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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Dear Bloglines,

Much as it does feel something of a relief that you seem to have zero-counted some of the feeds I read, I can’t help feeling that I’m missing out. If this was an accident, I suggest you fix the bug asap.

Meanwhile I’ll enjoy my holiday and try not to worry about the fact that I won’t even know what I’ve been missing anymore…


Eating your own dog food is a strategy often proposed to help companies produce better products. Using your own software exposes you to flaws that you might not otherwise find — intensive, day-to-day usage can highlight annoyances and bugs that even the most robust test scripts cannot. This makes a strategy of internal use particularly powerful to identify usability issues.

I think that what is being missed is what an opportunity eating your own dog food can be for accessibility as well. Web application developers should take a day a month, switch off all Javascript, possibly even swap into Lynx (or similar “no frills” browser) and try using their applications as normal. One could do the same from a mobile browser or different OSes.

Before, when testing was a big effort before pushing the product out the door, brief testing in each different environment was an OK (but not fantastic) strategy. With incremental development and frequent releases becoming the most popular software engineering model, kneeling and eating our own dog food should become an integral part of all our development and testing strategies.

Thanks to Elly, Meriblog is also going Pink for October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. If you’re feeling a little flush, make a donation online.

I had a hell of a day today. I needed to be in central London for an event lasting a couple of hours, sandwiched between two 4hr+ journeys on what was one of the hottest days on record.

The saving grace? Wifi on the train. For free, today, as part of an introductory offer, but even when you’re paying for it, you have to admit the prices aren’t too horrendous (especially the 24hr rate if you’re doing LONG journeys).

What I’d like someone to explain to me now, please, is how come I can have wifi on a train moving at 80mph, but coffee shops think it’s too much to offer it?

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Originally uploaded by meriwilliams.

I have learnt three things today from this little dialog:

  1. My laptop MIGHT just be running slow because of Firefox
  2. Kottke is a complete lightweight 😉
  3. I’m taking continuous partial attention to a whole new level now

You know what bugs me? Having to keep track of comments manually. I’m a gregarious kinda gal, so if I read something that I have something to say about, I say it. If there are comments open, then that’ll be my medium of choice. But if I read a bunch of interesting things one day and as a result make a bunch of comments, keeping track of the conversation after that can be a bit difficult!

What I would love is something like Flickr‘s “Comments You’ve Made” page. This show’s you all the photos you’ve commented on, as well as pulling in responses since you last said something. The big advantage is that you can go to one place to follow all the conversations and you also only need to revisit the original page if you particularly want to say something else.

I’ve often wondered why blog comments weren’t anywhere near as “sticky” as forums, emails lists and so on always were. I think a massive part of it is because of the distributed content, it’s much more difficult to keep up with what’s being said. The net effect is less participation, which isn’t much good for anyone.