Last Monday I went down to the world wide web Washington conference here in DC with a couple of colleagues. This was the first of its kind in the area and drew a large crowd, which was great to see. The organizers are going to bring the one-day event/quick-speaker (15-30 minute talks) format to a bunch of other cities, if it's in your town definitely worth the trip.
The CEO of Washington Post/Newsweek Interactive, Caroline Little, led off the day with a talk about the stuff they are doing to deal with all the changes in the news industry. One of the cooler things happening is that they have given 50 reporters video cameras to help with storytelling, and if a reporter is out there uncovering a great story they can break out the camera and upload the video to the web alongside the text article. At this point, they should go ahead and pass out video cameras to everyone on staff.
An example of using video to help tell a story was a piece they ran back in April on a famous violinist being virtually ignored by a DC metro station audience. The story just took off to a national audience, and a key part of that was the video footage. A question came from the audience that was interesting to think about - is the web a place for social experiments like this to become more and more popular? On a side note, I remember an intro psych class where we had to walk across campus with a jacket on backwards or something like that, to see how people would react... would have been fun to tape it and put up on the web.
Brian Crooks of Avenue A | Razorfish, Philadelphia, talked about how the explosion of the "post-html" world was a sign that "we got it wrong the first time." As a web designer working with companies back in the late 90s, he felt that the previous nature of the web was too much like the previous media available closest to it, print. Back then no one really knew what was happening so they just took something they were familiar with and reworked it for the web... and in the mad flurry to get sites up the real purpose and opportunities got lost.
He took partial responsibility for "breaking the web" - and the users flooded in to fix it by driving the popularity of digg, myspace, etc. He also talked about the idea of cultural snacking and how information is being broken up into little bits and pieces here and there, and people are asking for it that way. This presentation also had the two coolest slides of the day which I've tried to recreate... comparing the old way of doing business (very orderly, neat, "we tell you")...
...vs. the new way of doing business/marketing (very messy, but a good messy).
David Belman of Threespot Media talked about the last 10 years online. After some general talk about the growth of the web (# HH online then vs. now, # sites, etc.), he then took a hard look at branding online - how if you remove the logos from the NYT, Washington Post, and Miami Herald websites (and almost any other newspaper out there) you can't easily figure out which one is which:
Another way to build a brand online is through all parts of a site, including functional pieces like navigation bars. He compared Microsoft, IBM, GE, Intel, and Apple sites and how the navigation feels very similar between all of them. In Apple's case, the .com navigation doesn't sync up with the OSX navigation. Even with all this sameness in functional web design, people still don't know where to find info, as 43% of web users go to a search function immediately upon visiting a site.
One of the worst culprits of throwing information at a user with a "here's everything including the kitchen sink, good luck with all of that..." attitude is msnbc.com - a site that you can scroll down for what seems like an eternity and still find links to click on. It just screams that "we have no idea who you are and what you want" to the user. Examples he gave of brands doing things right online: Disney, VW, Altoids, Starbucks, Kayak, and JetBlue.
The other talks of the day were for the most part excellent but I felt like the ones above were really above and beyond what's expected at these types of events. An all-around energizing day.