Deconstructed - d.Construct 2006 review
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I attended the web development conference d.Construct 2006 last week. Overall, it was a very good meeting with some interesting and entertaining presentations. Here’s my take on it.
The big guns, Amazon and Yahoo
Jeff Barr opened the conference by describing Amazon Web Services and evangelising Amazon generally. Amazon are a big company and we do all these great things. There was some interesting stuff in his presentation but it was a bit too ‘corporate’ for my taste. Perhaps unsurprising, this is Jeff’s job after all.
Macs rule? There were lots of Apple Macs at the conference (luckily, I didn’t embarass myself with my trusty old Dell laptop) and it was interesting to see some of the speakers running Windows and Mac OS on the same machine with the Parallels desktop.
Simon Willison and Paul Hammond described web developer life from the Yahoo perspective in their ‘double act’ presentation. In particular, it was great to hear a description of Yahoo’s in-house ‘hack days’. This is when Yahoo employees/developers can work on a pet project for a day. One of the few rules is that a prototype of the ‘pet’ application has to be built in the day. Yikes! No pressure then.
From a personal perspective
The best presentation for me was Jeremy Keith with ‘The Joy of API’. Jeremy’s enthusiasm really came across here. He described his own experiences working with different APIs and scored each one for ease of use, power and overall ‘joy’ of working with it. Flickr was the overall winner but it was useful to hear the pros and cons of each. Jeremy was also brave enough to show a screenshot of his first website!
Jeremy followed up by leading an impromptu session during the lunch break where he talked about microformats and their use. Sandwich in hand, Jeremy wowed the conference crowd, and some puzzled locals who were having lunch in the park, with a description of microformats. This was a very informal ‘presentation’ and it certainly persuaded me to look into the whole ‘microformats scene’ in more detail.
Aral Balkan described the use of Adobe Flex Builder 2 for Flash applications. I am not the biggest Flash fan but the presentation gave some good examples of Flash applications and their comparison with Ajax web applications. Unfortunately, there was no time for questions afterwards. I was expecting some questions about the accessibility and search engine effectiveness of Flash applications.
Jeff Veen gave an overview of the process of web design with a specific emphasis on usability. There were some good anecdotes and examples given. I particularly liked an example of the USA Department of Agriculture website for hay. It simply used two links on its homepage, ‘Have Hay’ and ‘Want Hay’. Well, you can’t be much clearer than that! The overall message of Jeff’s presentation was ‘talk with the users and understand their requirements’.
I haven’t decribed every presentation in this report. Thomas Vander Wal gave a detailed description of folksonomy and the recent phenomenon of websites that use tagging as part of their core functionality. Derek Featherstone gave examples of accessibility problems with some Web 2.0 websites.
Mistake of the day: Invalid HT-shirtML. At the conference, I made the ‘mistake’ of wearing a T-shirt with ‘invalid’ HTML on it. Yeah, thanks guys for pointing this out in the bar afterwards. I promise not to do this again.
I am not (what I would call) a full-blown developer but I would have liked a few more ‘from personal experience’ presentations along the lines of Jeremy Keith’s talk. This might be something for next year’s conference. It would also be good to mix in some shorter 15 minute presentations describing some specific applications/examples.
The day was quite busy and most speakers ran over time by a few minutes. This meant that there were no questions after most of the presentations. Pity. I think this needs to be built into the conference timetable in future years.
Thanks to Clearleft and their helpers for organising and running the conference.
In summary, I enjoyed the day. It was informative and entertaining. Here’s to d.Construct 2007!