From library conference to web conference

Upon my return from SLA 2007 in Denver, I attended another conference, because I just can’t get enough of conferences.

The conference I attended was a conference for web developers at my university. This was my first time attending a technology conference, so I was afraid most of it would be over my head. Maybe I just chose my sessions wisely, but I thought the conference was very relevant to my work and not above my technical level at all. From looking at the program, I think there were also more technical sessions for real web developers.

Not surprisingly, many of the speakers focused on Web 2.0 and its place in higher education.

The opening keynote speaker, Jared Spool, defined Web 2.0 as “designing with an attention to the total experience of the user.” He added that user generated content does not mean Web 2.0, citing reviews and eBay, both of which have had user generated content for a long time.

As an example of what Web 2.0 is, he took a photo of the audience with his cell phone and uploaded it to Flickr. He then discussed mashups, RSS, tagging, and social networks.

His comment about the problem with chronological data in RSS feeds caught my librarian’s ear: “Imagine if the library was one big in/out queue,” he said, adding that RSS is not a good way to find specific information.

From there, I went to a session on “Web 2.0 and the Higher Education Enterprise 2.0”, where we got an update on Web 2.0 applications at Penn State. The presenters said that both student expectations and budget and staffing constraints are driving these developments.

Much of the presentation focused on the differences between this year’s presentation and a similar presentation last year. The big difference seemed to be that rather than trying to develop its own social spaces, Penn State is instead going to the spaces where the students already are.

An example of the power of social networking sites was the ability of Penn State students to organize a tribute to the shooting victims at Virginia Tech in a matter of days.

Then I attended a more applied session on web graphics. Cyndi Carey said that web design is different from all other design because of end user control over the display and differences in equipment. She also noted that we have gone backwards, in a way, because so many people are accessing web sites using handheld devices. She urged developers to “use graphics responsibly,” using them only when they enhance communication and keeping download speed in mind.

My next session, “Creating Web (2.0) Sites to Support Communities and Collaboration” provided examples of the use of CMS and blog software at Penn State.

The final session I attended was not directly relevant to my work but was one of the more interesting. Christian Johansen and Jerry Maddox spoke about scholarly publishing on the web. Johansen talked about the semantic web and “lost (X)HTML tags” and metadata. Jerry Maddox, an art professor, spoke about making long texts easier to read online. He emphasized typography and eliminating “density” (extraneous information that is not part of the text). He demonstrated a style switcher he developed for reading texts online.

Maddox began his talk with another library story. He talked about sitting in Bryant Park behind the New York Public Library, taking advantage of the wifi. A little boy came up and started talking to him, and wondered whether sharks have babies. Maddox typed “do sharks have babies?” into Google and got the boy an answer in a matter of minutes (some sharks lay eggs while others have babies). I started to be offended, but then realized I would have done the same thing. As Maddox pointed out, it would have taken much longer to go into the library and look up the answer. For the purpose at hand, the Google answer was good enough, and Maddox is probably an astute enough web user to evaluate his sources. And Maddux warmed this librarian’s heart by ending his story with a note that it then started to rain and he went into the library.

Though I did get to meet some of my campus colleagues, I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to do more networking. To tell the truth, though, I may have just been too tired after SLA to network. All in all, I’m very glad I attended the conference, and I’d encourage other librarians to attend conferences outside of the library field.

Tomorrow morning I’m attending a post-conference tutorial on writing for the web. Because I really just can’t get enough conferencing!