This post is an overview of the sessions I attended at Web Directions South 2008 – a two-day conference held each year in Sydney, Australia. Note, this is not an overview of all sessions – only those I attended. I know the tone of this post is a bit formal and dry. This is because it originated as a report on the conference to my Manager at News Digital Media. Sorry
Opening keynote: New media – new business
By Lynne D Johnson
This session was extremely relevant to the context of my current work on Where I Live at News Digital Media – being a small part of a very large media and publishing organisation – News Corporation. An interesting point Johnson spoke of was in reference to a recent article published on Valleywag – Google cofounders’ wealth dwarfs newspaper business – stating that “the entire American newspaper business is worth $20 billion and sinking fast”, whereas “Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google’s cofounders, are worth nearly $16 billion each.” This spoke both to the decline of print media in general, as well as calling into question the future of the long-form format of print. Johnson prophesised the rise of the E-Book on devices such as the Amazon Kindle, as well as suggesting the long-form may eventually become an elite format – expensive to both produce and purchase – perhaps itself becoming an identifier of class.
Accessibility beyond compliance
By Derek Featherstone
This session spoke to the idea of thinking beyond simply building websites that “validate” and taking the extra step (and effort) to think in terms of the context of the user and how they will actually be using the site/interface. Featherstone made particular reference to the Google Maps based Routes on ironfeathers.ca, whereby he had re-implemented the map controls to provide a higher level of validity and usability than is provided by Google by default.
Developing for iPhone
By Tim Lucas and Peter Ottery
This session covered the news.com.au iPhone site development.
The first half of the presentation, by Tim Lucas, covered the technical aspects of building a website for the iPhone. Lucas made known the site was developed in Ruby on Rails, as well as the fact that it was the first iPhone site development he had embarked upon. The most interesting part for me was trying to figure out how a contractor with no experience developing for the target platform was engaged to build a site for News Digital Media in a framework it didn’t (until now it seems), sanction and/or support.
The second half of this session, delivered by Pete Ottery, was an expose of sorts regarding new features inherent in CSS3 that can be used immediately for iPhone web app developments due to the native Safari web browser with full CSS3 support. Pretty interesting!
Craig Sharkie, with Earle Castledine, Ben Askins, Jason Crane and Cameron Adams
Elegant Web Typography
By Jeff Croft
This session delivered some useful takeaways relating to typography on the web. In particular, one problem faced by front-end developers dealing with CSS-based typography is that of setting relative font sizes for accessibility, only to be thwarted when nested content inherits font-size settings, making it very difficult to calculate the actual relative font size to use to achieve a specific “screen size”. Croft revealed a technique first published in the post How to size text using ems on Clagnut. I had remembered seeing this technique used on Clearleft and, lo and behold, the author of the aforementioned article, Richard Rutter, is the Production Director at Clearleft. It all makes sense now!
Predicting the Past: Emotional Design and a Vision for Microsoft Surface
By August de los Reyes
This session delved more into theories of user experience and human/computer interaction, and this is what made it interesting. Reyes’ recent postgraduate studies were evident as the session was delivered more as an academic lecture than as a conference end-of-day keynote. Using his learnings as a segway to the promotion of Microsoft’s newest technology – Surface (essentially a big iPhone). Reyes claims Surface is a shift from the current graphic user interface (GUI) to the new Natural User Interface (NUI). However, as interesting and inspiring Reyes is as a speaker, I don’t think he managed to convince the tech-savvy audience that Surface was anything more than a touch-screen in a coffee table.
Designing our way through data
By Jeffrey Veen
This session was interesting because it was Veen – and he is entertaining. Veen spoke, as he has on many occasions, of designing information and data visualisation whilst referencing the usual suspects from history – John Snow, Charles Joseph Minard, Harry Beck, et. al. – and the current trends in our own time such as Trulia snapshot, DOPPLR and (of course) Measure Map and Google Analytics.
Veens central premise for designing information was presented with the following three key points:
- Enable people to find their stories
- Create tools to let them manipulate their data
- Provide filters to enable clarity
Podcast: Designing our way through data
Creating sexy stylesheets
By Jina Bolton
This session presented some practical examples for creating, if not sexy (apparently Bolton has recieved some flack for use of the term "sexy" – go figure), at least readable and organised stylesheets. The most interesting takeway from Bolton’s presentation for my purposes was the idea of a table of contents at the top of the CSS file which gives a quick overview of sections, colours and styles that reference section headings using the
/* =selector */ style of section commenting. I’d noticed Rob D’Arrigo had used this style on Where I Live, and I liked the idea so much I’m incorporating it into all my web training courses.
A Jungle Cruise through the Wild Regions of HTML5 and Surrounding Territories
By Michael(tm) Smith
This session was a very interesting overview of what is to come in HTML5, including (but not limited to):
- The canvas element for scriptable and interactive images
- The video and audio elements used to embed interactive video and audio without the need for third-party plugins such as Flash
- Client-side form validation
- Offline web applications (like Google Gears)
- Client-side SQL database storage
This is all very exciting for the web professional. However, despite Smith beginning his presentation with the assertion that these are "HTML5 features that work in browsers now", these features have virtually no support in modern browsers (apart from Opera) and, of course, the shameful reality is that HTML5 will not be ready until 2022. The outcome of Smith’s presentation then, although interesting, was slightly redundant.
Interaction design case studies
By Daniel Burka
Daniel Burka is the creative director at Digg. Burka’s session concentrated on a case-study involving his re-design of the Digg comments system. Premised mainly upon the concept of desire lines or “desire paths”, Burka openly admitted to getting it disastrously wrong the first time and was refreshingly humble in his learnings – asserting that whilst we can do all sorts of user testing (and did not discount this), but we can never know how a product will be used intil it is released into the wild and “actually used”. In essence, these are the "desire paths" your users will create and that you cannot know until they do.
By Douglas Crockford
Although entitled "Ajax security", Crockford’s presentation took a turn towards the inadequate security model of the current Internet and web-based applications in general. Crockford asserted the current protocols were never designed to host secure and robust applications and prophesised that in the future (maybe sooner rather than later), a new protocol will be required to accommodate the current trend of the web as a platform.
Closing keynote: This, That, and the Other Thing
By Mark Pesce
Pesce took the Web Directions stage more rock star revolutionary than nothing-new nerd. Whilst, as usual, his presentation was an academic discourse that made the brain bleed, the session was balanced by the vision being projected on the massive screens behind the speaker. With nine inch nails at full-volume, the screen on the left scrolled maniacally through 1000 of Pesce’s Twitter friends – displaying their avatar and username at a frantic pace, whilst, developed by The Man in Blue – Cameron Adams – specifically for Pesce’s presentation, (almost) real-time Twitter tweets tagged with WDS08 would dissolve in and out of one-another whilst Pesce delivered his message.
The message this year is the power of the collective. Nothing new, but when it’s spoken about with nine inch nails and smoke machines – it may as well be.
The point in case is RateMyProfessors.com.According to Pesce, this site harnesses the power of the collective and, since it’s inception, has influenced the hiring, firing and celebrity status of many a US academic.