Bringing YQL, accessibility and professional web development to Taiwan

I am just leaving Taiwan for Hong Kong and subsequently Australia to visit the Yahoos in Sydney for a developer evening. The past week in Taiwan has been a roller coaster of talks, interviews, and mingling. Here's a report of all the things that happened complete with the presentation materials for you to use and remix for your own needs. (Creative Commons is a wonderful thing).

Impressions of the trip to Taiwan

I arrived in Taipei to meet with Ray Wang of the IThome magazine for an interview. I was positively surprised that the thing Ray wanted to talk about most was accessibility.

For years I've tried to get the Western tech media interested in this subject, but the topic of making IT systems available to people with disabilities is still treated like the redhead stepchild of IT news and information. I gave Ray an overview of my idea of accessibility as total inclusion; starting from writing with disabilities in mind, continuing into inclusive design, and on to building rich interaction experiences that work with assistive technology.

The rest of the interview dealt with YQL - what it is and what role it can play in making the web a more inclusive, distributed, and easily maintainable medium. I am looking forward to seeing what Ray makes of my answers.

Next on the agenda was a trip to Hsinchu for a talk at the NCTU College of Computer Science about the road to professional web development:

In my talk (which was live translated by fellow Yahoo Adam Wang - thanks so much) I covered the history of web development. I explained how we started with very spartan technological environments, subsequently went crazy during the first .com bubble with DHTML interactions, discovered Ajax as a new way of creating more responsive interfaces, and finally allowed users to create and alter content to build and define their own experience in the web 2.0 revolution.

I then explained that we are in a mess: users expect web applications to behave like rich desktop apps whilst using browsers that understand technologies only in part and come up with various random results. I explained that the only way out of this mess is to build applications using libraries and app frameworks like our own YUI. These abstract the pain of browsers away from us and help us concentrate on defining and building great interfaces.

I also tried to make the audience remember that technology is a means to an end and not the final goal. The final goal is to create an excellent user experience and to build solutions that work for everybody regardless of their technology setup.

Next up: an evening trip to the famous night markets of Taipei, including an adventurous meal of Stinky Tofu. (Here's proof of my daring available on Flickr). I collapsed in the hotel to be fresh for a repetition of the "Road to Professional Web Development" talk in the NTU in Taipei. This time the talk was not live-translated, which gave me more time to show examples live in a browser, and to add extra information about web accessibility. The talk was filmed and the video will soon be available on the Yahoo Developer Network Taiwan.

After visiting the 101 in Taiwan - the largest building in the world - I spent the afternoon giving some internal talks to Yahoo Taiwan developers about the architecture of Yahoo Answers, front-end performance, and internationalization of web content.

The next day we went to the Open Source Developer Conference in the Taiwan office of Microsoft. My talk, scheduled right before lunch, dealt once again with the topic of accessibility. This time, I concentrated on myths about accessibility. I showed tools and free systems developers can use to either build new or alter existing systems to make them accessible to different audiences with different needs:

After an afternoon of chatting with conference participants and talking shop with Paul Bakaus of the jQuery project about accessibility and creating working interfaces we went to a nightclub called "Babe 18" of all things.

There Yahoo Taiwan hosted the Open Party that followed the conference. Benevolent PHP overlord Rasmus Lerdorf and I were the technical hosts. Our duties included being available for informal Q&A but also kick-starting the evening by explaining why we became developers and what excites us about it, and firing off some crazy ideas about the future of web development.

Rasmus's crazy idea was that catch-all search engines will not be around in the future but that we will go back to smaller, context-aware systems. My crazy plan was that interfaces and systems should become more clever in delivering the experience that users want. If I take the same three steps over and over again the software should offer me a shortcut to achieve the same goal in one step, creating an appropriate interface element for me on the fly.

The evening continued with a quiz covering the API offering in the Asian Pacific market and hard technical tie-breaker questions by Rasmus and me. The winners got the same Yahoo Developer Network backpack I have and love.

The end of the evening featured several developers showcasing products they built using Yahoo services and general mingling.

All in all it was an amazing week, and I thank my Taiwan colleagues for being great hosts, and allowing us to meet the people they serve APIs and webservices to. During trips like these I always realize how versatile the developer world is and how many opportunities we have to communicate outside our immediate environment.

Chris Heilmann
Yahoo Developer Network