Tags: bdconf

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Mobilewood

Online communication is a wonderful thing but I firmly believe that there’s enormous value to be had in getting together in meatspace for some proper face-to-face discussion. Take the gathering in New York of what later came to be known as HTML5 Super Friends. It was an intense two days of poring over the spec with really smart people. My brain hurt by the end of it but that was a small price to pay for such a rewarding experience.

When the finest minds in mobile recently gathered together in Nashville for the Breaking Development conference, the opportunity for extending the gathering was too good to pass up. By some clerical error, I was also asked along. Thus it was that I found myself in the company of these fine people in a secluded house in Tennessee:

We called it Mobilewood. It was a blast.

Cuddling with multiple devices Jump into Mobilewood! The heroes of mobilewood IMG_0118

It wasn’t all hot tubs and campfires—although there was plenty of both. We worked hard and played hard. Luke did a great job of structuring the event, wielding his managerial experience to make sure that we never got bogged down. We began with some ambitious discussions which led to more focused brainstorming which in turn led to a number of individual projects.

It became clear from fairly early on that simply focusing on mobile alone would be missing the bigger picture. Instead of being overwhelmed by the ever-increasing range of devices out there, we need to embrace the chaos and accept there will be even more devices—and types of devices—that we can’t even anticipate. We should embrace that. Instead of focusing on whatever this season’s model happens to be, we should be crafting our services in a robust way, striving for universal access tomorrow as well as today.

The first project to launch is a manifesto of sorts. It’s a called to arms. Or rather, it’s a call to be future friendly:

  1. Acknowledge and embrace unpredictability.
  2. Think and behave in a future-friendly way.
  3. Help others do the same.

The future friendly site also contains a set of design principles, but they are the starting points for discussions rather than the end points for solutions. Consider them a work in progress.

You can also find a list of future-friendly resources that will most definitely grow over time—probably beyond the bounds of the site.

This is just the beginning. The future is ours to make—friendly.

Devices and mobinauts

Detection

One of the recurring themes at the Mobilism conference earlier this year—and more recently at the Breaking Development conference—was the subject of server-side user-agent detection. I posed the question in absurdum on the Mobilism browser panel:

A useful tool for developers or spawn of Satan: which is it?

It’s a contentious issue, as Alex’s strident defence illustrates. Personally, I’ve never been a fan but that’s mostly because of the long history of really, really bad UA-detection in the past. When I discussed this issue with Lyza we came to a détente, agreeing that there is nothing inherently wrong with server-side UA-detection: it’s what you do with it that counts.

In their presentation at Breaking Development Bryan and Stephanie outlined the kind of detection that they have used. Crucially, it assumes a very basic small-screen default—rather than assuming a desktop browser—and later double-checks the profile on the client-side using feature detection.

Luke recently outlined another kind of cautious device detection that he’s calling RESS: Responsive Design + Server Side Components, sending subtly-different DOMs to different classes of device. He also recently wrote about why Bagcheck has a separate mobile site and it strikes me that RESS could alleviate the concerns he mentioned regarding responsive design for Bagcheck.

I think that RESS could be a very useful technique as long as it assumes a safe default: a small-screen, low-bandwidth default. That way, any UA detection would be done against a fairly limited set of user agents: desktop browsers and maybe tablets. To me, that seems far more reasonable than trying to pattern-match against the sprawling jungle of mobile devices in the wild …not to mention the swampy morass of licensing issues with Device Atlas (and now too).

As ever, smart defaults are really important. Just as truly responsible responsive web design goes hand-in-hand with a mobile/content first approach, I think that any server-side detection should do the same. It completely inverts the problem space. Instead of thinking “How can I stop this nice-to-have content/functionality being sent to mobile devices?” you can assume a mobile device by default and then your question becomes “How can I make sure that this nice-to-have content/functionality is only sent to desktop devices?” (the answer probably involves some kind of conditional loading with JavaScript).

A thornier problem with server-side UA-sniffing is that, regardless of whether you’re testing against a list of mobile devices or you’re testing against a list of desktop devices, you’re still committing yourself to an arms race. You are now obligated to keep your list of browsers up to date.

Still, the rate of desktop browser releases is a lot slower than the rate of mobile browser releases. So if a new desktop browser is released and it ends up being served a mobile-optimised DOM, I think that’s better than inadvertently serving a desktop-optimised DOM to a whole bunch of mobile devices.

That’s just my opinion of course. As ever, the standard disclaimer applies.

The Language of the Web

The Breaking Development conference is wrapping up here on spacecraft Opryland One. It’s been a wonderful experience. The conference itself was superbly curated—a single track of top-notch speakers in a line-up that switched back and forth between high-level concepts and deep-dives into case studies. I hope that other conferences will take note of those key phrases: “single track”, “curated”, “top-notch speakers” (see also: An Event Apart, dConstruct, Mobilism).

I opened the show with a talk that sounds controversial: There Is No Mobile Web. Actually, it wasn’t as contentious as it sounds (I originally proposed a talk called Fuck The Mobile Web: Fuck It In The Assthen it would’ve been controversial). You can download a PDF of my slides if you want but, as usual, they won’t make much if any sense outside the context of the presentation.

Jeremy Keith @adactio

My talk was concerned with language; political language in particular. When I say “there is no mobile web,” I mean it quite literally: there isn’t a separate world wide web for mobile devices. But by using the phrase “mobile web” we may be unintentionally framing the discussion in terms of separate silos for different kinds of devices (desktop and mobile) in a similar way that a term like, say, “tax relief” automatically frames the discussion of taxation as something negative. By subtly changing the framing from “the mobile web” to a more accurate phrase such as “the web on mobile” we could potentially open new avenues of thinking.

By the same token the phrase “one web”—which is the drum that I bang—is really a tautology. Of course there’s only one web! But the phrase has political and philosophical overtones.

So I asked the assembled audience if we could come to an agreement: I’ll stop saying “one web” if you stop staying “mobile web.” How about …”the web”?

I also talked about the power of naming things, invoking the foreword I wrote for Ethan’s book:

When Ethan Marcotte coined the term “responsive web design” he conjured up something special. The technologies existed already: fluid grids, flexible images, and media queries. But Ethan united these techniques under a single banner, and in so doing changed the way we think about web design.

I’m not invoking here, I just wanted to point out how our language can—intentionally or unintentionally—have an effect on our thinking.

One of the other phrases I discussed was “web app.” The timing couldn’t have been better. Fellow Breaking Development speaker James Pearce has just written a blog post all about defining what makes something a web app. It’s very detailed and well thought-out but I’m afraid at the end of it, we’re still no closer to having a shared agreed-upon definition. It’s like the infamous Supreme Court definition of obscenity: “.”

My concern is that the phrase “web app” is wielded as a talisman to avoid best practices. “Oh, I totally agree that we should care about accessibility …but this isn’t a web site, it’s a web app.” “I think that progressive enhancement is great …for websites; but this is a web app.” The term is used as a get-out-of-jail free card and yet we can’t even agree what it means. I call shenanigans. I don’t think it is useful or productive to create an artificial boundary between documents and applications when the truth is that almost everything on the web exists on a continuum between the two poles.

Luke has published his excellent notes from my talk. You should read ‘em. While you’re at it, you should read all of the notes that he took at the conference.

Make sure you check out the notes from Stephanie’s mind-blowing case study of browser.nokia.com. The slides are on Slideshare too.

As I said, the Breaking Development conference did an excellent job of balancing the practical with the inspirational. Stephanie’s intensely useful case study was perfectly balanced by an absolutely incredible call to arms from Scott Jenson called Why Mobile Apps Must Die (and you thought my talk title was contentious), in which he expanded on his brilliant writings over on the Beyond Mobile blog.

The next Breaking Development event will be next April in Orlando. Single track. Curated. Top-notch speakers.

The country songs of distant Earth

I flew into Nashville on the weekend for the Breaking Development conference, which is proving to be excellent so far.

The event is taking place within the Gaylord Opryland (stop sniggering). It’s a very unusual environment. At one point it was . Now it’s a complex of hotel buildings, parks and restaurants all contained under a glass and metal ceiling. The whole place feels like it’s hermetically sealed—the ideal place to hole up during a zombie apocalypse.

The outer edge of the Stanford Torus

I’ve been inside this world since Saturday evening. I have memories of the outside world. I remember the feeling of a breeze on my face, the sun on my skin. I remember the cash-based monetary system used by the surface dwellers; so inefficient compared to the unique identifier contained in my room key.

I began to realise that, in the absence of any evidence that I was in fact still in Tennessee, it was entirely possible that this self-contained ecosystem was not necessarily earthbound. What if I’m in an orbital habitat? Or a ?

I’ve been surreptitiously attempting to explore the shape of the complex—without drawing too much attention to myself (I think they’re watching)—trying to figure out if I’m in a or, more likely, a .

The builders have created a near-flawless illusion of the homeworld. The climate control has been consistent and the gravity is a perfect Earth 1. I’m a little nervous about the possibility of a meteor penetrating the shell and causing decompression problems, but I think they must have a phalanx of automated lasers on the outside hull to take care of that eventuality.

There are plenty of , which should ensure a renewable supply of food. Strangely, I haven’t seen any animals (apart from fish) but most of available in the restaurant appears to be meat-based.

I don’t know how long the voyage will last. I don’t even know where lies. But so far there are no hardships to endure. Our hosts are ensuring our psychological wellbeing with a plentiful supply of piped music …though why it is exclusively country music remains a mystery to me. We are, after all, a long, long way from Nashville.

Impostor syndrome

I’m living inside Keynote these days. I’ve got a string of speaking engagements coming up and I’m freaking out about all of them.

The big one is the full-day dConstruct workshop I’ll be leading called Responsive Enhancement. I’ve been working on it solidly for the last month and I hope that it’s all going to come together this week. I’m quite excited about it. If anything, my concern is that there won’t be enough time in one day to cover all the things I want to geek about.

Lest you think that is a blatant plug to entice you to book a place on the workshop, that ship has sailed, my friend: the workshop sold out a while back. But you can still book a place on Scott’s jQuery Mobile workshop or Josh’s Mobile Design workshop. And remember, a workshop ticket gets you complementary access to the dConstruct conference (which sold out in a day).

Maker Faire Brighton will take place the day after dConstruct but I’ll probably be too busy making frantic last-minute preparations for Aral’s Update conference at the Brighton Dome two days later. I’ve been invited to deliver an 18 minute rant and permission has been granted for me to be as controversial as I wish. I’ll try not to disappoint. Tickets are still available if you want a piece of the action.

Later that week I’ll be up in London for the Adobe Expressive Web Tour. In this case, I haven’t explicitly asked permission to rant but I’m going to do so anyway. Hey, if you’re going to ask me to give a talk called “The State of the Web” in the same month that you dump Adobe Muse on the world, you’ve gotta expect some flak, right?

Then I’ll be flying out to Nashville for the Breaking Development conference which kicks off on September 12th. I’m feeling distinctly outclassed by the ludicrously smart line-up of talent that will be presenting there. And I’m supposed to open the show! gulp

Given that the title of my talk is There Is No Mobile Web, it may sound like I am once again courting controversy, but actually, I consider that to be a fairly uncontroversial viewpoint.

Much as I’m looking forward to the time in Tennessee, it’s a shame that I’ll have to duck out of town in the middle of the Brighton Digital Festival. I’ll miss out on BarCamp Brighton and Flash On The Beach.

Fortunately I will still be in town for Brainy Hacks on September 6th. It looks like Clare is putting together a great event: an evening of brainstorming design solutions for a non-profit:

Calling all creatives, strategists and planners - we need you to donate your brain to charity. We have a great brief from a not-for-profit organisation and you have two hours to solve it competing in teams of up to five to have your idea judged the best by our mega judges.

But if the time is going to pass pleasantly—with some food and drink to stir the creative juices—then a sponsor needs to step up and claim the glory. If you know of an appropriate organisation, get in touch with Clare.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to frantically putting slides together while I swirl deeper and deeper down into a pit of inadequacy-fuelled .