Sheffield had its very own web conference in the form of Speak the Web and I had to go, due to the scarcity of such things in this town. Frustrating considering how many creative agencies there are round here. We’ve had TEDx North, which was great, but what I really wanted was something tailored for hungry designers and developers. It was held at the Showroom Cinema in town and the creators said that they wanted something akin to the atmosphere of a gig. Hence the £20 entrance fee. Although the only gig I’ve been to that cost more than 20 quid was Radiohead. But they didn’t give you a free drink.
Two chaps from Cahoona told us how they set up their agency, so of course there were the usual tales about living off pot noodles and worrying about the cash-flow. Their scotch-egg (sorry, Manchester-egg) heavy presentation was pretty well done and amusing. They had one legendary slide: “Make it shitter”. I think it was a reference to the problem that is often faced due to client-meddling. I guess their success shows that they deal with this meddling well, by caving into the request of the client, no matter how awful. I’m not 100% sure that’s how I’d run a web agency, but I understand their reasoning and hey… I’m probably never going to run a web agency. I dig their work though, especially their company website.
Bruce Lawson was the man from Opera. I’ve tried to use Opera on the Desktop and I always go back to Firefox (or Chrome), but he wasn’t here to pimp Opera. He was here to pimp HTML5, which Opera (especially Opera 10.5) supports pretty well. I’ve read quite a bit about HTML5 (including a lot at html5doctor, where Bruce writes) and the whole thing is quite exciting, but Bruce made it sound more realistic than I had previously imagined it was. My attitude has been that it is ‘for the future’, but now my attitude is that HTML5 is for now. The usual HTML5 video tricks were demonstrated, along with some stuff I didn’t know about, such as a totally different way that one can structure headings (Two H1s on a page? You have blown my mind!). Bruce wasn’t some crazy futurist though and he told us how, for example, we could get SVG-based graphics working in IE using VML. He didn’t go into too much detail (it wasn’t the time or the place for that) but he caused plenty of little sparks to fire in my brain.
Finally it was the turn of Brendan Dawes from magneticNorth. He was a great contrast to Bruce: all about the “Cushions”, the flash, fluff and visual niceties that make a website a website, rather than just a flat image. The best example he showed us of this, I think, was the shopping cart that smiled as you added products to it. A simple effect, but one that I can imagine makes a user happy. We were all children once and to bring that playful aspect into web design has got to have benefits. Although he may have sounded at odds with Bruce, the reality is that due to HTML5, CSS3 and some powerful js libraries, it is now possible for a good developer to make pages that are full of ‘Cushions’ but which are accessible and thus keep Bruce (and disabled people) happy. I hope they talked to each other after the event.
Brendan also pointed out that there weren’t many girls at this event and that it was a bit like a “gay club”. Firstly, a load of dudes in one place doesn’t constitute a gay club. If it did, then the Tory front-benches would be, well… less said about that the better. Secondly, we’re all well aware of the lack of women in technology. It needs sorting, but I think sometimes joking about the lack of women in tech isn’t terribly helpful.
So, in summary: this event was brilliant and all the speakers were interesting. I’m inclined more now to go to one of the local GeekUp events, which I think the people who arranged this conference are also involved with. To use the hosts analogy of a gig: it wasn’t as good as Radiohead, but it was a lot more interesting than that time I saw a side project by one of the guys out of Busted. Shudder.