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Web Directions South, Day Two: Crowd vs Community

By Matthew Magain

Perhaps it’s because last week’s Web Directions South conference was the fifth that I’ve attended that I’m more difficult to impress than I used to be.
Day One of Web Directions South didn’t really jump out and slap me in the face like I’d hoped. Not to suggest that the organizers hadn’t done a great job, or that the speakers weren’t first class. But having been to a number of conferences over the years, I’ve probably been spoiled in terms of how high the bar has been raised in the past. Consequently, I didn’t really have any “Aha!” moments.

Luckily, Day Two made up for it.

Jeffrey Veen kicked things off in his own inimitable style. Overcoming a technology malfunction which could have rattled him, Jeffrey seemed completely unfazed as he relayed some of his experiences designing the interface for Google Analytics, and challenging the audience to continue to strive for great design, through user testing, patience and persistence.

Daniel Burka, creative director for, was also a highlight for me. Seeing the various iterations of digg’s commenting system, and getting some insights into the process that the digg team followed to produce the current version of that interface was really enlightening. (Personally, I’ve always found the stories posted to digg far more valuable than the comments that follow, which is a damn shame given what a great interface the site has in place for conversation.)

Douglas Crockford was also one speaker that I am glad I didn’t miss. Douglas went beyond challenging the effectiveness of standards bodies like the W3C and ECMA, and made such bold statements as “the security vulnerabilities that JavaScript suffer from are required by web standards”, “the web is now the obstacle of innovation” and “web development requires mastery of the workaround—but you can’t work around security.” Kevin got to spend some quality time with Douglas, so look forward to more of that conversation on in the coming week.

I was also very proud to see so many SitePoint authors, bloggers and staff members kicking butt on the stage—the audience for Kay Smoljak‘s description of her experiences starting her own web development business filled the room until there was standing room only, and Myles Eftos‘s explanations of OpenID and OAuth had the room thinking “why haven’t I implemented this myself already?”

Jina Bolton‘s Creating Sexy Stylesheets presentation had everyone who thought they knew their CSS selectors thinking “boy, I’ve got some reading to do…” and SitePoint HQ’s own Lucas Chan held what could only be described as the most in-depth and geeky debate of the three major web frameworks ever conducted. I wasn’t able to make it to one-time Rails blogger Tim Lucas‘s iPhone web app session, or occasional expert reviewer Derek Featherstone‘s accessibility session, but I heard nothing but positive things. Well done Team SitePoint!

Completing the day was the closing keynote presentation by public speaking veteran Mark Pesce, who had possibly set himself the impossible challenge of upping the ante on his previous two years’ closing keynote presentations. While it fell slightly short for me, this is no reflection on his impressive and exciting presentation style—just a reflection on how well last year’s talk had resonated for me. He concluded with the challenge for someone else to rise to the occasion next year, and I’m excited at seeing who might be prepared to step up. He has certainly left big boots to fill…

Combined with the WebJam carnivale on the Thursday night and the 99designs-sponsored end-of-conference party on Friday, Web Directions South rose to meet the high expectations to which I’ve always held it. Sydney brought out its best weather for us (Paul, Alex and I took advantage of this on Saturday with a quick dip in the ocean at Bondi Beach), and I went home with my head full of ideas, energy and enthusiasm for this strange, wonderful industry in which we work.

Now, to start thinking about how I can convince my boss to send me to Edge of the Web or Webstock

Matthew Magain is a UX designer with over 15 years of experience creating exceptional digital experiences for companies such as IBM, Australia Post, and He is currently the Chief Doodler at Sketch Group, Co-founder of UX Mastery, and recently co-authored Everyday UX, an inspiring collection of interviews with some of the best UX Designers in the world. Matthew is also the creator of Charlie Weatherburn and the Flying Machine.