"Web Communities" entries
Learning from the Fluent Conference.
At Fluent 2015, we brought together a variety of stories about front-end engineering – some technical, some social, some more intricately intertwined.
From the very first day, it was clear that React was the big technical story of the conference, taking the place that Angular (which is still clearly important!) had had the previous year. Tutorials and sessions were busy, and I kept hearing conversation about React. Sometimes it was “what is React supposed to do?” but other times people were talking about exciting corners of React Native or techniques for integrating React with a variety of frameworks.
React makes me happy because it solves the problem a lot of people didn’t quite realize they had. Suddenly they are very enthusiastic about stuff that used to be really annoying. The Document Object Model (DOM) has been the foundation of most of the interactive work on the web since 1998, but it wasn’t very much fun then. As developers really get deeper into these things, the DOM has not exactly been a crowd-pleaser. In some ways React is a wrapper for the DOM, and in many ways it’s a just a better way to interact with the document tree.
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.”
The future is maintenance: build for the inevitable.
Technology has had a cult of newness for centuries. We hail innovators, cheer change, and fend off critics who might think new and change are coming too fast. Unfortunately, while that drives the cycle of creation, it also creates biases that damage what we create, reducing the benefits and increasing the costs.
Formerly new things rapidly become ordinary “plumbing,” while maintenance becomes a cost center, something to complain about. “Green fields” and startups look ever more attractive because they offer opportunities to start fresh, with minimal connections to past technology decisions.
The problem, though, is that most of these new things — the ones that succeed enough to stay around — have a long maintenance cycle ahead of them. As Axel Rauschmayer put it:
“People who maintain stuff are the unsung heroes of software development.”
In a different context, Steve Hendricks of Historic Doors pointed out that:
“Low maintenance is the holy grail of our culture. We’ve gone so far that we’re willing to throw things away rather than fix them.”
That gets especially expensive. Heaping praise on the creators of new things while trying to minimize the costs of the maintainers is a recipe for disaster over the long term.
Khan Academy explores how far learners can get at different ages.
I picked up a brief guide to programming in 6th grade. There, on page 1, was A = A + 1. I knew that wasn’t possible, so I put it down, and came back to programming in 7th grade.
Khan Academy is having better luck with young students, but learning to program is kind of like learning to drive: the prerequisites aren’t obvious, but they’re helpful and often come later. At Fluent 2014, Pamela Fox explored the data Khan Academy has collected on learner age, and what it might mean for curricula going forward.
In her keynote, Fox explored:
- Developing a sense of how kids respond to fairly easy challenges with Khan Academy’s participant data. (3:24)
- What in the first programming challenge might keep people from succeeding? (4:37)
- How different is the data for a logic challenge? At what age does completion level off? (6:16)
In this O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Simon St. Laurent discusses the web's potential, and Tom Greever chats about experience design.
Simon St. Laurent, O’Reilly’s strategic content director for our web space and co-chair of our Fluent Conference, recently launched an investigation looking into the web’s potential to change not only computing, but the world in general. For this podcast episode, I caught up with St. Laurent to talk about the timing, what he’s exploring, and why the web isn’t dead. He said that in some ways, it has always been the right time to launch this investigation — after all, the web has continued to grow amidst market crashes and the dot-com bust — but noted the driving factors behind the health of the web are becoming more clear:
You're using the Web even when you don't think you are.
With the rise of native apps and the Internet of Things (IoT), you might think we’re leaving the Web behind.
Other languages and approaches absolutely have their place, especially in the many environments where constraints matter more than connection, but the Web core is everywhere: in your phone, your apps, the kiosks you find in stores and museums. It lurks invisibly on corporate networks helping databases and messaging systems communicate.
That enormous set of Web-related possibilities includes more than a set of technologies, though. Tools and techniques are great, but applying them yields a richer set of sometimes happy and sometimes controversial conversations.
I’ll be exploring a core set of nine key themes over the next few months, but I’ve started with brief explanations below. These short tellings set the stage for deeper explorations of the Web’s potential for changing both computing and the broader world, as well as what you need to learn to join the fun.
Those pieces digging deeper will appear on this site, but you can also stay in the loop on our latest analysis and coverage through our weekly Web Platform newsletter.
Can we create more vibrant intersections?
For the past two decades, the web has been a vibrant intersection of design and programming, a place where practices from art and engineering both apply. Though I’ve spent my career on the programming side – you don’t really want to see the things I design – I’ve loved the time I’ve spent working with designers.
Much of that time was frustrating, because I was frequently stuck telling designers that no, 1990s HTML couldn’t produce page layouts like QuarkXPress. The medium was different, with its own complications. However, as designers became familiar with the web, and found new ways to apply it, the conversations became richer and richer. Front-end web development became an amazing place where designers and technicians could work (and sometimes curse) together. Read more…