I’ve spent the morning realising that thinking about people is quite unusual, I mean real people, not people as consumers, community members, entrepreneurs or employees. I’m not saying that the guys I listened to this morning aren’t thinking about them, just that the stories we’re telling are still more about technology than about what people are doing with other people.
I saw Stowe Boyd and Stef Magdalinski address large audiences and then Tim O’Reilly spoke to a bunch of us bloggers in a more intimate roundtable. And the interest is mostly about doing stuff “on” or “through” the web. I’m not surprised this conference is about the web but it helps me realise that I spend more time thinking about the other people on the web than I think about the applications or the infrastructure.
Stowe talked about plumbing and the shifting power relationships between writers and readers – or more properly, between different classes of writers and how the relative disempowerment of commenters who are unable to aggregate their content and therefore build their reputation means that it’s more likely that they’ll go elsewhere – away from the blog – to talk about what they are interested in. RSS has helped to give them some power – pulling blog posts out of their social context and with the river of news model now dominant, we think of the web more from a time perspective than space – we used to think of content being in places on the web, now it flows past us and time is more important.
I like the idea of one stream with different types of content making the stream more or less chunky – blog streams are thick and slow moving, twitter is very fluid, especially with some of the newer clients. Stowe showed off his flow desktop consisting of snackr (for RSS feeds) twhirl, the new friendfeed and the new flickr homepage.
Fundamentally, the most natural conversation is where the flow feels fastest, is what I think he said. What’s this got to do with real-life people? Well it’s about scale – the physical instances of Stowe, me, Nancy who was sitting next to me, Christian Heller sitting a few rows back, cannot meet in the same place regularly *and* get everything else we want to do done. Nancy & I get to tuttle regularly but the others are elsewhere. But on twitter, we can see each other everyday if we want to (at least hear each other, even if we have no time to talk) – of course online relationships enhance offline relationships and vice versa, but we just can’t. Perhaps I’m only just catching up with something everyone else takes for granted, but I think it’s worth making explicit.
Then I went to listen to Stef and got to hear the other side of the story from the one I’m used to – I’m a longstanding customer from when they had only 1 product and I also talk (not regularly enough) to Mex and others at Moo so I hear lots about the community but less about the back end. It was good to see some of the measures they monitor and use to manage the business. The aim to keep the feedback:order ratio below 5% and are pushing to keep it as low as possible, although I assume they want *some* feedback! The other measure mentioned was their <1% reprint rate due to code errors. I wonder how many arguments they will have as they get bigger about whether a reprint was due to code error or not. Nice to be open about your performance measures though and that they’re based on the experience being good for customers. And they’ll be sharing 15% revenue with API affiliates “very soon”
The other thing I noted was that they started small and grew quickly when it comes to complexity. This was a very smart move in hindsight – Stef intimated that all these products were always in the plan, but when they started, my perception was very much that they were trying to do one thing very well, and that helped enormously in my willingness to recommend them to others. Nice to know too that they’re early warning system is alerts if orders drop below a certain level for a period. It’s also interesting to see how they started being almost entirely outsourced, but that having brought some (non-specialist) stuff in-house, they’re considering whether to buy some presses for themselves too. Stef paints a lovely picture of an organic enterprise.
Oh yes, and the reason I get a Union Flag sticker and a blue non-fail whale sticker in my pack is because this is part of the instructions for the packer – it means it needs to go in the UK bag and have a blue cover.
I didn’t take notes at the Tim O’Reilly session – I asked a question about how his offline relationships had been affected by his online activity (a lot, he says, just like the rest of us, though he’s a pathological case with 11,500 followers) which I followed up with a question about fame – I got the feeling that I was perhaps being a bit too personal – it wasn’t (shock, horror) as intimate a chat as it was billed as. On behalf of Nik Butler – @loudmouthman I asked the question that he’d asked about the extent of the influence that O’Reilly books have had on Web2.0. Tim felt they’d done a lot more to build the web in the 90’s than what’s happened since. They’ve done much more through events like this than with books of late.
Thanks to Suw, Nicole, Steph & Janetti for inviting me along.