PHP Conference 2009

Back in February I had the opportunity to attend the PHP Conference at Olympia as a last minute stand in for one of my developer colleagues. Below is a little of the information I managed to digest during my day as a geeky girly!

Although PHP is something I work alongside on a day to day basis, its not something I personally code with. I was therefore a bit apprehensive about how technical the talks would be. I was pleasantly surprised! Although there were numerous talks aimed at my more technical colleagues (Sharding Architectures was one of those talks!!).  There was also some great talks on more general web topics.

The most notable of which was a talk by Chris Shiflett titled “Security-Centered Design – exploring the impact of human behaviour. Some of the key points from his talk are described below but his blog at http://shiftlett.org is well worth reading or adding to your rss feeds.

Changing User Blindness and Ambient Signifiers

Through a serious of flashing images and a short video clip of a card game, Chris demonstrated how easy it is to be unaware of changes going on in the background when your concentration is focused elsewhere. In the context of a website this can mean the difference between noticing a site redirecting somewhere else or a site changing from a non secure area to a secure area.

Chris suggested the use of “ambient signifiers” to help our users fight the blindness and to notice whats happening on a website in a subtle and reassuring way. Existing examples include…

  • Firefox turns the favicon section of the browser blue on an ssl protected site.
  • Yahoo allows users to select a recognisable image to display in their log in box.

Changing User Behaviour

Chris also discussed how important it is to encourage users to behave sensibly online and to be more cautious in giving away personal information.

An example of this is searching for friends on Facebook or Twitter. Both social networking sites allow users to input their email address and password in order to search for friends in their address books. Although this may be OK on reputable sites it encourages bad habits and possibly removes the worry from doing so on other sites.

We can help users by thinking of alternative solutions to the above, therefore removing the familiarity of providing personal data. After all our email accounts are often the gateway to a big chunk of our online accounts and personal data.

Another talk that stuck in my mind was a talk on Flex and Air by Mihai Corlan.

The first time I heard about Flex and Air was last year at FOWD. It interested me then but still seemed quite early days to really begin learning to much about. Mihai refreshed my interest and excitement in the clever things these technologies can do.

Flex is an open source framework for building flash applications

AIR allows developers to create rich internet applications that run on your desktop or outside the browser.

Although the connecting with PHP part went straight over my head the possibilities of this technology were really apparent. It also appeared reasonably easy for a developer to create an application in a short amount of time and within a familiar development environment (eg.Eclipse).

Its surprising how often these technologies are used and mistaken as a flash built site/application. You can see some cool examples of what Flex and Air can do at http://flex.org/showcase/

Conclusion

So as you can see although it was a PHP conference I still managed to get some really useful and interesting information from it. Would I go again next year? Well I certainly wouldn’t dismiss it straight away its surprising how much you can understand and learn from things not immediately related to your skill set.

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