Web414 January 2010

(This post is part of my blog archiving project. This post appeared on blog.mattgauger.com on January 14, 2010.)

Web414 is a monthly technology meetup here in Milwaukee, which is responsible forBarCampMilwaukeeMKE Devhouse, Milwaukee’s coworking meetups, photowalks, and many of our other events in Milwaukee.

Bucketworks is the usual host of Web414, but they’ve had some issues finding a new physical location in the past year. December was the first Web414 in their new location (fingers crossed!) near 5th & National. Bucketworks seems to be on track to open for business later this month at that location, but they didn’t have an internet connection + wifi in time for the January 2010 Web414.

Kevin Ciesielski (Kevron on Twitter) hosted this month’s Web414 and moderated a panel on radio. His panelists were Ryan Schleicher of WMSETarik Moody of 88.9 Radio Milwaukee, Jim Conigliaro ofJournal Communications, and James Brust of online radio station Limbiq Frequencies. The panel discussed the technical difficulties of streaming radio on the web, and the issues surrounding licensing music for broadcast. Creative Commons licensing came up as a possible solution to the licensing issue. Unfortunately, the discussion didn’t include any musicians (vocal ones, at least) and I would have liked to hear what artists think about Creative Commons versus what broadcasters think.

At first, one might wonder why this topic was chosen for Web414. The panelists were not as involved (or prepared to talk about) the technical side of streaming radio online. In fact, I heard a few people whispering in the back questioning the relevance to to Web414 during the meeting.

But I’m going to go ahead and argue that the topic is entirely relevant to Web414. As a group, Web414 is exploring both the online realm and how to make a living working online. But Web414 is also concerned with the creation and publishing of content. That content could be writing, photography, code, art, interior design, music, etc. that just happens to live online. We’ve all staked our careers on the awesome capabilities of the web and the fact that we can make a living on the web. That’s why I think it is relevant to have a panel of radio folks or an interior designer or a singer-songwriter as the focus of a Web414 meeting.

I may come off as a curmudgeon, but I think Web414 has already covered technical topics & tools in detail and doesn’t need to go that route anymore. Often, these topics appeal to only a small subset of attendees, or the 1 hour time limit is too short to adequately cover the topic. An hour intro to Drupal or Joomla or even a web site like Flickr is barely enough time to cover the basics and will probably only appeal to people who are already interested in Drupal or Joomla or Flickr. When I spoke at Web414 on version control, I felt that I’d barely scratched the surface of the topic and my talk failed (my fault, I’ll admit) to interest the people it was aimed at: those not already using version control. Technical topics seem better served by a whole unconference event, like the very successful Drupal Camp Wisconsin which I’ve had the pleasure of attending.

So what topics would I personally like to see at Web414 in the future? I think we need to tap into our attendees and find interesting individuals to interview. I’m curious to hear what they do, how they do it, and how they pay the bills every month. I’m curious to hear what tools they use to stay productive and how they focus. And if we can draw in some interesting folks from Milwaukee and the surrounding area to interview along the same lines, I’d be interested. I’m not asking for a Lifehacker meet-up. I just think that the topic can now safely shift from specific technologies and websites and onto how to make ourselves better professionals.

I think we need to allow for Web414 to change, too. In the past year, we had The Web414 Showhosted by Gabe Wollenburg and Pete Prodoehl. They took Web414 in the direction of a late-night TV talk show, which was good, because Web414 was beginning to feel like an Twitter Anonymous member meeting before that change. We may need someone to shake things up again, though. Things change so fast on the web (and generally impact us so little) that I question whether we need a “this week on the web” news segment. The tools and technologies that people are using and making a living off of is such a huge list now that it would be an injustice to try and cover what is happening with everything. Similarly, the happenings of web bloggers and web personalities really don’t have any relevance to us as a group anymore, if they ever did. (John C. Dvorak and Kevin Rose come to mind.) I’d like to suggest instead that we try to cover local Wisconsin developments in the tech sector: new companies moving into town, new initiatives by the state or local governments in using the web (if they ever chose to) etc. Perhaps instead of covering “web news” we could devote that time to allowing meeting attendees to brag about neat projects they’re working on or have been involved in, even though we’ve discouraged this practice in the intros in the past. I’d like to stay plugged in to what local folks are doing and be able to congratulate them for their successes and their failures.

Milwaukee is noticeably lacking for particular technology users groups (such as Linux User Groups (LUGS), programming language user groups, etc), or they’re not as successful as Web414. I rarely hear about other groups in Milwaukee that I should check out. So Web414 does help to fill that niche where users groups don’t exist. But maybe Web414 can be a catalyst to letting people meet and spin off their own groups. Having a new permanent location would certainly help, if Bucketworks is game to open up their space in the future for other groups. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with all these groups and awesome people (who I’m glad to call my friends) in the new year.