Tags: presentation



Putting on a conference

It’s been a few weeks now since Patterns Day and I’m still buzzing from it. I might be biased, but I think it was a great success all ‘round—for attendees, for speakers, and for us at Clearleft organising the event.

I first had the idea for Patterns Day quite a while back. To turn the idea into reality meant running some numbers. Patterns Day wouldn’t have been possible without Alis. She did all the logistical work—the hard stuff—which freed me up to concentrate on the line-up. I started to think about who I could invite to speak, and at the same time, started looking for a venue.

I knew from the start that I wanted it to be one-day single-track conference in Brighton, much like Responsive Day Out. I knew I wouldn’t be able to use the Corn Exchange again—there’s extensive rebuilding going on there this year. I put together a shortlist of Brighton venues and Alis investigated their capacities and costs, but to be honest, I knew that I wanted to have it in the Duke Of York’s. I love that place, and I knew from attending FFconf that it makes for an excellent conference venue.

The seating capacity of the Duke Of York’s is quite a bit less than the Corn Exchange, so I knew the ticket price would have to be higher than that of Responsive Day Out. The Duke Of York’s isn’t cheap to rent for the day either (but worth every penny).

To calculate the ticket price, I had to figure out the overall costs:

  • Venue hire,
  • A/V hire,
  • Printing costs (for name badges, or in this case, stickers),
  • Payment provider commission—we use Stripe through the excellent Ti.to,
  • Speaker’s travel,
  • Speaker’s accommodation,
  • Speaker’s dinner the evening before the event,
  • Speaker’s payment.

Some conference organisers think they can skimp on that last part. Those conference organisers are wrong. A conference is nothing without its speakers. They are literally the reason why people buy tickets.

Because the speakers make or break a conference, there’s a real temptation to play it safe and only book people who are veterans. But then you’re missing out on a chance to boost someone when they’re just starting out with public speaking. I remember taking a chance on Alla a few years back for Responsive Day Out 3—she had never given a conference talk before. She, of course, gave a superb talk. Now she’s speaking at events all over the world, and I have to admit, it gives me a warm glow inside. When it came time for Patterns Day, Alla had migrated into the “safe bet” category—I knew she’d deliver the perfect closing keynote.

I understand why conference organisers feel like they need to play it safe. From their perspective, they’re already taking on a lot of risk in putting on a conference in the first place. It’s easy to think of yourself as being in a position of vulnerability—”If I don’t sell enough tickets, I’m screwed!” But I think it’s important to realise that you’re also in a position of power, whether you like it or not. If you’re in charge of putting together the line-up of a conference, that’s a big responsibility, not just to the attendees on the day, but to the community as a whole. It’s like that quote by Eliel Saarinen:

Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context. A chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.

Part of that responsibility to the wider community is representation. That’s why I fundamentally disagree with ppk when he says:

The other view would be that there should be 50% woman speakers. Although that sounds great I personally never believed in this argument. It’s based on the general population instead of the population of web developers, and if we’d extend that argument to its logical conclusion then 99.9% of the web development conference speakers should know nothing about web development, since that’s the rough ratio in the general population.

That makes it sound like a conference’s job is to represent the status quo. By that logic, the line-up should include plenty of bad speakers—after all, the majority of web developers aren’t necessarily good speakers. But of course that’s not how conferences work. They don’t represent typical ideas—quite the opposite. What’s the point of having an event that simply reinforces the general consensus? This isn’t Harrison Bergeron. You want a line-up that’s exceptional.

I don’t think conference organisers can shirk this issue and say “It’s out of my hands; I’m just reflecting the way things are.” The whole point of having a conference in the first place is to trigger some kind of change. If you’re not happy with the current make-up of the web community (and I most definitely am not), then a conference is the perfect opportunity to try to demonstrate an alternative. We do it with the subject matter of the talks—”Our code/process/tooling doesn’t have to be this way!”—and I think we should also apply that to the wider context: “Our culture doesn’t have to be this way!”

Passing up that chance isn’t just a missed opportunity, I think it’s also an abdication of responsibility. Believe me, I know that organising a conference is a lot of work, but that’s not a reason to cop out. On the contrary, it’s all the more reason to step up to the plate and try your damnedest to make a difference. Otherwise, why even have a conference?

Whenever the issue of diversity at conferences comes up, there is inevitably someone who says “All I care about is having the best speakers.” But if that were true, shouldn’t your conference (and every other conference) have exactly the same line-up every year?

The truth is that there are all sorts of factors that play into the choice of speakers. I think representation should be a factor, but that’s all it is—one factor of many. Is the subject matter relevant? That’s a factor. Do we already have someone on the line-up covering similar subject matter? That’s a factor. How much will it cost to get this speaker? That’s a factor. Is the speaker travelling from very far away? That’s a factor.

In the case of Patterns Day, I had to factor in the range of topics. I wanted a mixture of big-picture talks as well as hands-on nitty-gritty case studies. I also didn’t want it to be too developer-focused or too design-focused. I was aiming for a good mix of both.

In the end, I must admit that I am guilty of doing exactly what I’ve been railing against. I played it safe. I put together a line-up of speakers that I wanted to see, and that I knew with absolute certainty would deliver great presentations. There were plenty of potential issues for me to get stressed about in the run-up to the event, but the quality of the talks wasn’t one of them. On the one hand, I wish I had taken more chances with the line-up, but honestly, if I could do it over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Because I was trying to keep the ticket price as low as possible—and the venue hire was already a significant cost—I set myself the constraint of only having speakers from within the UK (Jina was the exception—she was going to come anyway as an attendee, so of course I asked her to speak). Knowing that the speaker’s travel costs would be low, I could plug the numbers into an algebraic formula for figuring out the ticket price:

costs ÷ seats = price

Add up all the costs and divide that total by the number of available seats to get the minimum ticket price.

In practice, you probably don’t want to have to sell absolutely every single ticket just to break even, so you set the price for a sales figure lower than 100%—maybe 80%, or 50% if you’re out to make a tidy profit (although if you’re out to make a tidy profit, I don’t think conferences are the right business to be in—ask any conference organiser).

Some conferences factor in money for sponsorship to make the event happen. I prefer to have sponsors literally sponsoring additions to the conference. In the case of Patterns Day, the coffee and pastries were sponsored by Deliveroo, and the videos were sponsored by Amazon. But sponsorship didn’t affect the pricing formula.

The Duke Of York’s has around 280 seats. I factored in about 30 seats for speakers, Clearlefties, and other staff. That left 250 seats available for attendees. But that’s not the number I plugged into the pricing formula. Instead, I chose to put 210 tickets on sale and figured out the ticket price accordingly.

What happened to the remaining 40 seats? The majority of them went to Codebar students and organisers. So if you bought a ticket for Patterns Day, you directly subsidised the opportunity for people under-represented in technology to attend. Thank you.

Speaking personally, I found that having the Codebar crew in attendance really made my day. They’re my heroes, and it meant the world to me that they were able to be there.

Zara, Alice, and Amber Patterns Day Anwen, Zara, Alice, Dot, and Amber Eden, Zara, Alice, and Chloe

Resilience retires

I spoke at the GOTO conference in Berlin this week. It was the final outing of a talk I’ve been giving for about a year now called Resilience.

Looking back over my speaking engagements, I reckon I must have given this talk—in one form or another—about sixteen times. If by some statistical fluke or through skilled avoidance strategies you managed not to see the talk, you can still have it rammed down your throat by reading a transcript of the presentation.

That particular outing is from Beyond Tellerrand earlier this year in Düsseldorf. That’s one of the events that recorded a video of the talk. Here are all the videos of it I could find:

Or, if you prefer, here’s an audio file. And here are the slides but they won’t make much sense by themselves.

Resilience is a mixture of history lesson and design strategy. The history lesson is about the origins of the internet and the World Wide Web. The design strategy is a three-pronged approach:

  1. Identify core functionality.
  2. Make that functionality available using the simplest technology.
  3. Enhance!

And if you like that tweet-sized strategy, you can get it on a poster. Oh, and check this out: Belgian student Sébastian Seghers published a school project on the talk.

Now, you might be thinking that the three-headed strategy sounds an awful lot like progressive enhancement, and you’d be right. I think every talk I’ve ever given has been about progressive enhancement to some degree. But with this presentation I set myself a challenge: to talk about progressive enhancement without ever using the phrase “progressive enhancement”. This is something I wrote about last year—if the term “progressive enhancement” is commonly misunderstood by the very people who would benefit from hearing this message, maybe it’s best to not mention that term and talk about the benefits of progressive enhancement instead: robustness, resilience, and technical credit. I think that little semantic experiment was pretty successful.

While the time has definitely come to retire the presentation, I’m pretty pleased with it, and I feel like it got better with time as I adjusted the material. The most common format for the talk was 40 to 45 minutes long, but there was an extended hour-long “director’s cut” that only appeared at An Event Apart. That included an entire subplot about Arthur C. Clarke and the invention of the telegraph (I’m still pretty pleased with the segue I found to weave those particular threads together).

Anyway, with the Resilience talk behind me, my mind is now occupied with the sequel: Evaluating Technology. I recently shared my research material for this one and, as you may have gathered, it takes me a loooong time to put a presentation like this together (which, by the same token, is one of the reasons why I end up giving the same talk multiple times within a year).

This new talk had its debut at An Event Apart in San Francisco two weeks ago. Jeffrey wrote about it and I’m happy to say he liked it. This bodes well—I’m already booked in for An Event Apart Seattle in April. I’ll also be giving an abridged version of this new talk at next year’s Render conference.

But that’s it for my speaking schedule for now. 2016 is all done and dusted, and 2017 is looking wide open. I hope I’ll get some more opportunities to refine and adjust the Evaluating Technology talk at some more events. If you’re a conference organiser and it sounds like something you’d be interested in, get in touch.

In the meantime, it’s time for me to pack away the Resilience talk, and wheel down into the archives, just like the closing scene of Raiders Of The Lost Ark. The music swells. The credits roll. The image fades to black.

Research on evaluating technology

I’ve spent the past few months preparing a new talk for An Event Apart San Francisco (and hopefully some more AEAs after that). As always happens, I spent the whole time vacillating between thinking “this is good!” and thinking “this is awful!” I’m still bouncing between those poles. I won’t really know whether the talk is up to snuff until I actually give it to a live audience.

Over the past few years, my presentations have built upon one another. Two years ago, my talk was called Enhance! and it set the groundwork for using a layered approach to web design and development. My 2016 talk, Resilience, follows on with a process and examples for that approach (I also set myself the challenge of delivering a talk about progressive enhancement without ever using the phrase “progressive enhancement”).

My new talk goes a bit meta, but in my mind, it’s very much building on the previous talks. The talk is all about evaluating technology. I haven’t settled on a final title, but I was thinking about something obtuse, like …Evaluating Technology.

Here’s my hastily scribbled description:

We work with technology every day. And every day it seems like there’s more and more technology to understand: graphic design tools, build tools, frameworks and libraries, not to mention new HTML, CSS and JavaScript features landing in browsers. How should we best choose which technologies to invest our time in? When we decide to weigh up the technology choices that confront us, what are the best criteria for doing that? This talk will help you evaluate tools and technologies in a way that best benefits the people who use the websites that we are designing and developing. Let’s take a look at some of the hottest new web technologies like service workers and web components. Together we will dig beneath the hype to find out whether they will really change life on the web for the better.

As ever, I’ll begin and end with a long-zoom pretentious arc of history, but I’ll dive into practical stuff in the middle. That’s become a bit of a cliché for my presentations, but the formula works as a sort of microcosm of a good conference—a mixture of the inspirational and the practical, trying to keep a good balance of both.

For this new talk, the practical focus will be on some web technologies that are riding high on the hype cycle right now: service workers, web components, progressive web apps. I’ll use them as a lens for applying broader questions about how we make decisions about the technologies we embrace, and the technologies we reject.

Technology. Now there’s a big subject. It’s literally the entirety of human history. I had to be careful not to go down too many rabbit holes. I’m still not sure if I’ve succeeded, but I’ve already had to ruthlessly cull some darlings.

One of the nice things that the An Event Apart crew started doing was to provide link lists for each talk to attendees. That gives me an opportunity to touch briefly on a topic in the talk itself, but allow any interested attendees to dive deeper at their leisure.

For this talk on evaluating technology, I’ve put together this list of hyperlinks for further reading, watching, listening, and researching…





Talking about hypertext

#CSSday starts off with a great history lesson of our industry by @adactio

I’ve just published a transcript of the talk I gave at the HTML Special that preceded CSS Day a couple of weeks back. I’ve also recorded an audio version for your huffduffing pleasure.

It’s not like the usual talks I give. The subject matter was assigned to me, Mission Impossible style. PPK wanted each speaker to give an entire talk on just one HTML element. He offered me the best element of them all: the A element.

There were a few different directions I could’ve taken it. I could’ve tried to make it practical, but I quickly dismissed that idea. Instead I went in the completely opposite direction, making it as pretentious as possible. I figured a talk about hypertext could afford to be winding and circuitous, building on some of the ideas I wrote about in my piece for The Manual a few years back. It’s quite self-indulgent of me, but I used it as an opportunity to geek out about some of my favourite things; from Borges, Babbage, and Bletchley to Leibniz, Lovelace, and Licklider.

I wouldn’t usually write out an entire talk word-for-word in advance, but somehow it felt right for this one. In fact, my talk preparation this time ‘round was very similar to the process Charlotte recently wrote about:

  1. Get everything out of my head and onto a mind map.
  2. Write chunks of content in short bursts—this was when I was buddying up with Paul.
  3. Put together a slide deck of visuals to support the narrative.
  4. Practice delivering the talk so I don’t look I’m just reading off a screen.

It takes me a long time to prepare talks. As the deadline for this one approached, I was getting quite panicked. It was touch and go there for a while, but I managed to get it done in time.

I’m pleased with how it turned out. On the day, I had fun delivering it. People seemed to like it too, which was gratifying.

Although with this kind of talk, it was inevitable that I wouldn’t be able to please everyone.

I guess this talk was a one-off affair. That said, if you’re putting on an event and you think this subject matter would be appropriate, let me know. I’d be more than happy to deliver it again.


Rosa and Charlotte will both be speaking at Bytes Conf here in Brighton next week (don’t bother trying to get a ticket—it’s all sold out).

I’ve been helping them in their preparation, listening to them run through their talks, and offering bits of advice on the content and delivery. Charlotte said she was really nervous presenting to just the two of us. I said “I know what you mean.”

In the past I’ve tried giving practice run-throughs of upcoming conference talks to some of my co-workers at Clearleft. I always found that far more intimidating than giving the talk to room filled with hundreds of strangers.

In fact, just last night I did a practice run of my latest talk at Brighton’s excellent Async gathering, and seeing both Charlotte and Graham in attendance increased my nervousness.

Why is that?

I’ve been thinking about it, and I think it comes down to self-presentation.

We like to think that we have one single personality, but the truth is that we adjust our behaviour constantly to suit the situation. I behave differently when I’m interacting with a shopkeeper than when I’m interacting with my co-workers than when I’m interacting with my family. We adjust how we present ourselves, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

If you’re presenting a talk at a conference, it helps to present yourself differently than how you’d present yourself when you’re hanging out with your friends. There’s an element of theatricality—however subtle—in speaking in front of a room full of people. It can really help to slip into a more confident persona.

But if you’re presenting that same talk in a small room to a group of friends, it feels really, really strange to slip into that persona. It feels as strange as interacting with your family as though you were interacting with a shopkeeper.

I think that’s what’s at the root of the discomfort I feel when I try testing a talk on my co-workers. If I present myself in the informal mode I’d usually take with these people, the talk feels all wrong. But if I present myself in my stage persona, it feels weird to do that with these people. So either way, it’s going to feel really strange. Hence the nervousness.

Thing is …I’m not sure if being aware of this helps in any way.

Links from a talk

I’m coming to a rest after a busy period of travelling and speaking. In the last five or six weeks I’ve been to Copenhagen, Freiburg, Prague, Portland, Seattle, and Austin.

The trip to Austin was lovely. It was so nice to be there when it wasn’t South by Southwest (the infrastructure of the whole town creaks under the sheer weight of the event). I wasn’t just there to eat tacos and drink beer in the sunshine. I was there to talk at An Event Apart.

Like I said months before the event:

Everyone in the line up is one of my heroes.

It was, as always, a great event. A personal highlight for me was getting to meet Lara Hogan for the first time. She was kind enough to sign my copy of her fantastic book. She gave an equally fantastic talk at the conference, featuring some of the most deftly-handled Q&A I’ve ever seen.

I spoke at the end of the conference (no pressure!), giving a brand new talk called Resilience—I gave a shortened version at Coldfront and Smashing Conference but this was my first chance to go all out with an hour long talk. It was my chance to go full James Burke.

I assembled some related links for the attendees. Here they are…




Related posts on adactio.com

Here’s a readlist of those links.

Further reading

Here’s a readlist of those links.

See also: other links tagged with “progressive enhancement” on adactio.com

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.

Async, Ajax, and animation

I hadn’t been to one of Brighton’s Async JavaScript meetups for quite a while, but I made it along last week. Now that it’s taking place at 68 Middle Street, it’s a lot easier to get to …seeing as the Clearleft office is right upstairs.

James Da Costa gave a terrific presentation on something called Pjax. In related news, it turns out that the way I’ve been doing Ajax all along is apparently called Pjax.

Back when I wrote Bulletproof Ajax, I talked about using Hijax. The basic idea is:

  1. First, build an old-fashioned website that uses hyperlinks and forms to pass information to the server. The server returns whole new pages with each request.
  2. Now, use JavaScript to intercept those links and form submissions and pass the information via XMLHttpRequest instead. You can then select which parts of the page need to be updated instead of updating the whole page.

So basically your JavaScript is acting like a dumb waiter shuttling requests for page fragments back and forth between the browser and the server. But all the clever stuff is happening on the server, not the browser. To the end user, there’s no difference between that and a site that’s putting all the complexity in the browser.

In fact, the only time you’d really notice a difference is when something goes wrong: in the Hijax model, everything just falls back to full-page requests but keeps on working. That’s the big difference between this approach and the current vogue for “single page apps” that do everything in the browser—when something goes wrong there, the user gets bupkis.

Pjax introduces an extra piece of the puzzle—which didn’t exist when I wrote Bulletproof Ajax—and that’s pushState, part of HTML5’s History API, to keep the browser’s URL updated. Hence, pushState + Ajax = Pjax.

As you can imagine, I was nodding in vigourous agreement with everything James was demoing. It was refreshing to find that not everyone is going down the Ember/Angular route of relying entirely on JavaScript for core functionality. I was beginning to think that nobody cared about progressive enhancement any more, or that maybe I was missing something fundamental, but it turns out I’m not crazy after all: James’s demo showed how to write front-end code responsibly.

What was fascinating though, was hearing why people were choosing to develop using Pjax. It isn’t necessarily that they care about progressive enhancement, robustness, and universal access. Rather, it’s often driven by the desire to stay within the server-side development environment that they’re comfortable with. See, for example, DHH’s explanation of why 37 Signals is using this approach:

So you get all the advantages of speed and snappiness without the degraded development experience of doing everything on the client.

It sounds like they’re doing the right thing for the wrong reasons (a wrong reason being “JavaScript is icky!”).

A lot of James’s talk was focused on the user experience of the interfaces built with Hijax/Pjax/whatever. He had some terrific examples of how animation can make an enormous difference. That inspired me to do a little bit of tweaking to the Ajaxified/Hijaxified/Pjaxified portions of The Session.

Whenever you use Hijax to intercept a link, it’s now up to you to provide some sort of immediate feedback to the user that something is happening—normally the browser would take care of this (remember Netscape’s spinning lighthouse?)—but when you hijack that click, you’re basically saying “I’ll take care of this.” So you could, for example, display a spinning icon.

One little trick I’ve used is to insert an empty progress element.

Normally the progress element takes max and value attributes to show how far along something has progressed:

<progress max="100" value="75">75%</progress>


But if you leave those out, then it’s an indeterminate progess bar:



The rendering of the progress bar will vary from browser to browser, and that’s just fine. Older browsers that don’t understand the progress will display whatever’s between the opening and closing tags.

Voila! You’ve got a nice lightweight animation to show that an Ajax request is underway.

Wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff

I met up with Remy a few months back to try to help him finalise the line-up for this year’s Full Frontal conference. Remy puts a lot of thought into crafting a really solid line-up. He was in a good position too: the conference was already sold out so he didn’t have to worry about having a big-name speaker to put bums on seats—he could concentrate entirely on finding just the right speaker for the final talk.

He described the kind of “big picture” talk he was looking for, and I started naming some names and giving him some ideas of people to contact.

Imagine my surprise then, when—while we were both in New York for Brooklyn Beta—I received a lengthy email from Remy (pecked out on his phone), saying that he had decided who wanted to do the closing talk at Full Frontal. He wanted me to do it.

Now, this was just a couple of weeks ago so my first thought was “No way! I don’t have enough time to prepare a talk.” It takes me quite a while to prepare a new presentation.

But then he described—in quite some detail—what he wanted me to talk about …and it’s exactly the kind of stuff that I really enjoy geeking out about: long-term thinking, digital preservation, and all that jazz. So I said yes.

That’s why I’ve spent the last couple of weeks quietly freaking out, attempting to marshall my thoughts and squeeze them into Keynote. The title of my talk is Time. Pretentious? Moi?

I’m trying to pack a lot into this presentation. I’ve already had to kill some of my darlings and drop some of the more esoteric stuff, but damn it, it’s hard to still squeeze everything in.

I’ve been immersed in research and link-making, reading and huffduffing all things time-related. In the course of my hypertravels, I discovered that there’s an entire event devoted to “the origins, evolution, and future of public time.” It’s called Time For Everyone and it’s taking place in California …at exactly the same time as Full Frontal.

Here’s the funny thing: the description for the event is exactly the same as the description I gave Remy for my talk:

This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.

If you’re coming along to Full Frontal next Friday, I hope you’ll be in a receptive mood. I also hope that Remy won’t mind that what I’m going to present isn’t exactly what he asked for …but I think it’s interesting stuff.

I just wish I had more time.

Listen to dConstruct 2013

If you didn’t make it to this year’s dConstruct, at least your ears can catch up. If you did make it to this year’s dConstruct, your ears can experience the fun all over again.

The audio is available, is what I’m saying here.

  1. Amber Case: Ambient Location and the Future of the Interface
  2. Luke Wroblewski: Infinite Inputs
  3. Nicole Sullivan: Don’t Feed the Trolls
  4. Simone Rebaudengo: Great; things are connected, but what will they actually talk about?
  5. Sarah Angliss: Tech and the Uncanny
  6. Keren Elazari: The Heroes and Anti-heroes of the Information Age
  7. Maciej Cegłowski: Fan is a Tool-Using Animal
  8. Dan Williams: Unexpected Item In The Bagging Area
  9. Adam Buxton: Is My Laptop Ruining My Life?

The audio is on Huffduffer for your listening pleasure. If you’d like to take it with you on the go, here’s the RSS feed—just pop that into your podcasting/catching software of choice.

While you’re at it, this might be a nice opportunity to go back and explore the dConstruct archive where you can find every talk from every dConstruct from 2005 to 2013. That’s 70 talks, or about 46 hours of listening pleasure.

Share and enjoy!

An Event Alarm

I’m at An Event Apart. Somewhere. It’s in a room in a hotel. The room is smaller than the usual ballroom-sized venue, but I know it’s An Event Apart because Luke Wroblewski is giving a talk. I think it’s a talk about how he led a group of people who were trapped in the desert to safety. Somehow he saved them with data.

I’m speaking next. But there’s a pressure on my bladder that I need to relieve. I’ve got another ten or fifteen minutes ‘till my talk so I reckon I have enough time. I go out into the corridor in search of a toilet. I find one and do what I need to do.

But when I go back out into the corridor, I can’t immediately find the room that the conference is in. That’s okay, I think. I’ve still got time. But as I wander the corridor more and more, I start to panic. I’m supposed to be on in five minutes! Now the hotel building seems to be cavernous, like one of those Las Vegas hotel-casino hybrids that contain a labyrinthine mini-city. I’m supposed to be on stage now! Up escalators, down stairs …I can’t find the room. I’m really panicking now. I was supposed to be on stage five ago …Jeffrey’s going to kill me. I grab someone who looks like a hotel employee and beg him to help me: I was supposed to be on stage ten minutes ago! But he can’t help me. I’m really freaking out.

Then I woke up. I don’t think if I’ve ever had the classic “final exam” dream, but I think this is the closest equivalent.

An Event Apart DC is ten days away. I’m giving a new talk. I thought I was prepared for it. My subconscious begs to differ.

How do I convince…?

When I was speaking at An Event Apart in Austin I gave a somewhat rambling presentation. As usual, I was hammering home the importance of progressive enhancement, a methodology that’s actually not that tricky once you accept that websites do not need to look exactly the same in every browser and neither do websites need to be experienced exactly the same in every browser.

I had some time after the talk to answer a question or two from the audience—something I always enjoy. One of the questions went something along the lines of “All of this sounds great, but how do I convince my boss…?”

I smiled.

I smiled because I had been having exactly this same conversation with Beth at the opening party the night before. Here’s what I told her (and what I repeated in answering the person who asked the question)…

I’ve been giving talks since around 2005. At first I talked about DOM Scripting, trying to convince people that JavaScript wasn’t evil (at a time when JavaScript was very unpopular). Later I spoke about Ajax and progressive enhancement, hoping to persuade people to use the technology in a responsible way. Sometimes I gave talks about microformats. Later I got excited by HTML5 and spoke about that. More recently I’ve been talking about the importance of taking a Content First approach to responsive design.

Almost every time I gave a talk—no matter what the subject matter—someone would inevitably say “Yes, but how do I convince my boss?” or “That’s all well and good but how do I convince my clients?”

In fact, one time when I was giving a talk at From The Front in Italy, I made an extra slide that I kept in reserve after the final “thank you” slide. It simply read “How do I convince…?” Sure enough, when I was taking questions from the audience, someone asked that very question (and I advanced my slide deck and looked like a mind-reader).

The reason I mention this recurring trend is that I find it reassuring. We’ve been here before. What each one of my previous experiences has shown me is that things do change. Change might seem slow at times, but there’s a big difference between slow and static.

I remember the days of the web standards campaign. Trying to convince developers to use CSS for presentation instead of tables seemed like a Sisyphean task. But we got there.

I felt like a lone voice in the wilderness crying out in favour of liquid layouts for years, but now—thanks to the rise of responsive design—change has finally come. As for responsive design itself, I was sure it was going to be another uphill struggle to convince people of the benefits—and I was all set to take a hardline approach—but I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see that it’s an idea whose time has come.

I’m not the only one who has noticed this cyclical trend of new technologies and methodologies being pessimistically dismissed. Eric recently said:

So take heart. All of this has happened before. All of this will happen again.

But what about answering the question? How do you convince clients/bosses to adopt a new technique or technology?

I’m afraid that this is the point at which I tend to throw up my hands and say, “Don’t ask me! That’s not my job—I just make websites.” But it’s a perfectly valid question and I think it would be good to have resources we could all point to when we need some ammunition.

Luke is exceptionally good at providing data to back up his arguments. I wrote on the back of his book:

Luke doesn’t just rely on his wondrous wit and marvellous writing style to make an overwhelmingly convincing argument for designing the mobile experience first; he also hammers home all of his points with oodles and oodles of scrumptious data.

That’s a good tactic. As he once said to me, “If you torture data for long enough, you can get it to confess to anything.”

Something I’ve found useful in the past is the ability to point at trailblazers and say “like that!” Selling the idea of web standards became a whole lot easier after Doug redesigned Wired and Mike redesigned ESPN. It’s a similar situation with responsive design: clients are a lot more receptive to the idea now that The Boston Globe site is live. But of course if you only ever follow the trailblazers, you’ll never get the opportunity to blaze a new trail yourself. Frustrating.

Another tactic that I’ve used in the past is to simply not ask for permission, but go ahead and use the new technologies and techniques anyway. That isn’t always practical but it’s worth a try. Rather than spending valuable time trying to convince your boss or client that they should let you do something, just do it (if you’ll pardon the Nike-ian platitude).

Andy likens the “How do I convince…?” conundrum to having a plumber come ‘round to fix your sink, only to ask you “Is it alright if I use this particular wrench?” You’re the plumber—you decide!

Except we’re not in the plumbing business (and we’re clearly not in the metaphor business either).

I do sometimes wonder whether we use the big bad client or the big bad boss as a crutch. “Oh, I’d love to try out this technique, but the client/boss would never go for it. Something something IE6.” Maybe we’re not giving them enough credit. Given the right argument, they might just listen to reason.

Sharing pattern libraries

I’ve been huffduffing talks from this year’s South by Southwest, revisiting some of the ones I saw and catching up with some of the ones I missed.

There are some really design and development resources in there that I didn’t get to see in person:

One talk I did get to see was Andy’s CSS for Grown Ups: Maturing Best Practices.

CSS for Grown Ups: Maturing Best Practices on Huffduffer

It was excellent.

You can have a look through the slides.

He talks about different approaches to creating maintainable CSS for large-scale projects. He touches on naming conventions for classes, something that Nicolas Gallagher wrote about recently. And while he makes reference to SASS and Compass, Andy makes the compelling point that’s what more interesting than powerful tools is the arrival of powerful approaches like SMACSS and OOCSS.

Over and over again, Andy makes the point that we must think in terms of creating design systems, not simply styling individual pages—something that Paul has also spoken about. One of the most powerful tools for making that change in thinking is in the creation of style guides for the web and Paul has even created blog dedicated to the BBC’s style guide.

Andy referenced the BBC GEL style guide in his talk but pointed out that because it’s published as a PDF rather than markup, it isn’t as powerful as it could be—there’s inevitably a loss of signal when the patterns are translated into HTML and CSS. Someone from the BBC was in the audience, and in the Q and A portion, acknowledged that that was a really good point.

After the talk I got chatting with Lincoln Mongillo who worked on the recent responsive redesign of Starbucks.com. He mentioned that they created a markup and CSS style guide for the project. “You know what would be really cool?” I said. “If you published it!”

Here it is. It’s a comprehensive library of markup patterns; exactly the kind of resource that Anna wrote about in 24 Ways.

In my experience, creating a pattern library for any project is immensely valuable, whether you’re working in a team of two or a team of two hundred. I’ve found they work well as the next step after Style Tiles: a way of translating the visual vocabulary of a site into markup and CSS without getting bogged down in the specifics of page structure or layout (very handy for a Content First approach). The modularity of a pattern library enforces a healthy .

I’m really pleased to see more and more pattern libraries being made public. That’s one of the reasons why I shared my pattern primer and Dan shared his Pears theme for Wordpress:

Breaking interfaces down into patterns has been immensely helpful in learning and re-evaluating the best possible code to implement them.

But Pears isn’t about how I code these patterns—it’s a tool for creating your own.

I love that. These style guides and pattern libraries aren’t being published in an attempt to provide ready-made solutions—every project should have its own distinct pattern library. Instead, these pattern libraries are being published in a spirit of openness and sharing …a way of saying “Hey, this is what worked for us in these particular circumstances.”

For that, I am very grateful.

Of Time and the Network and the Long Bet

When I went to Webstock, I prepared a new presentation called Of Time And The Network:

Our perception and measurement of time has changed as our civilisation has evolved. That change has been driven by networks, from trade routes to the internet.

I was pretty happy with how it turned out. It was a 40 minute talk that was pretty evenly split between the past and the future. The first 20 minutes spanned from 5,000 years ago to the present day. The second 20 minutes looked towards the future, first in years, then decades, and eventually in millennia. I was channeling my inner James Burke for the first half and my inner Jason Scott for the second half, when I went off on a digital preservation rant.

You can watch the video and I had the talk transcribed so you can read the whole thing.

It’s also on Huffduffer, if you’d rather listen to it.

Adactio: Articles—Of Time And The Network on Huffduffer

Webstock: Jeremy Keith

During the talk, I pointed to my prediction on the Long Bets site:

The original URL for this prediction (www.longbets.org/601) will no longer be available in eleven years.

I made the prediction on February 22nd last year (a terrible day for New Zealand). The prediction will reach fruition on 02022-02-22 …I quite like the alliteration of that date.

Here’s how I justified the prediction:

“Cool URIs don’t change” wrote Tim Berners-Lee in 01999, but link rot is the entropy of the web. The probability of a web document surviving in its original location decreases greatly over time. I suspect that even a relatively short time period (eleven years) is too long for a resource to survive.

Well, during his excellent Webstock talk Matt announced that he would accept the challenge. He writes:

Though much of the web is ephemeral in nature, now that we have surpassed the 20 year mark since the web was created and gone through several booms and busts, technology and strategies have matured to the point where keeping a site going with a stable URI system is within reach of anyone with moderate technological knowledge.

The prediction has now officially been added to the list of bets.

We’re playing for $1000. If I win, that money goes to the Bletchley Park Trust. If Matt wins, it goes to The Internet Archive.

The sysadmin for the Long Bets site is watching this bet with great interest. I am, of course, treating this bet in much the same way that Paul Gilster is treating this optimistic prediction about interstellar travel: I would love to be proved wrong.

The detailed terms of the bet have been set as follows:

On February 22nd, 2022 from 00:01 UTC until 23:59 UTC,
entering the characters http://www.longbets.org/601 into the address bar of a web browser or command line tool (like curl)
using a web browser to follow a hyperlink that points to http://www.longbets.org/601
return an HTML document that still contains the following text:
“The original URL for this prediction (www.longbets.org/601) will no longer be available in eleven years.”

The suspense is killing me!

Publishing Paranormal Interactivity

I’ve published the transcript of a talk I gave at An Event Apart in 2010. It’s mostly about interaction design, with a couple of diversions into progressive enhancement and personality in products. It’s called Paranormal Interactivity.

I had a lot of fun with this talk. It’s interspersed with videos from The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, Alan Partridge, and Super Mario, with special guest appearances from the existentialist chalkboard and Poshy’s upper back torso.

If you don’t feel like reading it, you can always watch the video or listen to the audio.

Adactio: Articles—Paranormal Interactivity on Huffduffer

You could even look at the slides but, as I always say, they won’t make much sense without the context of the presentation.

Cool your eyes don’t change

At last November’s Build conference I gave a talk on digital preservation called All Our Yesterdays:

Our communication methods have improved over time, from stone tablets, papyrus, and vellum through to the printing press and the World Wide Web. But while the web has democratised publishing, allowing anyone to share ideas with a global audience, it doesn’t appear to be the best medium for preserving our cultural resources: websites and documents disappear down the digital memory hole every day. This presentation will look at the scale of the problem and propose methods for tackling our collective data loss.

The video is now on vimeo.

The audio has been huffduffed.

Adactio: Articles—All Our Yesterdays on Huffduffer

I’ve published a transcription over in the “articles” section.

I blogged a list of relevant links shortly after the presentation.

You can also download the slides or view them on speakerdeck but, as usual, they won’t make much sense out of context.

I hope you’ll enjoy watching or reading or listening to the talk as much as I enjoyed presenting it.

One Web, transcribed

I spoke at the DIBI conference back in June. It was a really good event, despite its annoying two-track format.

My talk was entitled One Web:

The range of devices accessing the web is increasing. We are faced with a choice in how we deal with this diversity. We can either fracture the web by designing a multitude of device-specific silos, or we can embrace the flexibility of the web and create experiences that can adapt to any device or browser.

The video has been online for a while now and I finally got ‘round to getting it transcribed. You can pop on over to the articles section and read One Web. I should really re-name that section of my site: “articles” isn’t the most accurate label for a lot of the stuff there.

If you prefer listening to reading, the audio is available for your huffduffing pleasure.

Adactio: Articles—One Web on Huffduffer

I also put the slides on Speakerdeck so you play along with the presentation.

I reprised this talk in Italy recently at the From The Front gathering. The audio from that is also online if you want to compare and contrast.

Jeremy Keith at From The Front 2011: One Web on Huffduffer

DIBI 2011

All Our Yesterdays: the links

If you were at An Event Apart in Boston and you want to follow up on some of the things I mentioned in my talk, here are some links:

Here are some related posts of my own:

More recently, Nora Young interviewed Jason Scott on online video and digital heritage.

Full Interview: Jason Scott on online video and digital heritage | Spark | CBC Radio on Huffduffer


I mentioned in my last post that I was looking for volunteers to help transcribe the video of my talk at Fronteers 2010. I didn’t get much of a response so I put the word out on Twitter. Then I got plenty of offers.

I owe a pint to these people:

You can see the results of their work here: The Design Of HTML5. Each volunteer transcribed about ten minutes of the talk, which equates to about an hour’s work.

As it turned out, the Fronteers folks had commissioned a transcription from Casting Words, the service built on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. You can see the result—not bad. I’ve used Casting Words in the past to get transcriptions done although lately I’ve found they take far too long for somewhat inconsistent results.

I think that, for the best results, you can’t beat hiring a professional transcriber. But, in lieu of that, I think the aforementioned volunteers did a great job, for which I am very grateful.

Incidentally, the talk—The Design Of HTML5—is licensed under a Creative Commons attribution licence so if you want to republish it or adapt it, please go ahead.

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.