My Web and Beyond

The Web and BeyondOn June 8 the 10 SIGCHI Conference, entitled “The Web and Beyond” took place in the lovely Tuschinski Theater in Amsterdam, Holland. Amongst the speakers were Jesse James Garret (Adaptive Path), Jared Spool (User Interface Egineering) and Bill Scott (Yahoo!) to talk about the thing most people dub as “Web 2.0”

After driving from Gent to Amsterdam and a small walk to the Tushinski Theater with my collegue Jared we arrived at 8.30 in front of the main entrance, queueing. Due to the high interest (623 people as we were told later) the schedule had to be shifted a bit. When entering we overheard the host of the day requesting everyone to gather in the main hall, so we quickly went further to the balcony (and forgot our coffee, d’oh!).


The Brave New World: Usability Challenges of Web 2.0

After an embarrassing intro (Keynote was “stuck” in presenter mode, thus the speaker dropped the presentation and started rattling off his speech) we finally was Jared Spool enter on stage for the first keynote “The Brave New World: Usability Challenges of Web 2.0”. In that keynote speech, Jared talked about 3 kinds of design:

  • Technology Design : “How do we fit this big-ass CPU into that tiny MP3-player?
  • Feature Design : now offers blog because they’re HOT … cool feature, but totally useless since Amazon users want to shop, not blog
  • Experience Design : it kinda says it all, not? The user wants to do what he wants to do when he wants to do it.

On the Technology design aspect, Jared started off with the Sandisk Sansa MP3 Player. The player has it all and is in all ways superior to the iPod. Yet, only 1 person in the room knew someone who owned such a product. When asking the same about the iPod all the attendees raised their hands. So how does a superior product become so unkown? Experience. iPod has iTunes, which gives a unique user-experience: hook up your iPod, sync your (newly bought) songs and you’re off on the road with your newly purchased music.


On the Feature design aspect he talked about Amazon (see above) and on Experience design Jared mentionned Web 2.0. It’s all about by joining little – loose – pieces like LEGO-blocks into creating an experience. Most common “blocks” are API, RSS, Folksonomies and Social Networking. By joining those in one way or another, an experience is created.
Still, danger is ahead whilst joining all those blocks (hence the title of the keynote):

  • API uses Google Maps together with Crime Data of the chicago area. Excellent usage of the API’s through which the user can experience existing data in a new way. Just select a type of crime, pick the start en enddate and … well, that’s where it went wrong. To pick the dates, the user has a very largo dropdown in which all the dates are shown, one by one. D’oh!
  • RSS
    RSS is great, but how do applications deal with it? Unpredictable behaviour, even in the same program every now and then!
  • Folksomies
    Chaos! If I tag something as “New York”, will that prevent other users from tagging something as “New York City”, “NYC” or “NY”? And if this should be moderated, who will be assigned to this task?
    Jared dubbed this as “the kitchen kabinet problem”. I know where the glasses are to be found in my house, but does an outsider know? He might be able to guess that it’s near the source of beverages (fridge / water faucet), but does not know for sure.
  • Social Networking
    Netflix has this nifty feature where it states that X number of users saw this movie + they can add a small review. How do we stop the system from being gamed/played (spam)? And how do we evaluate all this?

Jared ended his keynote with “The Long Tail” and some questions could be asked.


I must say that I really enjoyed this keynote. Jared is a great speaker, and one could really see that he has spoken to a crowd before. Really smooth and genuine … and even hilarious at some times! Jared’s remote went dead after about 1 minute … after investigating it a bit he gave notice: “ooh, it’s a battery problem”. Immediately the sound engineer ran towards the stage asking for the remote. “If you have double A’s I’ll take ‘m … and a sigar“. Or when he first got on stage: “Let me just move this water here, it’s not mine. Those 3 over there are. … Two of them are water“. A very entertaining and interesting presentation if you’d ask me!

The Frontiers of User Experience

The second keynote was given by Jesse James Garret aka “the AJAX dude”. He kicked off with “User Research” and how to do. Forget all about telephone research and other methods, going on location (viz. Field Research) is the way to do it. By this you can keep the user in his own environment, with all the artifacts belonging to that evironment which play a big part in the whole experience. Above that it is even cheaper/as expensive as the other methods of researching! Oh yeah preferably go in by teams of 2: one facilitator, one notetaker/videographer.


Jesse continued with the phenomenon dubbed “tagging”. It is great: the user has control, many-to-many relations and categories are not mutually excl.
Still, “there is no such thing as magic”:

  • insider language,
  • controlled vocabulary chains the user his freedom,
  • tagspam/tagbombing (“tag spam should be tagged as spam“),
  • the most popular tag isn’t always the best tag,
  • etc.

And then Jesse talked about what made him even more famous than he already was: AJAX.

  • “Changing the browser model”
  • Closer collaboration between designers and coders
  • View source : everyone learning from everyone.

A not that interactive presentation, yet interesting and a real joy to watch Jesse speak. Kudos on the nice leather jacket by the way 😉

AJAX, RIA, SPI: The impact of new technologies on user experience

After lunch, Jared and I went to see Joost Willemsem (Backbase), Onno Bakker (eMessenger) and Yohan Creemers (Ylab) talk about what everyone names “Web 2.0”. Not that this presentation would bring any news to me, but I thought it would be interesting … Well, it wasn’t.

The intro really was great, by Yohan Creemers:

  • RIA + SPI thanks to AJAX
  • Rich: Interaction (Drag & Drop), Feed Forward (Google Suggest), Multimedia, etc.
  • Ajax, what’s new? Nothing! It’s a combination of XHTML, Javascript, CSS, etc.

So then the dude from Backbase came to talk and he merely showed a demo of something they are building. It was an online booking travel thing, by which he explained the non-linearity of Single Page Interfaces. And then … well, that was it for that part. Next!

The dude from eMessenger came to the microphone and compared eMessenger version 3 (HTML + Javascript) with version 4 (HTML + AJAX) and said that it isn’t faster, but that the user experiences it as such. And … that was it.

When asked a question on “how would you fix the back browser button issue?” the dude from eMessenger said something good, but the didn’t know the was right on top of it: “we took away the button”. “Okay, but how do you… ” – “I’m not qualified to answer that”.

I expected more from this session! Yohan gave a real nice kickoff and the two others just flushed it down the drain by presenting their product … *sigh*

The next generation of User Interface Patterns

Bill Scott (Yahoo!) and Martijn van Welie (Satama Interactive) came to talk about User Interface Patterns.

Martijn kicked off the session stating that the conference was wrongfully named. Since most UIP’s merely are a renamed version of an already existing UIP: “autocomplete” (2006) has already been identified by him as “continious filter” (2000), to describe the autocompletion of typed in URLs in the address bar of your browser. So instead of naming the conference “The Web and Beyond”, he suggested “The Web and Back!”.

Bill mentionned many patterns, bundled in nicely formed groups and strengthened Martijn’s statement: todays patterens are “twists on existing stuff […] placed in a new context“. Be sure to check too.

Bill also did a request to other pattern designers : let’s group up and structurize this all into one format. Hope they’ve heard it.


Yet another good session in my opinion. And there’s something fascination about Bill. Is is the fact that he keeps his hand in his pocket, or his Gordon Freeman look? Maybe it’s just his charisma, bundled with his knowledge.

Web 4.0: now’s the time to plan

Steven Pemberton is a living legend! If you know what he has done in the past (and still is doing), you’d be so amazed! The title of his Keynote (number 3 of the day) was well picked, since he talked about the future of the web. Just check out his presentation slides, you’ll be amazed!


One word for this beautiful presentation: Gezellig! 😉 If you ever have the chance of seeing this genius speak, please do. He’s funny, intellingent and easy to listen to!

Panel Discussion

The day ended with a panel discussion with Steven Pemberton, Jared Spool, an unknown lady replacing Jesse James Garret who had to catch his plane and the host, Jeroen Van Erp. Not that a great talk, due to many odd and utterly stupid questions…


Some quotes though:

  • “If you design well, the UI becomes invisible” (Jared Spool)
  • Bandwith Happens” (Steven, mid-sentence; Jared taglined it: “hey, that would make a great oneliner”)

At the end of the day…

… we drove back to Gent with a big load interpretations on things. For me, TWAB was good, but could have been better with a real hands-on session. Still, I’m glad to have seen Jesse, Jared, Bill and Steven speaking. They’re great speakers and really are worth their position within the webworld. Be sure to check out Jared’s writeup too (in Dutch tough)
Really got hooked to this conference thing, too bad I didn’t sign up for @media2006, were so many great speakers were scheduled.

Oh, in case you were wondering, pics from flickr: official pics and pics tagged with twab2006 … even Jared and I got snapped: I’m in yellow, Jared on the left, Bert (Dextrose) on the right, Rogier (Roger/Teacher) a bit more on the right (with hat) and Hans Olo between Teacher & Bert

UPDATE #1 – 2006.06.20 : Be sure to read Jared’s writeup too (in Dutch)

Published by Bramus!

Bramus is a frontend web developer from Belgium, working as a Chrome Developer Relations Engineer at Google. From the moment he discovered view-source at the age of 14 (way back in 1997), he fell in love with the web and has been tinkering with it ever since (more …)

Unless noted otherwise, the contents of this post are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License and code samples are licensed under the MIT License

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