Journal tags: boston



Speaking my brains in Boston

I was in Boston last week to give a talk. I ended up giving four.

I was there for An Event Apart which was, as always, excellent. I opened up day two with my talk, The Way Of The Web.

This was my second time giving this talk at An Event Apart—the first time was in Seattle a few months back. It was also my last time giving this talk at An Event Apart—I shan’t be speaking at any of the other AEAs this year, alas. The talk wasn’t recorded either so I’m afraid you kind of had to be there (unless you know of another conference that might like to have me give that talk, in which case, hit me up).

After giving my talk in the morning, I wasn’t quite done. I was on a panel discussion with Rachel about CSS grid. It turned out to be a pretty good format: have one person who’s a complete authority on a topic (Rachel), and another person who’s barely starting out and knows just enough to be dangerous (me). I really enjoyed it, and the questions from the audience prompted some ideas to form in my head that I should really note down in a blog post before they evaporate.

The next day, I went over to MIT to speak at Design 4 Drupal. So, y’know, technically I’ve lectured at MIT now.

I wasn’t going to do the same talk as I gave at An Event Apart, obviously. Instead, I reprised the talk I gave earlier this at Webstock: Taking Back The Web. I thought it was fitting given how much Drupal’s glorious leader, Dries, has been thinking about, writing about, and building with the indie web.

I really enjoyed giving this talk. The audience were great, and they had lots of good questions afterwards. There’s a video, which is basically my voice dubbed over the slides, followed by a good half of questions afterwards.

When I was done there, after a brief excursion to the MIT bookstore, I went back across the river from Cambridge to Boston just in time for that evening’s Boston CSS meetup.

Lea had been in touch to ask if I would speak at this meet-up, and I was only too happy to oblige. I tried doing something I’ve never done before: a book reading!

No, not reading from Going Offline, my current book which I should encouraging people to buy. Instead I read from Resilient Web Design, the free online book that people literally couldn’t buy if they wanted to. But I figured reading the philosophical ramblings in Resilient Web Design would go over better than trying to do an oral version of the service worker code in Going Offline.

I read from chapters two (Materials), three (Visions), and five (Layers) and I really, really liked doing it! People seemed to enjoy it too—we had questions throughout.

And with that, my time in Boston was at an end. I was up at the crack of dawn the next morning to get the plane back to England where Ampersand awaited. I wasn’t speaking there though. I thoroughly enjoyed being an attendee and absorbing the knowledge bombs from the brilliant speakers that Rich assembled.

The next place I’m speaking will much closer to home than Boston: I’ll be giving a short talk at Oxford Geek Nights on Wednesday. Come on by if you’re in the neighbourhood.

Talking and travelling

I’m in America. This is a three-week trip and in those three weeks, I’m speaking at four conferences.

That might sound like a fairly hectic schedule but it’s really not that bad at all. In each place I’m travelling to, travel takes up a day, the conference portion takes up a couple of days, but I still get a day or two to just hang out and be a tourist, which is jolly nice.

This sojourn began in Boston where I was speaking at An Event Apart. It was—as ever—an excellent event and even though I was just speaking at An Event Apart in Seattle just a few weeks ago, there were still plenty of fresh talks for me to enjoy in Boston: Paul talking about performance, Lea talking about colour in CSS, Dan talking about process, and a barnstorming talk from Bruce on everything that makes the web great (although I respectfully disagree with his stance on DRM/EME).

My own talk was called The Long Web and An Event Apart Boston was its final outing. I first gave it at An Event Apart DC back in August—it’s had a good nine-month run.

My next appearance at An Event Apart will be at the end of this American trip in San Diego. I’ll be presenting a new talk there. Whereas my previous talk was a rambling affair about progressive enhancement, responsive design, and long-term thinking, my new talk will be a rambling affair about progressive enhancement, responsive design, and long-term thinking.

Sooner or later people are going to realise that I keep hammering home the same message in all my talks and this whole speaking-at-conferences gig will dry up. Until then, I’ll keep hammering home that same old message.

I have two opportunities to road-test this new talk before An Event Apart San Diego (for which, by the way, tickets still remain: use the code AEAKEITH when you’re booking to get $100 off).

I’ll be speaking at Bmoresponsive in Baltimore at the end of this week. Before that, I have the great pleasure (and pressure) of opening the show tomorrow at the Artifact conference here in good ol’ Austin, Texas (and believe it or not, you can still get a ticket: this time use the code ADACTIO100 when you’re booking to get $100 off).

Until then, I have some time to wander around and be a tourist. It is so nice to be here in Austin when it’s not South by Southwest. I should probably fretting over this talk but instead I’m spending my time sampling tacos and beers in the sunshine.

Boston Global Scope

After giving my language-centric talk at the Breaking Development conference I found it interesting to listen out for the terms that attendees and speakers were using to describe desktop-centric websites. Some of the adjectives I heard were:

  • full site,
  • standard site,
  • regular site.

Once again, I think that this kind of language can constrain our approaches to web design and development. In truth, a mobile site should be the standard, full, regular site; you can still go ahead and add more stuff for the desktop environment, but to think of it as the canonical instantiation isn’t helpful. It hinders our ability to think in a mobile-first responsive manner.

Jason made a great point in his closing talk at Breaking Development. He said that clients are always asking how much extra it’s going to cost them to have a mobile site. But it should be the other way around. The mobile site ought to be the default and they should be asking how much extra it will cost to optimise for the desktop (which is not very much because, let’s face it, the desktop environment is a piece of piss compared to mobile).

It can be tough to convince a client that a mobile-first responsive site is the right approach. It’s always better to show rather than tell, but up until now there haven’t been any poster children for responsible responsive design—much as I like the site, the majority of sites showcased are shrinking down from a desktop start.

This reminds of the situation with web standards ten years ago. There were plenty of great sites that has switched over from table layouts to CSS but they were mostly blogs and portfolio sites (again, take a look at It wasn’t until large commercial entities like ESPN and were brave enough to make the switch that the CSS floodgates opened.

As of this week, we have a poster child for responsive web design: The Boston Globe. Actually, that does it a disservice …it’s a poster child for excellence in web design and development best practices.

I was lucky enough to have Scott do a show’n’tell at my dConstruct workshop. Seeing the thought and care that went in to every step of the process was humbling. There were a lot of tough challenges but they kept their eye on the prize: universal access—regardless of what device you’re using—without compromising on visual and interactive richness.

I’m going to let the site speak for itself but I just wanted to send my heartfelt congratulations to Ethan, Miranda, Scott, Todd, Patty and everyone else at Filament Group, Upstatement and the Boston Globe. Their hard work will benefit everyone designing and development for the web. Thank you guys.

Here are some reports in their words:

Lots of other people are writing about the Boston Globe launch, although much of the commentary focuses on the forthcoming paywall/fence rather than the design or technology. Jeffrey has written about the site, also comparing it to Mike’s visionary work on ESPN back in the day.

I could go on and on about how well the site works on touchscreen devices, tablets and mobile phones of all kinds but I think the essence of what makes the site great is captured in Grant’s screenshot of The Boston Globe site running on… an Apple Newton.

HTML5 vs Newton: The Boston Globe

An Event Apart apart

I’m back from An Event Apart in Boston. It was quite an experience …and not just because I went to Fenway Park for my first baseball game. It was quite an experience because of the people that were there.

The Brads were there. The Spiderwomen were there. Anton was there drawing the speakers as robots.

Eric Bot Sketch Jeremy Bot Sketch Jeff Bot Sketch

I surprised myself by successfully liveblogging all six talks on the first day:

  1. Jeffrey Zeldman: What Every Web Designer Should Know — A Better You At What You Do
  2. Whitney Hess: Design Principles — The Philosophy of UX
  3. Veerle Pieters: The Experimental Zone
  4. Luke Wroblewski: Mobile Web Design Moves
  5. Ethan Marcotte: The Responsive Designer’s Workflow
  6. Jared Spool: The Secret Lives of Links

I received lots of nice emails and tweets from people thanking me for the liveblogging. Some people remarked that it was almost like being there. But that simply isn’t true. You really had to be there to experience it.

Still, a long-form report in the shape of a blog post is better than live tweeting, which is like trying to understand a conversation two houses away by putting your ear a cup filled with cotton wool pressed to the wall.

I didn’t do any liveblogging on the second day as I was too nervous before—and too relieved after—delivering my own talk. But Luke took some notes:

  1. Eric Meyer: The CSS3 Anarchist’s Cookbook
  2. Jeremy Keith: All Our Yesterdays
  3. Aarron Walter: From Idea to Interface
  4. Andy Clarke: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Adam D. Scott has notes from all the talks including the triumphant finalés from Mark and Jeff.

Like I said, I was relieved when my talk was done. I was thrilled and surprised by how many people said they enjoyed it. This was a different talk to the one I gave at An Event Apart in Seattle. Back then I gave a talk on design principles but as Whitney was presenting on the same topic in Boston, I took the opportunity to rant about something very dear to my heart: digital preservation.

Usually when I craft a presentation for An Event Apart, I try to create a mixture of the the inspirational and the practical. But this talk had nothing practical at all. It wasn’t exactly inspirational either. If anything, the topic is somewhat depressing.

And yet, people liked it. I can’t even begin to describe how it makes me feel that Zeldman wrote:

Although it is hard to pick highlights among such great speakers and topics, this talk was a highlight for me. As in, it blew my mind. Several people said it should be a TED talk.

This is the talk that I had proposed for South By Southwest. It was rejected. ‘Nuff said.

There are going to be four more instantiations of An Event Apart this year and I hope to repeat my rant on digital preservation at at least one of them. If you haven’t been to An Event Apart, I highly recommend registering for one near you.

But I have to say, excellent as the conference always is, An Event Apart Boston 2011 will always have a special place in my heart.

Mark and Andy Chloe and me An Event Apart Boston Me with Jeremy Keith and Jeffrey Veen Petra & Matthew Jeremy Keith

From Boston to London

The second day of An Event Apart in Boston kept up the excellent standard of the first day. Alas, I couldn’t keep the liveblogging up for two straight days …I blame the Media Temple opening party.

Other attendees were far more motivated than I. There’s the Django app A Feed Apart that collates Twitter and Flickr posts from the conference. Then there’s the very cute A Seat Apart which allowed attendees to point out their place in the seating arrangement. In fact, all the attendees I met at the event were an exceptionally enthusiastic and lovely bunch.

The content was, of course, superb; Zeldman, Heather, Derek, Dan, Aarron and Scott all gave superbly inspiring talks. The event closed with Malarkey giving a rousing talk wherein he backed up the assertion already made by myself and Dan that no, for fuck’s sake, websites do not need to look the same in every browser!

That was certainly an emerging hot topic at An Event Apart. Now I’m in London for @media 2009, where it is beholden upon me to track the hot topics for the closing panel. So far, from an excellent first day, the topics I’m seeing are:

  • Process
  • Icons and metaphor
  • @font-family

And that’s just after one day of design-related talks. There’s a whole swathe of developer-focused hot topics still to come. I’m riding a wave of inspiration from two back-to-back conferences; I hope I can harness some of that energy in the closing panel.

An Event Apart Boston, Day One

The first day of An Event Apart is wrapping up here in Boston. Dan is delivering his talk Implementing Design: Bulletproof A-Z which I’ve already liveblogged from a previous event so I can give my fingers a bit of rest now.

The liveblogging was kind of fun. By keeping myself busy, I was able to stop myself from getting too nervous about my own talk. I’m so glad it’s over and done with now. Feel free to download a PDF of the talk, Future Shock Treatment. Also, feel free to reuse it—it’s licensed under a Creative Commons attribution license.

I actually enjoyed giving the talk a lot. It was much rantier than I intended but nobody seemed to mind. One of the reasons why I was ranting so much was that I was somewhat taken aback by the audience reaction to a segment on progressive enrichment and IE6. My basic question was Do websites need to look the same in every browser? I expected a resounding No! from my peers but I got some pushback from some people. That surprised me, given the savviness of the audience. I think it surprised (and depressed) Malarkey too. He wrote recently about this attitude:

Has the last ten years all been for nothing? I fear for this industry.

I hear ya, Andy. I’m off to drown our collective sorrows at the after-party.

I kid. Most people here firmly agreed with me. The others …are wrong.

Here are all of today’s talks:

  1. Revealing Design Treasures from The Amazon by Jared Spool.
  2. Content First by Kristina Halvorson.
  3. Thinking Small by Jason Santa Maria.
  4. Future Shock Treatment by me.
  5. Designing with Psychology in Mind by Joshua Porter.
  6. DIY UX: Give Your Users an Upgrade (Without Calling In a Pro) by Whitney Hess.
  7. Implementing Design: Bulletproof A-Z by Dan Cederholm.

I’m not sure if I’ll do any liveblogging tomorrow. I may just soak up the excellent content.

London to Boston

When I bump into someone I haven’t seen for a while, I am often greeted with a remark along the lines “Oh, I’m surprised you’re actually in the country.” Har-dee-har-har. That’s my cue to point out that because going to foreign climes is different and exciting, that’s when I’m more likely to write something here on But I spend most of my time in Brighton, going to the office and building websites; writing about that would be the equivalent of Dog Bites Man. Still, if you keep an eye on my Pownce page and my my Magnolia links, it would become clear that I’m publishing plenty …it just happens to be in short form.

So that’s what I’ve been up to lately. Working, eating, sleeping, punctuated with the occasional trip out of Brighton up to London.

Last Friday, myself and Andy spent the afternoon in the Big Smoke meeting up with the good people from, School of Everything, Moo and Dopplr. It made a change to see my colleagues in their natural habitats rather than the usual meeting place of a conference.

That said, meeting people at a conference is pretty damn great. It’s by far the biggest reason for going to a conference in a first place. That’s why I had a good time on Thursday at The Future of Web Apps. I spent more time chatting to people than I did attending talks. I had lunch with SXSWers Hugh and Shawn, drank beer from YDN, loitered around the Headshift stand and played with a Microsoft Surface. Just occasionally, I popped my head into a presention.

The technical talks were a bit too technical for me—though Blaine and Matt did a great job of talking about some pretty hardcore server-side technology in such way that even a n00b like me could grasp some of it—while the business talks tended to walk a line uncomfortably close to product pitching. But that probably says more about my low tolerance for product pitches than it does about the quality of the speakers, who I’m sure were perfectly good if you’re into that businessy stuff. Still, there’s just no redeeming the guy from BT who, with a straight face, pitched a browser-based telephony service—whilst never once mentioning Asterisk—under the banner of it being all about communification. At first I thought it was simply a slip of the tongue but once he kept repeating it, it became clear that he honestly thought it was a perfectly cromulent word.

The day finished with a thoroughly entertaining Dragon’s Den style panel accepting the desperate pitches of hopeful startups. Most of the startups were pretty awful but the winner, Erepublik, looks genuinely brilliant. They had me at “massively multiplayer online text-based social strategy game.”

It was fun watching the interaction of the panelists as they dissected each startup. Ryan was playing Columbo—So let me get this straight…Mike played the part of the likeable cheeky chappy that he is (honestly, why such a nice guy associates himself with the seedy Techc*nt brand is beyond me), and Jason Calacanis was a consummate dickhead. If the guy from BT was channelling George Bush with his communification shtick, then Jason Calacanis was channelling Sarah Palin with his never-ending series of irrelevant, pre-prepared anecdotes that he trotted out at every available opportunity. Watching him rip the brave entrepreneurs to shreds was a thoroughly entertaining slice of schadenfreude.

A Media Temple afterparty and a curry in Brick Lane finished off the day nicely but I decided against going back for a second day of FOWA. Instead, I’ve been preparing for my next trip.

I’m off to Boston for the User Interface 13 Conference which starts on Monday. This time, I won’t be able to spend all my time shooting the breeze with my fellow geeks because I’m speaking. I’ll be giving a talk on Ajax design challenges as well as a full-day Ajax workshop. I’m pretty nervous about the workshop. I’ve given Ajax workshops before and they’ve always gone well but the audience was generally developers whereas I think the audience in Boston will be somewhat different. I’ll need to adopt, adapt and improve my workshop mojo. Perhaps paper, sharpies and post-it notes will help.

Before that, I intend to spend at least a day being a tourist in the capital of Massachusetts, maybe taking in one of the legendary sessions. If you’re going to be in Boston this weekend, get in touch.