Stephanie Hobson I like to make websites everyone can use.

About Stephanie Hobson

Web Directions North

I thought I’d post my summary of Web Directions North that I distributed to the department a month or so after the conference. I’ve been wanting to write a more technical and personal review of it but it’s pretty clear to me that if I haven’t done it by now, I’m not going to get around to doing it :)

Web Directions North is an international conference for people who work with the web, from project managers to web programmers to web designers. This year it was hosted in Vancouver and a few of us jumped at the opportunity to go and were grateful to have the department’s support.

The conference covered a good balance of theoretical big thinking ideas and practical hands on code ideas and we were fortunate to come home with both things to work towards in the long run and ideas that could be implemented immediately.

These are a few of the “big picture” ideas that stood out to us:

  • User Experience – It’s the difference between making a website as popular as the SunDisk Sansa MP3 player and making a website as popular as the iPod. Many of the speakers talked about the ways they integrate user experience design and testing into their work early in the project process and what a huge positive impact it has had on their websites.
  • Web Standards – All the presenters were strong advocates of web standards. They also argued against the idea that all a website needs to meet standards is to be well coded. In their eyes a website with standards has high standards – it should also be accessible, backwards compatible, built using the principles of progressive enhancement, semantic, and have good user experience.
  • Ajax – There was a lot of discussion about Ajax, what it is, why it has become popular, and where and how to best use it. It was advocated that sites should be built to function perfectly without Ajax and Ajax can be added after to enhance user experience. There were also some user experience issues identified with using Ajax and some solutions proposed.

These ideas touch on difference skill sets and the presenters who talked about project management felt that the ideal web team would consist of a mix of individuals with skills that cross the disciplines of development, design, usability, and content. This structure keeps the team nimble, and promotes rapid prototyping for continuous improvement.

It’s rare that a conference provides information you can act on the next day when you sit back down at you desk but these are ideas we found immediately useful:

  • MicroformatsMicroformats are a standardized way to add CSS to XHTML to code standardized information such as addresses and events so that programs such as address books and calendars can import them with a single click if you have a newer browser or the right plugins. The contacts application ( has been rewritten to use microformats and the new version launched March 6th!
  • Mashups – A mashup is when part of a website is integrated into another website. You might have seen a Google Maps mashup like this one: One of the sessions covered what’s involved in beginning a mashup and now a campus map mashup is on the way!
  • Progressive Enhancement – This is a “big idea” about how to code and a shift from the old concept of “graceful degradation”. The suggestion is that content should be written first and then semantic code, presentation, and behavior should be added on top of it in layers so that the core content is still accessible and intelligible if it is accessed without the presentation and behavior layers. The contacts application was rewritten using the principles of progressive enhancement; check it out with JavaScript or CSS turned off!

If you’re interested in learning more about any of these ideas the presentation summaries and notes are available on the Web Directions North website or you can talk to Brandon, Alan or me :)