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Feb 25

#AEAATL (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Web)


In: Culture

Instead of beginning with a too-long reasoning of how I've come to be the way I am, I'll just say that the web freaks me out. Digital eyeballs watch my every move. Offence is taken when LinkedIn requests and Facebook posts linger without reply. Forty-seven JavaScript frameworks were released last week.

This is a problem for me because:

  1. I really like the idea of the web
  2. I work on the web all day long

Seven years of my life have been spent working on the web. I've learned a lot and am proud of the work I've done (especially at Union). But it's easy to become overwhelmed and to lose sight of what the web can be.

Realize That You Are Not Alone (in a good way)

I haven't been to too many conferences. AEA Atlanta was my fourth. A jaded conference vet might think differently, but I thought it was spectacular.

Just before walking out of the hotel for the drive home to Charlotte, I mentioned to Banks and Andrea that this conference delivered on every suggestion that was offered by the guest speakers. There was flow. There was style. There was conversation. And the content was fantastic.

Being around these folks helped me to remember that the web is and will be what we make of it, and that there are lots of people who care about the craft.

The Spirit of the Web

Yes, I stole that headline directly from Jeremy Keith (@adactio). For me, this was the defining session of the 2-day affair. I had the opportunity to talk to Jeremy a few months prior when he agreed to web-chat with the Charlotte Front-End Developers group (@cltfed). That conversation left me feeling pretty good about how to use HTML5 tags responsibly (don't use them for CSS hooks if you care about browser compatibility) and how to avoid information overload (do the best you can; be future friendly).

I found Jeremy's presentation in Atlanta to be an extension of those ideas. In general, he encouraged a view of the web as a fluid medium that is at its best when delivering quality content to a wide audience. Since we can't know what kind of device is being used to view that content, it's best to think in terms of what worked in the past. Progressive enhancement isn't just about providing a great experience for fancy browsers; it's also about providing a usable experience on nearly any browser. And this shouldn't just apply to the browser experience. If done properly, progressive enhancement should also serve us well when thinking about print and projectors.

One point that struck a particular chord with me is that the web is inherintly responsive. If your page includes nothing but HTML, the content will flow responsively to any browser dimension on any device. "Responsive web design" is all the rage right now because for years we've been telling ourselves that our users will be served well enough by thinking about only a few browser dimensions (600 x 800, 1024 x 768 etc). But we've been jarred out of our "collective hallucination," as Jeremy puts it, by the quick rise of the mobile web. Perhaps these three quotations tell it best:

"Give up the illusion of control... This notion of pixel perfect doesn't exist."

"Fluidity is inherint to the web... We have fought against the inherint fluidity."

"Embrace the inherint fluidity of the web and don't screw it up."

I love it.


I can't end this post without sharing these nicknames, bestowed upon the speakers on the spot by the wonderful Jeffrey Zeldman (@zeldman):

  • Luke 'Likes to Wear Green' Wroblewski
  • Josh 'Dr. Touch, The Touchmaster' Clark
  • Jeremy 'The Tallest Leprechaun in Our Industry' Keith
  • Karen 'Built the Razorfish User Experience Department' McGrane
  • Aarron 'Really Sweet, Wonderful Guy' Walton
  • Jared 'I Dont Even Have to Introduce Him, You All Already Know Him' Spool

Mr. Zeldman opened the conference with his "Ten Commandments of Modern Web Design." Rule #1? Have Fun. Rule #7? Love Your Users. It's obvious to me that he was having great fun, and I definitely felt the love. He and Eric Meyer (@meyerweb) even signed my lunchbox!


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