What a day…

Well, the promise of the day was fulfilled – most sessions today were much more in line with what I was expecting – and that meant lots of great information and ideas.

Eric Meyer did an excellent presentation today demonstrating the business case for, and power of, using CSS for prototyping designs. I really wish I had have seen that presentation before we embarked on the redesign of the WWF-Australia site (still in progress) as a lot of the issues the technique addresses have come up for us. I’m seriously considering using the technique for some further refinements that we have in mind, but I’ll have to see how time goes and work out if it’s going to be the right thing for us right now. I’ll almost certainly be using it for the next design I need to work on.

One of the highlights of today was Derek Featherstone’s presentation on accessibility. For me accessibility has been one of the many benefits that I keep in mind when using CSS, but for the most part has been a bit of a grey area for me. It’s been a goal, but the benefits have been rather abstract. While watching Derek demonstrate there were lots of little light-bulbs going off in my head that pulled some things together. It also highlighted some misconceptions I had about reading software support among other things. I’m looking forward to reviewing his examples to get some practical “hands on” experience with these things.

The combination of Roger’s talk yesterday, along with Derek and Steven today, really opened my eyes to the kind of things that we need to keep in mind – real practical steps that are relatively easy to take, but aren’t immediately apparent. Although Steven’s talk was a bit concerning, if only because it highlights that even a well designed page can have issues with screen reading and screen magnification tools. I certainly hope that I’ll be able to apply many of the principles and techniques covered with our forms as we move forward (maybe not immediately, but certainly very soon).

The “geek” sessions today were pretty cool too. Tim’s session was a good technical introduction to what AJAX is, and how to get started. He linked back, part tongue-in-cheek, part seriously, to Doug Bowman’s talk yesterday mentioning the “inner beauty” of the simplicity and approach of Prototype. Having just begun using Prototype (after using more complex frameworks), I have to agree. I’m really enjoying working with it for basic Javascript interactions, but the example of use for AJAX calls was an eye-opener (as I’ve not really had a chance to play with that side of things yet). His quick demos of some of the Ruby on Rails controls were pretty cool too.

It was really cool to talk to Tim briefly after his talk, chatting about Rails developers, CMS’s, among other things.

Cameron Adams’ presentation had a lot of cool stuff in it too. His demonstration of a Javascript mockup of the Mac OS X finder, applications and dock was amazing. The forms demo he produced was simple and clean, but had some neat ideas about how to create even better feedback for visitors when using forms and doing form validation. Really looking forward to his new book as well.

The day closed with a presentation by Tantek on Microformats and Jeff Veen presenting on “Web 2.0” (a buzzword I have to admit I’ve not really looked into all that closely due to work busy-ness).

While I’ve been tracking microformats for a while (in an “interesting-but-not-immediately-useful” kinda way), it really hit me just how useful they were when he demonstrated the favelets for retrieving hCard data as a vCard file. Immensely powerful! And the hCalender example (subscribing to an iCalendar file based on output automatically generated from his weblog) really hit home. I’m hoping to introduce hCard to the events section of the new site design, and I’ll be definitely checking the microformats site in more detail soon.

Jeff Veen’s closing talk was really good. I really liked his definition and along with his thoughts on why and how it’s important. I do hope that his presentation slides end up on the net (UPDATE: here they are) because I’d like to revisit the ideas he presented when I have a bit more reflective time. The main “take-away” I got from it was his three points that “Web 2.0” is: “Old Problems – New Platform – Participation”. The new platform being standards compliant browsers, CSS/XHTML/Javascript combining in interesting ways, with distinctly social outcomes.

Seeing Doug’s talk yesterday in the context of the talks today makes a lot more sense to me as well now. The conference has definitely got me thinking, with the added bonus of having some cool new tools to use moving forward.

The day ended with this blog getting the “best blog” award (or something like that) for covering the conference. Given some of my comments yesterday this was a surprise to say the least. But thanks to the organisers for choosing little ol’ me 🙂 (even if I did forget to pick up whatever the prize pack was after the session).

I couldn’t make the drinks session tonight because of other life stuff that I need to attend to (early start tomorrow, preparation required tonight), but I’m really looking forward to seeing the direction next year’s conference takes. Not sure if it’s something I’ll be able to do then (depends on all manner of things), but I’m sure it’ll be interesting for a whole bunch of people, and help to grow and strengthen the standards developer community even further.

Oh, and don’t forget that many of the talks were podcast. UPDATE: Many of the presenters’ notes are being posted here.

WE05 cont…

Continued through the afternoon yesterday with some interesting sessions. Doug Bowman’s talk was quite interesting, challenging us to think towards the future – the “long now” on the net. I was looking forward to a technical discussion from Doug, but his talk was still inspiring.

The eye tracking and accessible forms sessions were lacking a bit of detail to my mind, which was a little disappointing, but still useful. I was especially surprised by the results of usability tests on fly-out menus – apparently they were well accepted (I was personally of the view that they would cause all sorts of issues). The other interesting note was that for navigation placed horizontally across the top of the page, the user expectation was that sub-menus would appear immediately beneath.

Eye-tracking data made it abundantly clear that users weren’t comfortable with crossing the screen for navigation options, which our new design, to a small degree, does. Something to think about and review. The data from a user looking for a search box was fascinating – they went right for the top-right corner, and really struggled to find it when it wasn’t a text box/button combo.

The accessible forms session covered stuff I was already familiar with, so less value there. I hope to be able to speak to the folks that presented these sessions today – I’m sure that I can learn a lot from them both.

We had a breakfast with Tantek this morning and it was brilliant. We were able to ask questions and learn a lot about his thoughts and his background, and get a chance to meet him in a much more relaxed and conducive environment. I’m sure that others got the same kind of value from drinks last night, but I’m not the type of person that is good in that kind of setting. The breakfast was more my vibe.

I was thinking this last night, but this morning really clinched it for me – attending this conference is making me crave the “unconference” format that Dave Winer and others. I can’t help but think that we could get a whole lot more value from our time with the speakers. So far I’m finding it hard to justify the admission price, particularly given the fact I’m coming from a non-profit.

Molly is presenting again this morning and has already opened up to questions – today is certainly starting better…

Veen + Meyer

Well – the lack of posting for the past two sessions was a reflection of the content of the talks (Tantek’s session was cut even shorter by a fire alarm going off!).

Jeffrey Veen was awesome – really energetic and inspiring and interesting. Put forward some good ideas on approaches to determining what your visitors are after and organising your content accordingly. Nothing ground-breaking, but very interesting. The question I would have asked is how to work these things out when you don’t have budget for visitor interviews/focus groups, or at least how to do these things on a limited budget. Perhaps at drinks tonight… I’ll probably want to revisit the podcast of that one.

Eric Meyer showed us how he approaches the transformation of a comp Photoshop file to final CSS design. It was light on technical detail, but was interesting to see. One thing that caught my attention was that he doesn’t think about browser issues until very late in his process, although it was obvious that some of his choices were informed by understanding what is possible in what browsers, even early on.

A short lunch means that afternoon sessions won’t be starting too late. A tough day for the organisers to be sure…

Tantek

Tantek Çelic talking – couple of good practical tips (his talk is short because of the over-run). His talk + presentation are licensed under Creative Commons. Interesting concept of XHTML compounds – two or more elements combined to create semantic meaning.

First session

So we’ve spent a chunk of $$ to come to a conference because of the speakers and the topics, and the first sessions is someone banging on about how great the speakers and the topics. What’s up with that – waste of time…

Nothing else new in the rest of the talk either. Not only that, but almosdt 45 mins over time. Disappointing…

WE05

At Web Essentials 05 today and tomorrow. Not sure if I’m going to be able to blog live, but maybe some musings and notes will make their way into this space…

We have wifi here, which is a nice change, although it’s running pretty slow – probably a result of all the geeks online here ;). Looking forward to the conference. Thankfully there isnt’ a lot of overlap in terms of the sessions I want to attend. Still undecided about some tomorrow, but mebbe someone else I know will be going to one which will make the decision easier.

Just found out the conference is being podcast. The girl at the front desk was counting the number of Crumpler bags on the way in. And there are sooooo many Mac laptops here. Mostly Powerbooks (in fact I’ve not seen an iBook yet). Needless to say I feel very at home here 🙂

Protect the Great Barrier Reef

There’s a Government review currently underway pertaining to the organisation that manages the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Although most Australian’s want to see the GBR protected and sustainably managed, there are some aggressive lobbyists that would like to see some of the existing protection measures rolled back.

I’ve just finished putting together a page for the WWF website that provides information on how to make a quick submission as part of the review process to help maintain and, if possible, improve protection of the reef. The submission window closes on Friday, so if you have a moment go check out the page and make a submission. The more submissions (even short ones) the better.

Thanks 🙂

Environment + fair trade

Oxfam and WWF stage protest for a fairer deal for developing world sugar:

Oxfam International and WWF, the global conservation organisation, staged a protest this morning outside the European Council building in Brussels to highlight the unjust treatment of sugar farmers in the developing world.

I think we’re going to see this kind of cross-over more and more – common purpose, different reasons.