XTech 2007 | May 20, 2007
The theme of this year’s event was “The Ubiquitous Web”, and there were some fantastic sessions on this subject from Matt Biddulph, Adam Greenfield and Matt Webb. Matt Biddulph talked about the prototyping opportunities of second life, and how it was a great environment to test out spimes and other location aware devices. Matt demonstrated the flickr photo frame he created for himself, as well as a complicated visualisation he created for Nature magazine. He also talked about IBM using ball location data from Wimbledon to replay the matches in second life. However the thing that really got the geek audience excited was the Arduino hardware hacks he’d been doing. I wouldn’t be surprised if half the audience went out and bought kits in time for the next hack day in London.
Adam Greenfield gave a predictably excellent talk based on the themes from his book, Everyware. In it he discussed everything from the unnecessarily complicated digital locks in Korea (who do you call if you forget your passcode?), through to the fantastic usability of the Hong Kong underground Octopus cards, beloved by so many user experience people. Finally, Matt Webb closed the event off with an inspiring keynote on his vision of interaction design.
One of the great things about XTech is the fact that it’s co-hosted by the W3C. As such, there were lots of important W3C people in attendance, and some very interesting discussions to be had. The session I was most looking forward to, and the one I was most disappointed by, was the session on HTML5. As we all know, HTML5 is a pretty hot topic at the moment, and one I’m going to deal with in a later post.
While the panellists introduced themselves I worked up a series of questions about doctypes, presentational elements, timeframes and the lessons we could learn from other interface languages like MXML and ZUL. However I thought I’d open with a quick question about the divergence between XHTML2 and HTML5. I was expecting a short discussion about the different aims of each language, and their various feature sets. What I ended up with was a 20 minute discussion about namespacing and error handling that completely missed the point of the question. If I hadn’t know it already, I came to the realisation in that the W3C is all about creating specifications for browser manufacturers, and not about providing tools for us web developers. But like I said, more on that later.
Thankfully, Molly brought things back down to earth with an excellent talk on the issues both developers and browser manufacturers were facing. In language the average developer (i.e. me) could understand, she demonstrated how different browsers handle something as simple as mixing rgb colour property units. The letter of the spec says that this is illegal, and so the rules should be ignored. Some browsers follow this draconian error handling and fail to display the rules, even though they could. Other, more pragmatic browsers attempt to display what the developer was intending, even if they break the spec. The difference in implementation makes it difficult for developers to obtain predictable results, and difficult for new browsers to decide how to handle these errors. One argument is that the browser manufacturers should stick t the spec, even if it’s wrong. A more sensible approach would be to change the spec. But that’s another story. I hope Molly posts her slides up soon, as it was a very interesting session.
On a more social note, I had a great time hanging out in Paris. I managed to catch up with old friends as well as making some new ones. Being a vegetarian in Paris was pretty hard work, so I ate a lot of bread and salad while I was there. One day it dawned on me that I hadn’t visited Paris for 7 years. It’s so easy getting over to Paris from London on Eurostar these days, there really is no excuse. So I’ve vowed to go back for a weekend this summer, and explore some of the great museums and galleries the city has to offer. Can’t wait.
Posted at May 20, 2007 11:35 PM