st mary's (2)

The WSG Sydney October 2008 meeting was held at the Australian Museum tonight, at the rather nice 4th floor/balcony venue. These are my notes from the event.

Chris Khalil – Ambient Personalisation

What is ambient personalisation? It's like Homer's ass groove in the couch. He didn't change any settings, he didn't actively change anything. He just used the couch and it slowly conformed to his needs.

It's intuitive and it's set and forget. It should never be groundhog day where you have to redo everything every time you visit. Low barrier to entry – no opt in, no complex tricks to learn.

It's like the site having your footprints. You don't think about it, they just happen.

Why use the ambient approach instead of giving your users all the options and letting them choose? Feedback suggests they think it will be time consuming and too hard. There's a risk of making them feel a bit stupid. They want the effects of personalisation but they don't want to do it. (soon to be relaunched)

News is personal – people might be keen on news and sport but HATE entertainment/gossip. Or they might like entertainment and travel but hate business. Everyone has their own news preferences, likes, dislikes.

Testing showed that users want choice, convenience and control. No matter how strong someone's preferences are, they are likely to change over time.

People like local content. They want to know what's happening in their city, their suburb, even their own street if it can be done.

[My aside: simple newsworthyness values still apply online – local news tends to be more compelling than global news.]

Problem during testing – 90%+ of people didn't know or understand the paradigms of personalisation. They didn't think to click and drag, drag and drop etc. So created friendly messages in a handwritten “callout” style to explain things simply. The simpler the better – instructions got down to one word – click, drag, etc. Part of the trick was to make the instructions clearly different from ads.

Lachlan Hunt – New Stuff in Web Standards

Talking about new stuff that's actually being implemented in browsers.

Design principles

Include, but not restricted to...

  • Browsers must remain compatible with existing content. New features must degrade gracefully. Don't reinvent the wheel – even if something is proprietary.
  • Pave the cowpaths – look at use cases, what do authors already do and then improve as required. Evolution, not revolution. Solve real problems – ensure the work is relevant.
  • Theoretical purity is not the priority. Users are the top priority.
  • Minimise differences between HTML and XHTML. Allow scripts to work with both if possible.
  • Handle errors – the spec must define what to do when things go wrong.
  • Accessibility – built in, not added on.

What's new?


  • New structure and semantics. Looked at the class names that people were using repeatedly; hence elements like header, footer, nav, article, aside, footer.
  • Impelementation – there's no native support for these new elements, but you can still style them in most browsers and use a createelement() hack in IE. In other browsers you just use CSS to set the new elements to display block.
  • New multimedia elements – video, audio, canvas.


  • Transforms: scale, rotate, skew...
  • animations (proposed by apple)... transitions, duration, etc...


  • Selectors API... Document and element interfaces – eg querySelector()
  • getElementsByClassName() - hooray!
  • Offline web applications – gears-esque.

Development tools

  • HTML5 conformance checker (note that it's more than just a validator). Checks for things like table integrity, not just tag formation.
  • Parsing libraries to reduce reliance on regex hacks.


Q: are the screen reader makers involved or buying in?
A: screen readers are less of an issue than the browser vendors, as the screen readers are told about the document by the underlying browser. Eg. what level heading is it? The browser tells the screen reader.
Q: Why did you not add a generic heading, despite adding <section> and other new elements?
A: basically due to degradation. Old browsers can handle <h1> better than <h>.
Q: Why are elements like <section> ok but <h> is not?
A: section and other new tags degrade and act basically the same way as <div> tags.
Q: re: the use of h1 instead of h – what will Google make of that?
A: Google are involved in HTML5 work but they won't reveal exactly where they are up to with HTML5 support (or plans to support it). So, we don't know.