dconstruct ‘Designing The Social Web’ 5th September, Brighton

Designing The Social Web, that was the title of this year’s dconstruct conference in Brighton on 5th September organised by Clearleft. The event was packed and due to the fact the date coincided with the Culturemondo steering committee meeting, I was able to go en-mass with Seb Chan, Ilya Eric Lee and Aleksandra Uzelac who were all over visiting the UK.

I think we were pretty much the only people there from any cultural sector organisation (who are non profit) and obviously bring with us quite different expectations. I think when you sit and listen to the broader changing web issues without the cultural context they often lack a touchpoint for me as ultimately they pursue that successful business model (that is commercial) and prioritises that over the meaning of the stuff/content. Great if you want to make money (something I have never been good at!)

The opening session delved into social history and looked at the Cholera epidemic in London and the tools that were used to made a breakthrough into discovering that the cause was in the water not in the air. The solution was found through a combination of cartography (new ways of mapping), local knowledge (social networks) and free official data (open source). The old feeds into the new its shape and patterns. Social phenomenon repeat and duplicate.

The talk was by Steven Johnson and was based on his book The Ghost Map. Loved the idea of a social network of dead people.

The two presentations by the developers and brains behind Doppler (Matt Biddulph and Matt Jones – a geeks version of the Two Ronnies) and Daniel Burka from DIGG/Pownce were both worth hearing. I always favour stories that use practical experience to communicate ideas and they were open about their successes and failures in a way that was engaging. Both talked about the need to offer more to users. The two Matt’s referred to the need to work in what they called ‘the coral reef’ of the web rather that a walled garden. Daniel looked at how to encourage sign up with real benefits that go beyond just altruism.

The day ended with a really ambitious and poetic presentation by Jeremy Keith whose dry witty style I like very much. He took us on a whirlwind tour of the thinking behind how everything in the universe is connected to everything else and the laws of nature/physics (whatever you prefer to call them) apply to everything, even the web. So long tail is no accident it is a reflection of a scale free network of the power head and tail. Cool stuff, lots of it from other sources (Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point to name one) but well executed and bold. Bold in its lack of geekiness and its nod to the force of nature above commerce. I liked it.

dconstruct is organised by Clearleft where Jeremy Keith is based. Andy Budd who is there Director of user experience is taking part in my session at the MA conference on October 6th 2008 in Liverpool with Matt Locke.