By Alex Holderness, Martec Editor
I spent the weekend at Melbourne Technology Festival, Buzzconf with no real clue what to expect. When I spoke to organisers, Ben and Rick, I liked their vision of turning a conference into a festival. A lot of people on Facebook asked what this festival lark was about, so I decided to keep a diary (for the period of time I was sober..)
Friday – 7 pm – We’re in Melbourne, and I’m once again questioning how it’s so much colder than Sydney. I’ve landed with Tara, our Talent Advocate and we head straight out to the festival site which is in a town called Ballan on the outskirts of Melbourne. We pull up after an hours drive and stocking up on food and drink, well crisps and wine at least. Our accommodation is a six person dorm, and I’m already feeling a strange sense of nostalgia from those school trip days.
7:30 pm – I spot Rick in his Buzzconf gear, welcoming people at the gate, and we have a tour of the site. It’s an old caravan park that’s got a great mix of indoor space and a load of grass for camping. The site is split into areas; family friendly, quiet, glamping, dorms and night owls. There’s also a trampoline, and it’s a lot harder than it looks, but I’m already laughing.
9 pm –I’ve come to check out the main event space, it’s outdoors with two huge marquees marked ‘Tent 1’ and ‘Tent 2’, and there are some pretty decent looking food and drink tents. We spent the rest of the night round the campfire. I had the pleasure of meeting one of Sundays speakers, Leila Alem from ThoughtWorks and we spend the night chatting about user interaction with technology and the future of mixed reality. Over a wine of course.
9 am – I had a pretty solid nights sleep, may have been the smoke inhalation from my closeness to the campfire. It’s time for brekkie, so I grab an egg wrap and meet some lovely ladies who work in UX, we talk about Black Mirror, everyone here has seen it. It’s not even 10 am, and I’m having some deep thought about humanity and whether it’s humans or technology that’s driving change.
10 am – It’s time to kick off day one, Rick and Ben bounce onto the stage to kick us off with a lot of enthusiasm, despite having about 10 hours sleep this week. The internet is down, and the #Buzzconfjokes is in overdrive. There are about 150 people here now, and the speakers are giving a 1-minute overview of what is on the cards today. There are two streams across the course of the morning covering Futurism, AR, Content, Processors, Robotics, 3D Modelling and that;s just the start. I recognise a lot of the speakers from last night, pretty sure I shared a marshmallow with at least 3 of them.
10:05 am –This coffee is good, and I’m questioning how many it’s acceptable to drink in a day (3?) It’s time for a talk on Augmented Reality (AR). Pokemon Go is up on the screen, and it’s not good news. People in the room all seem to agree that it was disappointing to see the way they are using AR, as a gimmick rather than a value add that changes the whole experience. Only 10% of people in the room still play the game on AR mode. They are also pretty miffed about the promises made by the marketing campaign, and markerless tracking doesn’t seem to be living up to the hype. Google Tango and Leap motion get a mention.
11 am – Coffee 2, really going down quite well. I’ve also added another T-Shirt as it’s 9 degrees, that’s two now. Debating whether it’s feasible to wear two pairs of jeans.
12:35 midday – It’s time for a session with the Head of Commercial Innovation at NewsCorp. It’s a presentation about blockchain technology and bringing back a paid model for content. It’s pretty techy in parts, but blockchain is essentially a way of managing a large shared database, and it could be used to fix some current holes in the media. The free content economy has messed up payment for content creators, revenue instead of being spent via the big platforms sharing it – Google and Facebook. As a content lover, a few stats stand out for me:
1) Of every $1 spent on advertising, 85c now goes to Google and Facebook
2) 75% of all media now goes through Google and Facebook
3) Facebook make on average $43 per user, Google over $100.
4) 80% of people that share articles on Facebook don’t read the content, just the snippet.
12:30 – My GoPro tripod also just fell apart for no reason. Are three coffees too much? It’s time for t-shirt number 3.
1 pm – It’s lunch time, and the queue for the snags is huge, so Tara and I dash into town (Ballan) on the hunt for a beanie in anticipation of the freeze that’s coming tonight. When we get back we spot a man on a bike in the middle of the site; he’s using Zwift, and it looks fun. It’s a game that cyclists can attach to their bike wheel, and it changes gears while you virtually cycle round different courses. We make him cycle another 10km as a demo before lunch. He seems pleased.
2 pm – I spot the first drone of the day, I thought these things would be flying everywhere, but I am impressed by the amount of people that have built their own.
3 pm – I’m in a talk about Social Robotics with UTS, and my inner nerd is having a field day. Did you know there’s a global football league running where robots play unaided? It’s blowing my mind slightly, and I’m trying to play it cool. The session focuses on the social side of robotic development, and how you get robots to think and react, rather than just execute a series of demands. It’s thought provoking stuff and raises a lot of questions with me about privacy in the future. At least three people in the audience ask how they build a career in that space.
4:36 pm – Rick jumps on stage to make an announcement – Twitter hashtag #BuzzConf is trending number 1 in Australia. I later found out this meant over 2.8 million impressions of the hashtag over the weekend.
5 pm – It’s workshop time, the Internet of Tents in Tent 1 and 3D modelling in Tent 2. I’m running between the two as everyone has their laptops out getting involved with the tasks in hand. One room building 3D models to send to over of the six printers that are on site, the other getting various parts of the tent structure to talk to each other. Outside people have VR headsets on, lots of attendees have built games to demo, everyone is getting involved.
6 pm –A lot more people have a beer/whisky/wine in hand now, and it’s time for the last session of the day – lightning talks. Everyone at the event gets offered 5 minutes on stage and talk about anything. The session goes until 7 pm, and the room is buzzing as we flick between women in tech, eco lights, sustainable VR, Empathy Skills and Fiction.
Another fact – across Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, only 20% of the workforce are women. One in three of those leave within five years.
7:15 pm – My 24 hours are nearly up, and it’s probably a good thing as the drinks are flowing now. It’s a fantastic, diverse crowd full of enthusiasm and energy. There’s been a lot of talk about the softer side of tech too; everyone seems really interested in what this all means for people. My clothes already have a strong smell of fire smoke, but I can’t resist toasting marshmallow number 12. There are bands here setting up for the night, and then DJs will take the night into the morning – the festival vibe has kicked in.