My @media 2006 Day Two

Day two of the @media conference included talks about microformats, Yahoo!’s new technical strategies, browser memory leaks and performance tweaks, some information about accessibility, the mobile web, and meeting Molly® Holzschlag.

In this post:

The evening:before featured another get-together in a fancy work:after club, which can be summed up like this: Sweden won against Paraguay, and it was hard to talk to others because some notorious DJ wouldn’t turn down the volume. He desperately tried to get somebody on the dance floor switching from house music to r&b pop, but didn’t realize that was not what the audience wanted.

Bulletproof web design

If there was an award for best presentation, Dan Cederholm would get my vote! His slides were so well-designed, so clean, and the special effects (not seen in the PDF version) contributed to clarify the scope.

It was like Jeremy Keith’s presentation the day before, where you knew all the things he was talking about, still something made “click” and shifted your perception — and if it’s only that you think “that’s what I always needed to show to my designers!”

Scene from the computer game Dig Dug Scene from the early computer game Dig Dug (Atari 1983), where you pump up monsters until they explode

His example for thinking ahead showed a photo of a new warehouse in San Francisco, where the windows had been inserted to be future proof, but cemented over for the current use. So think ahead, because content amount and text size may vary, content changes and needs to be maintained, and because the environment can change. Take something off, like images, CSS, or JavaScript, and make sure the website still functions.

“The journey begins by letting go of control, and becoming flexible.”

John Allsopp, “A Dao of Web Design

A lot of his examples worked by setting a 50% value for the horizontal or vertical background-position in combination with overlapping images, and he introduced the term “Dig Dug Text Test” as a metaphor for pumping up text and assuring the design is still not destroyed. Reminder to self: add more references to early 1980’s games in presentations, they are so cool!

Beyond a code audit

Robin Christopherson’s bad karma was that he relied on the unreliable wireless network in the conference center, therefore a few examples from the web refused to work.

But by struggling with the technical constraints he set a real-world example for the attending web developers. Robin is blind, and he did not notice the Windows XP bubbles popping up once in a while trying to alert him that the network was unavailable. He was unable to login on the QE2CC screen, because it was inaccessible and refreshed too often. Also most people I spoke with were deeply impressed by the incredible speed his screen reader was set to.

He had also prepared a couple of educational films about challenges on the web for people beyond the visually impaired, like a woman with learning disabilities who didn’t understand the word “disclaimer,” or a quadriplegic with a mouthstick and a voice recognition system, which was useless when the alt text in images or Flash applications did not match the displayed text. I know what a tremendous amount of work the production of such little films is, and I’m looking forward to access them on Robin’s site. Also check his speaker’s notes.

Mobile web design

Cameron Moll presenting @media conference Cameron Moll mentioned a few times that he had held this presentation a year ago. Therefore it was very professional, very slick, but a little unemotional and in my opinion not quite up to date.

Okay, there are more mobile phones than computers, more mobiles than landline connections, but he didn’t stress the incredible impact the wide adoption of Opera supporting JavaScript on cellphones will have. That’s finally a common platform for web applications using Ajax, as opposed to hundreds of different implementations of Java which are almost impossible to test. That’s a most remarkable development with the potential of revolutionizing mobile applications — Cameron hardly mentioned it, although this became public in November 2005.

Of course WML is dead, long live XHTML MP! You should serve content from a .mobi domain and concentrate on the contextually relevant information: People might check their eBay watchlist on their cellphone, but they don’t upload items to sell, so ignore features like that when developing for mobile devices.

Also my question about Vodafone and other carriers inserting invalid code in the pages they serve through their proxy might not have been clear enough, because Cameron replied it’s up to the carriers and the browsers how to interpret pages, while developers can control the code.

Unfortunately that’s untrue when carriers compress images more and insert JavaScript to get the original images with higher resolutions with a key combination. One script is inserted with the deprecated language attribute in the header, while the other comes after the closing </html> tag, thus rendering your valid XHTML strict code to tag soup. The problem not only manifests on mobile browsing devices, but also when you surf with a regular notebook using your mobile access. Therefore a @media handheld CSS, browser sniffing, or serving the MIME type depending on the HTTP accept header are all doomed. And there’s no way to prevent the carriers from doing such evil.

Yahoo! vs. Yahoo! vs. Yahoo!

Nate Koechley I went to this presentation because Nate Koechley recently published his smart concept paper about graded browser support, which we immediately adopted. What I didn’t expect was a most impressive roller coaster trip through browser performance!

Yahoo! has a beta version out for their new portal, also Yahoo! Photos and Yahoo! Mail is under development. All of them make more or less heavy use of DHTML and Ajax. Yahoo’s goals were increasing performance by 300%, adding interactivity (vulgo: drag & drop), and supporting web standards.

For a fast response they used techniques like CSS sprites, or memory management. In Nate’s words browsers are still “a pain in the ass,” and “the web is the most hostile software engineering environment imaginable.” DHTML leaks memory like a sieve, so for each constructor use a destructor. Instead of adding events to thousands of email objects Yahoo! used the existing document.onmousemove event and checked if the mouse was over an object or white space, then passed the event to that object or drew a rectangular choice box. Key concepts are conservation, destruction, and recycling iFrames (about:blank). Use Drip as a tool for measuring memory leaks, test extreme object counts, test long interactions, and test extensive navigation.

Also their developers prefer JSON over XML because parsing XML degrades performance greater than linear as XML size increases.

They have identified HTTP requests as a main performance killer. Browsers still only process two or four HTTP requests at a time, especially start pages are not cached as effectively as they imagined, and parsing JavaScript freezes the browser. Therefore they rather serve a single large file with CSS in the header, and JavaScript as close to the </body> tag as possible.

Regarding browsers it is faster to develop for standards, than patch. Browser support must not be binary, and it does not mean “the same.”

Expecting two users using different browser software to have an identical experience fails to embrace or acknowledge the heterogenous essence of the Web.

There are more IE5 browsers out there than IE 5.5, and IE7 “already moved the needle.”

With all the DHTML and Ajax I was concerned about accessibility, but in a sidenote I almost missed Nate mentioned the IBM contribution for DHTML accessibility. Wonderful!

Microformats: evolving the web

Tantek Çelik When microformats are even on the radar of Bill Gates, how could I ignore them? I had no clue before Tantek Çelik’s presentation @media 2006, and now I’m implementing them in this post. Microformats are virulent.

Basically you insert a few class names into your code, like

  1. <p class="vcard">
  2. <a class="url fn"
    href=""> Tantek Çelik</a>
  3. </p>

There are microformats for contact cards, calendars, reviews, geo information, and many more. Even the Creative Commons license and the PICS label implemented in this page count as microformats. XFN and XOXO, too.

You can parse this page through a Technorati contacts feed service or use a tool like the Tails extension for Firefox, and voilà, there’s a vcard you could import into your address book (if there wasn’t this Thunderbird bug which prevents exactly this). With the hcalendar microformat you synchronize your calendar with event schedules on a website accordingly.

There are a few issues I ran into when I implemented hcards, and the documentation could have more examples, but they are on Tantek’s to-do list. Also sometimes it means extra, non-semantic markup, but as microformats increase semantic meaning, I assume it gets Tim Berners-Lee’s blessing. So go for it, microformats are definitely among the web’s next big things!

“Hot topics” panel

Hot topics panel with Molly Holzschlag, Jon Hicks, Jeremy Keith, Eric Meyer, and Tantek Çelik I had the pleasure to meet Molly Holzschlag earlier in a coffee break, and while I was sorry I couldn’t attend her session I18N, awakening the sleeping giant, I’m confident I didn’t miss much information as I am pretty familiar with her old articles in her regular column in WebTechniques and the current activity of the W3C I18N group, where she is a member.

Jens Grochtdreis reports in his blog about the passionate presentation she gave earlier, and although there is more technical experience and awareness in Europe with multilingual websites, rarely they pay respect to cultural differences, like the meaning of colors. Molly gives everything to educate on I18N and promote web standards, she is also a member of WaSP. I’m glad she seems to have found a way to get some help and support, as she is an outstanding, but sensitive person.

Anyway, she was part of the “hot topics” panel, where questions from the audience where considered by a group of experts: Molly, Jon Hicks, Jeremy Keith, Eric Meyer, and Tantek Çelik. They had a lot of fun and agreed CSS has become more mainstream in the last year, as you don’t have to defend CSS against table layout anymore. Well, reading the discussions in German forums and reviewing the code of other websites, there’s still a lot of educational work to be done. Also they talked about the accessibility of Ajax, and mashups as the next big thing, but you can read a decent transcript of the session in Stuart’s blog over at Muffinresearch.


If you have followed me this far, you can see @media was a big inspiration, it was a lot of fun, especially the after event on Saturday, and I can only recommend the conference! There are endless flickr pictures and quite a few blog entries on Technorati if you need further impressions. Um, and never mind the British food …

More presentations

Here are the presentations in the parallel track I couldn’t attend. Also there will be pod- and videocasts available soon.

3 Responses to ‘My @media 2006 Day Two’

  1. Dan Cederholm

    Thanks for the kind words on the presentation, Martin! Glad you dug it — and the conference in general. Great write-up.

  2. Cameron Moll

    Yup, you’re right, Martin. Sounds like I didn’t fully understand your question. I wasn’t familiar with the script inserts you mention, so I don’t know that I could have answered it better anyhow.

    Thanks for the mention, nonetheless!

  3. Nate Koechley

    [...] Martin Kliehm of Learning the World in My @media 2006 Day Two [...]