WebDD -I was there, were you?
What an awesome event, I was originally in two minds about going to the latest conference installment from Phil Winstanley, Dave Sussman (and all the other dedicated people involved with the other DDD events) but boy am I glad I went.
This time I decided to take it to the next level and rather than driving down and back on the day I’d drive down the night before with Stacey and stay over in a local hotel. This worked really well, not only did it mean I was awake for all of the seminars but I could get some work down the next day too ;)
Anyhow, back to the day, for once I had the foresight to choose the seminars I was going to attend before I arrived and decided not to attend all of Scott Guthrie’s talks mainly because of the following I knew he’d have but also because of the great alternatives available so here’s my breakdown of who I went to see and what I thought of their talk:
Microformats - HTML to API (Glenn Jones)
GlenN Jones (not Glen Jones as was listed in the schedule ;)) presented a very interesting talk on microformats, it’s not quite what I first thought it was (for some reason I thought it was some form of HTML applets but lets not go there!). Microformats are certainly something I’m going to look into in the future but as Julian Voelcker has pointed out quite how practical they are to use in a CMS situation I’m not sure.
I think from an SEO point of view and also from an information sharing POV they’re very interesting and I’ll certainly be integrating them into various sites for testing purposes sooner rather than later (in fact if you check out my about me page they’ll be there with the new update coming soon … now I just need to re-work my tag output* using IISMods' URLRewrite).
*Glenn pointed out that when using the rel=”tag” attribute the last “word” in the associated URL should be the tag itself -something I didn’t know but will be sorted as atm it’s along the lines of “CategoryView,category,Business,Business%20Start-up%20Advice.aspx” etc which isn’t very useful.
I think in principle microformats are a good idea for something like a blog or a semi-static site where the developer (or someone with knowledge of microformats) has control over the content but how you could role them out in a client managed site is a little more complicated and something that will need some more thought -do you offer buttons to insert the code markup for them? Can you offer nested content easily etc.
The other thing about them I’m not too sure about is (miss)use of the abbr tag -again that was only something I picked up in the talk so may have missed the point, I’ll need to look into it further.
Either way it was an interesting insight into a new concept that I’m going to support if I can :). Check out the main microformats site at: www.microformats.org
Glenn Jones is also the developer behind the back network site that was used to link all the delegates together, it’s an interesting concept that once again promotes a social network on the internet which is all the rage at the moment but also allows you to interact with other delegates before the event -this is something I’d have done had I had more time before the event!
Web Accessibility: What, Why, How, and Who Cares? (Bruce Lawson)
Making web sites accessible is something I’ve been interested in pretty much since I got involved with ASP.Net 1.1 and I get endlessly tired of hearing fellow ASP.Net developers complain that you can’t make web sites accessible using the ASP.Net platform -balls can’t you, ok it’s not something that comes out of the box and at times is a little awkward but a lot of it is just common sense and consideration.
Bruce Lawson’s talk was a breath of fresh air, it was great to see someone having the courage that I’m yet to muster (well, more the time but hey) to convince my fellow developers to make their sites accessible.
Why the hell shouldn’t your site be accessible to all? It’s not all about money, in my mind it’s just about being fair to others -following (as ever) Google’s moto of don’t be evil. I liked Bruce’s method of presentation as it was far more personal than the usual “you should care because it’s the law” or “you should care because you’re missing out on a ton of money”, when asking the question “who cares?” -using his words not mine- he said “rather than quoting facts and figures at you trying to convince you, -my mate Theresa does”. I think this in itself was a different method of engaging the audience and I certainly felt it worked.
The talk wasn’t particularly in depth (which baring in mind the audience I expected) but I felt it was enough to plant the seed of interest with those that weren’t otherwise that aware or interested about accessibility. I hope that they’ll now actively encourage fellow developers to take action -not necessarily by redeveloping their past sites as many clients can’t afford this, but by giving some consideration to accessibility in future designs -i.e. DON’T use buttons for menu systems!
I can’t hand on heart say all our sites are overly accessible but I’m learning and I feel each new site we’re involved in is that little bit more accessible. Bruce did share a very useful site called “Blind Webbers” where you can get in contact with screen reader users -I’ll certainly be checking that out with the new design for The Site Doctor, for others interested Bruce sent me the link: http://www.webaim.org/discussion/mail_message.php?id=9019. I’m thinking I’ll see what they think of Miss Mays adult store -could be a good introduction!!
The point that made me laugh the most was his demonstration of using “Click Here” as link text, his demo was simple but effective -you can check it out on his site: http://www.brucelawson.co.uk/index.php/2007/webdd-conference-slides-and-questions
One thing I do need to think about is the order of elements on the page, i.e. at present this blog layout has the menu appearing before the content -mainly because that was the quickest way I could get the layout sorted, but I think I need to re-order it so the menu comes last -that said I do have a “Skip to content” link at the top -how effective it is I’ll let you know. Another thing I also want to pass by Bruce is image replacement techniques as I’ve tried a few now and I’d be interested to see how they perform on screen readers and the like.
Quick and dirty Usability tests - one week, no budget, and no usability facility (Zhivko Dimitrov)
Again, interested in making my sites as user friendly as possible I thought that this would be an interesting talk but it wasn’t quite as it was portrayed -instead he went into how they perform remote usability tests with a budget. None the less it was a fairly interesting talk.
Zhivko is from Telerik and clearly has a fair amount of experience in usability testing, I was hoping he’d have some good ideas on how to offer usability testing on no budget but sadly he didn’t. There were a couple of interesting points raised however that I don’t think I would have thought of -firstly the re-use of testers, if you use a tester more than twice within a year they’ll start to know what you want them to say rather than what’s there. The other point raised was if you’re using remote testing, you loose the non-vocal indicators of frustration such as a furrowed brow or someone scratching their head.
Zhivko’s opening demo however was a recording of a guy trying to find a grid component on their competitors site, despite the fact they spent a fair amount of time laughing at the guy in the background I thought this was a great example of a poorly designed site and how important it is to highlight your site’s calls-to-action which is something that I’ll have to remember while optimizing our newest SEO client for online poker The Rivercard -one of the issues we have already highlighted is that many of their download links are below the fold of the screen which reduces the chance the user will click the link.
Connecting Design to Real Business Value (Brandon Schauer)
As with Zhivko’s talk, this was another talk that wasn’t quite as it was portrayed by the title, but I was pleasantly surprised by the content. Brandon Schauer’s talk was more about business modeling and how analyzing the current business method can be improved with a little thinking (and design) -ok that’s obvious ;) but his methods were nice.
I found the talk incredibly interesting -especially following my mini-series on business start-up advice, I thought this was a really well timed and interesting talk. Some of the ideas he offered were simple and to the point so you can apply them to any business, the issue I have with it though is whether I can apply it to any of my clients -I’d love to take the time to go through Miss Mays adult store and help them improve some of their business processes but they don’t have the money to invest and sadly neither do I.
I do however think that I can apply some of the concepts he was talking about to an example business which in turn could then be a starting point to discuss business improvement with clients. This however will take a little time and I think Stacey will need to be involved as this is what she’s primarily trained in. Although I love developing and I don’t think I’ll ever get away from it (certainly not in the foreseeable future anyways) I am getting more and more interested in business analysis, it’s not something that I’ve really got any experience in yet (having only been in business for a few years) but perhaps one day it’s an alternative career path I can choose…
Either way, Brandon’s talk was well worth seeing and if he’s ever at a future conference I attend I’ll certainly make the effort to see him talk.
WPF/E (Scott Guthrie)
For the final talk I decided to watch Scott Guthrie’s talk about WPF/E and boy what a talk it was! I almost didn’t get in as we were hearded in like cows (which was most amusing I have to be honest), the woman stopped me right on the entrance -I think much to Julian Voelcker’s delight as he’d managed to get a seat. Luckily though the women on the doors (yes women -not burly bouncers!) took pity on us poor, desperate geeks in admiration of some Yank they didn’t know and let us line the sides of the auditorium -which meant I ended up getting a front row (floor) seat.
The talk was one of those “look at what’s coming” type talks but with a twist, it was something that I can see being of real use -and more than that gave you the urge to try it out. WPF/E looks like a really exciting new technology -even if Julian does think it’s just the same as Flash. As I don’t particularly like flash I think this will be a nice introduction to our development arsenal. That and the possibilities are far greater than those offered by Flash -especially where data interaction is involved.
Scott Guthrie did show an impressive demo of WPF/E which can be seen at www.vista.si -it’s one of those “wow, I can’t believe I’m seeing what I’m seeing” moments, the site is basically a replica (working replica) of Windows Vista -but on the web. It even works with Firefox!
The interesting point that I picked up on is their method of rolling out the WPF/E platform to users, rather than offering the usual Windows Update installer, it sounds as though it’s all going to be done in the same way the flash play is -a small (1.1MB IIRC) file will be downloaded the first time you visit a site that requires WPF/E and that’s it!
I do have concerns over the accessibility of WPF/E but Scott Guthrie did assure us that later versions of WPF/E will be made more accessible. At the end of the day however, I guess it’s just the same situation as entirely flash sites -those that want to offer them, have to offer an accessible alternative (and as Bruce Lawson pointed out -NO, IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE UGLY!).
It was also nice to see Scott Guthrie talk as there are so many blog posts around the net talking about how they saw him, now I can say that I’ve seen him talk -somewhat sad but hey!
I always take a conference as a whole -there’s always going to be at least one talk which isn’t quite what you expected, if you can come away with at least one nugget of information that you didn’t have before -or- with a little of that zest for doing what you do back again it was well worth attending. In this case I got a real buzz out of most of the talks and have plenty of things to try out -now I just need to find the time!
And if all that wasn’t enough to get your juices going and wanting to do some more development, I (I think for the first time ever) won something in the raffle -I was in the queue hoping for the book on accessibility by Bruce Lawson but actually won a years subscription to ComponentArt’s Web.UI component set -I’m well chuffed at that, now I just need to find somewhere to use them!! Oh, I shouldn't forget the free copy of Microsoft Expression Web we were given, and the T-Shirts and, and... :D
I did get to meet up with a few people off the MsWebDev list but sadly not all -Mickey, I’ll have to say hi next time. The one thing that did amaze me was how long the lunch was, I don’t recall any of the DDD events being that long.
If you went and you’ve not already done so, you should go and leave feedback on the event -it’s the only way they can improve it ;) so go leave your feedback on WebDD (http://webdd.co.uk/Feedback.aspx). Apparently you can also review it on the back network site (http://webdd.backnetwork.com/reviews/editreview.aspx