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Taking stock of the web and its people

Sophie Melchior, Guest post. 21 February 2017, 6:52 am
Taking stock of the web and its people

Webstock is a celebration. A celebration of the web of course, it's there in the name. But more than that it celebrates the people who make the web and the possibilities of the platform. Over the week (I went to two of the excellent workshops, as well as the two-day conference) certain key ideas stood out for me. The basics of performance, security and accessibility matter; our teams need to understand how each discipline makes up part of a cohesive whole; that we as the makers of the web have an ethical obligation to be aware of how our work is being used.

The basics matter. The three pillars of security, accessibility and performance are important. As the people behind the web, we need to keep thinking about them. The speakers reminded us that the users of the web (however it is that they access it) need to trust it has been built with their needs in mind not just for a sub-set of people with access to the newest technology or the fastest connection speeds.

Even if you aren't a sys admin or security specialist it's worth asking, what are we doing about the security of our data? Being the one person in your organisation who asks about accessibility doesn't make you the fun police. It makes you the person who is thinking about the individuals who use your product or service. It doesn't take long to review the image sizes you're serving and make sure that they aren't massive. Too often we assume that someone else is thinking about site performance or security. Too often accessibility is ignored because it isn't sexy. We get away with these things, but then comes the time when our site data is compromised or someone who needs our service can't access it. Then it matters and it's too late to fix.

This idea of cohesive teams kept being driven home. That specialist individuals need to understand each other's roles, and that everyone takes part in all aspects of the product. Whether you're talking about cross functional teams or improving the uptake of good UX in a whole organisation, the same idea applies.

Designers who don't understand about accessibility won't value a user's experience, product owners who don't think that UX matters won't take the time to get it right. We need to stop breaking our organisations and teams into silos. We don't need further subdivisions, we need to allow specialists time to understand each other, to see how different elements work together so it becomes second nature to consider all of them. It's up to everyone to take ownership.

Webstock has always been a place of inspiration and learning for me and this year's conference was no exception. The massive upheaval due to recent world events influenced the speakers, and I was grateful for it. They gave a rallying cry that we, as the thinkers, designers and makers of the web should use our skills and talents to serve our communities. That we have an ethical obligation to make sure that our ideas, designs and code are not used to subjugate those who rely on the web to fulfil basic human function.

Our world is changing around us, and the internet has become the vehicle of that change. It is via the tools we make that activist groups can stay safe from governments who wish to silence them. It is through free web technologies displaced families can talk to each other on different continents. These things matter. We also need to acknowledge how these technologies can be used to track, control and dehumanise people. By ignoring this, or convincing ourselves it isn't that bad, regular people will get hurt. That is the power of the internet. It is a massive responsibility and not one that should be understated, but it shouldn't overwhelm us either.

Overall the tone of the conference was one of reflection. How did we get here? What came before? Who are we? And most importantly; who should we be? As the world enters a phase of increased uncertainty I think they are certainly questions worth asking ourselves.

Sophie is the founder and principal consultant of SKM Digital where she uses her experience of being a one person cross functional team to help organisations deliver better products


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