Conference Review: Wharton Web Conference 2014

On Tuesday I got to attend the Wharton Web Conference, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I had gone last year, when Felicia Day had done the keynote. It’s a really fantastic tech conference to go to that offered three different tracks this year: content, developer, and design. (I did the content track!).

A few things were different: they had volunteers with plaid shirts to guide people (VERY helpful), with our badges we were given the opportunity to put stickers on them to make networking easier, and they had created an app (that I didn’t use) that had a list of all the talks and where they’d be.

So, let’s begin, shall we?


Since I knew the conference would have nom-tastic food, I chose to skip breakfast at home and partake in some sugar-y delights. It’s amazing how good the food was (superior to the food I had at GDC in every way!). And I got to run into Amanda Lange there, who I originally met at Lady Hacks earlier this year.



Keynote: Danah Boyd

Danah Boyd

Danah’s speech was… amazing. Even though she spoke a bit quickly, I loved her talk. One of my biggest issues at tech events is the overwhelming lack of diversity: if there are women at the event, they tend to be white (or asian). The entire time I was there, I only saw three other black women despite an attendance of 300 people.

I will say, though, that I was thrilled that Wharton chose another woman as the keynote speaker (and was she brilliant! I’d never met anyone who instantly inspired me and made me want to follow them to the ends of the Earth while in their presence).

In her talk, Danah made consistent mentions to systemic oppression, societal injustices, racism, capitalism – the whole nine yards. I immediately became interested in her work, particularly the intersectional lens between big data and social justice.

After her talk, I thanked her for talking about these issues (especially since they’re not as prevalant in tech as they need to be), about how these kinds of events tend to be geared toward white, hetero, cis men and no one ever really talks about social justice. (Afterward, one of the volunteers told me that Wharton strives to be as inclusive as possible, which I appreciated, though I didn’t catch the volunteer’s name).

Danah Boyd

Session 1: Links as Language: A Contextual Approach to Content Creation by David Dylan Thomas

Link As Language

This was definitely my favorite talk all day. First off, David’s definitely a nerd (which naturally I appreciated!) and mentioned video games and movies that had a gameplay narrative (a non-linear way of telling a story, like Groundhog Dog or Edge of Tomorrow).

But for me, the key to a good talk is that my mind is expanded in some capacity by the speaker, and that that knowledge can be applied to my own life and thinking.

I loved this quote (that I tweeted) from David’s speech:

And… that’s just so ground-breaking to me. In his talk, David showed us pictures of the Universe, of the brain, and talked about how it’s not just the web that’s interconnected, but all of us too. To me, when your blog is small (and therefore lacks any kind of readership, community or notoriety), it can feel like you’re talking into the ether, that no one is listening. Having links can help connect you to others (it’s probably why so many bloggers do weekly link round-ups!) while building your presence online.

Link as Language
Links, I think, are often overlooked because they’re so common. But they’re SO important to our content and they’re a key component in how giving you are as a blogger. It’s perfectly acceptable to link others to awesome, and worthwhile content that’ll help or entice them!


By this point I was completely starving. Even though lunch wasn’t phenomenal, it was pretty tasty. (I definitely wish the salmon had been warm instead of cold).

WWC Lunch

WWC Lunch

WWC Lunch

WWC Lunch

WWC Lunch

Session 2: How Videogames are Changing the Way We Learn by Chris Stubbs 

The reason I had attended this talk: GAMES. I love anything that’s about games, so naturally I felt compelled. Even though educational games are interesting to me, it’s almost purely conceptual. I did, however, love his example of EconU – a game designed to help students in a Microeconomics class – and enjoyed his examples of how playing games helped get the students really engaged (such as the class that used Guitar Hero to get middle schoolers interested in music education). And I did particularly enjoy this one tweetable (that I paraphrased):

Chris Stubbs

I also liked how he talked about gamification – an idea that still alludes me at times – where businesses will do things like include badges and leveling up components (ie: Starbucks upgrading you every time you buy X amount of coffee). And Chris mentioned how his team needs to make games for the blind – and accessibility in tech is pretty important (and often overlooked).  Overall, I really enjoyed this talk. 


Cupcakes! Cookies! And other delicious things! Oh my!





Session 3: Orchestrating Content by Sara Wachter-Boettcher

This is the talk that allowed me to discover how I learn best: context (which is one of my strength finder’s actually), big picture, and applicable metaphors that break down the big picture stuff into succinct and understandable concepts.

It’s not that Sara was a poor speaker, but the construction of her speech didn’t align with how I learn best. Immediately, she dived into her presentation and began talking about her work as a content strategist and for the entirety of the talk I wasn’t sure what she meant by content – she had never defined it, or placed it within a framework for her speech.

Orchestrating Content

Upon further reflection, I realized that she also hadn’t really integrated the concept of an orchestra into her talk, instead giving a hat tip to it before quickly moving on to the next topic.

I definitely wish she had created a foundation by explaining who she was, what her work was, and what she would go over in her talk. It felt like random information, and I can’t say I was completely engaged. Perhaps her next speech – if she gives another talk here in Philly – will be much better.

Happy Hour! 

The end of the conference! The food was – again – delicious. I didn’t really stay long – I was full, and tired from being around people all day.




Overall Impression: I loved being at the Wharton Web Conference – the talks are diverse and interesting, and there’s definitely something for everyone! I’m excited for next year already!

One Comment

  1. Erika said:

    I've never really been to a conference like this, so it was super interesting to read your take on it and get a peek inside to some of what's offered! That first talk sounds inspiring! And as someone who has "input" as one of my strengths, I definitely need to get better at sharing links. I collect so much but don't share — but I know I love the power of a good link just as a reader! As for the gaming one, I thought that was interesting — I think people love games, challenges, and most of all: feeling like they are progressing towards a bigger goal. Gaming even within businesses and consumer structures is really smart to tap into that! And sorry about that last lady's speech… but like you said, at least it gave you a greater appreciation for how you learn and that the other speakers were able to be clearer and more engaging. I think I sometimes take excellent public speaking for granted, but it actually is very difficult to do and a beautiful skill. Thanks for sharing, Tatiana!

    July 24, 2014

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