A few weekends ago I attended the second ThinkVisibility Conference, organised by Dom at Build Events and sponsored by Al Carlton at Conference Calendar. I spoke at the first conference in March 2009, so it was nice to attend without the pressure of being on stage soon. I’m not a huge conference follower, but ThinkVisibility is a unique format that ticks enough boxes for me to attend. It’s hosted on a weekend, so it’s pretty much frequented by those that have a deep interest in the area – no corporate day trippers. Once again, Dom managed to pull together a collection of speakers that, once into the afternoon streams, made it difficult to choose from – all good speakers, with different things to say. The main differentiator that ThinkVisibility has over other conferences is the attitude of attendees and their desire to share more than they normally would. Some speakers embraced this unwritten concept more than others.
There were some big changes when comparing this ThinkVisibility to the first one. The new venue was a huge improvement; it reflected the high quality of talks been given and the layout encouraged some good informal networking. The PA system worked flawlessly and having three theatres in the afternoon was a stroke of genius.
I attended the complimentary talk on Friday given by Tim Nash on behavioural targeting. Once attendees had turned up, Tim delivered a buoyant introduction to user segmentation based on their behaviour. It was interesting to watch how the room got to grips with the concept and then Tim showed us some examples of how people are using this on sites through a feature of CSS. In a nutshell, there’s some code that uses the colour of visited links to understand if a user has visited a site before. From this, you can infer many things, like if a visitor has a PayPal account or guess their gender. I scored a 53% chance of being male based on my history – but I’m fairly careful with the browser history on a work pc. There was a quick discussion about whether the colour of buttons has an impact on the effectiveness of a site. Some people had tested different colours and felt that some colours performed better than others. I feel it’s a lot more complex than single colours outperforming others, with contrast and context being key considerations. There’s a growing amount of info available on persuasion architecture, and I’m lucky enough to be working at the cutting edge with our behavioural research at SimpleUsability. It was a good start to the conference.
I had the pleasure of sitting with Julian Shambles from the telegraph and Al Carlton of Conference Calendar. Julian kept us entertained with some informal banter about user generated content on the telegraph website. We adjourned upstairs to the Skylounge at City Inn for a few beers where I chatted with a few new and familiar faces. Highlight of the evening was chatting about the gold recycling industry.
I’d never heard of Joost de Valk – so I didn’t know what to expect. His talk was fab. He rattled through his views and understandings on some pretty heavy subjects like page caching and content delivery networks. His style was great. It was like listening to somebody from Nasa just chatting generally about the issues we all face when building rockets and flying to the moon, in a way that made you realise we are all building rockets. Really useful stuff delivered in a very humble manner. Possibly the highlight of my day.
Next up was Julian from the Telegraph, who gave a more formal overview of how the telegraph is growing, playing catch up to the more established online players. Julian offered us all an open invitation to pop in next time we’re down in London, which is pretty cool.
Judith Lewis then gave a talk on Maximising Universal Search. Another speaker I had no real former knowledge of, apart from her pre-conference tweets about not wanting to share slides. I was expecting some real gems of knowledge to be shared, as previous speakers like Dave Naylor had done. This was not the case and Judith delivered a very good SEO training presentation which was well received by the floor – but was not really why I attend ThinkVisibility. Judith also presented a few slides with the infamous (and flawed) eye tracking F-pattern on it. I hate the f-pattern and smiled as Fiona was next on, ‘de-bunking the f-pattern’.
Over lunch there was a candid ‘ask the panel’ session which was really entertaining.
Lunch was followed by my colleague, Fiona talking about the behavioural research we carry out at SimpleUsability. This was my biggest dilemma of the day – I also wanted to watch Elaine and Dave from All Kids in another theatre, but Fiona won my eyes and ears. As ever, Fiona confidently presented to a busy room of people, sharing her enthusiasm for eye tracking. Fiona shared some footage from the research we carry out, giving the audience access to some major insights about how the F-pattern doesn’t really exist and the truth about how people really engage with websites.
I then went to watch Chris Clarkson lead us through his wild journey as a successful affiliate. Chris’s talk, in my eyes, was pretty much what ThinkVisbility is about for me. He shared a lot of experiences, some of them quite sobering, in a casually confident manner. I learnt some really cool stuff.
The penultimate talk was from Karyn Fleeting on corporate blogging. Her talk was good and my second Prezi presentation of the day. She was a little uncomfortable with the video camera recording but kept the pace up and shared many insights. It was refreshing to hear somebody in Karyn’s space actually understanding the medium of blog.
Last talk of the day was from Artur Ortega about how accessibility has driven innovation in everyday items we take for granted. Artur’s a great presenter and the topic was interesting. I was hoping that Artur was going to demonstrate some of the tech he uses, as at previous events, some of the audience had queried the business case for accessible code and I’ve always found that watching somebody use assistive technology makes it more real to the doubters.
At the end of the conference, we lead a human train back across Leeds to the City Inn. After completing an hour of work with Fiona in the reception, we had a few drinks with conference attendees. Whilst I could have drunk all night, I had to leave early. Sunday morning saw me heading down south to pick up a new husky puppy to add to our gang.
A big thank you to Dom and the team and the sponsors for another ThinkVisbility. Credit goes to sk8geek for some great photos.
I just wish the Eye Tracking conferences we attend were that insightful.