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SXSW 2007 Report

April 24, 2007

Kazuhito Kidachi
Front-End Engineer, Web Standard Team, Web Development Group

I'm speaking about the event held last month, but I took part in SXSW (South by Southwest Festivals + Conferences) this year as well. SXSW is a kind of festival in three areas: film, music and interactive. During the event, many panel discussions and presentations were held alongside the exhibitions. In particular, Interactive, which focuses on the Web, marked the 14th anniversary this year. I took part in it for the first time last year (see the column, SXSW 2006 Report), and wrote a report entitled "Web Standards Project that Enters a New Stage of Activities" in Mainichi Communications Journal. As was the case last time, I would like to briefly report the event and speak about the most outstanding panel discussions here.

How to Bluff Your Way in Web 2.0

Of the panel discussions that I joined on the first day, I found "How to Bluff Your Way in Web 2.0" particularly impressive. In this panel discussion, two panelists, Mr. Jeremy Keith and Mr. Andy Budd, gave a light-hearted account of what Web 2.0 is. The slides used on the day can be downloaded from Andy Budd::Blogography: How to Bluff Your Way in Web 2.0. The audience laughed as the material was presented using the distinctive visual design and wording found in the sites that advocate Web 2.0. As the benefits of the Web have yet to be proven, I personally feel that the Web is not yet at version 1.0 yet. I don't much like the trendy expression "Web 2.0" either, but I enjoyed the two panelists' performance.

Incidentally, this year marks the third of the "How to Bluff Your Way in ..." series (CSS was the subject in 2005 and DOM Scripting was the subject last year.) I am wondering what will be targeted next year, and I am eagerly looking forward to it. It will depend on the trend in Web design and Web development over the next year. Personally, my money is on microformats.

Unleashing CSS: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Internet Explorer 7

Six months have passed since Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) was released last October. In this panel discussion, Mr. Christopher Schmitt, who is well-known as the author of CSS Cook Book, intended to teach the survival techniques in the age of IE7. The slides can be downloaded from "Christopher Schmitt SXSW07: Unleashing CSS". I do not agree with his recommendation concerning the use of conditional comments that run in IE only. (As we hope that HTML documents will last for a long time, I think that it is better to implement the code so that it is complete on the style sheet only, considering support for individual browsers with the expression layer.) Nevertheless I nodded my agreement at his suggestion that we collect information actively every day, and that we use the improved features in IE7 (images in the transparent PNG format, attribute selectors, etc.) more frequently.

The share of IE7 in the English-speaking world seems to be generally increasing along with the distribution by automatic updates of the Windows operating system. We will see similar situations in Japan in the near future. It is not unusual that support for IE7 is specified as a requirement in everyday business. I am looking forward to the day when the baseline of style sheet design will be IE7, instead of IE5 and IE6.

Ruining the User Experience: When JavaScript and Ajax Go Bad

The panel discussion was designed to teach people how to use JavaScript and Ajax without ruining the user's experience of the site. It stressed that the service level should be defined in three levels first (Level 1: No Frills, Level 2: Dress It Up, and Level 3: Make It Sing), and that Level 3 support including active interaction and the provision of customization should be provided after Level 1and Level 2 have been achieved. Of course, it is possible and desirable to plan Level 3 support in advance, before designing Level 1, to ensure normal operation in all environments. If too much focus is placed on it, however, it will hamper accessibility that is supposed to be most important.

The idea of defining multiple levels of a service has something in common with Web standards conformance, which is equivalent to CSS layout in the narrow sense. For example, Yahoo! UI Library specifies Graded Browser Support, and defines the level of support in multiple grades. In this sense, this panel was useful as a reference. The slides can be downloaded from "And now the fun begins Easy Reader".

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Mobile Web...but Were Too Afraid to Ask

The mobile environment and the situation surrounding the use of mobile phones in particular are tremendously different between Japan and other countries. However, they have similar trends in that there is an increase in users who access the Web with mobile devices instead of PCs. Based on the situation, the panel presented a clear overview of what points to be noted when the mobile Web is constructed. The panel proceeded with strategies, information architecture, design, and Web standards dedicated sequentially to the mobile environment.

XHTML MP (XHTML Mobile Profile) and Wireless CSS were introduced as mobile Web standards. Each of them resembles a subset of XHTML and CSS recommended by W3C, and they are developed by Open Mobile Alliance (OMA). Browsers incorporated into the mobile environment are making progress on a daily basis. I hope that they will continue to progress in the direction of conforming to standard specifications, as in the case of desktop browsers. The slides can be downloaded from "SXSW 2007 Mobile Web Presentation | Blue Flavor".

Best Practice in Teaching Web Design

This panel discussion focused on education, and it was presented by Ms. Stephanie Troeth, with whom I have worked in the activities of International Liaison Group (ILG) of the Web Standards Project (WaSP), and Ms. Virginia DeBolt, who is known for the blog, "Web Teacher" that diligently dispatches information related to Web standards. They stressed that you need to understand yourself what is right in order to define the requirements for high-quality websites. They also stressed the importance of understanding the best practice needed for achieving them, and of teaching it correctly.

Even now, some educational institutions mainly teach legacy implementation, such as implementation techniques for table layout. However, the mainstream in Web production in contracted business is shifting in the direction of providing accessibility by using standard technology appropriately. It is only a matter of time before such an old-fashioned curriculum becomes obsolete. Needless to say, cooperation between industry and the academic world is indispensable in completing the shift more smoothly over the short term. It also depends on how people who teach Web design can follow the trends of the immature and active Web industry on a real-time basis.

Browser Wars Retrospective: Past, Present and Future Battlefields

Representatives of the browser vendors of IE, Opera, and Mozilla got together in this panel discussion. It was a little disappointing that the Safari developers did not take part. Although there were no fierce exchanges of opinion based on the competition for market share during the panel discussion, I found the panel very interesting.

First, the three panelists gave individual presentations, and Mr. Brendan Eich from Mozilla spoke on the theme of Open Web. Mr. Chris Wilson from Microsoft stressed that the Web is a powerful platform, and emphasized the need for it to be developed without being broken (based on the overwhelming number of IE users). In other words, he emphasized the importance of maintaining backward compatibility. Mr. Charles McCathieNevile from Opera Software stated that it was undesirable to return to the previous mobile Web in which different resources were created separately, as the environment is being diversified. He stressed the importance of accessibility. I was able to obtain interesting information through the subsequent discussion that the Adobe Scripting Engine will be introduced for Mozilla/Firefox in the future. It gave me a good opportunity to reconsider the nature of Open and the basis for determining standards.

Looking back over the event

WaSP held its annual general meeting in an open format following last year, and announced the Street Team. In addition, I was able to listen to discussions of many interesting topics during the event. There was not much information that can readily be given on products and services. Nevertheless SXSW provides clear benefits and is worth attending because of the direct exposure one receives concerning trends in Web design and Web development. It is also possible to understand things in my own way and converse with other participants. The schedule for next year has already been released. (Interactive will be held from March 7 to 11, 2008). It will be a busy time in Japan at the end of the fiscal year, as was the case this year. If you are interested in this event, I recommend that you take part.