Webstock 2013

This is my pre-conference blog post for Webstock which I am attending next week in Wellington. I’m going to three workshops prior to the conference proper and this is where a lot of the work actually gets done as the workshops have limited numbers and can get into details. Every year is different which keeps it all fresh and shiny. This year the workshops have a definitely content strategic & design lean to them:

Content strategy into your design process with Karen McGrane. There’s been a lot of talk about content strategy over the past two years but its sort of been as a third wheel to design and functionality and I’m really hoping that this is going to provide the traction between content and design (as the title suggests). This comes at a perfect time as we’re about to launch into a significant design process. As a team we are predominantly content focused and I know that we haven’t really been keeping the design up with our content so I’m hoping that this session will really give me some tools to do that.

Karen also wrote the book on content strategy for mobile and that’s a different session that I am also going to. Mobile is already a significant proportion of our traffic (around 16% last time I looked) and all forecasts expect it to increase. But the big problem is that ‘mobile’ can mean lots of things. Roughly 5 years ago we all designed for 1024 pixel wide screens – my iPad (yeah the original version), while being ‘mobile’ has a 1024 wide screen. If I bought a new one it would be even higher resolution so mobile doesn’t necessarily mean small. And the web design field is full of warnings not to assume that people on a mobile platform don’t want to get all the features/functionality and content that anyone on a ‘standard’ PC would get. This session promises to teach me “how to use mobile as a wedge to create a better experience for ALL users” – sounds GREAT.

Workshop three is with web legend Chris Coyier of CSS Tricks fame: The modern web designer’s workflow. “This workshop is going to be covering the complete front end web designer’s workflow, starting from scratch.” This is only a half day session but I am pretty sure I’m going to come out with my head spinning. We’re going to look at newish technologies that I haven’t had time to really look at yet but everyone’s adding to their development kit. Actually I’m getting excited just sitting and reading the description. Expect to find me at Mac’s for lunch poring over my two and a half day’s worth of notes and cooling my head in a bucket.

If you’re on twitter you can keep up with webstock stuff by following the conference itself and by the hashtag #webstock (DOH). Interesting side-note: all the workshops I’m going to are sold out at this point.

Love your web content

Erin KissaneOn Valentine’s Day I was thinking webby thoughts at  a Webstock workshop Content Strategy in (your) real world presented by content strategist, editor and writer Erin Kissane.

Here is a quick summary of her quotable gems on web content:

  • Good content is useful and purposeful.
  • Be a proponent of sectional landing pages, lots of people aren’t coming in the home page
  • Serve the real humans, and you are serving the smart machines
  • Five good examples trump 30 written guidelines when it comes to demonstrating style.
  • Write a site purpose document and use it as a measuring stick “Nothing goes on the website unless it does this thing”
  • You can do all the content tweaking you like, but it doesn’t matter if people can’t find it.
  • We need to represent users’ content needs.

Find out more in her slim volume The elements of content strategy.

Webstock 2011 workshops

Here I am at WebStock once again and I have finished two full-day workshops – one on Content Strategy and one on HTML5. It was extraordinarily difficult to select which workshops to attend this year. Against Content Strategy was a CSS session that would have been invaluable and against HTML5 today was Jason Santa Maria talking about web typology AND a session about usability testing. Check the programme and you will see that ALL the workshops were sold out and the conference itself was also sold out, a testament to the quality of the presenters that the WebStock crew manage to entice downunder.

Since the HTML5 session is freshest in my mind I will begin with it. First of all its important to have the most modern browser available for checking out the sites I link to because they will only work in browsers that support the relevant bits of  HTML5 – IE8 won’t cut it so go off and get Chrome or the Firefox 4 beta, IE9 beta or something like that. This session was taken by Mark Pilgrim who wrote the book on HTML5… literally: Dive Into HTML5 – luckily its online as we don’t have a print version… although we do have access to it through Safari(?)

We covered 4 main aspects of HTML5 in this session: video, canvas, local storage and offline and spent the most time on the first two aspects. The great thing with HTML5 is that it will allow us to put video directly into the page just like an image and the browser will play it natively without needing a plug-in like Flash, Quicktime, Windows Media Player etc. The big issue is that the browsers are split about what to support and we’ll be stuck supporting old browsers which don’t support HTML5 video for some time. Luckily the HTML5 spec allows for this and quite cleverly allows us to feed multiple options to the browser and it will only use the first version it comes to that it can play so we don’t have to worry about it displaying a video multiple times. YouTube is already experimenting with this and you can go there and ‘opt-in’ to html video if you have a suitable browser.

Canvas is a way to do drawing and even animations in the browser without making a graphic file that has to be created outside of the html (and JavaScript). As an example Mark had made this game of Halma entirely using HTML5 canvas with JavaScript. The idea is to move the circles to the diagonally opposite corner – click a circle and then a destination square – you can move to a neighbour square or jump a neighbouring circle. Another great example (Chrome/Safari only) is this video which blows apart when you click on it.

Local storage is a better way of keeping information on a user’s system about their settings and activity than cookies or Flash and could have heaps of applications and Offline content is about making web things work even when you aren’t connected on the web e.g. airline mode on your i-thing. Apparently Gmail has this built in (cool) and this is especially useful for mobile computing where users could be on and off the network intermittently.

As an example of all these things put together go to 20thingsilearned.com in a late-model browser – it’s a great example of all these things put together and a great introduction to web technology.

ONYA Christchurch City Libraries

The Christchurch City Libraries website was a finalist in the Best content (corporate) category at the inaugural ONYAs. These awards celebrate those who design, develop and create New Zealand’s best websites and applications and winners were announced on the final night of Webstock 2010, Friday 19 February.

The judge’s comment on our site?:

Rich and varied content, way beyond the call of duty.

The other finalists in our category were Sorted and The Department of Conservation. DOC was the winner on the night.

Here’s the video about our website that was shown at the ceremony (with the dulcet tones of Richard Liddicoat, editor).

Webstock 2010 – Friday

Wow, the second day of Webstock and I’m really needing the free coffee. There’s some really interesting stuff on today.

Speaker (?) on the stage at webstockI hadn’t expected to get much out of Eric Ries’ session on the Lean Startup but there were a couple of things that were really useful. Like everyone else he emphasised the ‘release early and often’ model of continuous deployment – he said that you should measure progress by “validated learning about customers”. That means that you make a change and then closely analyse your customers’ response to that change and the ways they are using your site. Then use that data to direct your next changes (or revert if you really stuffed up). Another tit-bit was the 5 Whys – when something goes wrong ask why five times to get five levels of problems, then fix all the causes not just the immediate one. His blog is startuplessonslearned.com.

Amy Hoy’s session was more a call to action. She pointed out that we affect the “quality of the day” for thousands of people and a single hour of our time refining a design can save many hours of other people’s time. We should read 5 times more about psychology than design. Amy also challenged the design community not to just design the same things in the same way every time but to try something entirely different.

Seb Chan‘s session was as good as I had expected and was basically about collecting and parsing the visitor data available through Google Analytics and a handful of other products. We are currently using Google Analytics on our site as well as Web Trends but are not yet using that data in any consistent or strategic way except that I have been using browser stats for some time to decide to what extent we support older browsers. One of the most interesting tid-bits was the Tynt copy and paste tool which can tell you not just what pages people are using but which exact bits of text people are copying for use in school projects etc. Interestingly all the speakers who were talking about continuous improvement and rapid iteration depend on data to see what people are actually doing with their products so doing this kind of analysis is pretty important.

Adam Greenfield‘s session on networked urbanism was the kind of thing that seems to give some people the willies – but I think that its really exciting. He talked about:

  • instrumenting the city… the continuous collection and parsing of data: by the end of 2012 environmental sensor will account for at least 20% of non-video internet traffic.
  • Everything we do is annotated and uploaded. “Information persists and grows teeth”… “You’ll never escape yourself” (referring to embarrassing photos on facebook) but hopefully we’ll get a bit less uptight about such things.
  • We’ll move from passive consumer to active participant as every product will have data. He used the example of the Nike plus running shoes that log your physical activity which can be uploaded – running became a performance but not as enjoyable.
  • Obvious issues around access to this information – currently only government has access to much of the data that we are creating. This and other legal issues were the source of many questions from the floor.

Jeffrey Veen is one of the big names on the internet and his talk seemed to harken back to last year’s webstock where many speakers started with pre-Internet history, in this case refrigeration. He was talking about how the internet got started, how standards etc get made which was pretty much getting a rough consensus and then running code = doing experiments in public. He said that the “speed of iteration beats the quality of the iteration” and introduced us to the robustness principle “be liberal with what you accept and conservative with what you produce” i.e. tolerant of others’ error.

Springload wallThe final speaker this year was Mark Pesce. During his visit to NZ Mark has been interview by Kim Hill and the NZ Herald. In his webstock talk he talked a bit about the future of the book as well as the networked world that Adam Greenfield was also talking about. Mark has a blog at blog.futurestreetconsulting.com and you can read the full text of his Dense & Thick presentation there. Again its a future that scares a lot of people but I think that they get over-focused on the negative possibilities and fail to see the value of having information themselves.

Every organisation that you interact with from the hospital that you are born in to the crematorium keeps information about you, but you have no control over that information. Getting copies of that info is an arduous process and actually getting it into a usable/portable format even more so. Read what Mark says in Example Three:  Medicine. I recently got a referral from my Doctor and in the medical history bit said on it “father died from lung psoriasis” !! what, no, that should read lung cancer… how long has that been wrongly recorded and with whom has it been shared? Surely I should control who sees how much of my medical history.
So I am looking forward to a “crescendo of innovations that will make the Web revolution look puny in comparison” because I want to be able to interact with my stuff.

Want to get a taste of Webstock? See the past conference sessions (workshops are not recorded). Webstock’s photos on Flickr.