Tags: nashville



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.


I’ve finished my little bout of timezone parkour to Nashville and San Francisco. I attended a conference in each place and enjoyed both in very different ways.

Voices That Matter had an eclectic line-up of speakers. Whereas other conferences are organized around a theme or a set of technologies, the only commonality at this conference, organized by New Riders, is that the speakers have all published books through New Riders. While this means that the conference doesn’t have a specific focus, it does offer a nice varied range of subjects. Talks ranged from the specifics of using CSS for colour, typography and layout right through to discussions of user-testing and social networking.

I enjoyed getting the nitty-gritty details of CSS fonts from Jason Cranford Teague. He and Richard are clearly kindred spirits. The revelation of the conference for me was hearing a great hands-on presentation from Zoe Mickley Gillenwater on liquid and elastic layouts. Okay, so I might be a bit biased but I think it’s great that this subject is getting coverage and Zoe is just the person to do it. She’s currently writing a book for New Riders on this neglected area of web design. It should be out by December. Pre-order it now.

For my part, I gave a half-day workshop on Bulletproof Ajax, which seemed to go well, and I reprised a talk I had given once before called Microformats: what are they and why do I care?

I missed a few talks because I was whisked away to be interviewed for a future video podcast. Under the very professional-looking lights and cameras, I participated in a one-on-chat and also a thoroughly enjoyable discussion with Christopher Schmitt and Steve Krug. I missed more talks because I wanted to get outside the hotel and explore Nashville a bit. The highlight of that exploration was getting a guided tour —thanks to Ari—around the historic Hatch Show Print where they have been making letterpress posters for musicians for over a century; a great place to soak up some design inspiration.

My ulterior motive for escaping from the conference hotel was to seek out a mandolin for myself. I went to the Gibson outlet store at the Opry Mills shopping mall on the outskirts of town but even the cheapest mandolin there was still beyond my price range. They sure were a pleasure to play, though. Fortunately for me, I stumbled across a flea market in the same mall where I happened upon a cheap second-hand epiphone. It’s not brilliant but it’s suitable for my purposes; a decent little instrument that I can take travelling with me. I’ve got a suitable travel bag to go with it. It has the shape of a tennis racket case but all the pockets of a laptop bag. I may even try to pass myself off as some kind of freakish sporty geek hybrid.

All in all, I think I managed to get a good look around Nashville and get plenty out of the conference too. I was only there for a few days before it was time for me to head on to San Francisco for Supernova 2008. That was a different kettle of thought-leading fish.

City Hopping

Now that I’m done travelling for pleasure, it’s time for me to travel for business again. I’m heading out to San Francisco for the Supernova conference. Tantek has roped me into moderating a panel called Bottom-Up Distributed Openness.

I’ll be showing up in SF next Friday. Until then, I’ll be in Nashville for the somewhat embarrassingly-titled Voices That Matter conference where I’ll be delivering a half-day workshop on Ajax and a presentation on microformats.

While I’m in the heartland, I’m planning to treat myself to a new mandolin. Then I can bring that mandolin with me when I go to Copenhagen at the end of the month for Reboot 10 where, if my proposal is accepted, I’ll be talking on The Transmission of Tradtion. The video of my talk from last year, the pretentiously-titled Soul is available for your viewing pleasure. I’ll see about getting it transcribed and added to the articles section here.

All that’s ahead of me. Right now I need to prepare myself for the long and tedious trip across the Atlantic. See you in Nashville, San Francisco or Copenhagen.