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With this being my third time lucky trying to get tickets to Full Frontal, I’d been looking forward to this one.

As responsive day out earlier in the year proved – to me at least – the success of a conference is definitely attributed to having a dedicated and passionate curator, and Mr Remy Sharp is all that. The day left me with a lots of inspiration and cause for thought, and though I’ve tried to summarise my highlights below, naturally I’d recommend checking out the videos when they become available.

Building the Physical Web together

The day opened with Scott Jenson and Building the Physical Web together, where he summarised his efforts to encourage the web to not just ‘catch up’ with native apps but to really explore the areas of its own potential. Scott raised a stirring point that the current app ecosystem is not scalable; as more and more devices expose a digital interface, the more and more apps users will need to add to their devices to enable them to interact. The web, Scott argues, is perfectly placed to fill this space but is fundamentally lacking a discovery device. Scott pointed out that despite the considerable and ongoing progress we’re making in browsers with HTML5, the URL address bar at the top of the browser has all the innovation of a DOS prompt. This was a particularly interesting side note, as Google has recently experimented with redesigning the URL bar in recent builds of Canary and had some significant resistance to the move.

Scott’s talk, however, was more about discoverability and interaction on demand, with his project “The Physical Web” attempting to develop the conversation around how this could be achieved. The essence of the project is a small bluetooth device that emits URLs to any nearby device. The device, currently with an app (this irony isn’t lost on Scott), can then scan nearby and access webpages related to what you are near to. Scott gave the example of approaching a vending machine, accessing its webpage via the url provided by the emitter and paying for your selection, the machine in turn then releasing your chocolate caramel snack, preferably with nugget and nuts.

A nice touch during the talk was being given a small emitter to play with ourselves, here’s James repping UVD in the pub at lunch.

Whilst it was the first talk of the day this left the biggest impression for me on the possibilities and the roles the web could play in the future, I look forward to seeing where Scott takes this project.

Moving seamlessly through offline and online

Live coding before 11am, some people are braver than I. Caolan McMahon was up next to give us a technical tour of bringing offline to your web applications with ‘Moving seamlessly through offline and online’. His scathing attack on the loading spinner – that rotating deceitful jackal – formed the foundation for an overview of the user experience benefits of taking an offline first stance to web development. Caloan then walked us through the options we have for adding offline capabilities on his demo app ‘LOLbin’. Starting with a small critique of localStorage (limited capacity and UI blocking) he then worked through adding IndexDB using Pouch as a wrapper. This was further expanded on showing how straight forward syncing to a couchDB was. We were then given some pointers on navigating some Appcache gotchas, the end result being a fully offline syncable web app in less than 40 minutes.

In an observation that harked back to the previous talk there are some problematic UX considerations with offline support; the main being that access to the site requires you to enter its URL, but when offline, this is an expectation that the average user simply would not have. Browsers are seemingly addressing this by allowing the bundling of web applications as apps accessible.

I’d have liked to have seen a bit more discussion around itself, it’s inclusion in the talk was skirted around somewhat given its plug and play nature. I left more enthused about the underlying technologies than itself, however I feel that may well have been the point.

Lean Mean CSS Machine

The afternoon session commenced at pace with Tobias Ahlin’s rapid breakdown of lessons he’d learned while working on the GitHub CSS codebase in the Lean Mean CSS Machine. It’s always quite reassuring to hear people affirm the way you’re working currently and Tobias’ mantra of ‘always be removing’ resonated with me. There was a lot covered, but some of the discussion around testing, and linting especially, has motivated me to bring that discussion into our workflow here at UVD. I’d have liked to have seen some discussion on naming conventions, especially as a later question was asked on minimising the impact of unpredictable changes by removing selectors.

A single page story

The hot drama of the day. Here Henrik Joreteg bravely took on offering an opinion on the role of client side web applications. Henrik started by addressing the vernacular we use to describe client side web applications, before settling on the delightfully simple ‘native web app’. The talk explored the merits of the browser as an application runtime as well as its traditional role as a document viewer. The thrust of the talk was an effort to reassure developers that building an app that entirely relies on JavaScript is ok, but only when the core value of the service could not be delivered in any other way. It’s a bit of a paradigm shift for the web that we are fundamentally uncomfortable with. It breaks the principles of progressive enhancement and access to all. Henrik argues there are legitimate cases for this and that at times, the support for legacy browsers is crippling innovation and the potential for the web as a runtime that can compete with native iOS or android apps, and even in its most advanced state, the web is still the most accessible run time we have – so why not use it to its full potential?

Henrik, in my opinion slightly over simplifies the debate for the purpose of his talk, which is fine as it’s good to provoke the discussions that come out of taking a solid stance on an issue. Indeed for Limpid Markets we knew we couldn’t deliver the product required without it being entirely JavaScript dependant, quite frankly there’s no other way. However, I feel that unless the conversation is counter balanced quite strongly, delivering JavaScript applications can become an excuse for an ill-considered approach to web development that hinders accessibility and usability. Whilst I’m sure Henrik understands this entirely, the fear is that others may not. A fascinating subject however and one Henrik provoked excellently.

Getting close with the web

Little does Ben know his talk at the London JS conf earlier this year was the inspiration for our hack day project a few weeks ago, so I was looking forward to what else he had in store this time round with ‘Getting close with the web’. Ben Foxall demonstrated some outstanding creative uses of technology ( WebRTC, web sockets and AR codes) in connecting people, with a particular emphasis on proximity. Experimenting with the location of audience members Ben had everyone’s phone flashing colours in unison, playing sounds in a wave around the room. The overarching point of the talk was summed up brilliantly by Ben as he stumbled his lines and recovered with “I dunno, we’re just doing stuff”. The whole thing reinforced how important it is to explore the creative application of technology and not to just get lost in technical details, quite frankly, a perfect end to a brilliant conference.