Web Directions South – Day 2


Another interesting day. I caught up with Michael Kordahi and had a play on the Surface. Oh, and yes I’ve ordered one for the Elcom conference room – should be turning up any decade now :-)

Keynote (Jeffrey Veen)

The opening keynote by Jeff was good. Data is overwhelming, and analysing it can be an art-form. But failing to analyse is a business killer. 

The business of being social (Laurel Paworth)

Laurel is really good. She understands her field really well and knows how to present it with interest and relevance. Social networks do (and should) make money. Being involved in your own social network should be business focused (if you don’t then someone else will).

Some interesting stats: 11% of MySpace members are senior citizens, and the majority are over the age of 30. So put to rest those notions that social networks are just for the ‘young ones’! This isn’t particularly surprising, but is a useful reminder to companies who think that social networking is just a non-work fad. It aint.

I really could listen to Lauren for hours. And frankly she should have been giving one of the keynotes.

(Note: I hardly know Laurel – in case you think this is some kind of ‘mates plug’)

Her web site is here, blog is here, session is here, she’s on Twitter here.

Custom vs CMS (Diana Mounter)

This was both illuminating and frustrating. I guess I went in hoping to understand the real issues that people face when deciding between CMS and custom development (disclaimer: I work for a CMS company). But the issues raised, although important to address, were items that I suspect were more specific to the CMS used in her workplace, than of CMS in general. As she outlined the issues I couldn’t help but wonder who they had chosen as their CMS vendor…

But the important thing about the session was hearing this perception. No doubt it is shared by many, and highlights a problem in the industry. As Diana noted, it is hard to get good, unbiased advice. Who do you ask? If you are trying to determine whether a CMS (and which one?) or custom development (or perhaps even a mix of both) is better for your situation it can be really hard to get good advice. CMS vendors are often going to push their own agenda and say they can do everything. I’ve seen this done many times and it is a big problem. I’m sure our sales guys are guilty of this too.

Here’s the great takeaway I had from her session. Yes, it wasn’t what I expected, but it showed me that we need to articulate better where CMS is appropriate, and we need to be honest in what it can realistically achieve. And additionally we need ensure we understand exactly what the client wishes to achieve. That last comment must be common sense right? But how often have you seen needs get sidelined in favour of features – many times I’m sure.

Managing change (Daniel Burka)

I liked how Daniel went through some of the changes Digg has implemented over time, explaining both good and bad things they tried. He focused on the commenting system on Digg, going through the various incarnations. I loved the honesty of his presentation. Although specific to Digg his process can equally be applied to just about any web project. User testing and gathering feedback are the common themes. Taking away rarely used stuff was a good suggestion too –> make it simple to use.

AJAX security (Douglas Crockford)

A thoroughly engaging session on JavaScript security dangers, the problems with web standards (and web standards processes) and how we can work through this on to a viable solution.

General comments on presentations

I thought it was interesting to see that some people put more effort into having a beautiful slide set, than they did in providing excellent content. Yes, it should look great, but on a number of occasions I felt that slide graphics were selected first, and then a point contrived around it. This is both good and bad. At other conferences the slides can be so boring that you are asleep for the content (even if it is excellent), but we need some balance. The best presentations had excellent content, delivered by beautiful graphics. But if you don’t have excellent content, then don’t think a few slick slides are going to make up for it.


I’m aware this post, and the previous, are a little harsh. But I thought about this long and hard before posting. Take them as feedback. This is my experience of Web Directions. I came as a developer (not a designer) who works in the web space. Perhaps I’m not the target market. I had certain expectations that may or may not have been realistic or appropriate. Whatever. These are my thoughts.

So the question for me is: Would I attend again?

And my answer: Yes, definitely. I’m adamant about that. I gained a lot. As much as I’ve been critical of elements of the conference, my eyes have been opened to a number of areas, and I find this extremely valuable.

See you there next year.

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By Craig Bailey