Signals from the O’Reilly Fluent Conference 2015

From user-centric performance to cognitive resources, here are key insights from the O’Reilly Fluent Conference.

Experts from across the Web development world came together in San Francisco this week for the O’Reilly Fluent Conference 2015. Below we’ve assembled notable keynotes, interviews, and insights from the event.

User-centric performance metrics

Paul Irish, PM at Google Chrome, says it’s important to look at performance the right way. Rather than ask “what is slow,” instead focus on “what does the user feel?” Irish outlines four phases of interaction and what users expect to experience. “Focus on the user,” he says, “and all else will follow.”

Don’t drain your cognitive resource tank

Author Kathy Sierra says the question isn’t what do you have to know to be a Web developer; it’s how quickly can you learn and build skills. Sierra talks about how to get better faster from a cognitive resource angle. She looks at the three main problems in learning and building new skills — not getting better, the intermediate blues, and takes too damn long — and how to solve them. “Expertise,” says Sierra, “requires cognitive resource management.” The reason why some people just can’t make progress, she says, “is there are just too many things draining their cognitive resources.”

“In five year’s time, what on earth are we going to be looking at?”

In an at-show interview, Rachel Andrew, founder of, talks about CSS Grid Layout, the journey of responsive design, and the importance of staying up to speed on emerging specifications. “Responsive design,” Andrew says, “has been a huge step forward for the Web, and how we see Web pages work, but what happens next? Who knows what devices we’ll have? Five years ago, we were just getting to grips with phones…in five year’s time, what on earth are we going to be looking at? I think that’s what makes [Web development] exciting.”

Drunk on features

In an at-show interview, open Web evangelist Kyle Simpson talks about JavaScript Coercion’s bad reputation and contemplates the past, present, and future of the Web. As for the present, our biggest hurdle, he says, is being drunk on features without regard to access:

I think the biggest problem the Web has right now is that it’s primarily being built by a group of people, in the general sense, that take for granted things like unlimited and free bandwidth. … We’ve sort of become drunk on the features available to us and taken for granted that everyone has a super fast mobile device or laptop, that everyone has unlimited bandwidth, and that it’s free to them. We need to take a step back and begin to look at the Web more in layers, to provide the basic functionality … When visiting a site, I’d like the option, either through the browser settings or through the application itself, of saying, ‘just the facts, ma’am’ — just give me the basic stuff so I can get the meat of this content.

Making the Web more welcoming

Estelle Weyl, a UI engineer at, talks about making the Web more welcoming for everyone, and she debunks the notion that there’s a dearth of developers. Weyl says that recruiters’ targeting practices are faulty. “Job descriptions,” she says “only appeal to white and Asian men who are in the millennial age group. They’re targeting less than 39% of the population; they’re limiting themselves and failing to fulfill the requisition.” Weyl offers suggestions on correcting this problem and on ways to make our work environments more welcoming to a wider demographic.

You can see more keynotes and interviews in our O’Reilly Fluent Conference 2015 playlist.

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