Full Frontal 2014

A scatter-brained round up of the day

Last Friday (7th November) was Full Frontal. It's the 3rd (I think) time I've been although I've missed the last couple of years, so I knew what to expect. As usual, my expectations were exceeded and I came away at the end both excited and dazed at the ridiculously good talks. What was nice this year was that while the topics were announced in advance, it wasn't 'til the day that we saw who was talking.

A quick side note: This might be a bit messy and incoherent, but it's content. I've been meaning to have a 'web presence' for a long time now. I've been working on the web for nearly 10 years so it's a bit odd not to have a site! Jeremy Keith said something which struck a chord with me at Responsive Day Out about content being king on the web. Just write something, anything, get it up and out on the web; that was his motto. So that's what this is. Hopefully it'll spur me on to have a 'proper' website but for the time being it's here anyway.

Building the Physical Web together

Scott Jenson

Scott opened the talks for the day, with a talk on The Physical Web project. It's a proof-of-concept type project from Google, about trying to find a better way of interacting with the web. "URLs are 70s s**t". His point was that we improved everything the browser displays, but we're stuck in the dark ages of manually typing in a web address each time.

Update: To clarify, Scott wasn't saying he was anti-URL entirely - just that typing them in isn't exactly user friendly. Technology has advanced in every other aspect of the browser, maybe it's time to update URL input?

QR codes went a way to solving that but they're pretty awful. iBeacon is a clever way but it's sandboxed to an app. 15 iBeacons from 15 stores = 15 different apps.
The Physical Web is an attempt to create a new standard for broadcast URLs over BLE (but not push; only when you request to find beacons - an important distinction)

Also, we all got a BLE beacon to play with, which is rather awesome!

Moving seamlessly through offline and online

Caolan McMahon

Picking up on the Offline First ideology of Hood.ie, Caolan's talk showed us a simple way of implementing an app offline, and then syncing it up with a CouchDB instance. A really slick presentation, he live coded the whole thing - LOLBin, an offline first joke database (poking fun at Remy's JSBin).

There were some nice concepts there including distinguishing between edited, saved and synced items to help the user know what's where. It's certainly given me inspiration for a project I've been meaning to do for ages, so fingers crossed I get round to it now!

Hannah Wolfe

Hannah Wolfe gave a brilliant talk about Ghost, the open source blogging platform (in fact, this post is running off Ghost at the time of writing!). They always wanted to be an open source project, and she talks about the process they went through.

To start with Ghost was crowdfunded on Kickstarter, and developed as closed source. This was just to get the project up and running Hannah explained, and quickly they opened up to a few contributors as an invite-only model, to help flesh out the project. This meant that when they launched, and opened the source to everyone, they already had a history of open source - with commits, issues, etc that meant people could already get stuck into contributing.

Some interesting lessons learnt along the way, it's all about trust. Letting go and allowing certain trusted contributors commit rights was a tough decision but ultimately improved the end project. The key take-away was just three words: "Hi", "Welcome" and "Thank you" – words that are often forgotten in OpenSourceLand.

Self-hosted JS

Andy Wingo

Andy Wingo took the live coding to a different level. He is a contributor to V8 and other JS engines, and went through the process of adding to the JS core. Quite a bit of the JS engine is written using Javascript. I know. Weird. And Weird Javascript it is: for example you don't get real error handling because at the time of running your code, the error handling code isn't there yet!

I confess that most of this went over my head but it was fascinating to watch, and a really entertaining talk to sit through. It did make for an eye-opening session and left me thinking how little I know about the inner workings of JS engines.

Lean Mean CSS Machine

Tobias Ahlin

Tobias had the un-enviable position of post-lunch talk. Luckily for him he's a really engaging speaker, and kept everyone's attention talking about good quality CSS. This covered two parts: one part guidelines, and the other refactoring CSS.

The guidelines part was really intersting as I'm currently going through this process at Zoocha. It was nice to see that we both have similar ways of thinking (which I'm taking to mean I'm on the right track!)

The refactoring CSS demo was really interesting, and although it was a little drastic (binning some UI elements as unnecessary bloat), it showed a really simple, workable approach to cutting back on CSS cruft. This'll be handy in the future, definitely.

A Single Page Story

Henrik Joreteg

Henrik attacked the sensitive subject of single page apps, or web apps, or whatever you choose to call them. The challenge - "Is it OK to write web(app|sites) that rely on Javascript?". His take on it is yes, in certain cases.

He coined the name of Native Web Apps. I think this sums it up. There are some instances where latest technology e.g getUserMedia can't be progressive enhancement (there's no fallback currently). Serving JS-only sites is in his opinion OK. I'm not sure I agree with it, but I see where he's coming from.

There was a question raised about "server-side initial render" (where the HTML is first rendered on the server, then the JS takes over from there). AirBNB did this approach with their tool, Rendr, but Henrik's argument is that currently we don't have the tooling to make this feasible.

Jury's out, but a good talk nonetheless

Tools for the 21st century musician

Soledad Penadés

Soledad turned up the fun factor a bit in the afternoon, showing us all about the Web Audio API and what you can do with it. Synths, loops, crazy noises. It was all in there.

It also served as a springboard to talk about her new project, Open Music, which is well worth a look

Getting Close with the Web

Ben Foxall

In the Full Frontal's I've been to in the past, the last talk of the day is usually a showstopper (the first one had Seb Lee-Delisle live-coding a 3D Unity world!), and this one did not disappoint.
Ben used the crowd's mobile devices, to create an audience Jumbotron. Building on Seb Lee-Delisle's Pixelphones project, he used a simple three button (left, right, down) scan line approach to plot the locations. Then, each phone became a 'pixel' (and speaker), and was synced to show a rainbow effect, that moved around the room. Oh, and the sound moved round with it too.

All done with frontend technology, and according to this tweet, all done offline too!

Summing up

There's a reason Full Frontal sold out in 9 minutes this year: it's awesome! I did feel a similar anxiety when trying to get a ticket, that I feel when trying to get Glastonbury tickets. It's totally worth it though. I like how Remy hasn't bowed to pressure and put it in a bigger venue as I don't think it would work. Its intimacy is one of the things that sets it apart from the megabuck conferences like FOWA.

I want to recommend you go next year, but then there's more competition for my ticket, so how about you stay away?!

Full Frontal 2014
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