bus whizzed along. And I don't think anyone else even noticed her. Certainly no-one sitting down paid her the slightest bit of attention. Is this a cultural or a generational difference, I wonder?

I was brought up in the UK, so I don't know what it was like in New Zealand at the time. And because I live here now, I don't know whether people still give up their seats on buses in the UK. Interesting, though. A guy gave up his seat to a woman on my bus the other day and she was so amazed she thanked him all the way home.

I wonder if I should have suggested that someone give up their seat for the little old lady? Scary prospect, making a spectacle of yourself on the bus. And I would have been interfering on behalf of the lady, which she wouldn't necessarily have appreciated. Fascinating stuff, human behaviour...

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Brrrrrrrrrrr! (part two)

Jan, Olof and me at the top of the Copeland Pass. Copyright WebWeaver ProductionsSee how exciting my life is? Reduced to blogging about my central heating system for goodness sake! heh.

BTW, this photo has nothing much to do with anything except it's a nice image and it's a cold image. Jan, Olof and me at the top of the Copeland Pass mumbletymumble years ago.

So Nigel the nice gas man came over this afternoon. Fantastic! A tradesman who turns up when he says he will. This is most excellent. I think I'll keep him :)

I live in a classic wooden Kiwi villa - it's 96 years old, and still going strong. I love it. It's perched on the side of quite a steep slope, which means that it's one and a half storeys high - one storey on the upper side of the slope and two storeys on the lower side. There's a flat downstairs which takes up half the footprint of the house on the downslope side. Behind the flat (underneath the main house) there's a high crawl space, which gets lower and lower as you crawl up the slope. My central heating unit is in the crawl space. It's perched on top of a very strong-looking wooden platform, with big posts around it which go floor to ceiling.

All good so far. Except that the platform has been built almost like a wooden cage around the unit - so when you need to get into the unit, it's really tricky because the wooden posts are right in the way. Hmmmm.

Turns out whoever put in my central heating system didn't plan ahead and didn't consider the possibility that someone might need to get into the metal box thingy one day.

Anyway, so there we are, crouching under the house with torches and tools, trying not to stir up too much dusty dirt as we move around, and poor old Nigel's swearing away under his breath and grunting in a not-too-impressed kind of a way because it's a real mission to get the screws undone so he can take a look inside.

Finally he gets it open and takes a look.

Have you ever heard the phrase "a stitch in time saves nine?" Yes, well I'd heard it too, but I haven't been paying attention. Stupid, stupid. Won't do that again.

Poor old central heating system. The combustion fan's completely kaput, and it's a sealed unit, so it has to be ordered and then installed. And Nigel's busy for at least the next two weeks. If I had got the darned thing looked at about 6 months ago when it first started making funny noises I wouldn't be sitting here in the middle of winter freezing my *beep* off and looking at another two weeks of coldcoldcold.

Nigel's going to find out tomorrow how much a new combustion unit costs, and then I'll have to wait until he can fit me in. *sigh*

I caved yesterday and went out and bought a portable oil-filled radiator thingy and a dehumidifier. When I was at Angela's place the other night (having supper and meeting the "nice young American") they lent me a little fan heater as well, so now I'm moving my various heating devices around the house, trying to keep this side of freezing. Two more weeks. Bummer!

Well, you know, at least it's taught me a lesson - I'll be getting things serviced a bit more regularly from now on - and I also found out that having a blog and telling your friends about it is no bad thing either. My friend Sally called me up yesterday, offering to lend me her gas heater if I needed it. She'd been reading my blog. Isn't that nice! Hi Sally!

Did I mention I hate being cold?

Update a few hours later

Nigel called. He's ordered the parts and he reckons he can do it on Friday assuming they arrive in time. Yaaay! I'm definitely keeping him. It's gonna cost quite a chunk of change in labour, but the parts aren't as expensive as he thought. Thank goodness for small mercies - and reliable tradesmen!

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Sunday, June 18, 2006


Blimey! It's COLD!

So here I was last night, in my usual place in front of my Mac - and it's pretty late, and the central heating's already turned itself off. I'm feeling a bit cold, so I go and switch the heating back on again...


Ooops. Better switch it off again...

Bugger. Central heating's not working. It's WINTER. It's COLD. I am a WUSS. I do not like being cold.

Fast forward to this morning (Sunday). I spend an hour or so calling all the gas repair people in the Yellow Pages. Sounds like it might be the fan blades. No-one has spares that they keep on hand. If they came out today to have a look it would cost $250 just for them to walk through the door (fair enough, it is Sunday). And then they'd have to go away again without fixing it and wouldn't be able to order spare parts until tomorrow anyway.

I finally have a most excellent conversation with a nice man called Nigel who saw I had called a couple of times (I hadn't left a message though) and decided to call me back to see if he could help. Initiative - I like that.

When I say "excellent" conversation, I suppose I mean he sounded very nice and I decided I would get him to come over and take a look. The rest wasn't so great though. Can't come until Tuesday afternoon. Will probably only be able to have a look and then we'll have to wait for the spare part (whatever it turns out to be) to be ordered and delivered. If it's the somethingsomethingsomething then it might need replacing and that could cost $700! Eeek! Oh - so your central heating system is about 10 years old? That's about the maximum life expectancy of that kind of system. You might need a whole new one (worst case scenario har har) which would be at least $5,000.

So I'm sitting here wearing many layers to try and keep warm. I have a runny nose because it's below 10 degrees in my house right now. It just started sleeting outside and my cat came in all wet and cold and I have no way of warming her up (oh well - at least she has a fur coat!). It's going to be like this until at least Tuesday (probably longer). Did I mention I hate being cold? This could be extreeeeeeemely expensive and I have no spare money.

Bugger bugger bugger bugger.

FAIRLIE, NEW ZEALAND - JUNE 17: Snow blankets fields and mountains June 17, 2006 in Fairlie, New Zealand. A string of cold fronts has brought deep snow to much of the South Island of New Zealand. (Photo by Simon Fergusson/Getty Images)Ah well, I'm looking on the bright side and counting my blessings - I could be in the South Island with no power, lots of snow and more on the way.

At least this evening I can go somewhere warm for a while - I've been invited to supper by a friend who's also invited a "nice young American who's just arrived here and who is also single". Crikey! I'll keep you posted on how that turns out...

Think I'll go and buy a cheapo electric heater tomorrow. At least then I can move it from room to room and keep slightly warmer until the central heating is fixed.

Did I mention I hate being cold?

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Creating with Clay

While the ClayNation waits for news of Clay's sophmore CD - we create. When the ClayNation picks itself off the floor after seeing Clay's new hair on American Idol - we create. When the ClayNation goes on tour with Clay (and there have been 6 tours in the past 3 years) - we take videos and photos - and we create. Finding Clay Aiken has meant finding a new outlet for creativity. It has also become a motivation for many of us to develop our technical skills in many different directions.

Let me explain.

This week's must-have montage is one by NZvolCLAYno called Classic Clay Cuteness (vol II).

There are tons of montages that have been created over the past three years - all made by Clay fans - many of whom 3 years ago wouldn't have even known what a montage was, let alone made one. If you do a search on Clay Aiken montage at YouTube you'll find another 180 or so ready for viewing - and there are many hundreds more sitting on hard drives across the ClayNation.

Here's an excellent blog post by Olosta/MsMia on how to make montages - Hobbies Part 2: The Diary of a Mad Montage Maker. You can also visit her gorgeous website Shades of Clay which has links to a whole bunch of her beautiful montages. Hobbier is also writing a series of posts featuring concert montages - here's a link to the latest one.

Montages are made from either video footage, still images, or a combination of the two. The ClayNation has become expert in taking both stills and video at Clay concerts. In the early days, if you wanted to take video it was a case of dodging the bouncers, security guards and Jerome at Clay concerts, and being reeeeeeally really sneaky. I know one or two people who rigged up the most amazing contraptions so that they could obtain clack without being caught. Plus there were the very "creative" ways devised to smuggle your video camera into the venue without it being confiscated. Clack (the term used to describe all Clay artefacts such as audio, video, screencaps, stills etc) has been shared ever since the very beginning through Clay message boards and websites, and the word has spread.

Eventually, someone at TeamClay realised that clack was actually a great way to demonstrate how great Clay is in concert (and therefore sell more tickets!), and during the Juke Box Tour in 2005 we were finally allowed to take video openly, without being hassled. Thanks heaps, TeamClay!

OMG!OMG! What is that MOVE???The very first piece of clack that shook the ClayNation to its core was the infamous OMG!OMG! What is that MOVE??? video which was taken at the very first concert on the AI2 Tour in Minneapolis/St. Paul by hot4clayntexas. It was originally filmed sideways, so for a few days, before our technical wizards fixed it up, you had to sit sideways on your chair and lean at a 90 degree angle to see it properly. Hee! It was the first appearance on video of Clay's shirt-tug during Invisible, and it certainly made an impression - and was responsible for selling a HEAP more tickets for the AI2 tour. It became available for download at about 3am on the night of that first-ever AI2 concert, so there were lots of people who didn't get to bed until verrry late that night.

Unfortunately the American Idol lawyers don't approve of AI Tour videos being posted online at YouTube, and they have a tendency to have them pulled, and the poster runs the risk of getting banned, so you'll have to make do with the animated gif instead...

UPDATE 28/06/06: or you could just pop over to ClaySpots: The American Idol Tour... Part 1 - Shady has the vid up... OMG!OMG! Check it out quick before it disappears again!

There are now gazillions of video clips of Clay on tour. If you do a search on YouTube for clay aiken concert you'll find 64 videos. Clay Aiken tour returns 164 videos. And a search on Clay Aiken produces a massive 795 results - with everything from tour footage, to AI appearances, interviews, montages, and Anime cartoons set to Clay songs. Enjoy!

I think what's interesting about the ClayNation (and I'm sure it's true for other fandoms too) is the amount of stuff which fans have created themselves. Most of the Clay websites, blogs, video clips, photos and montages out there aren't officially sanctioned or supported by TeamClay. They've been created and are maintained by people who happen to be Clay fans, and who spend some of their time in creative Clay pursuits. Hee. "Some of their time" might be a bit of an understatement.

Crowd after TITN. Photo by BuzztechieThis image is one of the most iconic anyone's ever taken of Clay in concert. It was taken by Buzztechie at the AI2 concert in Clay's home town of Raleigh, and it shows Clay soaking in the ovation after his rendition of This is the Night. See all those banners and red shirts in the audience? All for Clay. As with all my blog pics, you can click on the image to see a larger version.

As the years (and tours) have gone by, those fans who specialise in video or still concert images, have invested in better gear, better software, and have become more skilled in taking awesome close-up photos and video that doesn't wobble. Here's a bunch of Clay concert photo galleries from some of my favourite stills photographers:

There are also some very talented creators of wallpapers and artistic blends out there:

There are many members of the ClayNation who take creativity to a whole new level with their creations. Here are just a few more examples:

Then there's creative writing. Some people are good with visuals, others prefer to express themselves through the written word. The latest endeavour has been blogging. In the last month, in my corner of the ClayNation, the number of blogs has increased from just a handful to over 50 - including my own. Not bad!

Next time you're on my homepage, take a look at some of the blogs listed in the right-hand column. They can be funny, clever, varied, heartfelt, thoughtful, or thought-provoking - and what they all have in common is that their creation (and much of their subject matter) was inspired by that Aiken guy.

Clay fans have always found creative ways to write about Clay. There's the funny - expressed through song parodies, skits, diary entries and message board summaries. I guess Jemock would probably be considered one of our funniest writers - her blog on the Clay Aiken Official Fanclub website is rated second only to Clay's own, but the fandom boasts MANY extremely funny members - often posting ROTFLMAO missives on the many Clay Aiken message boards out here in cyberspace.

There's also the serious stuff - in which we delve more deeply into the latest happenings in the world of Clay. There are some members of the ClayNation, for example, who have become experts in their field of research - whether it be tour attendance and sales numbers, record sales statistics, the inner workings of the recording and radio industries, or marketing techniques.

Hopefully we won't have to wait too much longer for news of Clay's new CD, but until then, here's a bunch of fantastic websites which collect together all sorts of Clay-inspired creativity. I hope you find them useful.
  • Finding Clay Aiken is a one-stop-shop for everything Clay – from tour info, to Clay on the web, music by Clay, Clay media, Clay on TV… etc etc. In the Clay on the web section there's a list of over 400 websites, message boards, blogs, Yahoo groups and fan listings that are all.about.Clay. Wow.

  • There's an incredible amount of Claystuff on The Ideal Idol - here's their What's New page.

  • Clay Nation News provides regular updates on Clay's schedule, news items and other important events. You can sign up to receive regular emails from the CNN mailing list.

  • ClayBlogs - a Clay Aiken Blogroll lists a whole bunch of blogs which feature Clay on a regular basis, and is automatically updated daily with the latest blog posts about Clay.

  • The Clay Report is a Clay Aiken news site and lists just about every online mention of Clay... and much more.

  • You can also become a member of The Official Clay Aiken fanclub - members get to read Clay's blog, as well as lots of other cool stuff.

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