Notice: This is a discussion thread for comments about the article, FullCodePress 2009, first published in Issue 249 of Desktop Magazine.
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The Australians faced their New Zealand counterparts and narrowed their eyes.

The last time these two teams had clashed was in 2007. On that day, the Kiwis had emerged victorious, taking the winner’s trophy — and the glory — home with them across the Tasman. Reputations were at stake. The New Zealand captain called the toss:

“Heads.”

The coin landed; heads it was. The Aussies felt their collective hearts sink a little — was this a sign? The weight of a nation was riding on their shoulders. The competition was fierce, so any slight advantage would be crucial.

The setting described here is not the MCG or Stadium Australia, but a booth at the CeBIT conference hall in Sydney in May. These two teams were representing their countries, but it wasn’t the Bledisloe Cup for which they were competing. The treasure coveted by these champions, each at the peak of their respective fields, was the FullCodePress Champions Trophy — a crystal statue awarded to the team able to deliver the best website, as judged by a panel of experts, that would be built in only 24 hours.

The genius behind the event is that the teams are not building hypothetical sites — each team works for 24 hours solid building a real website for a real client. The clients are both non-profit organisations selected in secret prior to the event, and both of these lucky clients take ownership of the final sites after the competition is over.

FullCodePress is organised as a joint effort between WIPA (the Web Industry Professionals Association) and Webstock (a Wellington conference series for web designers and developers).

This is not the first time the event has been run — the inaugural event was held in 2007, with New Zealand’s CodeBlacks being crowned champions. Whilst the coverage that the event received on the Internet was extensive (via regular blog posts, YouTube videos, photos to Flickr and short updates to Twitter), there weren’t many people actually watching the event in person, as it was being run from a Sydney hotel room.

This year, thousands of attendees at the CeBIT conference watched the teams question their clients, discuss approaches, sketch wireframes, design layouts, author content and fix browser bugs right in front of them. The pressure of operating in this environment didn’t seem to phase any of the contestants; both teams were comprised of experienced professionals who remained cool, calm and collected throughout the event (much to the disappointment of the onlookers, who were hoping for a few shouting matches and some stressful, sleep-deprivation-induced madness!)

As in the first FullCodePress event, the two teams faced very different design problems.

The Australian team’s client was the NSW Disability Discrimination Legal Centre, an advocacy group for individuals who have been treated unfairly because of their disability. The site therefore needed to portray professionalism and speak to visitors who had been wronged and were looking for guidance and answers. Team Australia’s graphic designer Alexi Paschalidis achieved this beautifully with a conservative colour palette combined with yellow highlights to convey hope.

Wendy White, Team Australia’s project manager, was delighted with the site that her team had produced in only 24 hours, and was confident the client would be happy with it. “There’s always a wish list of things you’d like to tweak,” she commented. “But we got all the must-haves out the way.”

The New Zealand team’s client was Rainbow Youth NZ, an organisation for supporting queer youth, the web site needed to convey a sense of celebration. The CodeBlacks therefore had much more freedom when exploring colour palettes, typography and imagery for the site. “We didn’t want to go overboard on the rainbow colour scheme,” commented Kate Smith, the graphic designer for the CodeBlacks. “But we still had some fun with it.”

The kiwis were also positive about the site they had created. Only minutes away from the 24-hour deadline, CodeBlacks project manager, Haydn Thomsen, commented: “After spending all night on it, the competition has taken a second priority. I’m obviously competitive, and still want to win, but I’m just excited about what we’ve built and how the site is going to go when people start using it.”

The competition also spawned some debate over choice of technology platform. The Australian team chose to power their site with WordPress, the popular open source blogging platform. The CodeBlacks, however, bet on a relatively unproven open source tool named BrowserCMS. The software was in beta at the time of the competition, so choosing to power a production site with it was a relatively risky decision. “I don’t really have any concerns about [BrowserCMS being in beta],” commented Tim Connor, the CodeBlacks programmer. “I’ve seen it deployed. It’s powered by Ruby on Rails, which gives us a lot of flexibility. Hopefully that means we can deliver a better site.”

After the 24 hours had expired, a judging panel spent several hours assessing both sites. The seven judges, each experts in their respective fields, looked at aspects such as design, client-side standards, server-side technology, content, user experience, accessibility and security. The announcement of the winning team was made as part of the WebForward conference, run adjacent to the CeBIT trade fair.

Unfortunately for the Aussies, the CodeBlacks took the title once again. During his victory speech, Thomsen declared that he was “blown away and very proud” of the web site that his team had created in only 24 hours.
Organising judge Raena Jackson Armitage from SitePoint commented, “The scoring was very close, but the Kiwis pipped the Aussies at the post in the area of standards — partly due to a couple of sloppy validation errors.”

With zero wins from two attempts, Team Australia is going to have to lift its act at the next FullCodePress event (possibly to be held next year). Given that the organisers plan to invite other countries to compete, winning the champions trophy in the future is certainly not going to get any easier.

Of course, the real winners at the end of this event were the two non-profit organisations that each took away a fantastic new web site, created just for them.

If you’re interested in competing in the next FullCodePress, keep an eye on the fullcodepress.com site. Sportspeople aren’t the only athletes who can represent their country at the highest level!

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