Sunday, 30 June 2013

What's To Become Of UK Gov Camp?

A couple of months ago I wrote a job description for a new post. Included in it was a line about attending camps and unconferences to share ideas and learn from best practice as part of the role.

To be clear, when I wrote the spec I wasn’t expecting this person to be spending many days a month, swanning round the country attending everything they could. Clearly there’s a balance between talking about stuff and putting it into practice.

Equally, as someone who preaches “Digital by Choice” if there are ways to contribute online, then these should also be considered. There’s usually no better medium than face-to-face, however (I’m sure you already know) digital can often be cheaper and more convenient.

It’s with this in mind I read that James Cattell was organising UK Gov Camp 2014 (UKGC) and he was investigating expanding or evolving it, something that I agree needs to happen given the interest in the 2013 event.

Now here’s the thing, that links back to the job description I wrote. Until camps and unconferences are seen as something that one does as part of their role we’re never going to be able to fulfil the potential of collaboration and share as much as we could.

So my two suggestions are this; firstly run UKGC over two days, a Friday and a Saturday. Things aren't going to change overnight but running it on a Friday says it’s a professional event, not just something local gov nerds (like me) do in their spare time and those who can’t come along in work time can still attend on the Saturday.

Secondly, have a greater emphasis on digital so that the conversation can extend out of the room. I tweeted, not entirely seriously, about hooking someone up with a Peep Show style headcam and Mark Braggins commented that actually Google Glass could do this which is a great idea. It also means that simultaneous events could be run across the country at the same time as well as people joining in wherever they are in the world.

That’s my take on UKGC14. Bigger, more professional and doing more with digital, without losing the things that make it unique.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Reject Responsive Design and mess with RESS

It's been a while since I wrote a really nerdy post, in fact I'm doing a talk on Engagement at a SocITM event next week so it's about time I got back to my locked-in-a-cupboard, haven't-seen-daylight-for-days, coding roots. Some of the SocITM event is around based around mobile strategy so this seems a good topic to choose.

You've probably heard everyone talking about how mobile devices are going to take over the world and traditional "static" websites will be obsolete by next week. Of course I'm exaggerating but it's true to say that some time in the next year or so, mobile and tablet use will overtake desktop and laptop use for viewing websites.

You need to optimise your site for these devices, and there are two routes you can take.

Create lots of versions of your site using Adaptive Design (AWD)

So you create a two different versions of your site, one for laptops and fixed machines, the other for smartphones. There's two advantages to this approach, you can cut a lot of the code and images out to make it load a lot quicker and you can tailor the content for mobile devices.

Job done, right?

Well no, the drawback to this is, what do you show tablet users, the mobile or the main site? Sure you can offer them a link to the other site, but they're either getting too much or too little content and functionality for their device. So you need to create another version of your site for tablets, but tablets vary in size so you might need to create another two versions for big and small tablets. Then there's internet TVs too, the list goes on.

With device types are set to diversify over the next few years it can only become a bigger problem, so if you really want to annoy your designers and coders choose this approach.

Create one site using Responsive Design (RWD)

Responsive Design works out what size your screen is and displays the content and design to suit your device. You'll probably see something different on a small or large smartphone, small or large tablet, laptop, internet TV and so on.

So great, let's all use Responsive Design, right?

This is actually the approach many are taking now but the problem with Responsive Design is that whilst the content looks a lot better on your device, you're still loading pretty much all the content needed for the largest device. All Responsive Design does, generally, is hide the stuff you don't need and make what's left look good, so you could end up loading huge pages of stuff you don't need on a small device, which isn't good.

One Responsive Design site will keep your designers and coders happy, but if it's taking tens of seconds to view a few lines of text because you're forcing them to download a load of unnecessary content, your users won't be happy, and these are the people that really matter.

There's a third way

Yes, I know I said there were two routes, but every good story needs a twist and so do bad blog posts like this. RESS or Responsive and Server Side takes the best from AWD and RWD and combines the two.

RESS works out which content needs to be displayed for the particular device "server side" (i.e. before it's sent) like AWD and creates a page to roughly suit the device. What's downloaded to the device then uses RWD to make it look nice and keep the same look and feel across all devices.

There's not much else to say apart from if done correctly, it's the best of both worlds and should keep everyone happy.

This is the approach we're using for our new websites and next time you're planning a new site ask your designers and coders to use RESS. They'll look at you strangely to start with but thank you in the long run, and so will your users.
This blog is written by Phil Rumens, Vice-Chair of LocalGov Digital, lead for LGMakers and who manages the digital services team at a local authority in England.

The opinions expressed in this weblog are my own personal views and in no way represent any organisation I may have worked for, currently work for, might be thinking of working for, might not be thinking of working for or have never worked for. In fact having said that they, might not even be my views any more as I might have changed my mind so I wouldn't take any of it too seriously.