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Webstock 2011 - The Conference, Day 1

Categories: Announcements

In addition to the workshops I was able to attend the Webstock Conference.

Webstock is the mostest bestest scientifically proven amazingest conference ever. In the history of the world. Fact.

Webstock Logo

Warning: Long post follows. Day 2 to come.

Opening and Welcome

Mike Brown @mapuia

This year there is no big theme to Webstock in a year of world disasters and bad news.

Boston 1970: busking because of loneliness. Think of the Webstock attendees as busking together and being less lonely in the world. Amid a world of big events we forget those little things that make us human, and hopefully we will remember to connect. Webstock is about meeting people we have only read about, it is about bags, t-shirts, and pencils, ice cream, coffee, and grapefruit frujus.

The Digital Campfire

Or how to stay warm in here when baby it's cold out there
Frank Chimero @chimero

Storytelling on the web is in a state of transition. We need the technology to meet us more than half way and make things more human. A good story depends on the right message, tone, and format. The message is usually the ‘content’ but the word ‘content’ is cold. Casablanca is much more than 2 hours of content.

Stories are change over time. Storytelling is an important component of our humanity. Stories take a reality and frame it up in warmth. We tell stories when we come home from work to tell our partner how we are different at 6pm from what we were at 8am. We project something of ourselves into a painting when we look at it. We do this by telling ourselves a story. The painting Nighthawks (1942) by Edward Hooper, is an image people have told many stories about. There are even versions with Star Wars characters and and Simpsons characters.

Quality of conversation varies dramatically. Conversations around a campfire are always good conversations, it could be because of the change in environment, or because of the people you choose to camp with. Technology provides our digital campfire.

Technology is not either/or. The web is 'and' instead of 'or'. Making stories happen on the web is in addition to face-to-face. Technology is a mirror to show us what we are. Technology also helps change what we are.

How do we get people to tell stories? On the web we think we are the first people to have this problem. We’re not. People have had this problem many times before. News reporters get people to tell stories by asking questions. We can ask questions on the web too.

Good storytelling questions are not questions requiring a simple yes/no answer, or an about us input box. Answering a question like What did you last change your mind about? tells much more than what goes into about us boxes.

Stories connect us. They make us less lonely. Stories together bring us closer to the people we share them with. "We get together to get better". At Webstock we surround ourselves with people who care about the same thing. We tell stories to be understood. The technology is to fill our needs.

That's all well and good, but how does it help me?

Happy programmers are productive programmers
Michael Koziarski @nzkoz

People from Planet Webstock get to work on awesome sites or pages. In contrast many of us work in the real world. Many of us have to work on less exciting applications is less exciting offices. We don't have to worry about building exciting applications as our users have to use the app. We fail too often.

Planet Webstock has small teams, not huge teams. The biggest product team (building the new message system) had 15 people. In a smaller team you are likely to get more time working on things and less time communicating. Planet Webstock companies focus on recruiting the top talent. Planet Webstock employees work with the best technology and the most suitable technology.

In the real world we need managers to start with a small team (of the more passionate and switched-on employees), and assign them to a really small project. Let them pick the technology they want to work with. Then iterate it. The project should slowly grow until the development/delivery process works for the team.

The manager then needs to always defend the team against valid and invalid objections. We need to run skunkworks projects. It's okay if the small project fails. The company will learn a lot from it. Beware of successful skunkworks projects; this methodology is not suitable for all problems, but some unsuitable ones will be dumped onto the team.

Advice for developers and designers: make it fun, or do something else.

Adventurous Usability Techniques

Novel scenarios for the seasoned pro
Christine Perfetti @cperfetti

Most of Christine's presentation was covered in her workshop.

Have your team spent any time in the past six weeks observing your users for two hours? For most people this answer is “No”. There is too much work for usability professionals. Designers can also learn about their users.

Technique: Start testing anywhere, such as traceable tests. If you can't find your target audience just start testing with anyone. Find someone in a coffee shop and offer to buy them a coffee if they will test your product for 5 minutes.

How can we measure the effectiveness of content pages? A good page has a single priority.
Technique: The five-second page test lets you test the effectiveness of a page where it is important for users to know what to do. Start with a specific task for the user to achieve, and know what the user's attitude to the task is. Show the user the page for five seconds and then ask them what they saw, and what purpose the page has.

The five-second test works better on specific pages. The test works poorly on home pages and landing pages. A home page has so many priorities and does not have just one purpose.

How do we measure the success of the home page? The home page is the least important page for users. It's like a hotel lobby that looks pretty but customers don't want to stay in the lobby. A sign of failing with this page is users staring at the page for 10-15 seconds without doing anything. Another sign is the use of the back button as they check out links looking for what they need to know. While a home page should have a strong brand and strong impression, it is more important that the user can accomplish what they want.
Technique: A First Click Test, watching where users first click is a clear indicator whether the user will eventually be successful in finding the answer they want.

Do users understand the complex content on the site?
Technique: The Comprehension Test involves having the user view the content then answering questions about it. This is good for pages about policies and procedures, or product information; and for pages where it is imperative a user understands the information, such as tax information.

How well does the site communicate the value of the product or service? Different users will see the value of the product differently. The site needs to convey this value.
Technique: The inherent value test has two parts. Part one requires some loyal customers giving you a tour of your site, and indicating which tasks they consider important. (As a bonus you can ask them what they like and what they think could be improved on.) Part two of the test involves asking new users to complete tasks the loyal customers said are important. If the new users do not see the same value, or cannot perform the important tasks, then your site needs improving.

What information is most important to users? The site should make it easy for users to find the information important to them.
Technique: the catalogue-based task test is another two part test. Part one requires the users reviewing a folder of catalogues or printouts of content, and highlighting the information most important most important to them. Part two of the test requires the users to find this same content on the site.

The best teams are spending time every six weeks having the whole team see real customers using their product. Think "Users in the Mist". Instead of a persona, have the team write up a user description and stories of a real user. Share these with your entire organisation. Sharing these stories regularly helps the team.

The Future of the Web

Where are we going and why am I in this hand basket?
Mark Pilgrim @diveintomark

If you want to be a guy that does a thing, you just go out and do the thing and it becomes a thing and html5 is now a thing. It can’t just be any thing it’s got to be the right thing, think about what the thing will be in 5 years from now.

Mark's talk was about the history of html, css, and development of web tools. It had more relevance to a developer than to me. See the WaveAdept notes for more details.

Portrait of an Artist as an Independent Musician

Jason Webley @jasonwebley

Music stars have changed over the past 15 years. While we have Lady Gaga we don't have any like Michael Jackson or Madonna from the 90s. Jason started doing what he does in 1998. Technology has made amazing possibilities available. People can now communicate with the artists, and this connection can be enough to support them.

On Web Typography

Jason Santa Maria @jasonsantamaria

This is the third time I've seen Jason present. The first was at Webstock'08, and the second was Webstock Mini '09. This year's presentation was about the typography now available for the web.

At the dawn of the printing era everyone was concerned how they were presenting their message. The 1980s had people starting desktop publishing, and a lot of font mistakes were made. In 1993 there was no font choice on the web. In 2008 there were 18 fonts available. Today, with web fonts, the number has exploded. Fonts no longer need to be on the viewer's computer to be seen on your page.

Companies are now able to use exclusive fonts as part of a coherent branding in print and online. The messages we want to send can now be supported with the right typography.

What makes a typeface good or bad? No typeface is evil, it's all about context. Using a typeface in a bad way is the problem. It's possible for these 'evil' typefaces to be used for good. (I like to use Comic Sans to annoy "designers".)

To use type effectively we need to understand it first.

"Type is a beautiful group of letters, not a group of beautiful letters." -- Matthew Carter

Display typefaces are designed with elements that look good when large. Typefaces meant for text remain legible when small.

Good typography should be invisible. It should not trump the design nor fall back behind the design.

A 'good font' can only be determined by its context. Gill sans may look nice but distinguishing '1Il' (one, uppercase 'i', and lowercase 'L') is not possible, whereas they are distinct in Verdana.


Cover of 'Content Strategy for the Web' by Kristina HalvorsonKristina Halvorson @halvorson

Wall-E is a story about being overcrowded by junk. Like Wall-E, we have a sense of wonder when we find good content, and we like to share good content. We have a lot of junk in our websites. (Hopefully this blog post isn't part of the junk.)

Junk arise on websites when insufficient planning has gone into the content. Content has a life-cycle, and old content should be be removed. Content Strategy is the discipline where you figure out how the content will help your business objectives. This needs planning.

All requests for content online should be able to answer how the content is helping the business, and not necessarily just some parts of the business.

Don't let users browse useless stuff.

I liked this presentation enough to buy her book. I spoke to one person who said her workshop aligned well with the book. I chose to get the paperback version instead of the kindle version for 2 reasons: 1) I can make note sin it easily, 2) I can thump it down on the desk when people choose to abuse content.

The Gap Theory of UI Design

A tour of the entire history of Apple's user interfaces
John Gruber @gruber

With the Mac, the GUI was not 'a' user interface; it was 'the' user interface. The one thing you needed was a mouse instead of a keyboard. This meant that everything you wanted to do must be available on-screen.

A GUI is for real people, an API is for programmers. One of the hallmarks of Mac's GUI is consistency. The original Mac was a single tasking system.

Uniformity for Consistency
There was a concern that computers were confusing and that people wouldn't get it. Changing the design of a button might be confusing. This meant unnecessary static uniformity. Every application had to look like it was wearing the uniform of 'team Mac'. Uniformity is not good in the long run. When you elect to wear it then it is cool. When you are forced to wear it then it becomes conformity and uncool. Shareware software which changed the look but not the functionality was really popular.

Uniformity is dead, consistency lives.

Style vs. Design

"Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like," says Steve Jobs, Apple's C.E.O. "People think it's this veneer -- that the designers are handed this box and told, 'Make it look good!' That's not what we think design is. It's not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works."

Design is how it works, style is how it looks.

User interfaces are like clothing for the mind.

Delivering Delight

Doug Bowman @stop

The power of delight is under utilised in our industry. Delight is a differentiator. There are two types of errors in the modern world, that of ignorance and ineptitude. We forget to apply what we know. While we have to align with business goals other requirements, we have to remember our users are human and need joy and happiness.

Delight should be in a requirements document. The service industry works on delight. Little things matter as much as big things. Delightful experiences are memorable experiences and let you overlook or forgive negative experiences. We are likely to return to the experience if it delighted us once; even if a return doesn't give us delight it may let us learn about other things that we find useful.

We group experiences into good and bad, but experiences are graduated by degree. We need to go beyond satisfying users to delighting users. Expectations and environment can affect the point on the spectrum we are working on.

Suggestions for bringing delight to your users:

  • Exceed expectations: don't over promise.
  • Deliver value early: This comes way before the actual service, such as an online booking for a hotel.
  • Sweat the small details: not every user will notice the details, but those who do notice appreciate it.
  • Embrace serendipity: these are the best moments of delight.
  • Package it nicely: don't cheapen the experience by packaging it poorly or not at all. Plastic clamshell packaging negatively impacts your opinion of the product as you struggle to open it. An example of nice packaging is the new Twitter video.
  • Listen, respond, and act: this is where you get to learn and recognise your failures. This is where you get to find out what dissatisfies your users. Search online/Twitter for a term + 'hate' to find out what needs improvement. Even if your users have had a bad experience, just showing them that you are listening can improve their feelings, even if you can't improve their experience. To improve the Twitter experience, the team there searched for "Wish twitter had", "wish twitter would" and looked at common themes.

You can't delight your users every time, but you can aspire to improve their experience.

Amanda Palmer talks new music paradigm, blogging, Twitter and life

Amanda Palmer @amandapalmer

There isn't a lot of direct conversation between artists and the back-ends of their marketing and online presence. The labels used to do most of the work for them.

Twitter has changed the face of touring, without needing a middleman. The Iceland volcano changed a 45 minute layover to a gig 7 hours later via twitter.

Street performer don't expect everyone to pay you $5. Online distribution can be the same. If your content is shitty, they you'd have failed anyway. Give it away for free and your devoted fans will pay you.

In the evening I played Werewolf and chatted with some of the presenters, special agents, and fellow attendees.

By Brian Logan   Mon 28-Feb-2011

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