WD06 - Day 4 Musings

Okay. I know. I'm a slacker. It's now nearly a full month since WD06, and I still haven't finished my write-up. Better late than never.

The morning started with a breakfast with none-other than Ms Molly Holzschlag which was an open discussion about the new professionalism that we as web developers strive for in an ever-changing environment. It was mainly about bridging that knowledge gap, not only between clients and developers (where clients don't fully require what's involved with the construction of their websites), but also between savvy standardistas and your el cheapo, template-fodder hacks. It was a great discussion; however, as per the norm with this kind of forum, nothing was resolved.

Following breakfast, the conference resumed with prize give-aways, of which I won nothing. If I'd realised that prizes would be given to the most creative flickr/blog posters, I would have probably tried a bit harder. (Maybe I'll give this live-blogging thang a go next time.) Oh well, too bad, so sad. On with the recap:

  • Andy Clarke gave an inspirational speech about looking beyond the header/sidebar/content/footer layouts we've all used a million times before, and to look for our muse everywhere. The print world continually strives for originality, and while it is less restricted than us webby folk, we should try not to limit ourselves to simply doing what we've always done. Take influence from magazines, not just for layout and colour schemes, but also the little things often overlooked, like sidebars, clip-out forms, photographs and product lists. There was one point that Andy made that I disagreed with. He said that he preferred Ma.gnolia.com to Del.icio.us for his social bookmarking needs, purely on the visual design. I don't know if it was a statement about form over function, or maybe Ma.gnolia works better for the way he uses social bookmarking apps, or maybe it's just a personal preference between two similarly functioning web apps. Maybe, and its entirely possible, but maybe I just missed the point.This speech also brought about the quote of the conference for me. Talking about the versatility of the web, Andy said "The web is not a power drill" to which John Allsopp heckled "... it's a series of tubes!". Talking to John at the after-party, he confessed he was just echoing the line from someone a few rows back, but I thanked him all the same for making my day.
  • Laurel Papworth was next with a surprisingly entertaining talk on online communities. She not only explained the value of building online communities, but also the basics on viral marketing, pointers on managing your community and also measuring your ROI. Being the owner and admin of what could possibly be Australia's oldest online community (OzChat was established in 1996, although it's been a bit quiet over the last year or two while I get my act together), this subject interests me a great deal, so I got a lot out of Laurel's presentation.
  • Next, Cameron Adams (The Man in Blue) and Kevin Yank (the unfortunately-named Canadian) gave a very informative demonstration on web API's and mashups, entitled "The Work You Don't Have To Do". Another eye-opening presentation, and although I already knew what could be made possible by mashing together a bunch of existing online services (Web Connections for starters), I didn't realise how easy it could be. I'd always thought along the lines of "By the time I work out how to mash X and Y together to get Z, I could have just written Z myself". But the value is not just in speed/ease of development, but it's also in leveraging widely used platforms. Web Connections wouldn't be anywhere near as good if it had its own custom-built maps and galleries instead of making use of Google Maps, Flickr and Technorati, and I had completely missed that concept up until now.
  • Jeremy Keith's Progressive Enhancement with Hijax was next. I won't go into this as it was pretty much everything he had already gone over in his work shop. Jeremy had pre-warned me about this the night before, but the alternative was another talk about IA, and as I said before, that's not my bag, baby.
  • Derek Featherstone was next, with Designing for Accessibility. I didn't take any notes for this talk, as I felt it was a little on the obvious side, however, there were a number of good points made which got me thinking about assistive technologies other than screen readers, like magnifiers, hotkeys and tab indexed.
  • Finally we had Mark Pesce with You-biquity. Again, I didn't take notes for this session, but mainly because I was engrossed in everything he said. Mark is not a "web guy" so to speak, but he is a technology guru and an excellent speaker. Rather than focus on one solid subject, he threw out a million and one concepts, theories, what-ifs, predictions and pipe-dreams. Personally I think it was mostly pipe-dreaming, but so much of the tech we have today was born from wishful thinking. A perfect way to wrap up the conference. He filled our heads with whimsy and ambition and sent us on our way (to the pub where we killed our brain cells with alcohol and loud music -- YEAH!).

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