Great day at Barcamp Manchester

Barcamp Manchester, held yesterday at the MEN Media HQ, was great and made it clear to me once again that there’s a great web community up here in the North. A very exciting place to be at the moment, and I’m convinced things here will only get better. Barcamps are always an opportunity to meet new people, catch up with existing friends, and recharge your mind with some fresh ideas; this one was no exception. Interesting talks on Microformats, accessibility, PR, interactive narratives, developing for teenagers and NorthCrew.

Making memorable events with microformats, with Shiraz Anwar

Microformats are patterns you can use in HTML to expose some structured data rather than just looking pretty, so, for example, your web pages can provide a user with an easy way to import calendar events (hCal) or contact information (hCard). Shiraz took us through the simple process of converting your existing pages to use microformats, and showed us the new University of Manchester careers site (only available internally) which uses hCal markup in its events pages. Events can then be imported into a user’s calendar by providing a link to ping the Technorati conversion service.

A useful note from the presentation: Microsoft Outlook 2003 apparently requires specific elements of the hCal format, which are otherwise optional, in order to avoid some esoteric Lunar calendar error message.

(Shiraz – If you read this, I’m interested to hear how your user testing on the microformat enhanced pages goes…)

Interactive Narratives

(I feel bad for not remembering the name of the woman giving this talk, if you know please add a comment!) The session was an great, an interesting romp through the history of interactive narrative from “round robin” or chain stories, to Fighting Fantasy from Steve Livingstone, right up to current online RPGs. Ian Forrester brought up the topic of Alternate Reality Gaming (ARGs), which create experiences which transcend media (using phones, the web, email, pidgeon post, etc, etc). Other technologies mentioned were Open Croquet, which aims to provide the infrastructure for “deeply collaborative multi-user online applications and metaverses”, and Tinderbox, which apparently can be used to manage interactive multi-threaded writing.

How blind people can help the mobile experience, with Lucy Buykx

Lucy’s talk took us through the benefits of considering accessibility intended for blind users and how that can benefit people using your site through a mobile phone. Lucy demonstrated the assumptions made by sighted users in terms of scanning a page, and using the visual signposts to quickly locate information, then demonstrated how the Jaws screen reader and mobile browsers linearised views can make life much more tricky.

How to be famous, with Jennifer O’Grady

Jennifer runs a PR agency, and is a self confessed non-geek (I kept catching a terrified look in her eye while presenting my Introduction to WordPress development and realising I’d gone too techie for her). Her presentation talked us through some basic strategy and tactics for dealing with press. As one of my wife’s lecturers would always say, journalists always need content and if you give them a story, provide some decent photos and make yourself available, you will get published. Jennifer gave us five rules to get famous by: 1) work out how famous you are, 2) define an arena for your fame, 3) define your audience (industry, customers, investors?), 4) project a consistent image, 5) make it sustainable and sustained… keep chipping away at it.

The session also included a robust discussion of the merits of centralised and institutionalised media, and whether new content can ever be completely decentralised (e.g. the blogosphere takes over completely), and how news providers, journalists and vocational writers could be compensated.

Why the flat caps?, with the NorthCrew

Dominic, Ryan and Paul introduced themselves, and what they’re about, which is apparently “bigging up the North of England”, and providing the community up here with opportunities to publicise themselves. So far NorthCrew have provided NorthPack, a blog aggregator, and NorthCast, a podcasting site with a Northern bias. (I believe NorthCast’s video of Christian Heilman’s talk on the YUI Javascript at Leeds Old Broadcasting House burned has burned through 700 gigabytes of bandwidth!) NorthCast will also be posting videos of as many sessions as da Crew were able to attend, and that’s a great resource for any Barcamp, I’m looking forward to watching some of the ones I missed.

The session was slightly marred by North/South tension. Da Crew were concerned about Ian Forrester‘s desire to use the technology platform of NorthPack to cover more the UK, whereas da Crew want to get themselves established first (not to mention they don’t feel that their technology is in a fit state to be shared)… I can see both sides of the argument, Ian’s promotion of the UK as a whole is valuable, as is da Crew’s efforts to establish a strong presence in the North. Both sides will benefit from each other in the end.

Dominic was keen to gather suggestions from the community on what to do next… from my point of view, da Crew’s efforts are great as they are. Tread lightly and don’t overstretch yourselves lads, what you do is very much appreciated and keeping that current offering strong is important.

My presentation on WordPress

I (re)presented the talk I did for Barcamp Leeds, except this time the laptop worked and the audience got visuals! If you’re interested, here’s the slides.

Congratulations, and off into the future we go…

Congratulations to everyone who went, and heart felt thanks to Paul Robinson (and his helpers, and the sponsors) for enabling so many great participants to come together. Apparently the next one has already been mooted… I’m looking forward to it already.

Join the Conversation


  1. Hi Mike, it was great… sorry you couldn’t make it. If Paul, and the rest of us in the community, maintain our enthusiasm, hopefully we’ll see another one soon.

  2. Hi James, I understand that unspecified reward you received in the back room with Paul Robinson, after you guys had collected the pizza, was worth more than knowing more about WordPress. ;) I enjoyed the pizza anyway, so not everyone lost out. Errr… might do it again if there’s ever another WordPress User Group; but I didn’t get any answers from MDDA or the GeekUp list when I asked, so that might have been your final chance. :)

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