Fćrslur föstudaginn 28. apríl 2006

At 20:14: IceWeb 2006 notes - roundup 

The IceWeb 2006 conference was great. Great to see so many people show up, and great to get the chance to see and listen to so many interesting speakers.

I was lucky enough to get the chance to speak quite a bit to both Joe Clark and Shaun Inman who were both quite amiable. I hope to continue our dialogue via e-mail...

For those who couldn't attend the event I recommend Joe Clark's exhaustive notes from the event.

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At 15:06: IceWeb 2006 notes - Shaun Inman, "Responsible Asynchronous Scripting" 

First of all, to Simmi and any others who might be in the room reading this as I type: Hi! :-)

  • Shaun's website
  • Shaun briefly explains the difference between the asynchronous model and the plain HTTP model.
  • In the really early days Java applets, ActiveX or Flash object were the only way to proxy live requests out of a webpage and get back responses. Actually, people were also using 1px tall/wide <frames>
  • Then <iframe>came along. Problems include: the back button going all funky, and the irritating "page loaded" sound in Internet Explorer.
  • And now finally we have XMLHttpRequestcombining the benefits of all the old methods into one convenient Javascript method.
  • Shows code examples of XMLHttpRequestbeing used. (Sidenote: Dean Edwards' How To Load And Parse XML Data Without ActiveX is also an interesting read.)
    • I imagine a lot of the people in the room are going to try this "Really Cool AJAX Stuff" out immediately when they get back to work, and we'll see an incredible amount of terribly broken, terribly inaccessible AJAXy stuff all over the Icelandic web sphere. *shudder*.
  • Notes that the parts of a page that are "remoted" (dynamically loaded and then injected into the page source) are terrible for search-engine visibility.
  • Lists good v. bad uses of AJAX-model interactivity. Good: Live-search, auto-complete, client-side form validation. Bad: Navigation, ecommerce-functionality.
  • "Guns don't kill people. People..." --> "Remoting doesn't kill the back button. Irresponsible developers..."
  • Explains the AJAX pattern where a page is coded so that it works without javascript but Javascript is used to "hi-jack" the default behaviour (form submits, link-clicks, etc) and replace it with dynamic AJAXy functionality. Said pattern has been called "HiJAX".

Great presentation, but I noticed that he didn't mention accessibility at all. Bad. :-(

I asked a question: "How do you indicate to blind users that a part of the page has changed via AJAX (bright-yellow blinking divs notwithstanding)?" Shaun deferred it to Joe who shook his head and said that Derek Fetherstone is trying to figure that out now.

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At 14:04: IceWeb 2006 notes - Joe Clark "AJAX and Accessibility" 

  • One wonders who'll be taking notes on Joe's blog while he's up on stage. :-)
  • Starts with reading an introduction in (surprisingly little broken) Icelandic. Crowd cheers.
  • Mentions the fact that his reference material book Building Accessible Websites is available online as HTML.
  • Says WCAG 2.0 (now in final call) is/will be shite. Why??
  • Roughly defines "AJAX" as a webpage that changes dynamically as the user interacts with it.
  • Notes that accessibility guidelines are vague and/or give conflicting (or even impossible) messages about Javascripted sites.
    • Says using javascript is no longer a faux-pas - like it was back in 1998. :-) Javascript works in practically every screen-reader available today.
  • Speaks fast. Loads of info.
  • Tells of a quick usability test he did on Basecamp. Asked his users (presumably using some sort of assistive technology) to try to create/edit/delete a todo list.
    • The Basecamp developers seem to have just left out accessibility.
    • However, "It seems that Basecamp is difficult and confusing, but possible to use. Especially on Windows. On Macintosh it's better because it has better assistive technologies built in."
  • Introduces as (some of?) his testers:
    • "Brothercake" (a.k.a. James Edwards) who's every possible combination of screen-readers and OSes setup on his computer(s).
    • Derek Fetherstone (http://boxofchocolates.ca).
  • Joe answers audience questions about "(why) does accessibility matter?". Joe's answer: "Ask a blind person. Does preseving the Icelandic language matter? Ask an Icelandic person". Next quiestion "You can't make something 100% accessible, can you?" Joe's answer: "No, some things are intrisically inaccessible to some people (henche the term "disabled") but you can try as hard as you can".
  • HTML + CSS + JS is easier and more transparent than Flash [in terms of making it accessible].

All in all, a very important subject. Joe offered no big solutions but hopefully got a lot of people thinking.

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At 12:52: IceWeb 2006 notes - Andy Clarke, "FeedingYour Creativity Without Compromising User Needs" 

  • Lovely English accent... ...and humour. (Andy's website)
  • Design stake-holders: Brand ... Marketing ... Business needs (bottomline/politics/etc.)
  • "Flash is a fantastic tool! What's wrong with Flash is what people do with it." hehe
  • Shows imaginary spash-screens for Amazon, eBay and Flickr asking people to choose between "Flash v. HTML" or "Ajax v. Plain Old Javascript". Point taken. "Don't make assumptions that people know things about web-technology or even the setup of their own computer". Audience laughs.
  • Mentions the King Kong website's front page as an example of a site where Business needs (sponsorship) have taken over the basic user as well as marketing needs (usability, aesthetics, etc.)
  • Also the Ice Age (movie) website: "Choose your region to enter the site". Inside: good looking but confusing.
  • Example of a good site: HBO's Deadwood. Good looking, well branded, but clear and simple and focused on what the user wants to know.
    • I wonder: King Kong and Ice Age are both mostly geared towards kids and youngsters - while Deadwood is for grownups. In my experience kids love to browse explore and try things out. Maybe simplicity isn't neccessarily a virtue/requirement for them. (??) So is it possible that the studios are onto something that Andy isn't? I tend to agree with Andy's point of view, but I just wonder...
  • He then goes on to demonstrate how one could rebuild The Corpse Bride website using clean HTML and CSS.
    • ...It's all pretty basic stuff - but fun all the same, to watch someone else do it.

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At 10:58: IceWeb 2006 notes - David Shea, "CSS Project Management" 

  • Uses his own site Mezzoblue.com as an hands-on example.
  • Hey, Dave uses BBEdit to write CSS and HTML! I remember using BBEdit back in my Macintosh days (in the MacOs 7 & 8 era).
  • Recommends commenting your CSS code. Mentions that <body>-level className (or @id) hooks make "deep" page-specific changes in your visual design dead easy to do. Something we use alot in our coding at work. More specifically we have several of our javascript utilities add className keywords to the <body> as status-indicators (think: font-sizing, page-width switching, etc.)
  • Explains basic stuff - such as the cascade and selector specificity.
  • Recommends breaking your CSS up into several files - one for each site-section/page. Acknowledges that this may increase the redundancy in your CSS, but it makes the CSS way more manageble in the long term (and for large/complex sites). New problem: "CSS file management".
    • Note-to-self: CMS systems have very varying level of support for including custom stylesheets for specific site-sections. Henche the tendency of many coders (me included) to pile everything into one big CSS file.
  • Talks about "standard naming conventions" for classNames and ids, and their hypothetical potential to be useful in the future. (See also: John Allsopp's Semantics in the Wild)
  • Explains Tantek's undohtml.css
  • Advocates against CSS hacks. Recommends placing all "hack code" in seperate CSS files and limit your use of "filters" to simply @importing these.
  • "IE7 has reached the point that if your site is broken in IE7 then now's the time to fix it." -- or as I'd say, now's the time to start worrying about whether your clients will accept being billed for fixing a set of Brand New IE Rendering Bugs(TM).

All in all, again mostly stuff I've already thought about extensively in the past. It was still great to get to peek into Dave's head on the subject.

(Notes written in English because the audio-visual input is all in English. Translations are tough.)

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At 10:16: IceWeb 2006 notes - Eric Meyer, "the one true layout" 

  • Plays off the article In search of the One True Layout by Alex Robinson.
  • "Any order columns are great" ... but ... "Equal-height columns are much more fragile"
  • Casts David ?? ("danger! danger!") and Ian Hickson as "Robot and Will Robinson" from Lost in Space
  • Seems to claim that Alex was the first one to come up with "Any order columns" float technique (or at least document it in October 2005). However, I've used it since January 2005, and Árni at work has used it even longer than that. I seem to remember reading about AOC way earlier than Oct 2005..

All in all, Eric's talk was fairly basic (for me at least) but he's obviously a very thoughtful and smart guy. (Eric's website.)

Afterwards, maestro Joe Clark came to me and we had a brief, friendly, chat. I'm thrilled if not starstruck. Joe's been my accessibility hero for years now. :-)

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