Friday, 28 December 2007

When online services disappear (

Highlighting a peril of using online services, the peril being that they can upsticks and leave you in the lurch. Temporary unavailability can be a pain but a complete vanishing act leave me feeling .... somewhat annoyed.

I was using an excellent service a (which now just has a closure message). Yes mojiti has gone. This service allowed you to take online videos from just about anywhere and overlay your own annotations, graphics, sound, video etc. It worked well, you could embed the fruits of your labour in other webpages etc. A description of some of the features can be found on this bbc backstage page. To further increase my good mood though I tried leaving a comment on this page in the handy form provided and on submission was helpfully told my comment could not be processed because .... I am not allowed to leave comment (why show me the form then?).

What really annoyed me was that I was sent no warning email (at least giving me the chance to gracefully extract any of the data I had stored there). Mojiti created some interest it originated in China and the site was completly bilingual (Chinese and English). A post here at has a comment from one of the originators of Eric Feng. Eric also leaves a comment on the ReadWriteWeb article here. I am guessing that currently Eric is not scouring the internet to leave comments about

Apologies for coming across a little downbeat but learning a foreign language is hard enough when you picked your way through some difficult translation and then find all that work is lost ..... I guess this is nothing to what a business enterprise could lose via a vanishing webservice though.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

I want full RSS (but is that good for everybody?)

Interesting to come across a controversial issue by experience rather than than reading about it. Wanting to keep up with increasing amounts of information from forums and blogs etc. I have been utilising RSS feed in Netvibes and Google Reader to more and more effect. I have heard it said that you can process around 10 times as much information this way. Not sure how that is worked out but for sure I can get through a lot more than visiting individual websites.

I hadn't really thought about this issue before because most (if not all) of the feeds I was most interested in were full feeds, I can read the full content in my online RSS readers. This reduces distraction and allows me to absorb more in less time.

It was only when I came to pull in a number of feeds from an online magazine into a Netvibes tab that I came unstuck. The feeds were partial so I had to follow each link to read the full content. The experience was not nowhere near as pleasant or convenient.

I had a look around the Internet and found a number of posts and viewpoints. Aside from any bandwidth issues, what might be good for me may not be so good for advertisers, may not be so good for tracing site usage (although feedburner can help here).

I still need to think about this some more. As a consumer I prefer full feeds by far but should I feel the same when thinking on the behalf of my Employer? (it seems I am finding this duality is common nowadays).

Sunday, 30 September 2007

A line in the sand!

Time to stop thinking so much about Dconstruct07 and attendant ideas. I should really present some sort of summary. I want to start thinking more about how to re-think our intranet. Hopefully the podcasts of the presentations will be out soon, to reinforce ideas and maybe spark off new ones, particularly around the presentations I have not mentioned.

The concept of the website not being your product and examining the potential dislocation and reuse of your data will remain with me. It is quite clear that this is the case from my own web use over the past year or so. Much of the content I use, is consumed elsewhere from where it was generated. And where I visit them some of the best websites just get out of the way and let me get the content I am after with the minimum fuss. This is just reinforced by the idea of not letting your design get in the way.

All things being equal, the experience is key. That resonates also, however with one caveat. There are sites that I visit regularly that have a bad user experience, it is just that the data I am after can only come from one place, if I have absolutely no option I will do almost anything to get important content. As I tried to explore with my evil iPod post, there are occasions where you can sell the experience almost separate from the content, I fear that is not the case where I work though (here the bottom line seems to be that content and access to it is king).

For me Dconstruct07 was surprisingly weak on community. As I attempted to explain, the large web communities and the meta-communities (I mean communities of people that have something to do with building communities) possibly don't teach us the best lessons (that are applicable to the average business with an online presence). As was pointed out in a meeting at work recently, a community can easily form online via forums and wikis etc., independent of any one company focus. Maybe more appropriate questions are how can you instantiate a community that is out there but has not formed around a nucleus yet? how can you absorb existing communities or stake your claim in them. It no longer feels like attempting to own a community is a good idea.

The biggest realization for me is that my way of thinking and learning has fundamentally changed, handling and processing of information has changed, and how Web2.0 has almost shifted some of my mind and consciousness onto the Internet. I can still remember hearing about RSS and thinking "interesting but how does that help me", still remember thinking the same about etc. etc. (actually I can still remember hearing about email and thinking similar thoughts). Now it is hard to imagine acquiring and experimenting with knowledge without them. Like Jared Spool's chicken sexers, most of us have to acquire this knowledge through experience. If you don't play with the new tools, don't do concrete things with them on a daily basis how can you understand them. Of particular interest to me is the fact that by far the largest learning curve in this area was in my attempts to learn Chinese online and cram as much as I could about linguistics and elearning and Chinese language, rather than at work.

My last thought is a new one, or rather new to me. As I type this I am thinking of the various types of resistance the work environment will place against this new way of thinking (some even justified and requiring care). One perhaps that is not apparently often mentioned is that networking of a similar nature has always occurred. It has always been an important part of senior management life and career progression, also an important part of senior academic life. Like email did to conventional post, some of these new tools are enabaling this type of networking to occur much more easily. Although it appears clear to some that many workers can benefit themselves and their companies this way, perhaps there will be a backlash at senior management level (maybe even unconsciously)

"that is what we do, not them!".

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Concerning Community

George Oates and Denise Wilton gave a presentation on Human Traffic at Dconstruct07. They both occupied a sofa on stage and presented somewhat Baddiel and Skinner unplanned style. Unfortunately there was no opportunity for questions from the audience, which I think would have made things much more dynamic. Although this presentation was a fairly interesting recanting of some of the community experiences at and it didn't delve very deeply into community aspects. I don't actually feel that a full grasp of community can be gleaned by looking at the big players, the dynamics don't feel right. Possibly more can be gained by looking at smaller communities.

In my experience one of the most interesting communities I have seen develop has been the one built up around Chinesepod, at some point I would like to take the time to carry out a more in depth analysis of this community and attempt to pinpoint why it succeeded whereas other similar online language community attempts failed.

For now here are some of my initial observations, mainly just here so I can refer to them later.

They started with simple community aspects right from the beginning but, these were fairly basic, what seems to have planted the seed was the ability to comment on the lessons they released. Key was the fact that they actually had material that was worth commenting on, sometimes funny, sometimes thought provoking etc. If you commented then you often got responses back from the key players.

They had personalities that came across in the content and in their interaction with the community.

There was a community out there already (Westerners learning Chinese) however this was mostly restricted to academic learners, Chinesepod put new spin on this and acted as a focal point for learners of all levels and intent. Amazingly independent of the Chinesepod site a forum and wiki was developed by the users. Eventually these were then pulled into and hosted on the Chinesepod site. Why did these users not just set up a Chinese learning forum and Wiki? They strongly associated learning Chinese with Chinesepod. People started to refer to "poddies" (users of Chinesepod) or "Cpodders".

They used blogging to their advantage, eventually hosting blogs for learners but also interacting with external learner blogs, etc. etc. The key players at Chinesepod blogged themselves and crucially didn't just restrict themselves to promoting their own wares. You could actually change things at the Chinesepod site via the blogs, and the discussion was frank and open. One of the founders of Chinesepod Ken Carroll regularly blogs and keeps in touch with the community.

Much of their growth has been on the back of viral marketing.

RSS feeds have always been a big part of the site (although on occasion they have not been as easy to discover as they should be).

They have never attempted to "own" the community. Discussion is frank, open criticism is fine, competitor content and discussion is welcome, bits of community often slop over into other places, you can interact without coughing up money or filling in a huge profile form etc. etc.

They always look for new ways to interact, whether by Netvibes or Facebook (the Chinesepod app. can deliver content based on who you are), sharing photos of China via Flickr, sharing videos via youtube, discussing the Chinese music scene etc. etc.

The end result of this is that on many occasions now I have seen people online mistake members of the Chinesepod community for employees of Chinesepod, because of their loyalty and commitment. I actually got to talk to a reporter over the telephone at one point, towards the end she asked 'you are not related to Ken Carroll are you?'. I hastily pointed her towards the numerous evidence online that my version of events was correct, and fortunately she appeared to believe me although as is usually the case with these things I didn't get my view reflected exactly correctly (I could provide feedback by far more than email for example).

The Chinesepod Facebook app. is great, the Chinesepod Facebook group has many members but little activity, why is this. I think simply because it is primarily used to find people you know from Chinesepod and joining it is just a way of tagging that aspect of your online presence on Facebook. There are so many other places to interact, rather than the Facebook group.

No one community has all the answers, but I believe looking at the big players pays few dividends in the same way that generalizations you could derive from things such as "the global Christian community" would be, errrr.... very general. Finding out what drives the small vibrant communities out there could pay big dividends for those who want to develop their own.

Evil iPod?

I think is always healthy to think contrary to the flow. Throughout the Dconstruct07 conference iPod was consistently referred to as an example of successful design and experience, to the point where it became an "in joke". Being fairly easy to go with the iPod as a metaphor for successful design I felt duty bound to pursue the dark side.

Jared Spool mentions the experience of the iPod/iTunes combination contributing to the overall success of the product. How much of that success is down to managing the experience, and even dictating it? Apple do not need to provide the user with the best possible experience, simply sell the user the experience, and ideally convince the user it is the best possible.

If I plug a generic, cheap, usb storage/mp3 player into my PC, it identifies itself as just that. The PC is aware that it is both a storage device and an mp3 player. The best possible audio file management system would automajically work seamlessly with such devices and fall over itself to make the handling of any silly drm system or raw mp3, ogg etc. files as easy and transparent as possible. Also provide as many ways possible to export my audio to whatever I deemed appropriate. Apparently an iPod/iTunes combination doesn't quite live up to these expectation. Imagine it did, iPod identifies as usb mass storage device via usb cable etc. Then of course the barrier to other manufactures slotting in their player to the equation is removed.

What if some clever souls had produced a really slick music management software package that had an open structure (unlike the iTunes database), communicated intelligently with any Tom Dick or Harry online music store and recognised generic usb mp3 devices. What if they released this just before the iPod or iTunes. Things would surely have been different.

As for the ideal design of experience, many users have been convinced that huge storage and carrying around your entire audio collection (just because you can) is the way to go. This is against a backdrop of increasingly distributed data, and increasing opportunities for network connection etc. Mini hard drives contain moving parts and require comparatively more power, flash memory has a finite life, but consider that you can apparently get a 4gig SD card for under £10 these days. Does it make sense even in this day of video to be carrying around 40 gig of data or be restricted to a smaller amount of flash memory that you cannot change. An SD card slot is easy to drop into an appliance, potentially making it cheaper and not changing its nature one jot, you can have the same OS, the same neat circular control.

I actually find my "current music" that I am listening to comprises a very small library. Things I have got bored with may return later, new stuff may be added etc. but essentially at any one finite point in my life I am not happily listening to 10s of gigs of music (I am not the only person like this surely). Even more strange is that a lot of audio I listen to is not music. I listen to language instruction or podcasts to do with work type issues etc. This content is usually ephemeral, it merits listening to once or perhaps a few times, none of it needs to be lurking around on a 40gig mini drive. I actually know people who still have all the elementary lessons from a language they are learning on their iPods and can't bring themselves to delete them (even though they are no longer of any personal use).

Maybe in a Googlemail type philosophy the new thinking is that you will not ever have to delete anything again. I am not sure this is healthly. The printing press changed the way people think and learn, prior to that a scholar had to hold much more information in their heads. The printing press heralded the death of the memory palace and similar techniques as an essential part of the scholarly mind. Today the kind of extended mind that is enable by modern technology is likely to change thought processes once more. Perhaps though the process of deciding what to forget which has served our brains so well should not be entirely abandoned.

Armed with this hypothetical software, a library of audio and video that sits both on my computer and in a 'working' set of SD card and a generic player that takes the cards, where does Apple fit in. Well that generic player could have the same design and use as the current iPods which will appeal to many. However the barrier to me just shifting the whole lot to some other platform at a whim has vanished, if my iPod battery is shafted I don't have to buy another iPod, I can go straight out and purchase a cheap replacement to tide me over. Maybe another manufacturer will produce a player that entices me.

This is a thought exercise, I am not anti-Apple. There are many view-points. Some people may say "yeah so why is iPod so popular and pervasive etc. etc." well I have heard a similar defense of Microsoft. Others will say "but most people don't want the things you describe". Why do products like this exist, and why do I have to buy something from Apple to connect to a camera etc. Digging around on the internet will find many people who have to fork out a lot of money or proceed through a series of awkward non-friendly user experience steps to achieve something that should be simple.

I am a realist, even going to give iTunes a run for it's money, this is user-experience against the backdrop a consumerist, commercial society, Apple have done a good job and played this game well. I feel it is far from perfection though.

EDIT: this is far from perfection also, but here is a presentation of up-coming version (I have the current one. Not for general consumption but runs Linux and gives me enough flexibility (for instance playing two sound files simultaneously or reading Pdfs in Xpdf. Notice how the SD card comes out of the camera an straight into the device to view pictures (not hard really).

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

The Age of Experience

The first talk at Dconstruct07 was given by Jared Spool and in my opinion kicked everything off to a good start. Jared's presentation was titled "The Dawning of the Age of Experience".

The emphasis of Jared's presentation was the user experience. Starting with the simple fact that technically the Ipod is nothing special (when you get right down to the technical specs.). It was the user experience of the Ipod/Itunes combination that made it an object of desire. The Netflix site is also highlighted and how it managed to take such a big slice of the online DVD rental market, apperently thanks to the user experience and word of mouth as opposed to advertising. Ipods keeping popping up during the day, it was during this talk that I started to try to think against the flow and find the "dark side" of the Ipod experience, the fruits of this labour will be detailed in a later post.

Good design is invisible, it doesn't get in the way of what the user is trying to do.

Jared also presented a few points that were apparently contradictory. On occasion it is possible for someone to circumvent countless hours of usability analysis, just by knowing the right thing to do (is he trying to put himself out of a job). Jared also highlights us to the fact that some skills are almost impossible to flow-chart or describe or even learn conventionally, rather they are acquired skills. His example is Chicken sexing. Jared also stresses the importance of conducting suitable usability analysis.

Jared does not seem to resolve the potential contradictions above, but I can see my own personal resolution based on experiences, maybe not quite what Jared had in mind but it works for me. Basically to ensure good usability you have to think like a usability expert, simply following a formula or studying a book won't cut it. How you come to think like a usability expert is of no consequence so long as you can do it. Don't know whether Jared would agree but hey it works for me.

By the way, I love the chicken sexing example it lends itself to so many thoughts.
"I have an innate ability to sex turkeys, but want to transition to chickens because the money is better!". "I am implementing the decisions of those who have an innate ability to sex dodos (which they still think is useful)" are just two hypothetical examples that spring to mind.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Still using books?

Better get back to blogging about the presentations soon, but until then just another quick thought I had.

I was quite surprised to see a number of vendors selling books at Dconstruct07. There were even some prizes at the end that consisted of piles of books.

For quite sometime now I have been living an almost bookless existence. Working on the assumption that I usually have online access, I don't appear to have any difficulty finding information I am after online. This applies to computer programming and language learning.

I don't dislike books, and still read them for plesure, however if I wanted to learn about Ajax or CSS or Java, I would certainly turn to the Internet first, and may even end up reading an online book, or a tutorial, or a reference...

Maybe most people would still rather go straight to a book, something tactile that
they can hold.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Blocking it at the Firewall?

While thinking about Dconstruct type things I may as well throw the odd thought that comes along especially if related to a thought that originated at the conference.

I sent a message to two co-workers today, a valid work message. Someone else was using Facebook at lunchtime (more people seem to every day). A comment was made, at some point they will block this at the Firewall. Where I work things get blocked at the Firewall.

Thinking back to Tom Coates and his web of data, then soon (perhaps now) blocking at the Firewall will be pointless, the web of data remember.

Block Facebook, I can still read my Facebook notes via RSS in Google Reader, can still get a summary via the widget in Netvibes. I have only just started using it there must be many more ways.

How would you go about blocking Twitter?

Block everything and block communication fullstop?

Edit: Somebody at work (thanks :)) kindly pointed out this Guardian article.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

My Tagging Experiment

A little tongue in cheek this one. This years Dconstruct07 utilized a pre-conference website at Backnetwork. I tried a little to make connections here but my personal network consisted of just two work colleagues. My attempt to discover mutual interests amongst the attendees, via a couple of forum posts only resulted in one response which being just before the conference I did not read until afterwards (doh).

It seems a little over half the attendees signed up to the site on backnetwork and although I didn't make any new connections there, there was some useful insider information posted. In some other arenas I would guess that the sign up would be lower but this type of pre-conference interaction is perhaps something that more and more people are going to come to expect.

At one point the evening before, my mind was bored and thinking of hand-held devices, I was also thinking of tagging and whether I had put up the right 'interests' on the Backnetwork site. Tomorrow I would presumably be spending sometime in a large crowd of total strangers and have no idea or way to discriminate those that shared similar interests (or complimentary interests). I flashed forward to the future and imagined a hand-held device that was not only wireless but also transmitted a configurable profile. The profile would contain information on my current interests and status. For example if I really was looking to chat and had free time it would indicate this (like the 'Skype me' option on Skype). Pull out the device and it would communicate with all the other devices in the crowd, I could pop-up a screen and scroll though options highlighting the position of other people of interest and their position.

There is of course scope for chaos, how long before some wag transmits "I am a 10 second bomb", "I am a 9 second bomb" "I am .....". Or rue the day a Supermodel wanders into the conference transmitting "Computer geeks make me hot, and I love Apple technology" (there would be deaths, I am sure of it). Is this a nightmare vision, something desirable or just something soon inevitable?

I had no such device so resorted to writing, "I study Chinese" in Chinese characters in the space below my name on the name badge. As expected this was entirely unsuccessful but never mind I had plenty of opportunity to chat with the Chinese community in Brighton during non-conference time.

Oh yes, later in the day Tom Coates introduced us to a feature world (not too distant) where the absolute position of everybody could be plotted and reported and Paul Boag in one of his podcasts in talking about the IPhone speculated on all shops and venues transmitting information that could be picked up as you wander by. Not a big leap to extend this to people and already happening in a limited way via Bluetooth.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Good Washing Machine

Leisa Reichelt gave a talk at Dconstruct07 entitled Waterfall Bad, Washing Machine Good, Leisa has also put up the slides of her presentation. As of yet none of the podcasts from the talks seem to have appeared yet. Leisa also writes about her presentation on her blog.

Doh! just realised that because the slides were put on Slideshare I can embed them here, also these are from an earlier presentation. They do give a flavor of the Dconstruct presentation.

I could kind of relax a little during this talk, coming from a developer camp and having had experience of some agile methodologies, I don't need to be sold on it. Admittedly my workplace uses it only on some projects but I definitely prefer working this way. It was interesting to see a designer angle on it though and I quite agree that you do not have to get too anally retentive about the exact execution of your agile methodology (it is amazing how some people do, you can sit down in a stand-up meeting if you have a bad-back it still works, the only reason you are standing is to ensure that people remember that the meeting is supposed to be brief and to the point). I guess that the kind of people who get too anal about the execution of the methodology are the same ones that point out grammatical errors in spoken language (why do you think they invented the word colloquial grrrrr....).

Now I have to admit that I like Leisa's slides very much, since returning to work I have started organizing my brief notes and reminders on little colored post-its rather than on the back of scrap paper (bad for the environment but rather more aesthetically pleasing) perhaps there is a tiny piece of me not bedded in code and formula.

Of course life is more like a washing machine, anyone who knows the best answers at the right stages of the usual waterfall is either a genius or imbued with too little imagination and reflection.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Summaries (why re-invent the wheel?)

This is still somewhat of an experiment for me, trying to review what I gained from a conference and yet being exposed to the reviews and comments of others etc. People commenting on comments and observations, it goes around and around like a wheel but surely fades overtime. Perhaps some pieces will be more sticky than others?

As many people can write better than me it seems sensible to just co-opt what they have written and finally when I think I have digested enough spit out a summary of my impressions and suggestions for how this may/should impact on my own work environment.

In that spirit my favorite swirly opaque summary of the whole dconstruct07 experience (check out the comment by Tom Coates. Also a slightly more fact based if sparse summary.

I will also dig up summaries of talks that may be worth reading where applicable. For example a short summary of the presentation given by Tom Coates.

I guess I should soon (about a week) be in a position to write up a summary and identify relevance and advantage to what I do day to day at work. If not was there any point in attending?

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

The Experiance Stack (presentation experiance)

Matt Webb presented on the Experience Stack at Dconstruct07. This presentation was packed full of interesting ideas and slides, perhaps too packed full. Particularly as it was still too close to lunch time beverages for most of us to be at our brightest.

Luckily Matt has already analyzed his own presentation, restated part of it and put up slides and transcripts. Picking through this material I realize there is going to quite a lot of food for thought.

There is a very significant change noticeable for old timers like me. The presentation doesn't finish it continues after the event. Increasingly we can re-listen, watch slides, transcripts, comment, digest etc. Sometimes now I also see good presentations that were made within companies, released on the web. Probably correctly they realize that in these cases what they lose from releasing some good ideas into the wild is handsomely offset by building image and reputation (in these cases the presentations are inevitably branded).

Maybe presentations can be richer if we have more time and resources to digest them. Maybe in the future the ideal presentation will be layered, something to take away immediately and something to pick through later (a kind of presentation doggy bag). The experiance of those being presented to is certainly changing overtime.

Edit: just looked up the book Mind Hacks that Matt co-authored, O'Reilly tells me I can select and buy a chapter Yaayy, just the sort of approach I like. I fill out a whole bunch of crufty information over several screens before I discover I cannot pay with debit card or Paypal etc. Bad O'Reilly experiance.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

A Web of Data

Returning to the presentation made by Tom Coates, in my last post I extracted the "Your website is not your product" idea as that struck a particularly resonant chord. But there were plenty more ideas.

On the subject of meta data, Tom seemed to be in favor of retaining as much as possible (particularly if available for free as part of an automated process). You cannot easily second guess how your users will search and sift through your data, using Flickr as an example it was demonstrated just how many different ways that the photos can be sorted, obvious ones by user or tag and less obvious by Camera make/type and various camera settings when the photo was taken.

Tom also highlighted the idiocy of the taxonomy vs folksonomy arguments. Both have advantages so why not provide both, why not throw in parametric searching and anything else as well? This kind of reminds me of the way that small children absorb certain concepts. Ask them do you want X or icecream and they will see this as a choice that has to made. Once a certain age is reached and their mental processing of concepts they are familiar with improves they will think for a second and ask "errr can I have X and icecream please?".

This podcast talks briefly about Dconstruct07 in the news section towards the beginning (also has good things to say about Tom's presentation. Listening to this reminded me of a couple of things that I had forgotten or not noted, I think when they appear the podcasts of the Dconstruct07 will prove very useful for review. For now I have put the feed for the Dconstruct07 podcasts in the left column of this blog, but so far it only contains three pre-conference podcasts. Incidentally as a developer who is also interested in the front-end and user experiance I find the boagworld podcasts very helpful.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Your website is not your product

One the most interesting presentations at Dconstruct07 for someone from my background was ironically at the end. Tom Coates talked about Designing for a Web of Data. It doesn't seem that the podcasts of the presentations are up yet, and I am sure I will get much more when I listen to them. However apart from his obvious enthusiasm and taking us through a world where the absolute location of everyone is potentially available online, the biggest message I came away with is that your website is not your product.

Firstly that fact that the audience general expectations and experiences allowed Tom to present this as possibly surprising, tells us a little. A maker of fine cheese, no matter how good his website and how it enables his worldwide market is never likely to consider that his product is anything but cheese for example. It is though easy to see why many people would naturally consider otherwise, and when I presented this casually as a thought from the conference to a few at work today there were a variety of responses.

Take Twitter, a prime example, the service this website offers is enabled via the network but most of the data people generate is viewed by others on other sites, on other devices (mobile phones for example), presumably via the magic of RSS and API. The data is the product not the web pages at

Increasingly I view the things I am interested in other places than the website they may located on. With RSS feeds I can read blog posts and comments and forum posts etc. on Netvibes or Google Reader. A Chinese learning site I use has written a Facebook application so I can listen to and monitor the lessons in my own personal list of interests without leaving Facebook.

The place where I work is in academic publishing. Once our products were physical journals and magazines and books. What are they now, hmmmm they are not cheese that is for sure, it will require a great leap of technology before I can get my cheese directly via broadband, but in the end our products are words, and pictures and they like individual twits (the output of twitter? I find it hard to keep up) will go down the wires just fine. Already it starts, xml gateways enabling federated search etc. etc.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

The Outsider?

The title of this post is rather too heavy but I happen to like the story The Outsider very much. Whilst attending DConstruct07 I was made to feel very welcome and it was well organized. So why did I use this title.

  1. I do not own a MacBook or any computer made by Apple (apart from an AppleIIe but I like old stuff).
  2. I have often worked on the design and front-end of websites but this is not the main part of my job.
  3. I don't know the keyboard shortcuts in Photoshop and would use The Gimp for any graphics I generated or altered (not very skillfully).
  4. My network of contacts at the conference was restricted to people I worked with.
  5. I have not heard of any of the 'famous' names that were there (or rather had no previous reason to remember them).

At one point I wandered up to the Laptop recharging points and thought I had walked into an Apple store. Obviously many of the attendees would consider themselves designers rather than developers. This also means that many of the attendees are working at a sort of "meta" level when they are interacting with online communities. Their understanding of network and community interaction online is often via communities and networks that are around the business rather than those of people who do not work in the business. Many of the attendees also work in companies that cater for web business which is not the same as working for a company that merely has an online presence. I am quite sure that most are aware of this but it is a distinction that should be made.

Having said all this the conference was not too design orientated and had interesting elements and ideas for all those involved in Internet work. It is interesting that clear distinction is made between roles these days but that where I work a number of people with very different skills and interests have the title "developer". Even more interesting is that these people may have started a few years ago with very similar skill sets but overtime as the Internet has become more complex it has forced differences. Would you hire a contractor who claimed to be a DBA, Enterprise Java Wizard and skilled designer of websites, if he was telling the truth could you afford him?

My own "Aha!" moments concerning things like RSS, tagging, online communities etc. came from doing things outside of work (yes I understood these things intellectually before that, but hadn't felt the benefits where it counted). I think it is important that people who work online have ways to keep up to date, you can't just put it down as something the youngsters are doing because it moves too fast (remember many intelligent business managers resisted e-mail at first). For somebody who doesn't spend too much time at the front end then attending a conference like Dconstruct can be a part of that process, perhaps even more important is to keep playing out there no matter what your age or position.

In conclusion was I an outsider? No not really, whilst my 'network' is unlikely to be expanded and I am not about to get snapped up by some new media startup the conference did engender some new thoughts and viewpoints.


I have other blogs, mostly to do with learning Chinese. Part of the aim of learning Chinese on the internet, is to find my way around the internet again (it changes rather fast if you take your eye off it for a while). Where I work we tend to have to operate at many levels, from server stuff, databases, front-end etc. etc. I guess with all these layers we are like onions, or maybe layer cakes or perhaps even ogres.

I just attended the DConstruct conference in an attempt to revive one or more layers, that generated a bunch of thoughts, so I thought why not start blogging about webstuff.
Start with Dconstruct07 and then lump along sporadically with anything else.

I could have done this at work but then it would have been on the more constricted side of a firewall and besides my work colleagues can still read it here. Once I wrote some interesting and useful things on the wrong side of a firewall (hey it happens but I will not be held responsible for anybody stupid enough to hold their breath....) but now they might as well be buried in soft peat and recycled as firelighters because even I can't find them (and I would love to know what they were).