Having a blast at webvisions 2006

21 July 2006

I have had the good fortune of being sent to webvisions (2006) by PLANET ARGON. I have it on good authority that this year it is much larger than last year. It's two days long and chock-full of great talks.

So far, I have attended:

The "People and Business" panel was a very interesting, if Portland-specific, look at government and industry participating to create and promote business. This was a bit unusual, I thought, since folks have come from all over to attend the conference. At the same time, it was intriguing to hear, especially from the Portland Development Commission, some things that may distinguish Portland as a hospitable environment for technology innovation. By coincidence, I think, the Portland City Council had voted just the night before to move forward with plans to build a free, public Wi-Fi blanket in Portland.

My favorite talk by far was "Designing for Social Sharing". I recommend checking out Rashmi's site. She was a vibrant, engaging, knowledgeable speaker. One of the most interesting points is that to create a successful site for social sharing, we need an object around which people can share. Now that we have sites like Flickr, this seems like a no-brainer. But when we view how "social networking" sites have progressed from 1st generation, where the emphasis was only on the social network, we see how important this idea is. To paraphrase her, people don't just connect for the sake of connecting, they connect over something.

A big component of a successful site that encourages people to share is providing a way for people to contribute their own creativity or personality. In effect, the design of these sites must facilitate the user's ability to influence the design. Interestingly, I have recently been reading, A Pattern Approach to Interaction Design, by Jan Borchers. The author goes to some length to present a more full exposition of Alexander's ideas on patterns. There is a lot of use of "patterns" this-or-that in various domains. To some extent, the word is often just stretched to cover a favorite concept. But the following quote seems particularly relevant in the context of a social sharing site:

Every place is given its character by certain patterns of events that keep on happening there. These patterns of events are always interlocked with certain geometric patterns in the space.

Christopher Alexander, The Timeless Way of Building

And this quote is nicely relevant to designers of such sites:

Interestingly, Alexander's ideas were not always received well by his colleagues. One reason for this is that Alexander's concepts empowered the inhabitants, supplying them with more ways to influence the building process, and taking much of that power out of the hands of the professional. Obviously, this idea was not very popular among architects.

Jan Borchers, A Pattern Approach to Interaction Design

Another excellent talk was "Design Patterns for the Web" by a guy from eBay and another from Yahoo!. A nice serendipity: I recently have been re-reading, About Face: the essentials of user interface design, by Alan Cooper. This book was awesome when I first read it years ago, and even today I'm amazed it is copyright 1995. Unfortunately, the content seems to be little-known in the web design world. Not at Yahoo! It appears to be very much an inspiration, as I will explain a bit more in a later post.

Okay, that's it for now. I'll mine my notes for juicy tidbits and snippet to share with you. Admittedly, I'm not a good liveblogger. :-/