Liveblogging: BarCamp DC

I'm here at BarCamp DC enjoying the first session on Voicemail to Twitter. The Viget team is well represented and we're expecting a great day. BarCamp DC I'll try to update this post throughout day when I can, and Brian will be helping out as well. You can also keep an eye on the Twitter feed to see what sessions are happening. BarCamp got off to a bit of a slow start - mostly because of the number of people here. BarCamp is popular! It seems like most people got here on time. There were some good eats and plenty of coffee. We got an intro to BarCamp and some instructions on how the sessions get set up. We went around the room and presenters threw out some topics to hopefully consolidate presentations. Once the topics were sent people went around and threw tickets in cups to indicate their interest in the different topics. This was mostly for determining which rooms would be used (they're not all the same size). 10:30am Room 2: Voicemail to Twitter Sponsor: Casey Software The session got kicked off with Roger giving a demo of a slick tool that allows you to call a number, record a message, and have it automatically post to a Twitter account. The discussion then evolved from there, spending a decent amount of time on Google's new acquisition: Grand Central. General talks about wireless, voice applications, voice mail, VoIP. The first round also had sessions on Ruby on Rails and Python Visualizations. 11:10am Room 1: User Experience Sponsor: Freewebs Got started with a great intro from the Freewebs guys - pushing for openness in the local tech community. BarCamp DCSamantha from Ogilvy PR then got the presentation started by providing some definitions for User Experience. Some discussion broke out about whether or not branding had anything to do with UX. A couple of folks (healthcare, military) pointed out that for them brand had nothing to do with UX - it was all about usability. Maybe a term was coined: "Brand Experience" (BX?) - I'm sure it's been used before. We have a great discussion going on about UX, branding, and what it all means. I'm going to sneak out to check in on one of the other sessions: Widgets. Brian here, picking up where Andy left off in this session. The discussion went into Web 2.0 -- does the participation aspect of web 2.0 change how we (as designers/developers) think about UX? There's some question as to whether examples like MySpace -- where the users are free to create a terrible visual experience --- just show that good design decisions don't come naturally to most people, or that designers care more about UX than the users do. Samantha tried to cover Hick's Law, Fitts' Law, and Tesler's Law of Conservation of Complexity, but the group discussion was going strong -- she only got through a few of her slides. Overall, a solid group talk. 11:10am Room 2: Widgets I jumped in on this one late. There is good turn-out in the room. The presenter passed around old school widgets - pieces of paper and pens to let people write a quick blurb about what they're passionate about. Talk about how widgets are used to for a lot of different things - mostly for drawing people back to the primary site. One example was NBA.com creating widgets for every single player in the league. Now they get more traffic from their widgets than their main site. Sunlight Foundation talked about widgets they have created for everyone in Congress. It was interesting to see how much can be done with widgets. From the group discussion it was clear that people are still learning what widgets really are and what people mean when they talk about widgets. The other 11:10am session, up in Room 3, was on Alternative Web App Structures. 11:50am Room 1: Challenges we face as designers Sponsor: Culture Captioning Holly from Culture Captioning got us started with a quick message about what they do. Viget's own Thanny Le and Rob Soule kicked off the discussion BarCamp DC - Robabout challenges that designers face. A quick survey of the room showed that we had a decent mix of designers, UI folks, art directors, and non-designers in the audience. It quickly became clear that most designers do face challenges when designing for clients. Communication was the topic of the discussion for a while. When someone wants the design to be "playful" how do you make sure everyone is on the same page with what that means? "Does design have to be subjective?" was thrown out as one question. Someone pointed out that Design Melt Down tries to define and categorize styles in order to reduce the confusion. Testing and iterating over designs, and the concept of "agile design", came up. Thanny pointed out that depending on budgets and timelines you can run into limitations when it comes to iterations. Tools, such as Crazy Egg, could be used to help measure and analyze designs - but sometimes you have to go against the hard data. Some debate ensued about how much you can actually rely on data when making design decisions. Art and design aren't the same thing. Measuring art is hard or impossible but design can be measured. One thing that became clear was that some of these challenges are different depending on what the designer is working on. Some people brought experience from designing for large organizations on applications where usability was key. Others were building startups and others worked on projects that bordered more on art then design. We also talked about making sure the development team is able to implement whatever the designer puts together - you can't design in a box without the end result in mind. The flip side is true - developers have to work with the designers when building and implementing systems. As things were wrapping up the issue of design process came up. No time to talk about it today but Thanny mentioned that they hope to focus on this specific topic at an upcoming Refresh meeting. Specifically, she wants to get representatives from several types of organizations together for a panel discussion. The discussion was so lively they basically had to cut us off! I didn't get to either of the other sessions during the 11:50am window: Web Typography in Room 2 and Firebug in Room 3. 12:30pm Room 2: Open Source CMS Sponsor: Microsoft I stepped in a bit late so I didn't hear the setup but the Microsoft rep answered questions while juggling. Scott from Navigation Arts offered up a few different options for which presentation he would give: open source CMS, Ajax latency, or utility hosting (pay for what you use). Open source CMS won the day. Scott got started by talking about some of the commercial, non-open source CMS solutions out there - BarCamp DCand that they're all quite expensive. From there he moved on to the issues to consider when looking at an open source CMS: documentation, training, and support, license issues (GPL vs. BSD), community, user experience, and module options. A quick run through of some popular LAMP-based CMS tools was followed by a review of some lesser known solutions (several from overseas). Scott stepped through a case study that looked at how they went about selecting a CMS for one of their clients - the choice ended up being Magnolia. Scott wrapped up the CMS talk fast enough to move on to the Ajax latency presentation. As Ajax is used in more places people are starting to think about potential issues with latency where Ajax is used. Scott's first suggestion was to at least provide the user some cues that something is happening when data is loading (think Flash applications). Preloading data is one way to reduce latency but can increase start times. It can also waste bandwidth since some of the downloaded data may never be used. However, these days bandwidth is cheap and latency is expensive - obviously not a blanket statement but true in many situations. Another option was to use text instead of XML to get away from the overhead involved with XML tags. It was pointed out that there could be security issues with using JSON because it involves the execution of third party javascript. I didn't get to Portable Identity in Room 1 (Brian was there - maybe he took some notes) or Grid Systems upstairs in Room 3. Brian here, taking over from here on out .... 12:30pm Room 1: Portable Profiles I walked in a bit late, just as the group was describing the concept of portable profile. The concept at it's most simple is just to remove the need to setup a new login of every site. OpenID -- assertion of ownership of an URL -- that's it. It just points to a URL, but that doesn't make it "portable." Now most large sites (AOL, TypePad, WordPress.com ...) all provide an API where your can leverage a user's existing profile and build an app around that. Kevin couldn't remember what Google calls it, but he figured it's gAuth -- "which probably wears a lot of makeup" [crowd chuckle]. Jackson did a quick survey of room:
  • Almost everyone has heard of OpenID
  • 1/2 have used it
  • 1/3 think they know how it works
  • Only a couple have implemented OpenID.
Term definition: "Relying Party" allows users to enter the OpenID which then kicks over to the "Identity Provider" to verify they own the URL and should be authorized. Another guy mentioned a 37Signals snafu where people could be locked out of their HighRise accounts, and 37Signals had to scramble to get a fix in place. iName was brought up as an alternative to OpenID, but there was a horror story of trying to authenticate -- didn't seem recommended. There seemedBarCamp DC to be a general sense that OpenID shouldn't be used for sensitive data (credit card info, etc.). Better for low-risk apps. A person suggested that OpenID would be good for supporting portable profiles, but shouldn't become a universal login option because it's too risky to have all of your data across all your sites / blogs / apps. Kevin stressed that any concerns about your data being out there are no more or less an issue because of OpenID / portable profiles -- the benefit to users is being able to login everywhere and maintain a single profile, and for app developers to cut out a big chunk of very repetitive functionality (i.e., login, authentication, profile management). This is an interesting discussion. Clearly portable profiles will happen -- the current reality of multiple profiles is bad for almost everyone. The key is a scalable, independent platform that will be stable and permanent. That limits it to a few providers. Alternatives?
  • CardSpace - only on Vista and hard to implement
  • Jabber - interoperable IM system, kind of like OpenID but the authentication piece is much more interesting -- sends an IM to verify the user.
  • Oak - around forever but no one uses this.
3 elements of portability:
  1. Identity
  2. Relationships
  3. Reputation
Jabber is open and sends and IM to verify the user. Another person suggested the challenge that users are familiar with the username / password / profile management experience, but OpenID is new and confusing, and could hurt your user adoption. You can give users both options. Who does this well?
  • GetSatisfaction
  • MyOpenID - good example of explaining the concept and being an OpenID profile provider.
Another session ends with the discussion going strong -- clearly this is a passionate group. I expect many other smaller events to come out of this day. 1pm Lunch - Sponsored by AOL Developer Network Mike talked about innovation and inspiration, then showed a few sites:
  • Ficlets. Built in Rails in 3 months. Now have more than 5,000 users.
  • CircaVie. Timelined digital asset management tool.
  • myAOLand Mgnet. A visual feed selection tool.
Talked about dev.aol.com. They have opened up their authentication (openAuth). AOL bought UserPlane -- social networking in a box. They also own MapQuest and WinAmp, both of which have open APIs. Mike ended with the day's rallying cry: there are knowledge sharing opportunities happening daily on the west coast, and we need to establish that culture here in DC. As Jackson would say: word. 1:15pm Room 3: Productivity Tips Jackson is doing a talk in the big room right now on Mobile Web. I hate to snub him, but I fully expect to see that presentation at an upcoming LabShare. In room 3, Jared from SET Consulting is giving a talk with all kind of tips on how to use exiting functionality in apps you use every day to work more efficiently. He's mostly focusing on keyboard shortcuts and Microsoft Office tools. The Mac-heavy crowd just razzed him a bit. Sites / apps he mentioned:
  • snipr.com to create short, memorable URLs for presentation
  • Google Groups for tech help
  • Google Alerts to track when people mention you, your blog, etc.
  • dqsd.net- search any site from your taskbar
  • jott.com - call a number, leave a voicemail, have it transcribed and emailed to you (or anyone)
  • mailexpire.com - quick email masker (expires)
  • timesnapper.com - takes a screen shot of your machine every 45 seconds to show you what you did all day
Email tips (his habits, mostly from GTD):
  • He never checks email before noon. This time is reserved for work important work that requires focus and thought. This helps him avoid distractions and ensures he gets something major done every day. His staff will get in touch with him by IM if needed.
  • He tries to purge his inbox every afternoon. He deletes or archives most emails.
  • Any email that requires more than a couple of minutes gets tasked for a specifc day/time.
Batching is the only way. Focus is key. Switching between tasks causes you to lose 40% of your productivity, so avoid distractions and stay on task. Ended with his self-proclaimed shameless plug - setconsulting.com/tips 2:30pm Room1: Introduction to Ruby I (Brian, not Andy) did a very brief "sponsor" talk for this session. It's a good choice for Viget to sponsor BarCamp DCsince we're hiring Ruby/Rails guys. It's getting late in the day so I kept it short and sweet -- just thanked the guys for organizing and stressed our support for an active, collaborative web community. Even though it was billed as an intro, it's clear that I've been out of development for a long time. This session is covering details that only a Ruby developer could love. 3:30pm: Gotta Go Alas, I'm unable to stay for all the sessions. A few more Viget folks are still here so there's always the chance for further updates, but for now we're signing off. for the search: barcampdc, barcampwashingtondc

Andy is Viget's co-founder and President, working in our Falls Church, VA, HQ. He makes sure our clients and staff stay happy, and that we can always pay our bills.

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