Speak the Web (Manchester) Review

Last night I attended the Manchester leg of the Speak the Web conference tour; here’s my review.

In my opinion, all the talks were interesting; and as front-end developer, I think it’s fair to say I was the main audience for a lot of the talks which consisted of the following topics:

  • Designing for mobile devices
  • SEO
  • HTML5 APIs (read, JavaScript)
  • Graceful degradation vs progressive enhancement in browsers (CSS)

Designing for mobile devices

Mobile is a big topic right now and it was really refreshing to hear a mobile developer (with actual experience) in Ben Childs from Common Agency, tell us that creating separate mobile experiences for different mobile devices was the way forward, as opposed to doing nothing ‘because the site looks okay on an iPhone’. I use my mobile phone (iPhone) a lot to check websites and yes, the scaling of websites is cool but frankly, I don’t need to see absolutely everything the same as on my iMac when I just want to check the football scores or the TV listings.

Sidenote: Sadly, I don’t get to do nearly any mobile interface work due to client’s budgets not stretching that far, but I think that will change in the next year or two as the usage of the mobile internet increases and clients realise they can make more money if they cater for different audiences.

SEO

“The Hodge” gave a very interesting talk about SEO (and bagels), and once again it was nice to hear from a speaker who clearly knows what they’re doing.; it was great to hear an SEO professional denounce a lot of SEO practices as ‘bullshit’. The majority of people in this industry are not this honest; which is a pity.

It was also really refreshing to hear a bit of humour from this speaker; and I have to admit this was my favourite talk of the night.

HTML5 (aka JavaScript)

‘Oh bore off HTML5’, I hear you say, ‘we’ve had enough of you already.’ Well, yes, the truth is that HTML5 kind of sucks, we have a lot of new (borderline useless tags) but, there is a silver lining; the real selling point of HTML5 will be these HTML5 APIs which will allow us to pass off a lot of work we do in JavaScript to the browser; of course, we’ll all still be writing JavaScript – just not as much of the mundane stuff (hopefully).

Some of the people I was with did seem to get a little lost and, dare I say, a tad bored during some of the more technical parts of Remy Sharp’s presentation. While I find it quite fascinating that, in the near future, form validation could be done by the browser I don’t think that everyone else shared that enthusiasm.

Graceful degradation in browsers (CSS)

By far the most controversial talk of the night was from the headliner, Andy Clarke.¬† His point: for years (7 to be precise) we’ve been told to progressively enhance websites; make it work in IE6 then add visual flourishes to Safari/Chrome/Firefox browsers but his idea is to flip that approach and make the site look best in better browsers then successfully downgrade the site so it looks decent in IE6/7. Will IE users miss out? Probably not, Clarke noted because in the real world people using websites don’t check that it works in IE6 and Firefox; they just use the browser they use and don’t really care if it looks a bit different on someone else’s machine.

Will you be able to adopt this approach on every project starting from today? No, probably not, but you can definitely start to do it with some clients and you should definitely be starting to educate clients about the browser differences and why websites shouldn’t look the same in IE6/7 as they do in Firefox 3.6. People don’t expect the mobile web to look as good on their 10 year old Nokia as it does on an iPhone so why should it be any different with desktop browsers.

Summary

There was a lot of talk at last night’s Speak the Web about how good it was to have something going on up north for a change – and it really was. Fun as it is to take a trip to London/Brighton for a web conference it does start to get expensive so the fact that some local boys put on something for us Northerners was really cool.

From reading the blurb on the website, I got the impression at the conference was to be more like a gig than a traditional conference and that’s exactly how it was. There was a headlining act and some some supporting speakers leading up to them; it felt very relaxed and informal and I think it was definitely the right approach. The fact that it was in the pub meant everyone was a little more lubricated¬† with alcohol and consequently more prepared to have open and frank discussions about the talks once they’d finished.

I felt the price was right here too; ¬£20 for a few hours of inspiration is a good deal as far as I’m concerned and I’d be more than happy to attend another Speak the Web should the organisers choose to keep this juggernaut running.

Disclaimer

I feel I have to point out that I know both of the organisers, Rich and Dan, either through work or through Northern Digitals; but this has not coloured my review in any way.

5 responses to “Speak the Web (Manchester) Review”

    • Yes he didn’t he. I was going mention about all the references to ‘hardboiled’ because I didn’t really get why he was calling it that; I guess it sounds better than ‘Graceful degradation’ (well a bit anyway)

  1. Thanks a lot for the review mate – it’s really great getting feedback on what worked or didn’t work at any of these nights so we can learn and improve, should we do any more.

    @Mike – Andy’s point wasn’t so much a rebranding of graceful degredation so much as taking the idea of being graceful out of it and pushing things farther forward which finding acceptable presentations for less capable devices, which is a valid difference IMO ;)

  2. Thanks for the positive review/feedback Phil. I certainly felt like a newbie and with hindsight there’s an awful lot I can learn regarding speaking from the very accomplished Andy Clarke, and from Remy and The Hodge too. However, I’m glad you were left with a clear message regarding my thoughts on delivering optimised mobile sites – and of course that it concurs with your own experiences as an iPhone user. Roll on Speak The Web 2011. :-)

  3. I was there at Speak The Web too. ‘Twas interesting, not sure I completely agreed with Andy Clarke’s ‘Hard Boiled’ stance, but certainly agree we all should be pushing the capabilities and possibilities of CSS3, rather than be put off by the IE6 demographic.