WordCamp Brum Roundup – Saturday

WordCamp Birmingham (UK) 2015 happened last weekend, and seems to have been a great success for all concerned, putting the Birmingham WordPress community in, if you’ll excuse the pun, bullish mood. I certainly enjoyed myself. The event reignited my passion for WordPress and web-work in general, answering a few questions, confirming a few biases and giving me new energy and contacts. For anyone involved in WordPress, whether as a developer, designer, site manager or content creator, I would heartily recommend getting along to your nearest WordCamp. They tend to cater for all tastes and areas of this kind of work, and, as with most conferences and meet-ups, the most interesting conversations occur at the margins outside the programmed content.

But that’s another story. I thought here I’d gather all of the most relevant online stuff I can find from the event: slides of the talks, comments from myself on those talks I attended, comments and a sense of the buzz from others, as well as some of the photos available online. This will be a multi-part post, and in this one I’ll focus on day one.
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A slower web

Another great article from A List Apart, this time on re-purposing old content.  I found especially interesting  the insight that the web has not yet adapted to slowing down, and ease of access leads to a lack of context for old content.

CSS for real people

IN a new article on A List Apart, Håkon Wium Lie, the “father of CSS” and CTO of Opera explores how new devices “force us to rethink web design”, as scrolling gives way to app-like paged gestures, and figures will float in multi-column layouts, and to what extent this can be achieved in pure CSS.

While CSS figures and paged gestures are a little while off browser support yet, multi-column layouts are available now (vendor-prefixed), and Håkon gives an example.

To me, this is where CSS code morphs into poetry: one succinct line of code scales from the narrowest phone to the widest TV, from the small print to text for the visually impaired. There is no JavaScript, media queries, or expensive authoring tool involved. There is simply one highly responsive line of code.Håkon Wium Lie


The network touches

Your site is not your product

Rather a website becomes part of your product – one channel or manifestation of it. This point stands out in a talk, still engaging today if a little orthodox now, given four years ago by Tom Coates on the web of data, called Everything the Network Touches. It’s an amusing listen and includes some early breakdowns of the “internet of things”.

The audio is archived at the site for the 2010 dConstruct conference in Brighton.

ownCloud news

New version of the ownCloud client

Back in April Jack of all trades Danimo blogged a tour of the ownCloud Client version 1.6, shortly after its beta release. Danimo emphasises a raft of “tremendous performance improvements”, and mentions a switch from Qt 4 to Qt 5 for Windows and Mac OS X (and calls for leads to help achieve this for Linux too). The team “also implemented an item that was on many peoples wish list: a concise sync log“. Version 1.6  was released on 2nd June.

OwnDrop: an alternative ownCloud client

Private one-click uploader for ownCloud, built on and for Mac OS X.

Github repo

ownCloud version 6.0.4 imminent

Version 6.0.3 of ownCloud was released at the end of April: the changelog includes “performance improvements by reducing the number of chmod operations”, “don´t allow creating a “Shared” folder” and “Documents improvements and fixes”.

Version 6.0.4 is due for release imminently!

ownCloud 7 gets alpha release

Following the feature freeze on ownCloud 7 development, the alpha (testing) version was released on June 11


Twitter Bios I Like

About yourself in 160 characters or less

A Twitter Bio shows up in the header of a Profile view,  and would be encountered, alongside name and avatar, when browsing a list of Twitterati;  both placements make them key for conversion.

In crafting a Twitter Bio users can enter any text, including hypertext. This leaves many choices of content, tone, link strategy and so on: straightforward, ironic, informative, inspirational, cryptic, humourous or even empty, which do you need?

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Why Install WordPress Manually?

Originally designed as a blogging platform, WordPress has become widely used as a content management system (CMS) for the web.

You may have automated installation of popular web applications, including WordPress, available through your webhost – Fantastico and Scriptaculous are common examples of these services. I recommend not using these, for two main reasons.

  • Security – the default settings of the automated installer will be known and exploitable
  • You won’t learn as much as you will be choosing to manually install.

So installing manually brings the benefit of empowerment, and with WordPress, the manual procedure’s well documented: just refer to the first port of call for WordPress, the documentation, known as the ‘codex’.

If you need more, read on for my companion tutorial.

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Research methods for healthy websites

Why the need for early user research before committing to a website design? Good research helps us create  a website in step with it’s users needs – site owners included.

Pitfalls of overlooking research

  • Let’s say we agree a specific design pattern, crucial to the overall design, and then we find that the pattern seems to put a significant demographic of our target users off.
  • Say we’ve designed a layout optimised for traditional desktop screens, and then find most of our target users tend to browse the web on their phone, or on a tablet?
  • Or, we might assume our target users browse the web on smaller screens, but research might find something different.
  • we decide to optimise our site for iPhones, but if most of our target audience use Android phones, we’ve wasted time and missed out a priority task.
  • we build in extensive integration to a particular external API, say Facebook’s, only to discover most of our users prefer to use Twitter.


We don’t have to slavishly follow such preferences; maybe we don’t want to depend on third party social networks. Facebook’s ‘technical diffficulties’ last year prompted one web entrepreneur to publicly reconsider their Facebook Connect login strategy. But by conducting quality research, we can make informed choices.

Social research can be characterised as either quantitative, producing data that can be expressed numerically, or qualitative, producing data that cannot. Ideally we want to combine methods from both approaches, to give us a triangulation on whatever it is we’re trying to find out. And that’s the first step, before we choose method: we need to decide what we are trying to discover and from whom.

Case study

I worked on a web site for a youth work team with two broad sets of target users. With a tight budget, I decided to focus my research on the first group: the service users, young people between 10 and 25, living in the catchment area.

What I wanted to find out is how they approach their Internet and Web use. On what kind of screens do they browse the Web? What websites do they use most often? Any they specially like? What do they want from our site? What social networking tools do they use? Any special needs to consider? Will different age groups have different needs?

Ideally I would like to gather this information qualitatively, using in-depth, semi-structured interviews with individuals and groups, and participant observation, which produces the richest data of all. I would like to participate in their activities both in real life and online over several weeks, taking notes on their habits and attitudes from their point of view. I want to imagine and understand what the Web is like for the youth of today. For many of them the Web has always been there. I have a totally different perspective, introduced to the Web in my mid 20s, when the Web had been around for three years.

The more qualitative the research, the deeper the picture. Time and budget in this case restrict how much I can do. We must consider a cheaper, quantitative methodology that can produce statistics and analysis:

The Questionnaire

or Survey. But we must be careful, as we would with qualitative methods, to guard against our biases. In analysis of survey results, unacknowledged bias  becomes an unpredictable variable. The questions must be very precisely worded, clear and unambiguous, yet succinct. Even the order of the questions must be considered, since that could affect how they are answered. We must also take care, I feel, not to seem parasitic: respondents should feel valued, not just sources of information. We’re aiming  for a collaboration.

With this in mind,  we can sample a large number of people in our survey and thus see statistical trends in analysis. Comparing different groups, helps generate useful insights for our site already; they can be followed up in more informal interviews, and find richer information we need for the full picture. We can also include space for qualitative responses, using open questions.

It’s crucial however not to start straight away. Any questionnaire must first be piloted: tested out on potential respondents, to iron out any issues and clarify whether the questions are indeed clear.

In this case, the questionnaire must be understandable by ten-year olds without seeming too ‘young’ to older respondents. Piloting with just four or five participants, balanced by gender and age group, allowed fine tuning these aspects before deployment.

Here’s a generic version of the questionnaire I came up with. Feel free to use it as a base for your projects but bear in mind that it is fine tuned for specific circumstances.