Sunday, June 25, 2006

Webstock 2006 - a review (Part Three)

If you haven't read them already, here are Part One and Part Two. Part One is my intro to the event, and Part Two covers Day One's presentations. This post (Part Three) covers the presentations on Day Two.

Remember you can download video, audio and presentation slides of most of the sessions from the Webstock Recordings page. Check them out!

Day Two

Russell BrownRussell Brown - Content and Community

I need to revisit this presentation now I actually have my own blog. Russell talked about the importance of content in encouraging users to return to your website day after day, and about the relationship between bloggers and their audience, the MSM (MainStream Media) and each other. He gave lots of interesting local examples, including his own experience with Public Address.

Russ WeakleyRuss Weakley - Let go and allow users to control their own experience

Absolutely bloody brilliant. And especially impressive as Russ only had about 3 weeks to put this presentation together as a last-minute replacement for a speaker who pulled out.

This presentation, along with Darren Fittler's on Day One, produced more animated post-preso discussion amongst Webstock attendees than any other. It was positively inspirational!

Russ spoke about working for an organization - let's say its a big museum in Australia - which has a large website with inconsistent and unwieldy structure. And let's say they gave you total freedom to redevelop the website from the ground up. What would you do?

Russ would give control back to the user.

Initially they did a lot of research into the content on their existing site, and attempted to divide it into a series of sections (portals) that would allow users to easily find and access the info they wanted. They ended up with 13 portals, which was far too many, and which seemed to mix concepts - some were sorted by content, others by user groups. Plus the user pathways to and through these portals looked like they were going to be inflexible, based on taxonomic or department structure (as opposed to the interrelated ways people think), and would lead to "silos" of information, in which you were trapped and couldn't easily get across to deep-level information in another portal.

So they chucked out all their initial assumptions and ideas and came up with a radical concept. How about if a website consisted of only three templated pages, from which all others were made? A front page with a search tool, a search results page and a content page.

The makeup of each search results and content page would be determined by the user. Search on "birds" and you'd get results on bird behaviour, bird research, birds in backyards, bird watching, how birds fly etc etc. Search on "bird behaviour" and you'd also get links to frog behaviour, human behaviour, behavioural science etc. You choose which you want to explore, your page of content is generated by the database on the fly (no pun intended!) and it contains links to all sorts of other stuff that shares tags with that content.

Tags are the key. Tag your content with keywords and a completely inter-related collection of pieces of content is suddenly available to your users. Pages can be indexed using tags. Search results can be based on relevant tags. Instead of creating a fixed side navigation, a range of tag-based related information can be provided.

So now take it one step further (this is the point at which most organisations run screaming for the nearest exit!) and let your users tag the content too. Horrors!

They could tag anything - pages of text, images, podcasts, video, audio, whatever you have on your site. Searches can then show results for all these different kinds of media.

Tags move away from the concept of pages as single entities. Pages would become containers for keyword-based data such as content, related content, related images, related podcasts, etc etc.

Next - allow your users to post comments. Allow them to interact with you and each other, encourage discussions and the flow of ideas within comments, bring the collections alive!

Then - encourage Flickr-type membership, where users have their own favourited pages, their recent comments, keywords they have added, and customised feeds from areas of the site.

By this point, of course, there is probably not a single old-school "owner" of a large website left within a 30-mile radius. They all headed for the hills at the first whisper of "giving the user some control".

I could hear people all across the room thinking "Bloody BRILLIANT!!!! Now how in hell do I get my clients to see the light and agree to this radical idea?" And that, of course, is the rub. How DO we get our clients to consider this, and allow us to build a website like this for them? I'll get back to you on that once we achieve it... meanwhile, check out Max Design, where Russ hangs out.

Ben GoodgerBen Goodger - Firefox: Success and Challenges

Of course I loved Ben because I love Firefox. A very informative presentation on the history, the triumphs and mis-steps of non-IE browsers, and what FF has planned for the future. Great T-shirt, too! :)

The non-IE browser story is full of ups and downs, tragedies and triumphs, and I'm just SO glad that out of it has come Firefox. Because it's such a great browser, and its extensions (especially the Web Developer tool) absolutely rock!

Dori SmithDori Smith - Moving to Unobtrusive Scripting

A bit of a disappointment, this one. I was hoping to find out lots of stuff about Ajax, and instead Dori asked us if we'd heard of Ajax, and when we replied in the affirmative, she said "oh good, well I don't need to bother with that then". Rats! Sorry if we gave you a bit of a hard time with our questions, Dori. Check out Wise-Women.

Rowan SimpsonRowan Simpson - Trade Me Unplugged - The inside story of NZ's largest website

How has a website based on "people sending money to sellers they've never met for goods they've never seen" managed to grow into New Zealand's most popular website - with over 3.2 million visitors per month and over 1.3 million active members? In a country of only 4 million people?

Rowan gave us a few of the TradeMe secrets of success, including the importance of speed, measuring everything about the way visitors use your site, being honest, listening to feedback, trying new stuff, and ultimately remembering that if you build a great website, people will visit and if it's good enough they will tell their friends.

Tony ChorTony Chor - Internet Explorer: The Good, the Bad, and the Future

Just as I was inclined to love Ben because I love Firefox, I suppose I might have been inclined to seriously dislike Tony because I seriously dislike Internet Explorer. So Tony was quite a revelation. Of course he played to the audience he knew we were, but he did it with such skill that I really didn't mind.

Firstly he apologised on behalf of IE for all their screw-ups, and then after a bit of a historical review he gave us a good idea of what IE7 has in store. He was funny, self-deprecating, shamelessly used pics of his kids to charm us, and didn't take himself or IE too seriously. An excellent ambassador for a product that has an appalling image within the web industry. Check out the IE7 blog.

Erm....who wants to answer that? Photo courtesy of Webstock's Flickr accountPanel Discussion - with moderator Russell Brown

I think Russell realised that the panel pretty much lost our attention about half-way through. It was partly because we were all quite filled up with info by this point, and 4 o'clock in the afternoon isn't the liveliest of times of the day at the best of times. I also think the choice of panel members wasn't the greatest combination. His questions were a bit too serious for both the time of day and for the situation.

I think it would have been better to aim for sillier questions, more fun, less deep and serious, encourage more personal anecdotes and interesting examples - basically just a bit more "shallow" and a little less "brainy". A session near the end of the second day should require a lower level of concentration on the part of the audience, IMO.

Kathy SierraKathy Sierra - Now go change the world

So you might think that Kathy Sierra had a big challenge ahead of her, waking us up after the snooze that was the panel discussion, and energising us at 5pm on Day Two of a very intensive conference. Well, she did all that and much more, in a final session that was clever, funny, inspiring and absolutely fascinating.

I was writing notes like crazy during her session, because everything she said was just so useful and so relevant. She even interspersed her visual presentation with a "pop quiz" on who had said what during Webstock, which was just such a nice touch, and showed how much effort she had gone to, to make her talk specific to our event.

Just how do you create passionate users?

Passion requires continuous improvement. Being better is better. Improvement involves a richer, higher-res experience. But being better at what?

When a person picks up a digital camera for the first time, they want to get better at photography, not at using the camera itself. In the same way, if they use your website or web app, it's not getting better at using it that motivates them, it's what they can get out of it, what it gives them that makes them happy, and what interests their brain.

Things that interest the brain include: stuff that is novel, surprising, weird, different, scary, people looking at scary things, beauty, young and innocent things, joy and play, funny stuff, things that are not quite resolved, stuff that encourages curiosity, interest, mystery, faces, action pics, people doing stuff, changes in light and shadow.

Did you know that conversational language beats formal language hands-down? Using the word "you" on your website can increase visitor retention by 40% - because the brain thinks it's a real conversation (rather than a written one) and pays attention in case it has to respond. I'm not kidding! Kathy said so, so it must be true!

People who persevere with something have a compelling picture of what it will be like when they are great at it (otherwise, as Kathy said, why would you ever learn snowboarding?), and/or you are shown a clear path towards achieving your goal. So as designers/developers and information architects we must paint that compelling picture for our users, and show them how they are going to get there.

"The user must achieve something cool within the first 30 minutes" So, for example, within half an hour of having clicked on Blogger for the first time, I had my own blog set up, and I was starting to play with the template and make it my own. Brilliant!

Once people have taken the first step, how do we keep them motivated?

The psychology of optimal experience is known as the "flow state". You can think of it like a spell your users are under - and it's therefore very important not to break the flow. If there's no challenge/increase in knowledge/skills, there's no flow. Anything that slams the user back to reality is BAD.

Keeping the flow going is related to the user experience spiral - motivating benefit -> interaction -> scale up -> and so on

Games developers do this very well because of "levelling" - if you get to the next level you receive new superpowers which you can use in that level - and this maintains motivation.

"Wouldn't it be cool if you could do ______?" and then once you've learned this, "Wouldn't it be cool to do _____?" (harder thing, better thing etc.)

It's all about the superpowers!

The user experience ultimately has to be "I rule!!", and reducing guilt (and ensuring your user doesn't feel confused, or angry, or embarrassed, or stupid) is the killer app.

So how do we get there?
  • Via the generous web
  • Through being part of Webstock
  • All of us together.
Now go change the world!

What a great final presentation! Check out Kathy's extremely interesting blog - Creating Passionate Users.

In Part Four (which is the last part, I promise!) I'll do a wrap-up of the event and my overall impressions.

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Daklit said...

Nice article...maybe you could try wash your eyes at to see something new.....

Kathy Sierra said...

Geez... I'm not sure if you'd already been drinking a little before my talk, because that's the most flattering (and surprising) description! Thank you so much both for writing this, and most especially--for letting me know that you found something useful.
I'm not much of a presenter, but I'm lucky enough to be the messenger for some fun, helpful topics and it means such a lot to me to hear from others who share that interest in making a difference... one user at a time!

p.s. You are so lucky to be living in NZ... it's the most beautiful place I've ever visited. (I spent a week after the conference travelling through the south island)

webweaver said...

Wow, Kathy, thank you SO MUCH for not only reading my review, but also taking the time to thank me for writing it. And no, I hadn't been drinking before your presentation :) You truly inspired me, and IMO you're infinitely better than "not much of a presenter". You rock!

I just want to take the opportunity now (long after Webstock is over) to say how much I appreciated what you had to say, both in your presentation and in your blog, which I've visited many times over the past few months.

I know you're going through a very tough time right now, and I want to publicly tell you how sorry I am for what's been happening to you, and to send you my love and full support. Kia kaha Kathy - you're a brave and admirable woman.