Heather Burns is a professional web site designer and consultant with over 18 years of experience in web site creation and development. She holds earned a Bachelor of Arts in International Politics/Russian and Eastern European Studies from George Washington University – created her first website on a 24k dial-up connection. Heather also holds the CIW Professional accreditation in web site design methodology and technology (2007). 34SP.com was privileged to catch up with Ms. Burns and ask her about the content in her upcoming WordCamp London presentation.
You are passionate about regulation of the Internet and have studied Internet law. What do you see as the most important issue(s) facing website developers as we move into 2015?
By far the most important issue we have to deal with this year is the damage being caused by the EU Place of Supply reforms (VATMOSS.) As a community we have been dealing with legislation like the cookie law and e-commerce reforms for a few years, but these issues by and large only impacted our work for our clients. VATMOSS is having a devastating impact on our own businesses as well as the platforms we have come to rely on. Web developers have been placed into the unfair position of having to implement compliance solutions into their own products, while at the same time scrambling to bring their own businesses into compliance, on the basis of incomplete and often conflicting government guidance. Third party platforms don’t know anything more than we do, and we are now seeing non-EU third party platforms simply refusing to comply – thus shifting the liability on to us. It is not an exaggeration to say that the entire web development ecosystem has been damaged by VATMOSS. No one can afford to sit back and wait this one out. Everyone affected needs to become an activist.
You will be covering website design and Internet law in London for WordCamp this year. What are you planning to cover in your presentation? Who will benefit from your expertise?
I plan to touch on copyright, VAT, privacy, e-commerce, and data protection. Don’t panic! It will all be in plain English and aimed at web developers, designers, bloggers, and business owners. Wherever possible I will explain how these things impact on WordPress. What the presentation won’t be is an overview of plugins. There seems to be an expectation that any problem – even legal compliance – can be solved with a plugin. That is business suicide. Plugins can certainly help with things like VAT tables and privacy settings, but they do not make you achieve legal compliance in and of itself. You do need to educate yourself on the laws and the issues.
How did you get involved with the WordPress community? What is your background?
I designed my first web site in 1997 on the Lynx browser on a laptop tethered to a telephone. Proper old school! I ended up being the go-to girl for the web site in every company I worked in. I went self-employed as web designer and consultant in 2007 and made my first WordPress web site in 2008. I got involved with the Scottish WordPress group, which has sadly gone dormant, as soon as it started up. In early 2012 when the cookie law was coming on board I offered to give a talk about it at a Scottish WordPress conference, really as a means of educating myself about the law. Far from being what I expected, the talk opened my eyes to the complete lack of communication and understanding between legislators and the web community. As subsequent events have proven, most internet legislation really is drawn up by people who literally never touch a computer and are working in a theoretical vacuum. That basic WordPress conference talk led to researching and writing on other topics, and that work earned me admission into the postgraduate programme in Internet Law and Policy at the University of Strathclyde, where I am currently studying. So, I can honestly say that volunteering to speak at a WordPress conference changed my life. Who knows what it could do to yours?
You are also involved with Idea 15 Web Design. Give us a sense of how charities became a passion for you. Also, if a charity is interested in your services – how do they get started?
My customer-facing side is working with charities and not-for-profits in Scotland. It’s a natural mix of the first half of my career, which was spent in the business side of the charity sector, with the second. My typical client is a small to mid-size charity which has been doing the web site in house, or where the web role has been cobbled on to someone else’s existing job. The work I do with these organisations is as much about encouraging them to respect the web site, the person doing the job, and indeed, their own selves as an organisation, in addition to handling the nuts and bolts of web site design and development. With funding drying up every day, charities can no longer afford to regard their web site as a volunteer’s hobby. Charities which might want to learn more can have a look at my web site at: http://www.idea15webdesign.com.
Anything else you want to add or promote?
For anyone attending their first WordCamp, I would say: relax and enjoy it! All of the speakers were once terrified newbies like you. The amazing thing about the WordPress community is how a content management system has become a jumping off point for so many forms of expertise, ranging from programming to front end to content to the business of running an agency. Everyone can find or create their own niche.