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Hard and Fast

Webstock 2017: think of others

By Antonios Karantze, in , posted: 23-Feb-2017 22:07

I had the good fortune to be allowed to attend Webstock 2017 this year, held in Wellington New Zealand from 13-17 February.

This quirky event is growing in popularity and attendance, and this year featured a whole host of presenters covering many topics, from the origin of Emoji’s to empathetic design for the elderly. Nearly all the presenters were from the US, and there were two overwhelming themes that kept repeating and being referenced throughout the event:

1. “We are sorry about what is happening is US Politics. This isn’t who we are”
2. “We need to think of everyone – old, young, able bodied, disabled, sight and mobility impaired, rich and poor – when creating for people

Resonating in the back of my mind was the phrase ‘He Tangata, He Tangata, He Tangata’. It is the people, It is the people, It is the people. I may not be using the phrase in it’s correct setting, but it speaks to what I heard repeatedly throughout the days – by the people, about the people, and for the people.

I observed an audience of old and young, multiple races and all genders, and was enthused by the sheer size and participation. This thing is big. REALLY BIG. And it continues to get bigger, which is great for Wellington and great for the design sector in New Zealand.

So what were my takeaways from the time?

Knowing your audience and being present to what they want to here is crucially important. I heard a few jokes fall flat, and some that were absolutely wrong to be used – a quick websearch if you are interested will reveal my abstract reference. A highlight was Marcin Wichary, a polish chap from Google, who covered topics from charles babbage to the work he did creating the Google Doodle that was Pacman in 2010, and the journey of discovery he went on to recreate this classic game. Warm, enthusiastic about his topic and a genuinely engaging fellow, he touched on a couple of rueful points about never assuming and not bothering to question ‘why’ – as well as not being satisfied until he was, and not giving up until the task was done.

It’s a small item, but seeing through any commitment to completion in the modern world takes focus, and I often see failure because people just gave up or lost interest… because they just did.

Significant reference was made to Apple’s design aesthetics and their efforts in designing for humans, by many of the presenters. Love or loathe that company, they have made their mark on the western world and continue to set a tone for modern digital experiences that we all live with and don’t appreciate we are.

I met with Janine Gianfredi on Thursday night after the show, and caught her presentation on the Friday, about designing US Government services from a startup with the Executive (The White House under President Obama), and taking things to market. Born out of the chaos that was the introduction of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), Janine referred to the ‘mission’ of getting healthcare for people who historically could’nt. The Federal government set up the national exchange, but required insurance companies in every state to cooperate in creating products and offering to customers – not trivial, and a service that was born from a big government project (many contractors, little focus on end to end experience, and a desire to just ship software even if it sucked) had to be refactored by a smaller team who thought about the users, what they had to do, and how they could improve services.

Again. It is the people. The presentation resonated with me, and in a separate session run earlier in the week, was well attended by representatives from our government agencies like Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) and other folks looking to transform how things work today. Looking for ideas on how to be more effective in their roles, to make things ‘easier’ for people that need to be using them.

Well, duh

So far, so very boring right? nobody wakes up in the morning and decides ‘today I’m going to build a diabolical service and really piss people off!’, although I’m sure anyone who uses some government services must think that is what happens.

Just today, a colleague outlined a problem he just had with Inland Revenue. This month IRD made a lot of noise about their updated ‘MyGST’ capability, designed to make GST payments easier for those that self manage. My colleague had the money ready to go, he emailed ird – Via the MyIRD secure messaging service – and was told he would receive a message explaining more. Nothing. Eventually he got a note saying he had been fined for not paying his GST… and after much work, he discovered that the MyGST secure messaging service is in NO WAY SHAPE OR FORM linked to the MyIRD secure messaging service… which has been in wide use for a while.

Guess where the emails had been going?

So someone sat down and created this sequence, and didn’t think of the users or the learned behaviour of people. Or they did, and the above setup was deployed for time money and convenience, no doubt meeting a project milestone. Hurrah! who cares about the user?

Final Thoughts

So, Webstock has become a tech industry ‘thing’. It is up there with the air of ‘gotta be there’ like Microsoft’s tech-ed shows used to be, before they became not so interesting anymore. I don’t get the feel Webstock is there yet, and that says something given it’s current long run. The organisers Mike and Natasha did an awesome job with running the show, the venue, the food, facilities and overall execution. There were some parts that need and are getting attention, but this is a good show. Consider it for next year if you haven’t gone. Conversations are had that get people to think. It’s an event where people are open to meeting, greeting, freeforming and just being, and that is so important in a world that is currently being turned upside down by the return of fear, hate and despicable attitudes.

- AK, 2017

Being connected...

By Antonios Karantze, in , posted: 19-Jan-2013 17:28

I've stopped being surprised at the penetration of smart devices in the lives of people in NZ. I can't recall the last feature phone I saw in active use - you know, the old nokia's which just made calls and texted - and every widget I see now is a shipping, youtubing, app fuelled smart monster slurping data like its so much calling airtime.

It's really clear that the widget is king, and how you connect is becoming so much a simple rate war, with little in the way to differentiate providers. Such is competition I guess.

The fragmented nature of android can't be good. Samsung has nailed the experience, and can premium charge as a result - undercutting Apple but well over LG, HTC and the other dwarves. Meanwhile smartphones are morphing into mega tablets and getting ever bigger.

2013 should be fun, for this part of life anyway!

- Posted using BlogPress

There is an end to everything, to good things as well

By Antonios Karantze, in , posted: 23-Jul-2012 22:28

On Sunday night, I went to see the The Dark Knight Rises, the third and final film in the Batman reboot that started with the awesome Batman Begins.

Review of the movie have been mixed and the third movie suffers by virtue of not being able to delight and surprise; expectations from the audience are elevated, and the bar was already set pretty high with the first two movies.

Nonetheless, I highly recommend you discard the negative reviews and the marred launch from the truly awful Colorado tragedy - tell me gun control is not required now - and GO SEE THE MOVIE. Make up your own mind. As a movie experience it's pretty fantastic and well worth slogging through the nearly 3 hour running time; you don't want to have to go the toilet as you'll miss key elements of the third act.

I don't intend this commentary to be a spoiler, but you should stop now in case you think I give away any of the movie.

So in summary, after the events of the first movie - the swell of the criminal world in Begins; the surge and eventual becalming of crime in The Dark Knight, the 3rd movie opens with a city that is calm and at peace and on the rise. Inequity in rife but present, and the city is almost screaming out that it's all about to end, yet no-one is really listening. And into this. Batman emerges as (much) older, mourning and burdened with a worn-down body. He's not the man he used to be - in the first act, it's easy to see how he is both drawn back into the world and seduced at the same time by the stunning Anne Hathaway, playing the role of a 'catwoman' without ever been called that.

The rise of the criminal Bane is breathtaking to behold, and the easy collapse of the calm world without much effort - a poor nod to the effects of finance and banking blandly executed - as is the humbling of our hero and the shattering of everything he thought he was. It hurts to watch - not only from the physical torment, which is pretty brutal - but also the mental shattering that goes with it. Unlike real people who's mind breaks though, Mr Bat recovers quickly enough with lots of press-ups and grim determination.. if only life were really that easy!

Unfortunately, the third act has both some fantastic twists worthy of this movie and carries on the dark vision of the world.. and then ends with the most Disney of endings I never expected to see. All the buildup, all the pain, all the reality about the fragility of life and the futility of men's deep plans.. has such a happy ending I walked out feeling like I'd eaten too many lollies (which I had).

Ah well. Work past that ending, and focus on the events leading up to it, and you have gritty truths on what it means to plan, to age, and to see what you thought was something different, actually unravel quickly and be shown to be nothing more than folly.

Mr Batman speaks to those who have hit 40, and presents a view that is very sharp and very familiar to anyone who's been there and come back. It's a stark reminder for the career minded who focus so much on what they are doing that they are lost inside the monster they create; Batman in his alter-ego, for most folk I would guess their work, business, stage persona or other 'this is me' activity.

Batmans denouement is not his realisation that he is mortal; that's easy. It's the revelation that in the moment he makes all the difference, moments later that difference is gone and the world has moved on, leaving him with breakages that cannot be repaired. He has to do his piece, but he has to step aside and let other's do the same and more. In creating the symbol of hope, in creating the persona to rally around and nurture, he needs to exit and let others carry on.

It's humbling. It's a solid parable for anyone too wrapped in what they do so much they can't get past it.





antoniosk's profile

Antonios Karantze
New Zealand


Antonios has been actively employed in the IT & Technology sector since 1991, and has worked on many commercials projects and products in New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom. Working in product or actively managing programmes of work, he has always focused on building for the end customer, and not just promoting new technologies. Industry experience includes all telecommunications areas for business and private customers, private insurance, loyalty, media, energy and gambling. 

Since 2013, he has been involved with the development and launch of many popular smartphone applications in New Zealand, including

- TAB Mobile
- AMI & State Insurance digital experience
- Fly Buys
- Newshub for web and app
- Genesis Energy & Energy Online
- MyACC for Business

Genuinely passionate about technologies, internet and computing in general, he lives in the city he was born in - Wellington, New Zealand, the creative heart of hub of digital sector for the country.