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  • Web Council - May 15, 2014
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Web Council - May 15, 2014

  • Announcements
    • At the June 19 Web Council meeting, we will have an initial look at the work being done on the UW brand refresh. Changes are mostly subtle, not anticipating anything dramatic. The font used in the wordmark will change. Looking at a Fall rollout for the refresh. Header/footer wizard will be updated.
    • UW Today newsletter has new format, give Gina (ghills@uw.edu) your feedback
  • Data visualization and decades of lawmaking: Meet Legislative Explorer, an online tool for researchers and students that tracks the progress of every bill and resolution introduced in Congress since 1973. Professor John Wilkerson, doctoral student Nick Stramp and Christian Schmidt from Schema (a design and technology studio) will share how they wrangled a huge set of data and built this interactive tool.
    • Legislative Explorer (http://legex.org), a system for data driven discovery of our legislative process
      • Congresses performance; 88% disapprove, but most people do not know much about what actually happens in the legislative process
        • People tend to know the simple linear process, but not much about the context
      • 250,000 bills and resolutions introduced since 1973
      • House and Senate have about 20 committees apiece
      • How can we make sense of what is happening
        • Outsiders tend to choose simple relationships to study
    • In building the Legislative Explorer, wanted to provide a public resource
      • What is the legislature doing, what is my legislator doing, what is my bill doing, what is different about what happened in the past versus what is happening now
    • Data about legislation is provided by the Library of Congress, but only as unstructured text
      • Had to structure the text using JSON
    • Challenges
      • People tempted to equate legislation with policy. They tend to see specific legislation as ineffective if it dies
      • Not uncommon for policy ideas to move through the process even though the original bill died
      • Congress used to pass individuals laws, but now tend to pass omnibus bills that have a lot more ideas in them
    • Initial display shows Senate, President, and House, with bills in process within each. Display helps to covey the overall process
      • Can filter by which congress, Senators, Representatives, Parties, Topics, and More
      • Dynamically displays process of bills, can zoom in and out giving you a micro or macro view of the process
    • Building it
      • Client application built in HTML5, using a framework and Javascript
      • Middleware to connect client to database
      • Database - how do we best represent data so it is not misrepresented
      • Development was a cyclical process, a very organic and collaborative
  • Screen reader demo: Hadi Rangin, a new member of the UW accessibility team, will demo how blind and visually impaired users interact with our pages via screen readers. If you've not yet encountered a screen reader in real life, you won't want to miss this demonstration of "super-fast synthesized speech."
    • Hadi started at the UW in early May
      • Working to bring UW sites to a level where everybody can use them. Does not separate usability from accessibility
      • Coming from University of Illinois where he worked for 10 years, has worked as a computer developer and programmer
      • Lost eyesight about 25 years ago, so familiar with the sighted world
    • At Illinois
      • Accessibility is not a final touchup step
      • Over 10 years, accessibility became part of the development and design process at Illinois. Need to consider it from the beginning to be sure you select the right technology and utilize it properly.
    • Here at the UW we are much better than he expected
      • Has been easy to talk to people about accessibility
      • Would like to meet with people and teams to talk about accessibility, especially if you are in the design stage of your project.
    • Demo of how disabled people approach the things you design
      • Navigation is the number one issue in supporting accessibility
      • Screenreaders have many functions to help in reading and interpreting a page
        • If the page has ARIA landmarks, can bring up a hierarchical map of the page contents
          • For a sighted person it is easy to recognize the different parts of a page layout. ARIA landmarks provide a way to define containers (navigation, content, header, footer)
          • Would like to see ARIA landmarks added to all of our pages
          • Has no effect on visual layout
        • If a page uses headers (h1, h2, h3, etc.) the screenreader program can bring up a hierarchical map of the headings
        • When using a screen reader, everything is linearized
          • One element at a time is presented, one after the other
          • Navigation aids like ARIA and headings are very helpful in moving around in the linear stream. Otherwise the user will have to read through the entire contents, top to bottom
      • Without accessible design, using your site or service will take much longer for people with disabilities. If it takes substantially more than it does for non-disabled users, it is not "functionally accessible".
      • Discussion
        • If the language you are using (HTML5, XHTML) has accessibility features such as <label> element for forms, use that feature before you worry about ARIA.
          • ARIA can supplement those accessibility features
        • Screenreading software
        • Hadi is available for meetings. Contact Dan Comden (danc@uw.edu) or Hadi Ranjin (hadir@uw.edu) to talk about accessibility, look at your site, and learn about the culture of accessibility at the UW, especially if you are just beginning work on your site.
  • Choosing the best tool for the job: Team developer Jon Swanson will walk through the development and implementation of the revamped UW Today newsletter and show how the team pivoted from one approach to another in order to create the best possible end product.
    • The project was to create a process of bringing the UW Today newsletter to life
      • Written ahead of time for morning delivery
      • Wanted to use the best tool, had to pivot to use a new tool in the middle of the project
      • Best tool is the one that leads to the best product
      • Consider strengths and weaknesses of tool
    • Evaluating tool options was a continuous process throughout the project
      • Options initially considered
        • Convio (http://depts.washington.edu/uwadv/data-technology-resources/convio/)?
        • MailChimp (http://mailchimp.com/)?
          • Capable of sending out 50,000 plus messages at a time
          • Template can be changed easily
          • No deployment necessary
          • Built-in analytics
          • Cons
            • Free service wants to include some ad material
            • HTML only
            • Difficult to do RSS feeds
            • Had people in the content management process who did not know HTML
        • WordPress?
          • Pros
            • No HTML editing required
            • Familiar
            • Easy to work with
            • Can be made to use MailChimp for delivery
          • Cons
            • Poor editor interface for email newsletters
            • Lots of moving parts
            • Bad user experience for editors made this a no-go
        • Django?
          • Pros
            • Extremely flexible
            • Can create an intuitive interface for editors
            • Can use MailChimp for delivery
            • Can schedule release and availability for viewing
          • Cons
            • Complicated
          • Created a Django app that looked really good
            • Created very simple interface
      • Ended up going back to MailChimp, which had just updated with some cool new features, addressing the problems that had given us reservations before.
      • Moral: Be willing to go to the best tool, even if you have invested a lot of work in something else.
        • Another Moral: No time spent getting better at something is wasted
  • Mobile Minute: A monthly snapshot from the mobile world
    • Smart Bike web connected bike tracks your bike and makes route suggestions, bringing GPS directly to handlebars
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