Two proposed sessions for SRCCON 2015

SRCCON was my favorite conference last year, and in the running for favorite conference of all time. I liked it so much I’ve submitted two proposals for this year. You should too! Submissions are open until April 10th.

Continous Integration for Content

There’s lots of little attributes which define the “quality” of a piece of content — just like there are attributes which define code quality. Developers have continuous integration to run automated checks on their code, but journalists have editors — who are prone to human error. It’s easy and quite common to forget to add a photo credit, or spell the SEO title incorrectly. What are some ways we can automate these errors out of existence? Let’s get together, present some real world “quality” problems to work on, prototype, wireframe, and define algorithms, and then share our results.

Code review takes two

Code review is single-handedly the best way to level up your development skills. It’s also really hard! Let’s discuss code review methodologies as a group, and then pair up to practice.

Status

Off to Philly today for SRCCON, a gathering of some of the nerds who make the technology behind the news. I am so excited! For years, CMSes, publishing workflows, and the unsexy but very mission critical technologies have been my passion. Yet most of the conferences, online discussion, etc. have skirted around the topic, in part because legacy organizational structure hasn’t let the hackers get to work.

Funny how things go if you stick at it long enough. Washington Post and Vox have made great leaps forward, and convinced executives everywhere that change is possible. Hell, even The New Yorker relaunched on WordPress two days ago. NBD.

Back to Portland Saturday night, off to Sunriver Sunday through Wednesday, and then to New York for WCNYC Thursday through the following Wednesday. REST API retooling here we come!

The conference I want to attend this year

Blogging about the conference I want to attend this year because I don’t have the bandwidth to put it together. Let’s call it AgencyCon.

The key idea is to bring together a bunch of agencies that build on top of WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, and whatever other frameworks. Personally, here’s what I’d like to get out of it:

  • Learn how others are turning their agencies from guns for hire to experts in developing particular types of projects. For instance, with Human Made I would love to see more inbounds that refer to the product work we’ve done (e.g. Happytables and WP Remote) and want to hire us for similar. Rather than just doing work with a particular type of tool because you’re good at it, we be doing more work that we have proven ourselves leaders of.
  • Hear horror stories of situations other agencies the gotten themselves into, and want for no one else to ever repeat.
  • See the cool projects other agencies have been building but can’t publicly discuss. I want to be inspired.

Ideally, it would be a two or three day retreat-like event in some great location. Solid presentations, but lots of time for networking. I’m a fan of conferences as a model for continuing education largely because many of us are making this up as we go along, and they’re high-bandwidth opportunities for sharing knowledge.

Let me know if you know of any events like this, or are up for planning it yourself. I’d really love to see this conference happen.

Webstock: Karen McGrane, Adapting Ourselves to Adaptive Content

This week I’m at Webstock, a lovely conference in New Zealand. I’m doing my best to write little blog posts about the amazing presentations. Please forgive any typos, etc. If you’re here too, come write a haiku at Automattic’s booth.

Karen McGrane has made a career of dragging media companies kicking and screaming onto the internet. She’s helped with projects like a redesigned NYTimes.com, Atlantic Media’s web properties, and TIME’s new responsive redesign. “It’s tempting to think that mobile is a design and development problem,” but the real challenge of mobile is content.

To kick things off, compare NPR and Conde Nast. The latter has spent tremendous effort replicating print editions into iPad apps. When the iPad first launched, Karen asked Paul Ford what the effect might be on the publishing industry. This is what she heard:

We’re about to usher in a golden age of PDFs on the iPad.

Conde Nast has gone even as far as make print designers produce two layouts for the iPad: portrait and landscape. The 1980’s aren’t coming back, though.

NPR has taken an alternative approach: Create Once, Publish Everywhere. The story is created once, and let each platform determine how it should be presented. NPR’s CMS captures just the right structure for the content. All of this data is available through the API.

iPad issue sales are on the downswing for Conde Nast. For NPR, viewership has grown by 80%. They attribute it solely to the API and it’s downstream effects on how they produce editorial products.

Thirty years ago, TV Week made the decision to produce multiple versions of their content, and assign meaningful metadata to it. Thirty years later, that content still has value because it’s reusable in new or uninvented contexts.

“News organizations already have structured content […] So many problems in mobile would be solved if everything had a dek.”

One of the biggest challenges in digital is the notion that content and form are closely coupled. That how something looks has a significant influence on what it means. That there’s a “primary platform” for a given piece of content. For many news organizations, this primary platform is still print.

Adaptive content doesn’t mean content prepared for print and then moved to other devices. Nor does it mean content prepared for the web, then pushed to print and mobile. It means focusing on structured content that can live anywhere.

Here’s how it can be done:

  • Write for the chunk – Many CMSes give writers WYSIWYG editors where they can dump in whatever they want. They should not be permitted this.
  • Demystify metadata – The Guardian’s iPad application uses an algorithm to read editorial decisions from the InDesign layout to determine story priorities. Brilliant reuse of existing effort.
  • Better CMS workflow – Writers hate fields and checkboxes because the interface is terrible. “CMS is the enterprise software that UX forgot.” E-commerce checkout flows are analysed to the pixel — content creation flows should receive just as much attention.

“Metadata is the new art direction.” – Ethan Resnick. The more work you put into structuring your content now, the more opportunities you’ll have in the future.

Webstock: John Gruber, In Praise of Pac-Man

This week I’m at Webstock, a lovely conference in New Zealand. I’m doing my best to write little blog posts about the amazing presentations. Please forgive any typos, etc. If you’re here too, come write a haiku at Automattic’s booth.

John Gruber, well everyone knows who John Gruber is. If you don’t, please hand in your internet license.

Pac-Man is a maze. The maze is filled with dots. You eat all of the dots, without being eaten in turn by the monsters changing you. There are power dots in corners which turn the monsters into ghosts you can eat. Everything leads to points.

It was invented by Toru Iwatani. At the time, coin-operated video games was a nacent industry. Game operators converged at a conference every year to choose new games to buy. Pac-Man never stood out as a hit game. Until it did $1 billion in the first few years, more than Star Wars did in ticket sales.

Buckner & Garcia introduced a song in 1982 called “Pac-Man Fever.” It made it to #9 on the Billboard charts. Gruber remembers being able to play Pac-Man at the grocery store and an entire arcade of Pac-Man machines. It was the first game to reach this level of success.

Gruber ascribes Pac-Man’s success to four characteristics:

  • Fun
  • Simple
  • Obvious
  • Challenging

Mr. Do!, on the other hand, was an incredibly complex game only a few people at Webstock remember. For instance, when you eat the snack in the center of the screen, the screen changes color, some more bad guys come out that are more aggressive, and then maybe you get another life. Gruber still doesn’t know what the best technique is for winning the game.

Mr. Do! was a popular arcade game, but no one thought it was important enough to track how much money it made. Pac-Man was much more than a popular arcade game. “Everything in Pac-Man was iconic.”

The monsters in Pac-Man had their own names and unique personalities. “Blinky”, the red monster, persistently chased Pac-Man. He was the one most likely to kill you. “Clyde”, on the other hand, was a dumb oaf.

Pac-Man was popular because it rewarded obsessiveness, but Gruber argues it was financially successful because it was a game everyone could get. You didn’t have to be a gamer to know how to play it.

The original Macintosh was similarly successful. It challenged the status quo of interacting with a computer through the command line by offering an interface that was more intuitive. Gruber thinks Macintosh designers inherited many ideas from video games of the time. There was even iconography (e.g. a bomb on the restart modal) you’d expect to see in a video game, not an operating system.

iOS takes the simplicity even further. All of your apps live on your homepage. You’re either on your homepage or in an app. “Android is Mr. Do!” because there’s additional levels of complexity and conventions you need to learn.

Gruber’s advice: if you can’t describe your project in one sentence, you’re not working on a simple project. “Ten pounds of effort on one simple design element will have way more impact than one pound of effort on ten design elements.”

Webstock: Chris Coyier, The Modern Web Designer’s Workflow

This week I’m at Webstock, a lovely conference in New Zealand. I’m doing my best to write little blog posts about the amazing presentations. Please forgive any typos, etc. If you’re here too, come write a haiku at Automattic’s booth.

Chris Coyier is a humorous man. He was also a designer at Wufoo and now does CSS Tricks and CodePen. Today he’s covering:

  1. Getting started designing.
  2. Local development environment.
  3. Working on a team.
  4. Preprocessing saves happiness.
  5. Testing, testing, testing.

Chris designs in Photoshop, to the faux-horror of everyone in the room. Photoshop is more “left brainy” than a CSS editor. It affords more creativity. WebZap gives you buttons and other web patterns to use in your mockups.

The blank canvas is a challenge for every profession. In the design world, you might:

  • Toss down a texture.
  • Draw some shapes.
  • Avoid making wireframes.

As soon as you have a Minimum Viable Design in Photoshop, though, take it to the web. Making it perfect in Photoshop just means you’ll have to do the work all over again.

“Let’s change the phrase ‘designing in the browser’ to ‘deciding in the browser’.” – Some Guy I Missed

Don’t work live on a server. Just don’t.

Instead, you can and should develop in a local environment. If you’re building for WordPress, MAMP is a good option to provide everything you need to run a web server.

Two tools to demystify version control: Github for Mac and Tower.

Chris is all about the Sublime Text. In version 3, being able to jump to files is amazeballs. Emmet does all sorts of crazy HTML auto-completion.

Some advantages to using a preprocessor like Sass:

  • DRY awesomeness.
  • Mixins allow you to define named functions, and use those functions elsewhere in your Sass. Everyone screws up CSS3 vendor prefixes. Mixins allow you to only screw up (and fix) in one place.

Sass plus Compass gives you an amazing number predefined mixins.

Editor’s note: All of this frontend hotness is blowing my mind. I didn’t even know.

Preprocessing also greatly simplifies media queries. And it makes writing CSS fun again.

CodeKit is a Mac app that automagically preprocesses all of your shiz. It will inject style changes into your browser while you edit. Great for when you might need to style web apps with various states. It can also losslessly compress any image assets used in your site.

The easiest way to make a website faster is to load less stuff. If you can’t remove it entirely, you can concatenate and minimize.

Testing is a big PITA. BrowserStack lets you test in a variety of browsers from the comfort of your own home.

Webstock: Miranda Mulligan, Your Survival is Designed

This week I’m at Webstock, a lovely conference in New Zealand. I’m doing my best to write little blog posts about the amazing presentations. Please forgive any typos, etc. If you’re here too, come write a haiku at Automattic’s booth.

Miranda Mulligan (hey, I know her!) helped take the Boston Globe through a responsive redesign, and now is Director at the Knight Media Lab at Northwestern. She’s the first in five generations of women to not make clothing for a living. Clothing matters; what you wear is an indicator of what you value.

“Journalism needs to be a more thoughtful dresser.” Some large news organizations have very good UX designers, and many more have very good editorial designers. But news design has stagnated, and the news industry needs more design-thinkers.

When Miranda talks with publishers, they’re fascinated by responsive web design. They don’t have many designers in their organization though, and design comes at the end of the project workflow.

“Technologists are winning at media innovation.” Twitter is reinventing breaking news situations. The Evening Edition gives you a summary of what’s happening at the end of every day. Narrative Science turns big data into readable stories. Why aren’t media companies inventing these new products?