Tags: fullfrontalconf



Full fathom frontal

It’s been a busy time in Brighton. Last Wednesday’s Skillswap was an excellent affair, with terrific talks about making physical things from Chris Thorpe, Dan Williams, and the lovely young chaps from Mint Digital’s Foundry who were showing their lovely dough globe.

Two days later, it was time for this year’s Full Frontal conference, a highlight of the web-dev calendar. It was really, really good. The general consensus at the after-party was that this was the best year yet. That’s quite something when you consider that in 2009 I said:

it’ll be hard to match the standard set by this year’s conference.

I love it when there are events on in Brighton—dConstruct, Reasons To Be Creative, UX Brighton. It’s great to have geeks come to visit. I always feel like an ambassador and I want the town to be on its best behaviour.

The line-up for Full Frontal was really well curated by Remy. It started with a one-two punch of big-picture thinking, dived into the practicalities of working on the cutting-edge of today’s technologies and then wrapped up with a long-zoom trip down memory lane with Chris.

The one-two punch came from James and John. Like an Oxford debate, they were arguing from opposite ends of a spectrum of opinion. James argued that was perfectly reasonable, even desirable, to make a web app entirely in JavaScript with no HTML in the body element whatsoever. John cautioned against throwing the markup baby out with the web app bathwater, pointing to the robustness of the web stack’s architecture.

The whole point of this opening to the conference was to spark debate and discussion, which it certainly did. Witness this post by Mike Davies in response to James’s arguments.

I’ve seen James present before and, while I certainly don’t agree with what he’s saying, he is a very good presenter. He used a particularly sneaky technique this time. This technical term for this technique is “being reasonable.” Half way through his talk he pointed out that he was taking a deliberately extremist approach and that the truth is that every website sits somewhere on a continuum between document and app (and that websites have had app-like capabilities since the dawn of the submit button). Talking with Mark in the break, we decided we should just get T-shirts with “It Depends” emblazoned on them.

Side note: I’m afraid I must deduct one or two points from James for employing a rhetorical device that really annoys me. At one point (and admittedly just one point) he referred to the “other side” as being dogmatic. Whenever someone labels those they disagree with as “dogmatic” or “purist”, it’s a lazy meaningless barb (like calling someone a hipster). “I’m passionate; you’re dogmatic. I sweat the details; you’re a purist.” Even when I agree completely with the argument being made—as was the case with Andy’s superb talk at South by Southwest this year—I cringe to hear the “dogma” attack employed: especially when the argument is strong enough to stand up on its own without resorting to Croftian epithets.

Anyway, the debate between James and John was a great start to a great day of talks. In some ways, Anna’s excellent talk on the diversity of web browsers on gaming devices was the ultimate rebuttal to James’s argument. “I don’t care about browsers that can’t run this JavaScript,” said James. “This browser basically can’t handle JavaScript,” said Anna. “And here’s the number of young people in the UK accessing the web on this device…”

The Ubelly blog post described Anna’s talk as “One of the best talks of the conference and one of the best talks I have seen this year.”

All in all, a great day which was followed by a whole day of hacking on drones. Clearleft sponsored the event, which means we now have our own flying robot. This could be dangerous.

We’ll be sure to take the drone with us when we head into deepest darkest Dorset next week for this year’s hack farm. But before that I’m in Belfast for the week of Build “don’t-call-it-a-conference” Conf. And you know what I really like? I’m seeing some of the same faces that I saw in Brighton at Full Frontal. Now that’s what I call a balanced conference diet.