Live from WebScene 2008

webscene logoI’ll be at WebScene 2008 today and if all goes well, I’ll be bringing you live updates of the event (as I did last year). So watch this space if you’re interested!
Being the commuter I am I took the train to Asse and rode my bike from Asse to Affligem (passing Asbeek and Edingen, very nice!) to arrive here at 9h00. So I’m at the conference center, scored Wifi-access and I’m ready to watch and learn.
Bart Van Herreweghe (blog) kicked off with a talk about the new The Kanselarij van de Eerste Minister worked together with Fedict for the production of the new portal, which was build by a multitude of companies such as IBM, Amplexor, Panoptic, Netway and Internet Architects. Because of the large amount of information that is published on the portal, Internet Architects and Netway played a very important role in information and user-centric interface design, introducing the idea of “doormat”-navigation which could be compared to a (part of a) sitemap being displayed on a (theme-)homepage. Technology-wise, uses Tridion as WCMS with templates that contain validated XHTML, with a strong focus on accessibility which aims at Anysurfer plus compliance. The search-module, which will spider a great number of federal websites, is based on Lucene and developed by Panoptic (Cronos) with LBi.
Panoptic’s Ines Vanlangendonck (blog) talked about the importance of usable web content management. Choosing a good foundation (WCM product) and customizing it to the (backend) users’ needs (e.g. adding or removing DAM-functionality, rich text editor functionality, online translation, …) should help get your users (content-owners, editors, …) on board. Looking at the poor adoption rate of the web content management tool chosen at a certain telco company a few years ago, she couldn’t be more spot-on.
Ex-colleague Philip Achten from The Reference presented the implementation of the new Thomas Cook-website. This travel website is an e-commerce business platform first and foremost, with on average 15000 unique visitors/day in 2007 and an estimated growth of 50% in 2008. One of the main goals of the new website was to allow the content team (15 people) and the travelling reporters to manage web-content decentralized. The Reference implemented Sitecore 5.3 for this purpose, a powerfull Microsoft ASP.NET-based WCM-solution, deployed on a loadbalanced environment (2 webservers with IIS and 1 MS SQL databasesserver). Next to the pure content management, a number of applications have been build like the destination search, newsletter, user registration and personalisation and off course the crucial booking application (connection to backend booking engine). In a next phase, building on the user authentication application, user generated content functionality will be added allowing regsitered visitors to add text, pictures and video.
Ektron‘s Norman Graves held a talk titled “Key Technologies and how they impact some real world examples”. He talked about taxonomy and how it’s used in search, geomapping, personalisation in Ektron CMS 400.NET.
Lunchtime has come and gone, time for the afternoon tracks. I started with the presentation about Arte+7, the Arte mediaportal. The website and presentation were done by CoreMedia, who also provided the CMS and DRM-infrastructure. Video’s are published in FLV and WMV-formats, with geolocalisation to limit the countries from which one can watch the content. The same technology is also used in the Arte VOD-site, for which Arte+7 is a teaser. Kinda nice, but lots of javascript and flash in that site, not really accessible.
For the 2nd session I moved to track 5, where U-sentric‘s Tara Schrimpton-Smith talked about “Guerilla Usability Tests? User testing on a shoestring”. Her advise: use friends of friends, somewhere between 2 and 5 users (with 2 testers you should be able to find 50% of usabiltiy issues, with 5 users 85%) and limit the amount of tasks you’ll be testing. She concluded the session with a live example, someone shouted the name of her website, someone else volunteered and the task was ‘what is the address of the headquarters’. Judging the time it took the testperson to find this information, there are some usability issues on A fun session!
Next up; Robin Wauters (blog) about “Social media is not an option”. Not much stuff to learn here (Robiin talked about technorati, attentio, involve ‘influential bloggers’, blog to showcase knowledge, “dell hell”, buzz, virals, …), but it’s nice to be able to put a face on the guy behind plugg and edentity.
And we’ll finish off with AGConsult‘s Karl Gilis with “9 tips to help users find what they’re looking for on your website”. So let’s create an ordered list for that purpose:

  1. ensure the accessibility of your site (should work on all common browsers/os’es, don’t misuse technology, make sure Google can crawl your site)
  2. speed up page load times, the user decides in half a second if (s)he’ll stay or not
  3. make navigation easy to use (structure, terminology, placement)
  4. provide clear overview pages (example; and it’s doormats)
  5. your search should be as good as google (depends on technology and content!)
  6. use an intuitive page lay-out
  7. make your text legible (Verdana 10pt, Arial if you’re adventurous)
  8. write for the web
  9. make sure the info is there (do user needs analysis)

A fun session as well, those usability-guys and girls know how to entertain!
My conclusion: this was not an uninteresting day, but the focus was clearly less technical then previous year’s edition. Content Management -around which much of this event was focused- is slowly but surely becoming a commodity and vendors are having a hard time differentiating themselves from their competitors. It is my feeling that the bigger changes and challenges with regards to “the web” are more on the application-front, where backend-integration (SOA, webservices, …) and RIA’s (using ajax, GWT, flex, …) are today’s hot topics. The fact that webscene2008 did not explore these new frontiers (and their implications with regards to business, marketing, usability, accesability) is a missed opportunity really. Let’s hope they reconnect with the webtech-trends next year! And maybe I’ll be there to let you know?