Stephanie Hobson I like to make websites everyone can use.

About Stephanie Hobson

Web Directions North 2008

Just like last year I thought I’d post my summary of the conference that I distributed to my department. If I have any regular readers at all, it’s probably a little too general to do you any good but I’m happy to answer questions:

Web Directions North is an internationally respected conference for web professionals. This year’s conference was a good high level overview of the new trends and technologies online. Some of these trends are emerging organically and we need to react to them and others are good ideas which need the support of developers to be adopted.

While the talks covered a variety of subjects there was a lot of overlap on these main themes:
Open data
Open data formats like XFN, microformats, and APIs are encouraging sites to share data between them. This allows sites to combine data for display in new ways, to make new connections between data, and to formulate it is more user friendly ways. Users may one day be able to manage their profiles, passwords, and social networks from one central account.
Mobile & Accessible Interfaces
In a few years there will be more people in the world with the ability to access the web with a mobile device than with a computer. Designing for browsing devices challenges designers to consider different contexts and device capabilities. Bright sunlight makes low contrast sites hard to read, common input devices like a keyboard and mouse may not be available. These are the same challenges developers face making interfaces accessible and there are over lapping.
Dynamic User Interfaces
Many websites are providing their users with the ability to customize what information is displayed to them and how. Many more sites which don’t provide these services are being altered by users anyway using special browser add-ons or websites which take data from existing websites and find new ways to display it.

There are also ties between these three trends – open and accessible data is easier to gather for customization with a different user interfaces which take into account different user needs like mobility or accessibility. Some examples:

This site uses Google Maps API to display running routes but it has removed the inaccessible Google Map controls and replaced them with their own custom accessible buttons. Try zooming in on the map in Google Maps using only your keyboard – then try it on Ironfeathers.
This site brings together data from government websites for the police and city hall, commercial sites like craigslist and social sites like Flickr in one place where it customizes it to make it more accessible, searchable, and explorable.
This site has an open API and presents all its data as microformats. It has made it super easy for spin off sites like foamee. Foamee doesn’t require you to create a new username, password and profile – it just makes use of your twitter one. You don’t login and update foamee from your computer you just text message it.

I also had good conversations with the Microsoft representatives about the version meta tag they are planning on introducing in IE8, the BBC team about CMSs and centralized CSS (we’ve got it easy), and several free lance designers about client management strategies.

It was encouraging to see that BCIT is headed in the right direction with the incorporation of microformats into contacts and VTcal, to get confirmation that standards are still the leading industry concern, and know that our work on the Marqui templates will be moving us in the right direction to create a mobile version of the site.