Full Frontal 2012

The Duke of York's Picture House

The Duke of York’s Picture House via Jeremy Keith on Flickr.

It has been a busy year for me and conferences. Since January I have attended New Adventures, WordCamp, Reasons to be Creative, Web Expo Guildford and on Friday, Full Frontal. I used to go to gigs… now it seems I go to conferences.

Full Frontal is a one day JavaScript Conference run by Remy Sharp that takes place in lovely Brighton. The venue for this years conference was the Duke of York’s Picture House and it has to be one of the nicest and comfiest venues I have been to. After an early start the comfy chairs and cosy lighting were just what I needed to settle in to a full day of talks.

I believe it’s the fourth year of the event but for me it was my first visit and I have to say a big thanks to Carl Jeffrey for supplying the ticket. Carl is responsible for all of the beautifully designed moleskins, conference lanyards and branding.

The underlying theme for the conference was an important one. Is JavaScript the future of the web or more specifically “Does HTML & semantics have a place in today’s web apps?”. The first two talks set out to tackle this question directly. The first came from James Pearce (developer relations, Facebook) with an argument that HTML is essentially nothing more than a few required tags that we can use to bootstrap a JavaScript application. JS can be used to apply styles, inject HTML and manipulate the DOM making HTML & CSS rather redundant. His arguments were valid (especially when thinking about web applications) but it did raise a few concerns with me. I can’t help but feel we have been in a similar place to this before and we have spent many long hard years advocating web standards and accessibility to now be on the verge of turning our backs on them once again.

In the back of my mind I felt the next talk by John Allsopp (developer and conference organiser for Web Directions) would offer a similar counter argument. Thankfully his argument was extremely refreshing. John discussed the trade off between simplicity and easiness and how we mess up three perfectly good, universal technologies (HTML, CSS, JS) for the sake of easiness and efficiency as web developers. He looked at issues of maintainability and leaned on his experiences as a software engineer to explain what makes the web’s technology stack unique and worth protecting. There was very little to disagree with in John’s talk but he was particularly hard on CSS preprocessors. This is a shame as I have learned to love LESS. I do however see his point that this kind of abstraction adds unnecessary complexity and makes it harder for others to work on projects. Just last week I caught a young developer editing a cached CSS file generated from LESS. Unsurprisingly their hard work was overwritten very quickly.

Random observation: I’m not sure if it was deliberate or not but the slides from James and Johns talks were almost exact opposites of each other. James set his slides in white type with a black background with most of the text on the left of the screen. John’s slides were the complete opposite (black text, white background set to the right of the screen).

After the first break things became a little more hands on with a talk by Andrew Betts (Financial Times labs) on the HTML5 Application Cache and Anna Debenham (font end web developer) on console browsers. Both talks highlighted some interesting points but my ultimate takeaway was that app cache is a broken mess and consoles browsers are also a broken mess. For me this added weight to the fact that web standards are still very much all we have to rely on.

The first talk of the afternoon was by Paul Kinlan (Chrome developer) looking at the future of browsers. Rebecca Murphey (JavaScript developer at Bocoup) followed with a presentation on writing tests for JavaScript and after that was Steven Wittens (JavaScript developer) on Making things with Maths. Steven’s presentation was a piece of art in itself and I look forward to him sharing his process of putting it together.

The final talk for the day came from Chirs Wilson (Browser developer) sharing his experiences with developing browsers (from Mosaic to IE and now Chrome). There is a great deal to be learnt from our relatively short history on the web and with Chris having been around for most of it, he has some great stories to share.

Full Frontal is certainly a niche conference with its single focus on JavaScript but as a result it facilitated a decent level of meaningful discussion. It was an excellent conference and I am left with many thoughts still to be pondered. See you all next year!?

p.s. I will post a link to the conference videos once they become available. The conference videos are now available.