@media Ajax – the presentations

As promised in my @media Ajax – Journeys and stories post (now updated with pictures!), this one will focus on the presentations during the conference.

A picture of my @media Ajax badgeI will write a short round up on each presentation, and my takes and impressions of it, and a summary of the complete event. Just imagine having the best JavaScript people in the world in the same room, sharing their vast knowledge, and literally shaping the future.

Thinking briefly about the speakers and who I were missing, the only person who came immediately to mind was Dean Edwards. Aside from that, it was truly a perfect line-up.

Note: The links will go the presentations themselves, and this post will be updated with the missing ones as soon as I get a hold of them.

Day one

The first day was about AJAX and JavaScript in general, and different views on it with few actual code samples.

The State of Ajax – Dion Almaer and Ben Galbraith of Ajaxian

This presentation kicked off the whole conference, and I thought that Dion and Ben had an impressive presentational style. They complemented each other perfectly, spoke clearly and had good slides. It was generally a talk about the state of JavaScript in the world right now, our wants and needs, and mentioning different exciting projects which we will definitely see more of in the future.

Basically, laying a good ground for what was to come. Unfortunately, they made a reference to Google images and needing JavaScript to make it work with a resizable web browser window; something that would get back and bite them later during Christian’s presentation.

But I’m a Bloody Designer! – Mike Stenhouse

Mike did a talk from a designer’s perspective, seeing new technologies emerge and trying to adapt to them. He then got into designers writing test cases, test-driven development and agile methods.

I spoke to Mike after and told him that I was a bit disappointed. Not because of his presentation, but rather of my own expectations I had set up. I’ve worked with so many different designers throughout my career, and I had hoped it would be solely out of an Art Director’s view, not understanding technology, and how we could help them get better.

Problem was, Mike’s too good at his job and to open about trying to understand new technologies, so his general knowledge is, I think, far above the general designer’s.

Real World Accessibility for Ajax-enhanced Web Apps – Derek Featherstone

Derek completely dominated the stage with a strong presence, great presentation and a wonderful sense of humor. With this crowd, I thought it was especially important to talk about accessibility and not just get carried away with JavaScripting-till-you-bleed, and Derek completely meet those needs.

He talked about general accessibility, and the vital importance of how you take on a task and make sure you have a proper structure before going JavaScript crazy. What struck me most was that he talked a fair bit how a web site would work with JavaScript, but still be completely accessible only through the keyboard etc. I think I, and many others, live under the false pretense that making it accessible is only to make it work without JavaScript as well, not with JavaScript but more user-friendly and extra scripting considerations.

He also made a reference to the great approach of forcing an update to the virtual buffer in JAWS, invented and described in Improving Ajax applications for JAWS users. All-in-all, great talk and impressive work getting the crowd completely focused.

How To Destroy The Web – Stuart Langridge

Stuart went off on a complete rant of how to misuse technology, sometimes only in the slightest, and the enormous repercussions it can lead to. He sometimes seemed like a Winnie the Pooh on crack up there on stage, and I’m afraid that some of the people in audience were a bit taken by this, and perhaps missed some of the excellent points he made.

One of them was that unless we completely use up the end user’s broadband (everyone’s got broadband connections, right?), evil horse porn will do it instead. There were continuous references to horse porn throughout his presentation, but he really took it up a notch when he came to a slide showing horses, arguing that unless we use up the bandwidth those poor creatures on the pictures would get hurt. Hilarious!

Planning JavaScript and Ajax for Larger Teams – Christian Heilmann

Christian works for Yahoo! and has great insights into working with lots of different people and skill levels. Some of the great points he made was that it doesn’t matter which JavaScript library is the best and how to write your code; the essential factor is that the team agrees on whatever approach is chosen.

Another thing he argued against was people letting their inner hacker loose within iterations in a project, innovating new things, and that that was the time to only deliver what had been decided previously. I questioned this, but completely agreed with his explanation that what he mainly meant was people changing code in the last minute or inventing new complex features, without talking about it in the team, and having an overall agreement about it.

He also made a wonderful reference to the first presentation of the day, showing that with very simple CSS, you could achieve what they instead proposed having JavaScript for; resizing web browser windows aren’t that tricky. :-)

Ajax at Work: A Case Study – Peter-Paul Koch

PPK has long been a JavaScript hero and influence to me, and I really like his pragmatic stance to web developing. His presentation consisted of a case presentation where he was using AJAX, and explaining how he went on to develop it, choosing what format to return data in (XML, JSON, HTML or CSV) etc. I would argue, though, that his application could have been built page by page as well, with AJAX added on top, not being dependent on it.

He has had a long and strong interest in history and genealogy, and he went wild with enthusiasm and inside jokes within the topic. To me, it was very entertaining, because a presentation gets so much better when the speaker is talking about something he truly loves talking about, as opposed to just doing a talk he’s obliged to do.

Day two

The second day we delved into hardcore JavaScript, with lots of code samples and discussions of advanced JavaScript.

JavaScript 2 and The Open Web – Brendan Eich

Brendan invented JavaScript, ok? He’s the father of the technology we all use so extensively to create rich interactions on the web, and it was something he came up within a very short time back in 1995. He is the CTO of Mozilla, and his presentation and work is focused on JavaScript 2.0, and evangelizing the potential new version and what it will bring.

He also talked about ScreamingMonkey, which is basically a way to add new and better JavaScript support to other web browsers. Just imagine better JavaScripting in IE, for example, but Mozilla delivering the base for how to do it. :-)

The topic, and being of JavaScript 2.0 or not, is a very interesting topic, so I will write about it in a future post to give it a better and more concise focus.

Building Interactive Prototypes with jQuery – John Resig

John is the creator and lead developer of the extremely popular jQuery library, and he presented the basics of it and how to improve the interaction in a web page. I think he had great examples, and he was completely willing to change the slides and the code during the presentation, to illustrate a point or better answer a question from the audience.

It’s an impressive library, and John definitely came off as really knowing what he’s doing.

Metaprogramming JavaScript – Dan Webb

In my mind, one of the best presentations at the conference. In a furious tempo, Dan went through all kinds of advanced JavaScript. The best part was that he didn’t just explain programmatical options, he showed great examples of how to use them to really write better, more efficient and self-learning code.

The implications of some of his examples were fantastic, and my opinion is that this presentation should be mandatory for anyone writing advanced JavaScripts. You know when you go to a conference and you’re afraid that the presentations will a bit too basic and lukewarm? This was the exact opposite, and completely delivered!

Dojo 1.0: Great Experiences For Everyone – Alex Russell

A picture of the @media Ajax conference room

Alex was supposed to make a talk about Dojo, but decided to first make a very philosophical approach to the web, how it’s evolving and what we do to meet those demands, possibilities and challenges. He took the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and applied it to web developing and products, and how it would change over time.

At the end of the presentation he came to Dojo and explained how all that he had talked about before had formed the decisions they had made with Dojo, and that it was his genuine hope that libraries wouldn’t need to exist one day, and was completely open to scrap his project in that case.

Some very good points were the responsibility that library authors should per default take, and also that he regarded HTTP as one of the best inventions ever in the history of mankind.

JavaScript: The Good Parts – Douglas Crockford

Not sure that Douglas needs any introduction, but in case you’ve missed it, he’s the man behind such things as JSON, JSlint and JSMin, and for being one of the Godfather JavaScript developers.

He talked about the pros and cons of JavaScript, and coming to the conclusion that is indeed a great language where its good parts can lead to outstanding results. I can put my finger on why, but his examples were so crystal-clear, and as soon as he showed them, everything became ridiculously obvious. Remy shows off one of Doug’s great explanations on why the starting { has to be on the same line as the statement.

Discussion Panel – Jeremy Keith

Jeremy was the moderator for a discussion panel consisting of Brendan Eich, Douglas Crockford, Alex Russel and Stuart Langridge. It was an ok talk, although there were no real surprises or revelations. Jeremy did his best to involve the panelists, but at first they seemed pretty reluctant.

Things suddenly glimmered, though, when Alex openly stated his dislike with Yahoo!’s lack of will to go completely open source. He made great arguments about the fact that JavaScript library developers should cooperate to deliver a better and more consistent experience, and that everyone will gain from this.

It could have gotten more interesting when Brendan’s and Doug’s apparent different takes on JavaScript 2 came up, but unfortunately Brendan didn’t want to say anything more than that he disagreed. Douglas also commented on how much he thinks CSS sucks.

Summary

Having been to SXSW before, and consequently questioning the role of web developer conferences, I must say that I was very impressed with @media Ajax. Great organization, fantastic speakers and wonderful participants all-in-all!

Lessons learned

It was truly uplifting to see the messages expressed from the speakers, which everyone agreed on, were:

  • Use the right tool for the job. It might be JavaScript, but it can just as well be CSS or something else.
  • We all need to collaborate, about JavaScript libraries and general conventions.
  • Accessibility is indeed important to serious web developers.
  • JavaScript is great!

Not that much AJAX

Thinking back to the conference and reading through what I’ve written here, not that much of the presentations actually featured AJAX. It more like a solid JavaScript conference, where some parts were AJAX and others wouldn’t discuss it at all. Luckily, though, I think that everyone attending would have done so no matter what.

Something I would have liked to see, though, is a discussion about AJAX and usability. How do people cater to back button behavior, history handling and so on? How do we use AJAX and at the same time avoid breaking web browser basic usability?

What’s in a name?

My guess is that the name of the conference, @media Ajax, would partly ride on the hype of the name, but mostly just trying to (somewhat falsely) use the word AJAX to convey modern web development with JavaScript in general. My hope is that they rather use the name JavaScript next time around, since it gives a better picture of the contents of the conference.

No Microsoft people

What was truly strange is that at this conference, lots of the people attending were hired by Yahoo!, and then only one of the speakers were from Google. Are Yahoo! the only company amongst the web giants caring about web standards, and cutting edge development? Where are all the Google and Microsoft web developers, and when do they get in touch with reality and other web developers?

Next time

If there will be a conference as strong and giving as this one next year, I sure hope I can go. Single speakers beat panels any day of the year, and specialist conferences is extremely rewarding. Any conference keeping this high standard is bound to succeed. I’m so glad I went!

Related reading

Posted in @media Ajax,CSS,Developing,Google,JavaScript,Technology,Travel |

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