d.Construct 2006

Event type: Conference

Date: 2006-09-08

Rating: 4 out of 5

Last Friday was dConstruct 2006 and I headed over not really knowing what to expect. The quality of speakers overall was excellent and I’m only disappointed that I didn’t get to meet more people - over 300 people in the room made it hard to pick names off name badges.

Jeff Barr of Amazon kicked the day off and was entertaining but I was aware of most of the content already. He would have had a real zinger on his hands if he had spent the whole time talking about the opportunities presented by EC2 and S3.

Simon Willison/Paul Hammond of Yahoo UK focused on APIs but they tried to cover the entire gamut of them which meant that nothing got very much depth. I know they had intended to go behind the firewall but were not allowed which was a pity. There were some very valid questions asked about commercial usage of the APIs and why Yahoo Maps is so brutal in the UK (I thought it was just Ireland!).

They were followed by Jeremy Keith and he really scored with his fantastic “The Joy of API” presentation. To paraphrase Renee Zelleweger: “you had me at ZX81”. Jeremy captured the excitement that discovering something new and wonderful can give. Post-Sinclair, for him it was HTML and latterly it has been APIs. Best presentation of the day by miles. Knowledge mixed with passion and humour is a killer combo.

I spent many years working in the Embedded world followed by totally unrelated ETL/Data Mining world. During that time, some of the things that gave me a buzz were MPEG2, nested interrupt controllers, XEmacs and Python. But the area I have become most excited about in a very long time is microformats. Perhaps it is my mixed technology background that makes them just slot perfectly into my way of thinking. I am no purist. My Embedded brain says “every byte counts, so what can we remove?”. My Data Mining brain says - “how can we make sense of this data and build relationships between seemingly unrelated data?”. The simplest of the microformats like rel-tag and XFN tickle both those parts of my brain and then the others just build on that. Out of almost nothing, we have labels, people, places and objects being related to each other. And not a luke-warm ocean in sight.

I had a quick Yo Sushi lunch with Walter and headed back for the microformats picnic. I swear I thought there would be maybe 5 to 10 people but when we entered the park, a “blessed are the cheesemakers” scene awaited us. Jeremy was preaching the gospel of St Tantek to at least 50 people! I was stunned as were the very confused locals who thought L Ron was back in town. Jeremy rightly focused on how useful microformats are and I think he had a mass conversion on his hands.

Aral Balkan gave a very entertaining presentation but it is not really my domain. I missed Derek Featherstone but made it back for Thomas Vander Wal. His presentation style was a bit stilted and towards the end he seemed to be rattling off del.icio.us features but the core presentation was pure gold. In particular his discussion of the apparent conflict between taxonomies and folksonomies hit on something I’ve been struggling with recently. Those 45 minutes made the trip worth the price. I also won’t forget the laugh he got when he used the word “dogging” to describe dog fans. The poor guy was perplexed.

Jeffrey Veen is a seriously awesome presenter. What a top way to end a conference. We all hung on his every word. His humour and clarity of thought shone through. I’ve been sending a screenshot of HayNet to everyone since then. I’m reading “Don’t make me think” by Steve Krug at the moment and it was amusing to see the differences in opinion between the two on how Amazon has developed the home page. A very straightforward presentation but I learned some serious lessons.

Great conference, great town!

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