Why I'm sad after this year's WebExpo

TL;DR: This year's WebExpo was better than last year. Switching to English was helpful IMO. There were some kick-ass speakers that were worth listening to. Same time next year.

My first encounter with WebExpo this year was a newsletter announcing the availability of tickets. It's the first year I'm out of college, so it's also the first year with double price. That was quite a disappointment at first. I considered not going as my "perceived" price was somewhere around 3k to 4k. But fortunately w3w offered to pay for my ticket (thx guys), so one less trouble for me :)

Conference started on Thursday 19th. From the selection of workshops I selected DesignJam (it's like CodeRetreat for designers). Unfortunately there were not enough attendees so it was canceled. I have to say I was disappointed, but there was nothing to do. That was luckily not the case with the second workshop I selected - it was traditional Jeanne Trojan's networking workshop. It's become a nice tradition to attend, even though I know all the tricks she's talking about. I can't stress this enough: Go there, it will enormously improve your conference experience. 

After the workshops there was a lifehacking track in the main hall. I really liked how it was laid out - it was intentionally done "outside" of the official conference program and it was less official in the content too. The Q&A were intentionally left out to make people talk to the speakers at the afterparty. There were series of inspirational speeches about completely unrelated topics. To mention the best:

Vojta Roček's I had a pub.... and it sucked: it's actually what I thought about in the past and the speech was a spot-on. The talk highlighted the motivations (I shared) and gave a strong warning about the pitfalls of the idea (mostly - you became an alcoholic, with no free time, who hate people). Well, Vojta, I got your message - no pub for me!

Adam Hruby's What do you expect? - well, not sure what to take from this one - probably - don't be scared to do some really crazy stuff, because doing what everyone does is boring. Quote of the day "Speaking at a conference? Give the audience bananas - nobody expects food" :)

And I enjoyed mostly Riki Fridrich's How to get any job worth getting. This talk was not only interesting and funny, but also very useful in everyday life. Riki highlighted many problems you'll encounter when looking for a new job - most important being "When you need new job, it's already late to look for one"

In the evening the party in Fusion hotel was one of the best I've been to on WebExpo. We arrived little later, but it was not overcrowded. Both parts of the venue were open - not only the bar, but also the restaurant part. That proved useful. We enjoyed drinks and chit-chat at the bar, but we could move to the quieter part for more complex conversation. The food was very tasty and there was enough of it, so that you don't need to stress about going right now or there won't be none later. Especially the raspberry pudding was great. I enjoyed this evening immensely, even though I left around midnight to be able to wake up the next morning.


I managed to arrive early, so I could have coffee and breakfast on the venue. Then I went to the keynotes - small observation here - Vašek - if you're reading this, please, please try to do something about your English (get in touch if you want, Lenka will be happy to help you with it). Filip Hraček's keynote about how we're lagging technologically behind the rest of "developed" world was very interesting and left a mark.

First speech of the day was Jakub Mrozek's SPAs, but to be honest I left early - mostly because I watched closely Jakub's series on Zdrojak - so nothing new for me. But let me give Jakub big respect for overcoming the anxiety and having a talk at a major conference, I really appreciate it.
I switched to Eirik Hafver Rønjum's Designing the organization about how they worked on Norwegian health ministry website to offer better service for the doctors. The main thing I learned was - if you need to convince your boss, do a survey, ideally tape an interview with customers and show the management that there are real problems and that they are shared by most of the customers.
Then I went to Michal Hudeček's Web Directing: Conceptual thinking in online projects, he has this framework that helps you think more conceptually when developing a project. Worth to give it a try.

Probably the most inspiring speech was Sarah Richard's Revolutionising the UK government's content. UK started to change the way how their government presents information on the web. And let me tell you - you can't imagine how cool is the product of that effort! You have to try it for yourself - go to gov.uk and try to get information about how to change the address on your driving license. It's simple, 3 clicks, plain English. Unlike any contact you had with public services here in Czech Republic. And the best part - they have all the code opensourced, online, versioned on github. What we need is just the will and we can fork it and use it! It actually restored my faith in public services - they CAN do good things, if led by a person with vision. This speech is a must-see, even from record.

Darcy Clarke spoke about documenting CSS. The speech itself was fine, but the product is great. Using DSS you can easily create documentation that looks like Bootstrap manual from your CSS files, it's actually very flexible, so you can also use it to parse SASS, PHP, etc. I definitely try to implement it to our workflow.

The lunch was tasty and I had a chance for some more networking.

Petr Kosnar's Fakebook was eye-opening speech. He spend the last year and a half pretending he's a 14yo girl on Facebook. What has he learned? That kids play Facebook! It's game and who has the most, wins. Being it comments, likes on status, number of friends online, etc. He had one interesting discovery - that for 14yo children there is no difference between sharing with friends and with public. They usually have around 300 randomly added friends - that means potentionally 300^2 people, that's 90k - a large town - that's nothing else than "public". We should teach our children the rules early on. Tell them that there is a chance that their friend who shares pics of their favourite actor may not be who he appears to be. Repressions do not work - kids are the best in overcoming them.

I also really enjoyed Patrik Zandl's talk in IoT room, even though I already heard that on Devel conference. Then Avi Itzkovitch made me think about product development in his Myth of the “Smart” Fridge. Most of the producers do not recognize what "smart" fridge means - they put touchscreens on them - like I want to tweet standing in front of my fridge! Other interesting idea: "How long does the fridge usually last? 15yrs. Do you know how displays looked like 15yrs ago? Black and white 160x80px. You really want your fridge look that oldschool in 15 yrs?" It would be much better if the fridge only communicated with a smartphone that I will change in about 2 yrs.

In the Business Hall Polle de Maagt's Service is sales showed how KLM use social marketing to improve the user experience. And some other interesting examples - like how handwritten "thank you" on a check in restaurant boosted the tips.

Last talk of the day from James Garrett - Design for Engagement - some of the UX people told me it was groundbreaking for them. I liked it but not especially - probably I'm not the target audience. I liked how he segmented the engagement to different types (cognitive, emotional, physical..) as that helps you not to forget one type for the other (i.e. make it beautiful but incomprehensible).

Friday's party at Top Gear bar was kind of strange. At first there were really few people there - like 30 or so. It was really strange and I wondered where everyone is :) There was also shortage of food of epical proportions! You had to be super-fast a wait in line, otherwise you had to wait about 2 hrs for the next round. Also the pub was quite expensive. It sucked. It sucked so much we considered moving to Nebe music club. But when we packed to leave, something magical happened. The club was at once filled with people and I bumped into some of the speakers at the bar, including @stevencorona@arnvald and @darcy. And that was when my whole experience changed dramatically. We had great conversation about how they like it here, how they were surprised about how sporadically we use credit cards and so on. We also danced a lot and had lots of fun with my "badge present" (hope you're not angry with me anymore, Blanka :)) So it turned from disaster to great party.


On Saturday I overslept a little, so I arrived little after 10 to the venue. I had a cup of coffee and breakfast and I did some networking - I met Marie and Rado from Progenium - they specialize on websites with custom taken photos - no stock pics there. I really like the idea and I there is nothing I hate more than website made of stock photos.

The speeches before noon were OK, but nothing really exceptional. First that stuck in my mind was Tiang Cheng's Speaking to a European world. He spoke about translating our software - what to look for and what the problems are. I agree with his idea that it's always best to hire a native speaker, because he can change not only the language of the text but also the cultural references and local specifics with respect to the foreigners reading it. Also really important thing - automate the translations deployment. Copy pasting sucks!

Then I attended Jakub Vrana's Phabricator talk. I would describe Phabricator like github with ecosystem. It's a complete platform with version control, online diffs, issue tracker, calendar, chat, etc. Only problem I see is that you need to host it yourself. That's a major deal-breaker for smaller companies as it's one more thing you need to care about and that takes you away from your core business.

Radek Matěj taught us how to become Project Owners. If I was to rate the presentation itself, this was by far the best one! Radek created hand-drawn slides, that helped everyone to understand really easily what he was trying to say. The message of the speech was no less important. "This is my product, I care about it, I know what the goals are and I will make it reality." He had some interesting points like that you should not listen to every wish your users have. Pick the low hanging fruit as his friend Pareto said (80/20) and don't be scared to throw away some ideas that you are unable to implement for some time. If they were worth it, they will reappear eventually.

I was sure I wanted to attend Ali's next speech based on how I liked the smart fridge talk. This one was about designing with sensors and I really liked it too. Nowadays we have a lot of sensors that let us inspect the conditions and location the user is in - inside, outside, time of day, temperature, speed, etc. He showed a nice example - flower search - you see a flower but you're not sure what kind of flower it is. How would we implement a service that would do it? Nearly everyone thought about picture recognition. But that would be quite difficult and complex. We have sensors. We know from GPS where the user is (reduces it to local flowers), we know what time of year it is (we can remove all that bloom in different time of year) and when we have reasonably small number of flowers we can even ask user for color. Then we're left with probably 6 or 8 flowers and we can show all of them to the user to pick the right one. I really liked the approach of using whatever data we have available before we bother the user to do anything active.

I also attended the #discomfort zone. Kudos to @fczbkk and @VojtaRocek for making it happen. It really helps to be able to talk about anything without the fear of someone being offended. This whole political correctness is a nonsense - people should be able to speak their mind. But that does not mean they don't have to respect other people's opinions that may be different.
Some interesting ideas came up during the talk - most notably @fczbkk's urge to convert laws to some kind of programming language, so that you can test it against personas and easily see the diffs. This idea has already gained some momentum in Germany.
Unfortunately #discomfort zone hold me up so much I was unable to attend Greg's talk on scaling rails apps. From the twitter reactions it was worth it.

Last talk I attended was Steve Corona's LAMP scaling. I loved and hated it at the same time. I loved it because it was about the problem I had and it was very straightforward - not tip-toeing around - just _"you _really don't have to know what this setting means, but trust me that the default of 128 is not a good idea and use 999999 instead!". But I hated it because it was few months too late. When we were deciding what to use for our stack - we opted for well-known LAMP instead of suggested LHNMPRR. Most notably NOT choosing nginx+php_fpm over apache+mod_php. That looks like a mistake we might regret later.

The afterparty in PM Club was also very good. It was the first time I noticed the catering problems though, because I had tight schedule and no time to get anything to eat during the afternoon. I came bit late, hungry as hell and there was like a half bowl of cucumber salad left and that was it. Well I ate some of it and some bread that was left over from the schnitzels and enjoyed the party nevertheless (and there was second round later, that was big enough and was not empty for quite a long time).
I really like the venue - it's some kind of an old theater - high ceiling, stage, etc. There is enough air and it's not too hot even with many people attending (compared to the Top Gear bar for example). I was bit disappointed that the whole program was in Czech - I tried to translate simultaneously, but gave up eventually. Biggest WTF: We told the moderator that there are some foreigners in the audience, he seamlessly switched to English, saying "Ahw, I welcome here the guests from abroad" and then switched back to Czech. That IMO resulted in most of the foreign speakers and attendees leaving, because the first hour or so was Czech-only, thus boring. Which brings me to next thing - the standup comedy.
Well, I know it's hard to entertain people "out of thin air", but it was more embarrassing than funny. The very low level was overcomed by @DavidGrudl, who nearly touched "OK level" from below - it was unfortunate that most of the funny jokes were based on porn references - I think there was potential for contextual IT-based jokes that was left unfulfilled except for "Radek Hulán - Karel Gott špatného webdesignu".
But despite this we had much fun. Vašek organized Harlem shake as a midnight surprise - I hope that the video will soon be somewhere online. We also made some pictures in SmileBox, drank many Cuba Libres, danced and talked. We actually left the party late after midnight with good impression. Overall I liked it, despite of what I wrote above.

So why did WebExpo made me sad, you ask? Well, because it's over. I enjoyed this year's conference very much and I'm already looking forward to put some of the things I learned to production. There were obviously some problems, some of them organizational, some of them in communication, some of them showing the lack of understanding for different cultures (and I mean from both sides). But the overall trend is upward and I am looking forward to the next year.