post-conference notes from WebVisions 2006

It’s been almost a week, and I’m rereading my liveblogging notes. Following are some final notes, by way of summary and/or things-to-do. All in reverse-chron order of sessions. (I’m not quite done: I still need to add links to all the presenters and their slides, etc. online.)

Day 2

Jared Spool keynote

[Jared’s slides]

I missed a big chunk of this because of (a) a phone call and (b) diverted attention. However….

redesigns are dead, or at least they should be; the best way to improve a Web site is with small iterative improvements, well-tested.

he had some fantastic comments on implementing design, and design guidelines, throughout an organization. “educate and administrate” is the theme, which means to use design problems as teachable moments, rather than throwing the book at people. It also means making good design the easy default.

similarly, the best way to get at better experience design is to make testing easy and inexpensive. (there’s a typo in my original notes!) I love the idea of having a regularly scheduled usability test session every N, and just testing something, anything. to find test subjects, go where they congregate, online or in person.

social metadata & the relevance revolution

[Gene Smith’s presentation]

on the topic of social information architecture: how sites come together through user-created content. at work, the only thing we have like this is the book exchange. in the rest of my life, this applies to OlyBlog. it could, theoretically, apply to the ENA site, but I don’t have time to go there right now. (make this a placeholder for that thought!)

the 3 ingredients for social IA: way to capture user actions; way to aggregate & display; feedback to change the system.

in a ranking system (one form of aggregation), you need multiple rankings to call everything that’s interesting about a particular set. for OlyBlog, maybe different (custom?!) views?

there are, apparently, open source libraries for collaborative filtering (people who liked X also chose Y), including in PHP.

thought experiment question: what are the feedback systems that exist by default on OlyBlog? how do they effect the site content and people’s experience of it?

a question at the end that I’m going to leave alone for the moment: the use of social IA in intranets? (what is scuttle at IBM?!)

accessible design w/out drama

in general: “Don’t praise the machine” — where the machine is the rules and (especially!) the validators (or the DJ-bot 5000, for that matter).

lots of crazy stats about how many people are (insert disability here). something that overlaps with work issues: fastest growing demographic is the oldsters.

a to-do for work: still need to train people using WordPress and/or Drupal on some of the basic accessibility issues.

improving front-end architecture

[Garrett Dimon’s slides]

very inspirational with lots of head-nodding. he focused quite a bit on the long-term issues of web design, which is a place where I have a lot (5+ years!) of experience.

markup as a craft — THE underlying craft of web design. can I get an amen?

plazes was a really nice example of accessibility issues changing the overall conceptualization of a site. for work, this might be something to consider in reworking the maps section of the site, which is something we plan on doing.

keep an eye out for his work with Derek Featherstone on accessible forms.

and his slides were very cool; well worth a look just for some of the grids.

designing for community

this presentation brought OlyBlog front & center in my brain.

“never lose sight of what your product is separate from the social networking aspect.”

90% of visitors are passive users of the site. the 10% — creators, commenters, etc. — need the 90%. who are the passive users on OlyBlog? what do they want/need? why are they there?

remember to send a link to newsvine to C.

idea for book exchange: use ajax to do on-the-fly checking for available usernames.

how do you create a system that rewards good long-time users w/out punishing new/untested users?

Day 1

the new community

general impressions? Derek is a lively and friendly speaker, who has a good turn of phrase & concept, and happens to be insanely optimistic.

a good definition of community: the ability to use voice in public/immediate way, forming relationships over time.

I think I’ll find myself using the term “company town” quite a lot from now on, because it captures a certain aspect of community sites so perfectly. (And because I remember my grandfather explaining the concept of the company town as we drove through mining country in southeastern Arizona, when I was a kid.)

two contrary-wise positions that are worth mentioning here:

  • Joe Clark on the death of privacy
  • Ralph Brandi on weblogs (not) as conversation

a note for OlyBlog, as a company town: treat your folk well, and acknowledge their diversity of online selves.

mobile phones & the mobile web

[Brian Fling’s slides]

great slides, especially the combination of the originally presenter’s and those of the guy who actually presented.

telcos suck.

Americans don’t carry PDA phones, nor do they (over 18) particularly use the mobile web.

there are way too many devices, but some basic commonalities apply. to find the most popular phones, look at what’s being given away with new subscriptions. also the razr.

most screens are 120px wide.

at this point, SMS reminder service might be the hottest possibility. I have this idea kicking around in my head for a “send my schedule on the first day of class” service.

rapid dom/ajax development

stuff to look up & understand later: anonymous functions, closures.

keys to rapid development: maintainability. finding bugs, managing the work of others. extensibility. flexibility.

I do, finally, need to learn and understand OOP. nothing else to do for it.

he recommends using libraries, in part to avoid reinventing the wheel. I still wonder if we have actually invented the wheel yet, metaphorically speaking.

I’d like to create a click-to-expand FAQ in a few spots around the main site…or at least convert the SOS FAQ (say that 5 times fast!) to click-to-expand.

go back and look at the comparison chart for all the libraries.

JSON sounds intriguing, but the idea of XSLT-style syntax makes my brain hurt from here.

I like the idea of a “premade HTML shell” — I’ll have to tuck that away in my head for future reference.

[I skipped all the morning sessions on Day 1 to instead have breakfast & go to the Chinese garden with my sweetie. Plus I missed one session on Day 2 while I was trying to help him after he lost his glasses in the Columbia River.]

overall, it was, as usual, a great experience. (as usual, it was too hot in Portland, but that’s neither here nor there.) I always get a lot out of WebVisions.