2006-09-29: wd06: Mark Pesce - You-biquity

[Semi liveblogged]

Right now anything is possible. Right now the energy is there...

Part one: the human essence. I'm studying what it means to be human in the sense of how we interact with technology, or when they're in groups.... so to do that I want to get to some basic ideas about humans. So I have to peel back some layers.

Humans are social animals. Why are we social? If we are social you will live longer - you are less likely to get eaten by a lion if there's someone else there yelling "look out, there's a lion".

We model all social interactions, which is not easy - it takes us years to learn how to do it. We have bigger brains than earlier primates so that we can hold a bigger social network in our heads.

Here's the dark secret of social networks: they are a lot of work. Who has the time? People just can't keep them really current. The systems are passive - they wait for you to feed that information to them. If you don't feed them, they die.

What could be going is so much more profound than what is actually going on. Time is the new non-renewable resource.

If I have a serious social network, why am I not using that information to filter SPAM?

We all create a data shadow every time we're online - email, URLs, IM, Skype... all this information could tell us who is important and why. But we don't use this information - it all gets poured on the floor.

Aside: Mark mentioned that you can't get SMS and call information off your mobile phone. Actually, my Motorola V3 lets me connect with USB and dump my text messages onto my hard drive. I was keeping SMS messages long before by transcribing the important ones, now it's easy. SMS messages have too many precious messages from friends! I don't want to lose that.

Mark points out that while we might think we don't have an emotional relationship with our mobile phones, but if we lose them we're really upset. We lose our social networks!

Enough talk! Mark developed a way to collect information via Bluetooth to capture the data shadow of someone carrying a Bluetooth mobile. They set it up for a week at a conference and they were able to show relationships for each person.

"The street finds its own use for things, uses its makers never intended." - William Gibson

This is not a bubble. This is not hype. This is where we're going: you-biquity!

wd06: Derek Featherstone - Designing for accessibility

[Semi liveblogged]

Being aware of verbosity settings in screen readers - it's the setting which controls how things like punctuation are handled. Some users will turn off brackets - ie. brackets aren't read out. With that setting enabled, page links may get missed - really it's a bug, but you have to be aware of it.

Best practice is to make links make sense out of context; but at the same time users know they can "go back one line" to find context.

Screen reader users often get much more information from their UA than sighted users - the status of links may be read out "this is a visited link, this is an unvisited link..."

"Back to top" links... do we really want to go back to the top? Or do we really want to go back to the start of the article we just read? Where exactly should the link take you? This is not just an accessibility issue, it's a usability issue as well. If you don't have a skip to content link, they have to listen through all of your header and navigation content...

Regarding skip to content and skip navigation links, Derek believes the browsers should be handling things like this.

Derek: "As a keyboard user, Opera is the best browser out there right now." Yay Opera! ;) It's very powerful and lets you jump between forms AND links; or through headings; or you can ensure the accesskeys don't clash with anything.

You know the way we only use about 10% of our brains? Well it's the same with our software - we only use about 10% of the functionality.

Russ Weakley: we found that source order didn't really matter so much to a lot of screen reader users.
Molly: what about other disabilities?
Derek: Did you see CSS Naked day? That day was hell for me! Nothing worked for me! I lost all my context. "I couldn't read blogs that day and that's my crack man!"
Molly: I do think that it's a concern; that we shouldn't be too quick to give a message that source order isn't important. For screen readers it's not so important...
Russ: One thing we did in that test was to label each content section - structural labels were really useful. [Helped context]

Derek: on source order... what about things like sidebars? Do they go at the end, or the start? We need to research this stuff because we don't know what we're doing.

Andrew Arch: Visual order... there are plenty of people out there who can get very confused if the visual order doesn't match the source order. Tabbing through content can suddenly get way out of order compared with the expectation set by the visual design.

Derek: we think we know it all but we need to do more actual research.

Andy Clarke: What do you think about microformats and using them to set up labels for content areas?
Derek: I like the idea, but how do we get everyone to adopt it and implement it?

John Allsopp has started a design pattern to explore this issue.

"I know we can do this... I'm getting goosebumps again!"

Example: a login screen example where the page gets modified based on input. Notifying the user is an issue because they've moved away from the relevant inputs; so you should update other things like the LEGEND, TITLE, or status bar.

Status bar - screen readers can access the information in the browser's status bar. How appropriate! Put status messages in there. Needs full testing and probably depends on screen reader settings as to whether it's read out or not. But you could also alert the user that they should check the status bar before they submit a form.

wd06: Andy Clarke - (Transcending CSS) Creating Inspired Design


Jeffrey Veen: "Art is design without compromise"

But there are limitations in the medium we work in, not just technical issues but also having to unlearn the habits based on past limitations. The biggest limitations are the ones we impose on ourselves. We need to remember that the web is only ten years old and we don't especially know what we're doing yet!

With all the web 2.0 buzz there's a huge amount of material out there which looks good but it's terrible under the bonnet.

Aside: Remembering where we came from - Andy showed us the old favourite, blue robot. It reminds me just how much the blue robot grey leaf design inspired me. I love that design, the simplicity and minimalism...

How can we get people to engage with the sites/apps we're creating through the use of imagery and design? Look at CSS Zen Garden - it's not so much about proving that standards work, so much as showing that we need to have great design.

With the standards community's focus on code, sites with great design haven't always been appreciated.

We (WD06 attendees) are the majority - hopefully a vocal, passionate minority but still a minority. "The job is far from done." We need to keep going and perhaps try to be more inclusive and try to get more web workers into the standards world.

Why use magnolia instead of delicious? Well, hey, it looks nicer and it was designed by Zeldman and Jason Santa Maria.

"The web is not a power drill." Andy "...it's a series of tubes!" (Cam? via John Allsopp)

Developers working with designers... do they work together or does the designer just throw Photoshop mockups at the developers? Does it make sense to split everyone off to different areas? Well, no... we're all working on this together; Andy would encourage us to work on things together.

Andy tries to get the client into the creative process from the start. Get them thinking about the mood they want to create with their sites, what perception do they want their visitors to get when they come onto the site? Well, we should do that for ourselves. Andy keeps a scrapbook of things he likes - from magazines, flyers, whatever.

Just because the web isn't print doesn't mean we should learn from it. We shouldn't use the conventions of print but we should look at it. What's the semantic meaning of what we see on magazine pages? We don't see typography online that looks like magazine typography... shouldn't we be thinking about what we should bring onto the web?

Examples: discussion of the wonderful architecture in Sydney which preserves the old and combines with the new. Typography on buildings next to brickwork... "all of this is going on a few feet above your head"

Andy: No matter what it is you're doing on the web, what I'd like to see is us really thinking more about moving things forward now. Looking for inspiration from around the world, and looking in unrelated areas. The next time you're walkin gout and about, just find something - doesn't matter what it is - find something that inspires you. See how you can bring that back into the work you're doing that day or that week. Out there is this mass of opportunity for inspiration.


Q: As well as print influencing web design, what about the fine arts?

A lot of the three dimensional stuff might be a bit hard to visualise..... to be honest we should probably be asking them.

my feeling is that we shouldn't be limiting ourselves just to what we know, and the idea of collaboration is really important. We should get people involved who are doing ceramics or jewellery or whatever; get them to bring in some of their process to the web.

Q: Should content drive design? When should it come into the design process?

I think it is completely wrong to come up with a design and pour it into the design. The content should drive the the way the design comes together. Content is absolutely vital right at the beginning - how can you select the right markup if you don't know what the content is going to be? Work with the document first, then we can do the dressing and create the emotional layout that can best describe it.

Q: What's your balance between inspiration and practicality? Balance between creative design and usability.

Yeah... if I want a power drill I want a power drill... I pull the trigger and it drills things. It's not a fashion statement - "I don't walk around with my big tool!" We should remember that even a drill is designed though.

We're not just limited to functionality, we can create objects of desire too. It's all a balance.

Q: IE7... how long is it going to be before we can forget about IE6?

I believe... it doesn't matter to me, because I don't take the view that things have to look the same across all browsers. My benchmark is standards-savvy browsers that work well. Set a level where things get simpler, ultimately resulting in plain text sent to browsers like Netscape 4 and IE5.2(Mac).

Final thing.... prize giveaway

"Andrew Krespanis.... I'd like to give you my pants!"

Andrew has won a pair of union jack boxer shorts signed by all the speakers.

wd06: Gian Sampson-Wild - Taming the accessibility monster


Eight steps for taming the accessibility monster

  1. Step 1: Choose the right developer
      • You need people who really do know what they're doing, who know how to build for accessibility.
  2. Step 2: Don’t outlaw anything
    • Work to fix the problems, don’t just blanket ban things
    • Try to say "yes" instead of "no"
  3. Step 3: Disseminate knowledge
    • help get people on side by sharing the knowledge
    • ran lots of training sessions
  4. Step 4: Keep trying!
  5. Step 5: Be the good guys
  6. Step 6: Put it in writing
    • get accessibility into contracts
    • make sure you can hold people to a standard
  7. Step 7: Test, test, test
  8. Step 8: Listen
    • Listen to the people who are testing, listen to complaints, listen to everything…

At one stage Gian actually heard a site owner claim "disabled people don’t use our site". As it happens, Gian had a friend with a vision impairment who had used the site in question just days earlier...


What are the top priority actions to start moving towards accessibility?

  1. Alt attributes for images
  2. Ensure the site works for keyboard users
  3. Code tables properly
  4. Degrades ok without CSS
  5. Equivalents for js flash etc
  6. Forms – really important. Labels, etc

What is the state of accessbility-related litigation in Australia?

There have been three HREOC claims since Maguire vs. SOCOG, all three were mediated out rather than going to court.

Re: litigation; is the problem having an inaccessible site, or refusing to fix it once there’s a problem?

HREOC are required to try mediation first, so you don't suddenly get sued with no recourse.

Is there a big gap between WCAG 1.0 and testing with real users?

Yes – the guidelines are really old and reality has moved on. That’s why you need to do real testing.

What is your position on alternatives that take more effort to use…?

No, it’s not fair; but life’s not fair. Disabled users also tend to be more used to dealing with less than perfect situations.

2006-09-28: wd06: Derek Featherstone - Accessibility 2.0


Real subtitle should be 'Where do we go for beer?'

Checklist syndrome: bringing down accessibility
Leads to a compliance/QA impersonal approach

But accessibility is personal, it’s about user testing and it’s about removing barriers.

“What if screen readers could access microformats? How cool would that be?”

Where should we be looking for inspiration for web accessibility?

  • How about the gaming industry? Gamers have some crazy keyboards and input devices.
  • The physical world - eg. pedestrian crossing buttons which vibrate as well as click/beep. "How cool is that?" Or the braille/raised lettering sign that put the tactile signage on a comfortable angle for ease of use. It doesn't just comply, it creates a good user experience.
  • How about the car industry? They solve all kinds of issues, maybe they've got ideas we should be taking on board.

Discussed the accessibility features being created for Blackberries. Also admitted he sleeps with his Blackberry; said he wouldn't tell us where on Flickr you can find the image, but "hey with tagging no doubt you'll be able to find it...". Well, yup: http://www.flickr.com/photos/glsims99/14020019/

Cognitive disabilities: people don't seem to know what to do, although some companies are starting to work on it. Some new phones are being built with simple interfaces; consistent toolbars and uncluttered menus. The obvious thing to note here is that making things consistent and easy to use helps everybody, not just people who would identify themselves as "disabled".

Let's make things easier for everyone. Thing about tagging - "these are the same people I tag on Web Connections, d.construct, Flickr, Cork'd... we all tag each other, that's all we do now!!!"

What if we let users define their own access keys so authors don't have to do it? Not to mention they interfere with people's existing key profiles. Why not create a microformat which stores this information? Think of the power of that. What if we get to a point where we don't supply any CSS any more? Users set up their global stylesheet and have their preferred styles applied to everything! "...the power! POWER TO THE PEOPLE! That's what this is about."

What if the browser could learn? It could recognise that the last three times you visited a site you bumped up the text size, then just do that for you.

What if we replaced all the browser controls with a button that says "I can't read this page", which launches a wizard to help you change it so you can read it.


How to convince people that it's important?

One thing - show people assistive technology users. "It's a life changing experience. I don't know anyone who didn't find it a life-changing experience to see a screen reader user or a mobility impaired user with speech recognition software."

wd06: John Allsopp - Microformats

[Semi liveblogged - patchy network today]

How do we get information?

Example: trying to find out what movie is good to go see.

  • Who do we trust to review a movie?
  • Can we trust centralised systems like IMDb?
  • Who owns the reviews?
  • Can we verify that the reviews are real?
  • Can we verify that they haven’t been modified since the author created them?

We want to tap into the wisdom of many people.

  • Try google? No, too many results and no reviews in the first few pages anyway.
  • Try aggregators? Blog searches? Not really working.

So we could write a review search engine, but how to identify a review? How do you get a consistent review scale?

People are really good at getting information from a surrounding context, but software is really bad at it.

Do we wait for the W3C to deliver all this and more with XHTML2? Do we invent new XML languages?

Microformats can provide this structure and allow search tools to access and index the info.


  1. simple
  2. html based
  3. data formats
  4. based on existing standards
  5. based on current developer practice

...their purpose is to bring richer semantics to today’s web:

  1. it doesn’t break browsers
  2. it doesn’t break pages

“Great technology needs to be adopted. But it’s chicken and egg. So we do have a chicken – no, wait, which one does come first?”

They are in use – technorati is a really big, well-known user of microformats but there are many more out there.

Get the Tails extension for Firefox and check out the web directions sites.

John finished with an example of using hCard, to show how easy it is.

“I’m always really scared when I type URLs in directly on screen… I’m not sure what you’ll see in my history!” – JA

“Sure I’m a geek but that’s COOL

What are you waiting for? They’re out there, get involved. Use them!

John just won “first person to pimp their book”…

Q: What’s the process for getting from idea to microformat?

There’s a detailed process on the microformats wiki; it starts with logical questions like making sure there’s a problem to be solved.

wd06: the hot toy

The coolest toys I've seen this year so far: tablet pc. I really wish I had the cash for one of those!

Certain readers might be amused to know that I'm getting along with the Macbook better than last time I tried to use it :) Mostly because an open network has been installed, getting around the requirement for a VPN client (none of which seem to work yet on the intel macs). Not saying I'm ready to switch, but it hasn't been especially painful this time.

wd06: Jeremy Keith - is AJAX hot or not?

[Liveblog - liveblogging may continue depending on batteries and wrists ;)]

Jeremy Keith is running through 'am I AJAX or not'. Good points about the definition of AJAX - it's such an abused term; people tend to equate it directly with 'Web 2.0' (another abused term!).

I guess ultimately from the point of view of the user, they simply don't care. It's not about whether something is AJAX or not, so much as 'does it work'; and AJAX techniques (used for good and not evil) can create that sensation. Users can get small bits of information back quickly without waiting - people like the feeling of speed and the page hasn't triggered boredom responses.

Jeremy goes on to suggest that the way to choose when to use AJAX is to get into pattern recognition - what user behaviour and expectation will benefit from AJAX? For example adding a product to an online shopping cart - the user doesn't want the whole page to go away and reload just because they added something to the cart. When you don't need to update the entire page, then it's a good time to use AJAX.

But, a bad time to use AJAX might be to have entire pages of search results - you're keeping less than you're changing. Traditional paradigms hold true and the user's experience isn't disrupted.

A great way to illustrate the principle of 'keep the user informed': Jeremy (like me, as it happens) likes the window seat on planes so he knows when the plane is about to actually land. The moment of impact is scary if you can't prepare, but really not too bad when you know it's about to happen.

Jeremy echoes somehing that Derek discussed yesterday in the Accessibility 2.0 workshop: if you emulate an interface feature, you must emulate it completely. Which is a great argument to support being a bit more choosey about when to use certain UI features. Do you really need to have drag and drop in a web app? Will your users expect it? Have you emulated every possible outcome of the drag/drop motion? You need to be aware of all the implications of what you're doing.

A big reminder: if it's not accessible, it's still no good! Things must still be accessible and usable. You don't get to dodge the accessibility requirements just because AJAX is 'new and shiny'. The good news is that AJAX does not preclude accessibility, but you have to be really aware of what you're doing and what will happen in screen readers.

In closing, Jeremy once again quoted Tim Berners-Lee: The power of the web is in its universality... In my opinion, I don't care if it is cliched to use that quote. For me it never gets old. It is and will remain an incredibly important statement about what the web should be.

I think it's a great thing for our industry that a talk on AJAX finished with a discussion of accessibility.

web directions south 2006 - kelly goto keynote

WD06 just kicked off with a keynote from Kelly Goto. This session really sums up the reason I was so excited to be coming (let alone speaking here!). If you rocked up to this conference with no intro, you'd be caught by surprise - it was not head-buried-in-the-code. It was about humans and the way we interact with machines.

Discussing deep hanging out; discussing how you should try to create ritual and not addiction. It's a perfect way to sum up the successful nature of systems like Flickr, journals, etc. If something is usable, fun and it can be easily integrated into your life; then it's a winner.

This conference is not the average. If you're here, awesome. If you're not here, get ready to download the podcasts.

2006-09-22: directions and connections

So it's just a few short sleeps to Web Directions 2006. Or, as it's been called for a few days now, Web Directions South. That'd be the green one. The orange one will be announced on Monday :)

After Web Essentials 2005 many of us did wonder what the organisers could come up with in 2006 - WE05 was a hard act to follow. So far we have Tshirts and a microformat- and API-driven networking system. Web 2.0 is nothing more than a slogan to many people; but WD06 is living the dream ;)

So if you're heading to WD06, get over to Web Connections and sign up. Sure, you'll probably get tagged by weirdos, but that's all part of the fun!

On a quick personal note; you may notice my Web Connections profile lists my new employer: News Interactive. I didn't mention it in the previous post since I felt like it was a little silly to talk about it before I was actually here. So, there you have it :)

2006-09-02: the joy of bandwidth theft

Hotlinking (aka bandwidth theft) is generally more annoying than amusing. But this time I had to chuckle: bandwidth theft and copyright breach by a company with ties to the legal industry (InTouch Legal). Good thing they help the lawyers, I'd be worried if they were lawyers.

Screenshot of photo being used without authorisation

You know, I'm pretty sure Eric is ready to go mobile. [View the original post if you're curious.]

The mission statement is definitely amusing: The Mission of InTouch Legal is to provide outstanding technology and management solutions to the legal community while developing extraordinary client relationships through integrity and accountability. Integrity and accountability, eh?

So what do you do when you find that someone is piping your image out on their newsletter? The temptations are endless, but in the end I've opted for simplicity.

Screenshot of photo replaced with copyright notice

I think prospective clients of InTouch can make up their own minds about their integrity and accountability.

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