Thursday, September 18, 2014

10 Years Ago: TOevolt

Photo from TOevolt.

During Buffalo WordCamp last weekend, co-organizer Ben Dunkle asked about what he said was one of the best conferences he ever attended — TOevolt. It prompted me to look up the photos I took and I discovered that it was 10 years ago today.

TOevolt was the Toronto version of an official evolt.org conference. Founded 16 years ago (1998), evolt.org was for years the de facto web site and mailing list for web developers to learn from one another. Without ever having any sponsors or corporate backers, we managed to successfully build a community where everyone seemed comfortable sharing. Looking at the names of active list members is like a who's-who of industry names today.

The same grassroots approach to everything evolt.org-related was behind TOevolt. Organized by Tara Cleveland, it was an impressive affair for having no financial support from a mother ship. It was also my first speaking gig and probably the only time I'll be on the same ticket at Dan Cederholm. The following is quoted from the announcement on the evolt.org site (a briefer announcement went to each mailing list):

We've got great speakers (Joe Clark, Jesse Hirsh, Dan Cederholm and Adrian Roselli) talking about everything from web accessibility and standards to the use of technology in politics.

I cannot find the slides from my talk on localization (I'm still looking), but I did find Joe Clark's, WCAG 2: All the sugar and twice the caffeine™

However, I do have photos from the event. Matthew Hoy's photos are missing, but his recap is still live. Javier Velasco's photos are still available, as are John Handelaar's photos. Dan Cederholm's event recap is also still online.

I really do miss the old days of evolt.org, even if it was slowly replaced with the advent of platforms like Stack Overflow, or the rise of blogging, or even near real-time support on the Twitters. Even today the evolt.org site still stands, but as a monument to those of us who cut our teeth in the early days of the web. Heck, without evolt.org, I never would have been able to get into the speaking and writing world, nominal though it is (even if I did recall yesterday my incorrect prediction for MNG as a popular file format) or met some truly awesome (and bizarre) people, let alone shared an elevator with many of them at SXSW in 2001.

Workers of the web (gone by), evolt!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

WordCamp Buffalo Slides: Selfish Accessibility

Photo of Buffalo WordCamp t-shirt.
The Buffalo WordCamp shirt was again printed by You and Who (whose logo is visible where the tag would be), which means that 1,600 meals were donated (one for each shirt) to those in need. I think every WordCamp should do this. (related tweet)

Buffalo WordCamp has just wrapped up and folks are hopefully going to take new ideas back to their own projects. There were many great talks and even panel discussions that turned into more of a WordPress support group for the audience and panelists alike. A first for Buffalo WordCamp that I hope they repeat. Also a plus, 48% of the attendees and 35% of the speakers were female, better ratios than I've seen at many other conferences.

My Slides

If you just come for my slides, then you are at the right spot. I've embedded them here, or you can go see them at SlideShare. In addition to questions and feedback from the audience, I've already gotten some feedback from the Twitterverse. In particular my use of the word "continuum" on slide 77. I am open to suggestions for a better word, so feel free to share.

Photos

I grabbed some photos from the event as well, captioned below (originally posted on my Tumblr, where they are larger).

Panoramic view of Canisius College Science Hall
This year the event was held in the new Science Hall at Canisius College. This is the atrium where lunch was served and announcements were announced (shot taken shortly after the lunch crush).
The crowd at the start of the event.
Some of the announcements being announced by announcers and co-organizers Ben Dunkle and Andy Staple.
The breakfast table.
A nice spread of pastries to get the day going. I am amazed I only ate one.
Attendees for my talk.
Accessibility talks never net a huge crowd, but at least those who did show up wanted to learn more, had good questions, and challenged me.
My shirt.
After a quick Twitter poll, I broke from my normal pattern of wearing more professional attire and went with the Montgomery Ward mechanic's shirt with the fur collar.
My badge and the schedule
The badge had the day's schedule printed on the back (handy), and they also provided a printed schedule (also handy).
Cemetery
View of the cemetery from one of the talks.
Buffalo skyline.
A view from the after-party at Western New York Book Arts Center.
Type bits.
Some sample type at Western New York Book Arts Center. If you've never been and you are at all interested in type, you should visit.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

One-man Focus Group for Twitter's Timeline Changes

Shows tweets with text saying 'follows,' 'favorited' (both with red X marks), and 'retweeted' (with a green check mark).

TL;DR: Twitter is showing tweets in your timeline that people you follow have favorited or just from those they follow. Way below I outline how I have been reacting.

Much has been said of Twitter's recent change to start putting more than just promoted tweets into users' timelines (such as this forewarning from Gigaom in July). Much of it was said from the "what if" perspective before it had been fully implemented. I've decided to share my experience as a user now that it's up and running.

Context

For a little context, I first saw this happen in March and quickly got annoyed when Huffington Post (which I consider the bottom feeders of regurgitated news bites) tweets started to appear in my timeline. Considering how much time I have spent cultivating my feed, I was worried this was a new trend.

Once Twitter formalized this, some savvy people felt compelled to post a disclaimer once it became clear what they favorite could become stuffed into someone else's timeline alongside their name. Here's one example that covers my feelings pretty well:

I could link to tweet after tweet expressing frustration with this change, but posts like this one from The Next Web have already done a nice job of cataloging the changes as well as the general response.

With all the Ferguson coverage lately Twitter has come out as the best source for news — moreso than traditional media and far better than Facebook. It's been a PR boon, resulting in posts like the aptly-titled Why Facebook is for ice buckets, Twitter is for Ferguson.

Why would Twitter want to start adjusting the timeline that is garnering it so much praise, further risking a descent into being no more than an echo chamber or a marketing assault?

Observing Me

Once these changes started to appear in my timeline I mostly got annoyed and tried to ignore them. I swiped past them and mumbled. But this weekend I snapped. Saturday morning my timeline was regularly filled with cruft I have worked to avoid, from outlets such as Buzzfeed and TMZ. Since they always include photos in the tweets, it takes up half my screen with every unwanted tweet.

Knowing Twitter doesn't care about me as a single user, and clearly doesn't care about the rising voices who are against this change, I opted to do something about it for myself. I didn't start these steps with the intent of writing this post, but perhaps someone at Twitter will see how the user is routing around the problem and reconsider its position.

Steps I've Taken (So Far)

  • Blocking
  • Unfollowing
  • Not Favoriting

Detail on each follows…

Blocking

I enjoy the Twitter account Saved You a Click. It has become something of a news source for things I wouldn't ever see anyway (sports, celebrities). Saved You a Click follows many accounts I would never follow, like Buzzfeed and TMZ. After tweets from those two sources appeared in my timeline, tweets that Save You a Click didn't even favorite, I decided to simply block those accounts.

I then let Buzzfeed and TMZ know that I blocked them (probably falling on deaf ears). Perhaps, however, if enough people block the accounts that are shoehorned into their timelines, those account owners might raise a stink with Twitter on the other end.

The first screen shot shows a tweet from TMZ, the second shows another from TMZ, both taking up half of my visible timeline with content I do not want. So I blocked TMZ. You may click/tap/select each image for a larger version.

Unfollowing

Yesterday after seeing a few tweets that folks I follow had favorited, or even just from accounts that they follow, I opted to prune my following list. I cut my list from 199 people to 183 people and immediately reduced some of the items in my timeline related to sports, celebrities, and other things that don't interest me.

Having me as a follower isn't exactly a badge of honor. I'm sure none of them care very much. But we as users should all consider that we might lose followers simply because of who we follow and what we favorite (regardless of why you favorited it).

The first screen shot shows a tweet from CNN that I had already seen three hours prior (since I follow CNN), the second shows one from Buzzfeed, which I then blocked. In this case I did not unfollow the accounts from which those tweets were "sourced" (?), but I did unfollow others. Note that the second image shows two tweets, of three, that were not re-tweets nor from accounts I follow. You may click/tap/select each image for a larger version.

Not Favoriting

Tweets that I favorite might appear in someone's timeline now. I've already seen it happen to others, and just this morning I got verification that it happens for mine.

I don't like that. I don't want people seeing what I mark for later reading. I also don't want it to appear to be a re-tweet (I am so opposed to the "ideal" re-tweet model that I have only ever done one, the rest are all manual). So I have a simple solution: I will no longer favorite tweets. I'll simple send them to myself (there are tools that can do this for me, but I'll probably just email them).

Each image shows a tweet that someone I follow favorited. The tweets don't interest me, but I don't want to unfollow them. The lesson here is that I shouldn't favorite else I get unfollowed, not to mention I don't want folks to see a favorite as an endorsement. You may click/tap/select each image for a larger version.

Other Actions

I'm now looking at the tops of tweets to see if the tweet was truly re-tweeted, or just favorited, or is just from an account that someone I follow follows in turn (see the opening image). That's annoying.

I'll probably refine this over time, either as Twitter adapts or as I find better ways to do it (like installing a third-party app that I don't hate).

Wrap-up

I'd prefer if Twitter stopped this or at least made it an option I can disable. In the absence of that happening, I am taking the Internet's lead and routing around the problem.

In time I may simply check out of Twitter as I have already done with Facebook for doing the exact same thing.

If you are from Twitter and are reading this, I hope this post is useful as a one-person user study. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.

Update: September 4, 2014

Looks like this is just the first step in a larger change for Twitter to try to replicate the very feature that causes so many to make fun of Facebook: Twitter CFO says a Facebook-style filtered feed is coming, whether you like it or not

Since Saturday I have blocked the following Twitter accounts, solely because of Twitter's change:

  • @TMZ
  • @BuzzFeed
  • @WIRED
  • @VICE
  • @verge
  • @Slate
  • @HuffingtonPost
  • @peoplemag
  • @USATODAY
  • @Adweek

Friday, August 29, 2014

Speaking at Learning Choices Network Gathering

In a break from the last few speaking engagements I've listed this week, which have all been about web technologies and best practices, I get to list an event that isn't about the web at all. Sorta.

Learning Choices Network (LCN) is a local (to Buffalo) organization focusing on alternative education such as self-directed learning and life-long learning. To let the organization speak for itself, this is from its Facebook page:

LCN exists to create, facilitate, and promote alternative opportunities for authentic learning in the local community while connecting educators, community advocates, parents, and business people who are seeking workable solutions for educational choice.

As someone who has built a career around the web, but for whom the web had barely sprung into existence when I started, being self-taught was the only option I had. For a sense of timing, Mosaic was released while I was in college (with Netscape Navigator soon to follow), so there weren't classes to take, let along many with experience to help me get started. As I developed skills and started to rely on mailing lists to refine them, I co-founded evolt.org and started writing, trying to become the kind of teaching and training resource I never had. I have been following that approach ever since (I believe evidenced by this very blog).

I've followed the same learn-as-you-go model for when I co-founded my business, Algonquin Studios, 17 years ago as well as other companies we've spun off since then. Just as I formed evolt.org to help provide a resource like I didn't have when I started, we've been spinning up VCAMP, our own local incubator/accelerator to help provide a platform for other business that we didn't have when we started.

At the LCN event I will speak about how I started down my self-directed learning path, identified (and sometimes discarded) mentors, and somehow managed to be a (so far) successful entrepreneur when both the technology and economy have flolloped up and down like a mattress from Sqornshellous Zeta (sorry, it really is the best word to use). If you're lucky, I'll even (probably incorrectly) speculate on the future of education and learning, something for which I am woefully unqualified.

The event will be held from November 8 through November 10, 2014. Tickets are available online. The event will be held at Buffalo History Museum, map embedded below:

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Speaking for National Association of Government Web Professionals

Much as I would like to say that I will be speaking at the National Association of Government Web Professionals (NAGW, I don't know where the "P" went, perhaps it was originally "Webmasters?") conference in September, I won't be. I was, however, asked to do a separate webinar for members for one of the conference topics I submitted — an intro to responsive web design.

As far as I know you need to be a member of NAGW to be able to attend the webinar, so I can't share a URL, let alone a Google Map. I can, however, point you to the slides from a similar talk I gave last September: Slides: Responsive Web Design Primer

While the federal government may have its own crack web team now (or so the reports claim), state and local governments don't have that same team and can't as easily share their expertise. It seems NAGW fills a gap by providing a forum for these web professionals to share and help one another, as noted in its own description:

NAGW is the National Association of Government Web Professionals, an organization of local and state government web professionals working together to share knowledge, best practices, innovative ideas, and other resources. We collaborate on technologies, and network with other web professionals to improve our capacity to provide value across the web to our communities.

If you are a member, the webinar is Tuesday, October 21 at 11am mountain time. I hope I am able to provide some value to its membership, and if not, maybe they can be amused by how deftly I don't do webinars.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Speaking at UX Singapore 2014

By far the farthest-from-home of my speaking engagements to date, I'm thrilled to be speaking at UXSG (User Experience Singapore). Having attended its sister event, UX Hong Kong (UXHK), last year I can say that I am excited not just to speak but to hear from all the other great speakers who will be imparting wisdom, knowledge, and perhaps a few local dining suggestions.

For those not familiar with it, UXSG is a three day event intended to onnect UX professionals across disciplines and cultures. As one of the founders of evolt.org (way back in 1998), this statement from the conference organizers resonates with me: It is a platform made for and by UX professionals to foster stronger professional collaborations and personal friendships. Given that I made some great connections as an attendee at UXHK, I don't doubt I'll have a similar experience here.

I will be giving a lightning talk on the third day of the conference, Friday, October 3, at 11:00am Singapore time. I'll be updating my "Selfish Accessiblity" talk for the UX audience. The abstract of my talk:

We can all pretend that we're helping others by making web sites and software accessible, but we are really making the experience better for our future selves. Learn some fundamentals of web and software accessibility and how it can benefit you (whether future you from aging or you after something else limits your abilities). We'll review simple testing techniques, basic features and enhancements, coming trends, and where to get help. This isn't intended to be a deep dive, but more of an overall primer for those who aren't sure where to start nor how it helps them.

Insights include:

  • Broader context for how all users are or will be disabled, whether temporarily or permanently.
  • Basic tests and best practices that can be integrated into development team workflows to make interfaces accessible.
  • Introduction to standards and tools already available.

I've been to Singapore once before, but only for a day. This time I am looking forward to spending a little more time there and, in particular, experiencing the venue for the event, the relatively new Star Performing Arts Centre. I've embedded a map, but if you aren't attending then the map isn't very useful since it shows the building as it was during construction (depending on which view you choose):

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Speaking at Accessibility Camp Toronto 2014

Accessibility Camp Toronto logo

I am excited to say that I will be speaking at Accessibility Camp Toronto in late September. It probably goes without saying that I'll be speaking on accessibility. Given Toronto's proximity to my home town of Buffalo, and the fact that I used to wander up to Toronto about once a month, it will be nice to visit a city I've neglected for a couple years now.

Instead of re-stating what Accessibility Camp Toronto is all about, I am going to cheat and quote the site directly:

Focusing on users with different disabilities, sessions can cover digital accessibility topics from the web (technical to tactical), desktop software, mobile apps, eLearning, online gaming, open source innovations, and everything in between. Watch this brief video from the first Accessibility Camp Toronto to get a feel for what to expect during the day. Also, video recordings from the 2013 camp are available.

Regardless of your level of knowledge, this event is for you. It will be a great opportunity for members of the design/development, usability, accessibility, other IT and end-users with disabilities communities to interact and learn from each other. We recommend you browse the Frequently Asked Questions, especially if you have never attended a participant-driven BarCamp/unconference before.

Please support the event with a $5 suggested donation at the door. Your donation will help cover the costs for miscellaneous expenses - event materials, food, etc.

Please follow event updates on Twitter via @a11yto.

Make sure you register as it is my understanding that the event is three quarters full. If you don't follow @a11yto for updates, at least check in on the #a11yto hashtag.

The nitty gritty: the event is held from 9:00am until 4:00pm on Saturday, September 27, 2014. It is being held at OCAD University, 100 McCaul Street, Toronto, ON M5T 1W1. As a courtesy and way to fill space on this post I have embedded the map: