Experiencing An Event Apart

| Let's take Responsive Design and the Semantic Web to NASA!

I had the opportunity to attend An Event Apart this week here in Washington, DC. Billed as a conference “For People Who Make Websites”, An Event Apart is unlike pretty much any conference I’ve attended before. The gist is that you sit in a giant room for 12 hours over two days listening to the best and brightest from the design, development, and user experience worlds tell you how to, for lack of a better term, make your projects incredible. I’ve been a web geek for a long time and pretty much organize my life in terms of semantic structure, so this sort of stuff is right up my alley.

Jeffrey Zeldman taking the stage Monday morning. Photo by Jeremy Keith and Licensed under Creative Commons

The overwhelming message throughout the entire event was that the long-predicted shift in the ways people access the web has happened. Smartphone and tablet usage has skyrocketed over the past few years and users are accessing online resources more and more while they are on the move. However, a website tailored to consumption on a desktop of laptop doesn’t necessarily translate well to an iPhone. While I’m proud to say that the entire family of openNASA websites are accessible from pretty much any modern (or, as we learned, legacy) platforms out there, they aren’t really optimized to any specific mobile usage. Moving forward, I’d like to start implementing more elements of responsive design into our projects, tailoring the content we present depending on things like browser width.

Jeremy Keith on Design Principles

Jeremy Keith presenting on Design Principles. Photo by Joel Housman, used with permission.

Additionally, there was a huge emphasis on the semantic web. For those unfamiliar, semantic web is the concept of a “globally-linked database” – enabling computers to learn what is on a webpage rather than just the syntax. The video below provides a good summary of the semantic web:

We’re just beginning our foray into the semantic web with the recent launch of our data.nasa.gov API, which allows machine readable access to metadata about thousands of NASA datasets. As we move forward, we’re looking to use standards such as RDF to help describe our data in more detail so that it is even more accessible and simple to use than it is now.

Over the next few weeks, you’ll see some iteration on the openNASA family of sites as I integrate some of the lessons I learned from An Event Apart. Have an idea for how we can improve any of our projects? Feel free to share them in the comments or tweet me @seanherron!


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