WebVisions 2007 in review

Friday, May 4, 2007

WebVisions 2007 On Thursday and Friday, May 3-4, I attended the WebVisions 2007 conference at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland. This is the third year I’ve made the trek up to Portland for this excellent “future of the web” event. Below is a quick overview of some sessions I attended, with links:

1. Practical AJAX Inside Out
Jack Herrington (workshop details)
(muttmansion.com/ds/: workshop slides and code)

Notes: Download his slides and code for a lot of useful AJAX (and pseudo-AJAX/CSS) examples. He explains JSON transport vs. XML . . . uses the Prototype library/JavaScript framework (see the scriptaculous effects library also) . . . Prototype extends the document object model (DOM) . . . uses Firebug for debugging scripts . . . uses Lightbox for image display . . . Lightbox can be hacked to use inline frames (iframes) and play movies, etc.

Additional resources: Adobe Flex (Flash toolkit), Laszlo, Microsoft’s WPFe (now called Silverlight), PHP REST SQL, and Ajaxian. Plus these two sites that Jack Herrington contributes to: IBM developerWorks and Code Generation.

WebVisions 2. User Experience Design: Why Understanding People is the Most Important Thing
Todd Wilkens, Adaptive Path (session details)
(adaptivepath.com: presenter information)

Notes: Empathy should be part of the design process. Developers need to be given the opportunity to understand the users they’re working for, through personas. Good communication and integration between developers, designers, and users should be established.

Here’s a take-away quote from Todd: “Research reports are where good insights go to die. Reports themselves are not powerful ways of communicating. The effectiveness of research is inversely proportional to the thickness of its binding.” Also: “Creating great experiences means understanding people and getting that understanding into design.”

3. MVC Demystified: Understanding the Essence of Ruby on Rails
Michael Jones, Code in Motion (session details)
(blog.codeinmotion.com: presentation slides)

Notes: Download his slides to better understand how Ruby on Rails works, to get a feel for its benefits and pitfalls, and to see other examples of the model-view-controller (MVC) architectural design pattern around the web. Also, here is a list of IDE editors for Ruby on Rails.

4. Creating Sexy Stylesheets
Jina Bolton, Apple (session details)
(creatingsexystylesheets.com: presentation slides)

Notes: Nothing particularly new or interesting here if you’re proficient with CSS techniques and formatting.

5. Web Application Page Hierarchy
Luke Wroblewski, senior principal designer, Yahoo! (session details)
(lukew.com/ff/: presenter information)

Notes: This was a fantastic web design session based on Gestalt principles of visual organization to create meaningful and successful user interfaces. There are small visual things you can do to make information more scanable, usable, useful. Talked about visual grouping, negative space, visual weight, etc. and showed a lot of before-and-after examples of high-profile websites to illustrate his points.

Here’s an amusing design philosophy: “If you can’t make it big, make it bold; if you can’t make it bold, make it red!”

JETSET 6. Videopodcasting 2.0
Zadi Diaz, JETSET (session details)
(jetsetshow.com: presenter information)

Notes: Best free video hosting company is blip.tv (also see Vimeo) . . . tutorials at lynda.com . . . how to compress video and other vlogging tools at Freevlog . . . if you upload videos to YouTube, etc. in .flv format (so they don’t have to be recompressed) your videos will retain a higher-quality look . . . get free music at Creative Commons and see the podsafe music network.

Random notes: I was sitting next to the group that’s working on the Wikipedia documentary film. Everybody who had a laptop seemed to be twittering.

7. Cash and Creativity on the Webernet – The Past and Future of Online Video
Kent Nichols & Douglas Sarine of Ask A Ninja (keynote details)
(askaninja.com: presenter information)

Ask A Ninja Yes, that’s right; the guys who make Ask A Ninja were the keynote speakers on Friday (they were also on MythBusters recently). It was a pretty funny presentation and included their latest episode, “Scene Kids.” In their talk, they mentioned a number of famous sites (or Internet memes) that have influenced them: homestarrunner.com, redvsblue.com, tikibartv.com, frenchmaidtv.com, lonelygirl15, rocketboom.com, and promqueen.tv. They also discussed possible revenue streams for online creative content (and analyzed the effectiveness of the above sites), including merchandising (t-shirts, DVDs, etc.), premium subscriptions (early access to content), advertising, sponsorship, and licensing.

Overall it was a very informative and entertaining event.

Driving back from Portland on I-5, the traffic was terrible. Accidents all over the place. Plus I’m like 97.3% sure that my ex-girlfriend was driving a car that was directly behind me for a few miles, as we crept along in the traffic jam. It was rather unsettling and weird, since I hadn’t seen her in three years. Or I might just be insane. (She exited I-5 before I got a chance to drive parallel to her car and know for sure.)

In WebVisions-related business news, today the Internet (and stock market) was buzzing with rumors that Microsoft is going to buy Yahoo! for an estimated $50 billion. Microsoft’s rationale behind this scheme must go something like this: “Hey Yahoo!, if we combine forces to create a lumbering corporate megabeast, that might somehow give us a better shot at cutting into Google’s dominance in the online search space. Eh? Am I right?”

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