Coding on the South Coast – Full Frontal Conference 2011

Posted by chrismarsh on November 29th, 2011

Conferences, Web Development

On the 11 November, I attended the Full Frontal Conference in Brighton. If you’ve followed the Epiphany blog for a while and have a spectacular memory, you’ll remember I attended last year and brought back a wealth of tips and tricks for our web development team.

The event is held at the Duke of York’s Picturehouse in Brighton, which is the country’s oldest working cinema. It’s a great location for the conference complete with comfy seats that are essential if you’re spending a whole day sitting down. There’s free tea, coffee and pastries all day, as well as a load of freebies provided by the event’s sponsors.

The format of the day is pretty simple: eight speakers from a wide range of projects and companies speaking for forty minutes each on a range of topics from collaborative coding to pencils.

The first speaker was Jeremy Ashkenas, the brains behind Coffeescript. It is a new way of coding Javascript that irons out some of the difficulties and allows coders to have a clean and simple workflow. I’m not sure I’d use Coffeescript in projects, simply because we would have to teach a whole team to use it, but it’s definitely worth investigating.

A warning to all developers came next: Phil Hawksworth was up next to talk about excessive enhancement. Phil’s segment was excellent, delivering a consistent message but making sure we had plenty of laughs along the way.

The topic was serious though. In the past, many Flash developers added needless animations and unnecessary user interaction, and the danger is that HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript might end up going down the same route. He showed as an example – an innovative site, but a 13 second loading screen and 11Mb of (unsprited) images don’t make for a good user experience. In addition, it was inaccessible, unbookmarkable and not available to search engines; a lesson for everyone using cutting edge web technology to remember.

The next two talks, from Marijn Haverbeke and Rik Arends, showcased their respective products: CodeMirror and Cloud9. CodeMirror is an in-browser code editor, and Marijn talked in detail about his approach to building it. Cloud9 is an IDE that is cloud-based: text editor, source control, terminal, project management and lots more, all in a collaborative environment. It would be a big change for an already-established team to start using Cloud9, but it looks like a great way to centralise projects. It is ideal for teams that use a lot of freelancers or are spread over a few locations.

After a pint and a sandwich for lunch, Nicholas Zakas from Yahoo talked about how a large scale application should be structured. Many of the coding practises make perfect sense, and we implement a few of them here at Epiphany already, but it was an excellent demonstration of basing code on the right principles to make it as scalable as possible.

Glenn Jones showed off some great new browser tricks using the HTML5 drag and drop API. For the first time it means that browser windows can interact, dragging information from one browser to another and to the desktop. Using Microformats, he demoed a contacts organiser that you can drag and drop a microformatted contact into that finds all the associated social media profiles.

He also showcased Web Intents, a method by which you register your various social media and then, instead of a long list of share buttons on a website, you simply have a single link that can be used for any number of your registered services. Some excellent in-browser demonstrations that really show what is now possible and what will soon be commonplace.

Magnetic North head Brendan Dawes then delivered a talk on getting client buy-in for projects that aren’t necessarily the safe or easy option. Whilst it’s a rare client who gives an agency total control over their project, and has the time and money to spend on multiple developments, Brendan showed that, with a client like Arup, that freedom allows you to find new ways of thinking about the web. His talk also included the line of the day: “Life’s too short for an ugly pencil”.

Finally, we had Marcin Wichary on stage, a Google developer whose 20% project is working on some of the Google Doodles. He showed us how, with a bit of imagination and a few broken rules, you can create code that goes out to millions of people on Google’s home page. Even if it’s not perfect code, as long as it’s usable, the web audience is happy. It was a great insight to how the team at Google work on these projects and release them for 24 hours, and along the way, develop new ways of working.

It was an excellent conference, and going through my notes from the day, there’s a load of new products and techniques I need to investigate. As a web development team, we’re always looking to use new and exciting technology. The Full Frontal Conference has definitely broadened my horizons and introduced me to new ways of coding.

Did you attend? Let me know on Twitter @chris5marsh and use the hashtag #fullfrontalconf.

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