Last week I was in Aarhus Denmark for the J Boye Conference and it was everything I expected and more. For me this conference is a perfect compliment to the conferences I attend that focus  exclusively on higher education. Here are my highlights and key takeaways:

Eric Karjaluoto gave the keynote on day one on how to “Speak Human” which was based on the ideas in his book of the same name.  I’ve seen him before and he is an excellent speaker because he is an excellent story teller.  I see a direct relationship between his book and “The Cluetrain Manifesto”, my favorite book on the web.  While Eric’s book focuses on how “small businesses can beat the big guys”, the Cluetrain focuses on the implications of the web in general and the social web in particular for large organizations. Eric’s keynote can be summed up in one tweetable moment –

Being human is more important than being professional

Bebo White’s keynote on day two was very intriguing.  For those of you who don’t know him, he first became involved with the web while on sabbatical at CERN in 1989 and upon his return to Stanford was part of the team that established the first American web site at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (the fifth site in the world).  Bebo spoke on the “Emergence of Web Science”.  It was very reminiscent of the idea behind UB’s former School of Informatics and similar to my ideas about the holistic web.  The best quote  from Bebo’s talk was

Where we are right now with the web is where we were with electricity in 1800

Usability and the user experience were a major theme at the conference.  I taught a three hour workshop on user centered design called “Guerrilla UCD: A practical approach to User Centered Design” where I focused on how and why to use UCD, even when you have no money.  The main takeaway was that everyone involved with the web, regardless of their role, will benefit from understand and utilizing UCD methodologies.

I also gave the keynote in the higher education track where I talked about “Higher Ed – The Toughest Gig in All the Web”.  It was interesting to me that the challenges of working in higher ed are universal. While most of the audience was from outside the U.S., the themes of the talk resonated with everyone.  While all the presentations in the higher ed track  were good, the most interesting one for me was a cautionary tale from Helge Olsen who works at the University of Bergen. He provided a great case study on how a CMS is not a silver bullet and at the end of the day it is not a technical issue, but a people issue.

Another highlight for me was the talk by  Olle Olsson is senior researcher at the Swedish Institute of Computer Science (SICS),  and a member of the W3C.  Olle spoke on the opportunities and challenges of CSS3 and HTML5 and provided some great examples on what can be done with the new technologies.  I was very interested in his  ideas about how more work can be delegated to the client machine.  One thing he mentioned that I hadn’t thought about before was the problem of backwards compatibility with what he called “broken sites” (i.e. – the code does not validate to W3C standards). The majority of sites fall into this category which makes the compatibility issue even more challenging.

I participated in a great round table discussion on web governance facilitated by Lisa Welchman, the founding partner of WelchmanPierpoint.  Web governance and management in higher education is a topic I have been following for over a decade.  The combination of campus politics, silos, decentralized governance structures, and academic freedom make web governance a huge challenge on college campuses.  My main takeaway from this discussion was that for the web to succeed, great leadership skills are much more important than great technical skills.  Look for more on this in upcoming blog posts.

This was my second time attending a J.Boye Conference and it is a unique experience. Nowhere else do you find the combination of world class experts in such a small setting.  Nowhere else would you attend a morning session in a wine cellar and an afternoon session in a night club.  This conference will be returning to the U.S. next spring on May 3 – 5  in Philadelphia and I encourage all my higher ed friends to consider attending. Details are available at  Please feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions about the conference.

In closing, I want to share what is probably my favorite sticker of all time found on Bebo White’s laptop:

My other computer is a cloud