3 June 2007
Speaking & Events


Ever since hearing about Reboot three years ago, I've wanted to attend this Scandinavian conference. I was supposed to speak last year, but fate conspired against me. However Jeremy went, and by all accounts knocked their socks off with a love letter in praise of the hyperlink. Jeremy came back all enthused, so I set a reminder iCal as well as a mental note to attend.

I've been doing a lot of conference travelling recently, so when Reboot cropped up, I was faced with a dilemma. Rich was off on holiday that week and I felt obliged to hold fort and do a spot of work for a change. I was all settled on missing the event this year, when a potential client contacted me to discuss a couple of projects they were planning. It turned out they were also going to Reboot, and it would be one of the few opportunities I'd have to meet them. That was all the excuse I needed. I got hold of a ticket, booked my flights and desperately scoured trip advisor for a hotel.

Reboot is a different type of conference to the ones I normally attend. If XTech is one end of the spectrum, then Reboot is most definitely the other. The first thing I should mention is that Reboot isn't a web design conference, it's a conference on digital culture. As such the sessions were largely blue sky presentations, with speakers philosophising about the nature of the web and what it means to be part of an always on, digital society. Consequently the talks were full of discussion about continuous partial attention, ambient intimacy, portable social networks and the concept of flow.

I largely enjoyed the sessions, but despite all the philosophising, I couldn't help feel that the talks lacked substance. A lot of the sessions were little more than a series of loosely joined concepts with nothing in the way of narrative or conclusion. Like separate blog posts rather than a single, well thought out argument. It was as thought the speakers spent so much time trying to sound clever, they forgot the point they were trying to make. Now I enjoy a pretentious talk as much as the next man. After all, I work with Jeremy Keith. However even when Jeremy turns the pretension level up to eleven, you still come away from the session feeling smarter than you did when you went in. I felt many of the reboot talks were like eating at a fancy French restaurant. You know the chef is probably a genius by the delicate nature of the food, but you're left feeling hungry and slightly unsatisfied.

My stand out favourite session was a talk by Tom Armitage called the uncanny valet. Tom gave a great presentation about manners on the web, and how web applications can and should be treating their users better. He gave a couple of excellent examples of rude behaviour by Facebook, something I've been struggling with of late. Conversely he highlighted the exceptionally good manners of moo.com, something I'll be stealing for my next presentation.

Jeremy gave a good, although somewhat disjointed pretension, that was at once the most pretentious and also the most practical talk of Reboot. Not a mean feat by any stretch of the imagination. Other favourites included Leisa Reichelt on ambient intimacy and Matt Webb on the personality of products. I gave Anne van Kesteren an undeservedly hard time after his excellent presentation on HTML5, although I still maintain that re-introducing the font tag is a VERY BAD IDEA, and sends out all the wrong signals.

Like most conferences, the highlight for me was hanging out with the other attendees. There were some extremely smart people in attendance, and it was great shooting the breeze with everybody. I was somewhat surprised by the number of Brits around, and rather shamefully spent most of my time hanging out with my fellow countrymen. The event had a reasonable number of female attendees, and even had a crèche which I thought was a nice idea. Sadly, there were far fewer women speakers that you would have expected of a conference that size, which was a shame. On the whole, the event had a nice, slightly disorganised feel about it, reminiscent of the first dConstruct. As such it felt much closer to a community driven un-conference than a big, commercial event.

One of the big factors for me was location. I've wanted to visit Copenhagen ever since a romantic interlude with a lovely young Danish girl while travelling. The city she described sounded amazing, and I have to say it didn't disappoint. Copenhagen is a beautiful city, very reminiscent of Amsterdam. The city is clean, characterful and extremely efficient. The architecture is a lovely blend of traditional and modern, and the legendary Danish design culture is very much in evidence. I loved the fact that city provides free bike rental for just a £2 deposit, and the fact that they don't all get stolen, which I'm sure would happen in the UK. The subway also works on the honour system, with no ticket barriers to check that you've paid for your fare. The people were extremely warm and hospitable, and possibly some of the most liberal minded people around. You only have to look at the hippy heaven of Christiania to see that for yourself. I really enjoyed my time in Copenhagen and look forward to going back next year.