Web Directions South 2008


Web Directions South 2008

Day One – Sept 25

For another year the web industry from across Australia came together at the Sydney Convention Centre for Web Directions South 2008. Expectations where high could John and Maxine pull together another outstanding conference in the epic Web Directions series.

After a successful AWIA Port80 on the evening before where Clever Starfish, radharc, Free Wireless Australia,  and Saasu sponsored drinks, It was in a bleary eye state that we descended upon the Sydney Convention Centre. This year I had a mind to attend topics that I didn’t know about, and stretch myself.

Lynne G Johnson – Keynote

The keynote that starts a conference can often set the tone for the entire conference. I have been to conferences in the past where the first keynote basically blows you mind with amazing concepts and ideas. This allows the rest of the conference to build upon this talk. Now I didn’t know who Lynne G Johnson was will this conference, but still I trusted the organisers judgment and assumed it would be good.

It’s not that the talk wasn’t good, it was. I was just left with the feeling that maybe I was at the wrong conference as it seemed to be pitched a print media, corporate sector crowd, not the uber elite of the web industry. Considering the person ROI I have to make from each session, this one left me very worried.

A few suggests to Lynne, research your audience, If you are going to reference culture icons then try and find the equivalent of the country you’re speaking in. To assume we are “just like US” is a very arrogant move that just makes you appear a little silly. It’s easy to do you just have to chat with the conference organisers.

Dimitry Baranovskly – Web Vector Graphics

Now this session slot was a problem. To go see Dimitry, support my friend Kay Smoljak, or Derek Featherstone. Having attended Derek’s workshop earlier in the week (which was outstanding, hat tip to Derek) the decision was really between Dimitry and Kay. Dimitry won.

Dimitry gave us and introduction to vector graphics on the web moving onto the problems and compatibility of VML,  canvas and SVG. As always Dimitry was extremely knowledgeable on this topic and rounded the presentation off with an introduction to his framework Raphaël, The examples and implementation of Raphaël that he demonstrated had the audience wanting to see more and more. If you have not checked out this framework yet I suggest you do.

Tim Lucas and Pete Ottery – Developing for the iPhone

This dynamic duo of Tim and Pete made it very clear from the out set that we should be developing for the mobile phone in general and not specifically the iPhone. The talk discussed the problems of phone detection to a separate sites, opposed to a mobile optimised CSS. Overall it was really the presentation of several case studies, but it was very interesting to hear the problems they had an how they overcame them.  Well worth looking to.

Javascript Libraries

This panel on Javascript was presented as a shoot out of the major Javascript libraries, jQuery, YUI, prototype of pure Javascript. It was very interesting to see the different ways that people approached the same task and the resultant number of lines of code and total file footprint for each library.

The underlying message was that you have to pick your library for the task. However you have to bee aware that there will be trade offs with each project you do. And at times it maybe better to infact just use pure Javascript for the solution as Cameron Adams demonstrated time and time again.

Jeff Croft – Elegent Web Typography

Now I cut the Javascript Libraries session short to go see Jeff Croft.

I’m always a sucker for the good use of typography. Jeff started the session well, giving a traditional overview of typography from a print perspective.

Now I ‘m not really in agreement with Jeff’s approach to the subject. For instance so what that bullets and quotes should ride outside the paragraph margins. That was for the print industry, this is now the web, its a different media and hence shouldn’t some new rules apply.

The points he went trough where really just basic use of fonts on the web, grid layout and determination, paragraph rhythm, colour and contrast, limitation of typefaces, line heights, kerning, justification and font replacement .

For me personally there was nothing new in this talk, plus I found Jeff’s machine gun rapid fire delivery a little annoying.

But the real icing on the cake was Jeff’s suggestion that maybe we should be sticking with absolute sized fonts. I can tell you this was a red rag to a bull for most of the crowd, including myself as my twitter stream contests. We will see what Jeff has to say about absolute sized fonts when he is over 40 and his sight is starting to fade.

(Edit 29 Sept 20:00) to be fair to Jeff this was not his intent, as I discovered on reading other people’s reviews of the day. Guess this is the down side of a closed twitter feed.

August de los Reyes – Predicting the Past

This closing keynote for day one was a good overview of surface computing and the progression of interface development from today into the future.  It was a mixture of psychology, interface design and cognitive recognition, over all very slick.

There where several almost SciFi type presentations of new interfaces with lots of glowing line and Utopian environments.   And several Microsoft adverts, that frankly where a little hard to take.  August came to the edge of being a sell-out speaker slot and stepped back.  This one factor marred a good presentation.   If Microsoft allow the podcast/slidedeck to be published look out for it.

Day Two – Sept 26

After an average day on Thursday and three social events that night, Web Directions Reception, the ever rockin’ WebJam 8 and the AussieTUB meetup it was as expected a very slow start.  Much needed Cafe Stories bacon and egg with extra pepper roll was required to kick start it all!

I was hoping that this day would pick up a little in terms of speaker content.

Jeffrey Veen – Designing out way Through Data

I have been wanting to see Jeffrey Veen speak for a while, and he didn’t disappoint at all.  Taking the movement of the static into the dynamic, from the flat to the visualised. Jeff point out we need to get back to giving the users the tools to build the data into information and tell their story. To leverage the visualisation of the data. To take it beyond the static into the visual.

It comes down to remembering to enforce the core function, and bring the story together, without the story the data is just data.

This presentation was inspirational, I feel it should have opened day one.  Go find the slides and podcast if you missed it.

Jina Bolton – Creating Sexy Style Sheets

Jina stepped up and presented well.  This was a hard call as she can’t talk about her work at Apple, and was basically restricted to her own personal work or generalist topics on CSS.  That said she did present a good grounding in CSS method and techniques with a few glances into CSS3, with some very sexy design visualisation of the output.

From a personal view there was very little in this presentation that I didn’t already know.    Was it a refresher, well no it wasn’t even that.  Good presentation, just not for me at all.

Michael ™ Smith – HTML5

Michael ™ Smith  ran us through why HTML5 is taking so long, but did point out some of the nicer improvement and streamlining of the proposed spec.   There were a lot of things hinted at and not said in this presentation on the politics of the HTML5 working group.  Overall it was a good journey through the jungle of the HTML5 specification.  Even had a few bits I had forgotten.

Douglas Crockford – Ajax Security

This was another conflict session for me as I also wanted to see Ruth Ellison on Integrated Accessibility into Design. But as I was trying to stretch my knowledge and not just confirm it Douglas won out.

Okay this was a dry discussion, but I expect that, it’s not really a sexy topic is it.   If you where really listening to this it as a very scary presentation.  We have a Javascript standard in place that is buggy and insecure at best.  And it has been that way off and on for years.   The only real way forward that Douglas suggested was another browser war to bring on the innovation.

Mark Pesce – This, that and the other Thing

Mark Pesce returns for another awesome closing keynote.  It’s a hard think this one, Mark has presented some amazng keynotes at Web Directions in the past.  And this one was no exception. It did review the others a little, and then step up with some good visualisation and the use of the mob in the room out doing Mark mid speech via the back channel.  This was classic.   Mark build upon his previous messages we now have the mob but the mob needs now to organise into a community and take charge, lead our destiny.  Sadly this will be Mark’s last keynote for Web Directions South for a while.


Venue, Food and the lot

This very good, in fact the food this year was outstanding, lots of choices with a very well thought out menu.

The coffee was a little better than previous years, it was drinkable. There were various soft drinks available as well at lunch, however not much of a sugarless range, point to note for next year.  One minor point the water jugs where all taken away to be refilled after the major breaks leaving attendees with no water.

The Sydney Convention Centre suffers from being a bunker of steel and concrete and hence blocks most wifi and 3G signals. But this wasn’t overall too bad as the wifi in the breakout areas was outstanding with the Meraki mesh network, thanks to Free Wireless Australia.

Final Word

Now I don’t consider myself to really be an uber web geek. Sure I’m competent in some areas, but overall I feel I still have a way to go, and would expect that many of the sessions at Web Directions would have made me think and stretched me.

This year it just didn’t happen. In fact I found just under half the sessions to be lack lust. This has made me question if attending Web Directions every year is really worth while. Maybe I have reached the stage that I’m approaching the knowledge of the people on the stage, and Web Directions South is no longer catering for me as an audience.

Or maybe what is needed is a simple indicator on the program as to the level of knowledge required by the audience for any given presentation.  So I know if the presentation is pitched at a basic level not to attend.

Overall what did I think of the conference.  Some of it was outstanding, with the usual Web Directions flare of pointing us to the new directions on the web.  It just seemed a few speakers let the mix down.

Still hat tip to John and Maxine for bringing the web tribe together for another year.

So ends ten days of web geekery.  Next stop, five weeks from now we do it all again for Edge of the Web.

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  1. I agree with you on the few sessions that were a bit of a let down.. A couple that I went to were a bit low energy and their prior organisation or lack there was noticed..

  2. Thanks so much for coming to the type talk. Sorry it seemed to have disappointed you a bit. Just a couple comments:

    1. I get mixed reviews about the fast-talking delivery. As many people seem to love it as hate it. Not sure what to do it about. Can really only be me, I guess.
    2. As I said in the presentation, I don’t at all think hanging bullets are “correct”. What I say in the presentation is that they’re “traditional.” Traditional may or may not be what you’re going for in a particular design. Suggesting that we should always use indented bullets and quotes is as ludicrous as suggesting we never should. “New rules” should not apply here — and neither should old ones. Rather, these decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis. That’s what design is all about. 🙂
    3. I was a bit shocked by the response to the absolute vs. relative thing. I’ve given this talk a few times in the states and in the UK, and haven’t ever had anyone take it as dismissive of accessibility. As I said in the talk, this, too, should be case-by-case. Everything is a tradeoff. Absolute sizing is easier — no one can deny that. You can get things done faster using absolute sizes. Relative sizes are *arguably* more accessible, though I would contend that they are less and less so, as the browser which can’t resize relative text slowly fades away. So, which is more important? Deadlines or accessibility? Well, that all depends on the project. As to: “We will see what Jeff has to say about absolute sized fonts when he is over 40 and his sight is starting to fade.” When I’m 40 (that’s 7.5 years, for those counting), IE6 will be long gone and all browsers will be able to resize absolutely sized text. In fact, all current browsers already can.

  3. @Jeff Thanks for stopping by.

    The question on scalable font and accessibility is not really related to the age of the browser, but the usage rate in the wild. Currently for IE6 it’s around 35-40%. This for me it just way to high a percentage to discount. There is also the other factor people with disabilities downloading and installing new software. Many find this a daunting task. They are changing the configuration of their system, their lifeline in many cases. This as you can appreciate is full of danger. And hence they tend to err on the conservative side, as you would expect.

    So until the computer they are using dies they will usually continue to use the installed browser. Which sadly is usually IE6 (even up to a few years ago). Hence I don’t expect IE6 to slip below the magic 2% mark in the next few years.

    Jeff, I am over forty, I have vision problems, sometimes I have an issue with contrast, but more often with font sizes. I have an extreme problem for instance reading your blog. So should I be discounted because I have vision problems. Should parts of the web be inaccessible to me because of my age.

    All I’m asking is that you consider your fellow man. Maybe go observe how people with even minor disabilities have to struggle with parts of the web. I can tell you personally it’s a very humbling experience.

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