With this being my third time lucky trying to get tickets to Full Frontal, I’d been looking forward to this one.
As responsive day out earlier in the year proved – to me at least – the success of a conference is definitely attributed to having a dedicated and passionate curator, and Mr Remy Sharp is all that. The day left me with a lots of inspiration and cause for thought, and though I’ve tried to summarise my highlights below, naturally I’d recommend checking out the videos when they become available.
Building the Physical Web together
The day opened with Scott Jenson and Building the Physical Web together, where he summarised his efforts to encourage the web to not just ‘catch up’ with native apps but to really explore the areas of its own potential. Scott raised a stirring point that the current app ecosystem is not scalable; as more and more devices expose a digital interface, the more and more apps users will need to add to their devices to enable them to interact. The web, Scott argues, is perfectly placed to fill this space but is fundamentally lacking a discovery device. Scott pointed out that despite the considerable and ongoing progress we’re making in browsers with HTML5, the URL address bar at the top of the browser has all the innovation of a DOS prompt. This was a particularly interesting side note, as Google has recently experimented with redesigning the URL bar in recent builds of Canary and had some significant resistance to the move.
Scott’s talk, however, was more about discoverability and interaction on demand, with his project “The Physical Web” attempting to develop the conversation around how this could be achieved. The essence of the project is a small bluetooth device that emits URLs to any nearby device. The device, currently with an app (this irony isn’t lost on Scott), can then scan nearby and access webpages related to what you are near to. Scott gave the example of approaching a vending machine, accessing its webpage via the url provided by the emitter and paying for your selection, the machine in turn then releasing your chocolate caramel snack, preferably with nugget and nuts.
A nice touch during the talk was being given a small emitter to play with ourselves, here’s James repping UVD in the pub at lunch.
Whilst it was the first talk of the day this left the biggest impression for me on the possibilities and the roles the web could play in the future, I look forward to seeing where Scott takes this project.
Moving seamlessly through offline and online
Live coding before 11am, some people are braver than I. Caolan McMahon was up next to give us a technical tour of bringing offline to your web applications with ‘Moving seamlessly through offline and online’. His scathing attack on the loading spinner – that rotating deceitful jackal – formed the foundation for an overview of the user experience benefits of taking an offline first stance to web development. Caloan then walked us through the options we have for adding offline capabilities on his demo app ‘LOLbin’. Starting with a small critique of localStorage (limited capacity and UI blocking) he then worked through adding IndexDB using Pouch as a wrapper. This was further expanded on showing how straight forward syncing to a couchDB was. We were then given some pointers on navigating some Appcache gotchas, the end result being a fully offline syncable web app in less than 40 minutes.
In an observation that harked back to the previous talk there are some problematic UX considerations with offline support; the main being that access to the site requires you to enter its URL, but when offline, this is an expectation that the average user simply would not have. Browsers are seemingly addressing this by allowing the bundling of web applications as apps accessible.
I’d have liked to have seen a bit more discussion around hood.ie itself, it’s inclusion in the talk was skirted around somewhat given its plug and play nature. I left more enthused about the underlying technologies than hood.ie itself, however I feel that may well have been the point.
Lean Mean CSS Machine
The afternoon session commenced at pace with Tobias Ahlin’s rapid breakdown of lessons he’d learned while working on the GitHub CSS codebase in the Lean Mean CSS Machine. It’s always quite reassuring to hear people affirm the way you’re working currently and Tobias’ mantra of ‘always be removing’ resonated with me. There was a lot covered, but some of the discussion around testing, and linting especially, has motivated me to bring that discussion into our workflow here at UVD. I’d have liked to have seen some discussion on naming conventions, especially as a later question was asked on minimising the impact of unpredictable changes by removing selectors.
A single page story
Getting close with the web
Little does Ben know his talk at the London JS conf earlier this year was the inspiration for our hack day project a few weeks ago, so I was looking forward to what else he had in store this time round with ‘Getting close with the web’. Ben Foxall demonstrated some outstanding creative uses of technology ( WebRTC, web sockets and AR codes) in connecting people, with a particular emphasis on proximity. Experimenting with the location of audience members Ben had everyone’s phone flashing colours in unison, playing sounds in a wave around the room. The overarching point of the talk was summed up brilliantly by Ben as he stumbled his lines and recovered with “I dunno, we’re just doing stuff”. The whole thing reinforced how important it is to explore the creative application of technology and not to just get lost in technical details, quite frankly, a perfect end to a brilliant conference.