Although unfortunately Elly and I didn’t make it to Highland Fling (which by all accounts was a great conference), we did drive up to Edinburgh to attend Friday’s Refresh Edinburgh event, organised by John Sutherland and Matt Riggott.

The line-up was very interesting – ranging from “show and tell” type of presentations for new web apps through to more training/”lessons learnt” talks.

Alex & James Turnbull were first up talking about their Google Sightseeing site and the lessons they’ve learnt from starting it up as well as creating the related book. I was impressed with these guys, not only for what they’ve accomplished, but also for how honest they were and how freely they shared their experiences.

I was next up, feeling a little out of place since I had no product to display, just some thoughts on why project management can be useful to geeks too. At least some folks seemed to like it though, so hopefully it was useful 🙂

Tony Farndon then did a mini-talk, introducing us all to Flock and the extensions he’s created. He piqued a lot of people’s interest — I think there’ll be quite a few Flock downloads coming out of that talk!

Andrew Cavers was next up, talking about Edinburgh Menus, a restaurant review/maps mashup he’s about to launch. It was interesting to hear the development process he’d gone through and some of the design decisions made — although I’m still not sure about the little flash image-drawing widget… 😉 Andrew’s slides can be found here.

Brian Suda was next up doing a microformats introduction. He got swiftly derailed into a disagreement about the appropriateness of his markup, which was a little unfortunate for anyone who didn’t know about microformats yet, but useful for those most interested in best practices. Brian’s slides and some other resources are here.

John Sutherland was up next discussing the business case for web standards. He seemed disheartened by something that Christian had said the previous, which has prompted Christian to start up a wiki to capture the various business cases for web standards. Hopefully this’ll turn into a great resource for anyone needing to sell the idea.

Dan Champion then talked about the development of Revish, a new book reviewing site. I’ve cribbed the following great advice from his slides:

  • Be passionate – build software for yourself
  • Don’t compromise your standards – build it right, don’t cut corners
  • Pick one thing and kick its ass
  • Ajax is the last thing you need to think about – one of the most interesting design decisions was that he gives users the option to permanently turn off Ajax, largely for accessibility reasons
  • Forced registration sucks
  • Free your data (RSS, API, Microformats)
  • Don’t obsess about the competition
  • Be the “Design Dictator”
  • Serve RSS and your API from subdomains – this was great advice, mainly because if your traffic goes through the roof it makes it easier to balance load the performance
  • Avoid Google dupe penalties – have content in one place and one place only
  • What can we release in 4 hours?
  • Integrated admin
  • Recruit testers early (and look after them) – sounds like Revish already has a close-knit burgeoning community from the tester base
  • Don’t launch during a period of major life change – advice he’s just developed since he went freelance and launched Revish in the same month! 😉
  • Don’t take advice from strangers

The last session was a presentation from the boys behind groopit. Personally I found this app to be the most interesting of all those on show on Friday, because they’ve chosen to focus very specifically on existing real-world groups, in contrast to most other social software apps. Their site intends to make it easy for existing groups to meet up and spend time together more often, which I reckon is a great mission! It’s also led to a number of interesting design decisions – for instance, each group has an automatically private (members only) area.

The other cool thing was that the community feel at the event meant they got a lot of feedback from the audience on their feature design as well as the more technical back-end decisions. This was true in all the presentations, but especially evident in this last session since I think it really caught the imaginations of the group.

All in all, Refresh was a fabulous event and I hope there are more to come in future!

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