If I thought flying across the country for a two hour meeting was fun, how would flying across the Pacific for a two day conference compare?
It was a hoot!
Having hardly watched a movie in the past year or so, I took the opportunity on the flight over to catch up with some new release films: Michael Clayton, 3.10 to Yuma, Into the Wild, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Martian Child, as well as a few older flicks: Two Hands (RIP Heath), 2001: A Space Odyssey – hey, it’s a long flight, alright?
Apparently it rains more than it snows in Vancouver, but when I arrived it was snowing beautifully, gently, like a fairy tale. And Vancouver Airport features some stunning design elements – a great way to enter a country.
I established camp in the same hotel as the conference (hmm, will two double beds be enough for sir?) and set about addressing my major packing oversight: the power cable for my laptop. Suffice to say I failed, which meant I only had about six hours in total of laptop time. So I walked around a bit, catching snowflakes on my tongue, throwing snowballs for a dog to chase. Sigh.
The conference itself was great, from Jeffrey Zeldman’s opening overview of the short but eventful history of web standards to Matt Webb’s closing exploration of social models that might influence the web’s future development as a set of experiences.
I’m not sure what everybody else expects to get – and indeed does get – out of Web Directions, but for me it highlights the issues that are at the forefront of web design and development and how they intersect with web standards.
I go to these things for the vision, the big picture, the context. I find I can then follow up on the detail, the practical implications, the mechanics.
Maybe it’s because I don’t specialise in any one web discipline, but I get an enormous amount out of listening to people who, while clearly restraining themselves from going too deeply into their subject (because of time constraints and out of respect for the breadth of experience among attendees, if not the depth), are also obviously very engaged with their material and enjoy sharing insights they have derived in the course of their work.
That the topics covered were for the most part so different to what I saw at Web Directions South is more an indicator of how fast the web industry continues to move rather than any perceived Sydney/Vancouver, Australia/Canada or south/north differences, and justified making the effort to get there.
The one presentation I saw at both WDS and WDN highlights this: Brian Fling’s piece on the Mobile Web in Vancouver had new things to tell me based on industry events since September.
Actually, just seeing Zeldman justified it for me. I know there were some who felt they didn’t get much out of Mr Z’s talk, but as someone who’s been doing this for 14 years or more, I was fascinated to get some detail on what was happening at the edge of the envelope while I was bashing my HTML into shape.
I was even more chuffed to be able to collar Jeffrey for a few minutes to tell him what his professional history meant to my professional history. Given that the poor man, who isn’t of enormous stature, was loomed over by a drivelling, fawning, over-tall Australian, I think he did very well not to turn and flee.
Other presenters I saw included Derek Featherstone, Tara Hunt, Brian Oberkirch, Jared Spool, Indi Young, Boris Mann, John Allsopp and Dave Shea. Accessibility, government, social apps, usability, modelling, content management, devices. All wrapped in that determination to provide great web user experience by understanding what you’re doing and what you’ll be doing next.
A new element at this conference was the introduction of Birds of a Feather sessions, where a person with a barrow to push could set up a lunch table discussion with like-minded souls. I took a session on the second day on the topic of being a jack or jill of all web trades. It went very well – I’ll post something separately on that topic.
Personally, I find the networking opportunities just as vital at these events. I would say that I met someone who opened something up for me at pretty much every morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea, and even more so at the first day’s evening reception and the closing party.
And “Hey” to Sean, Binh, Andrew, Chris, Alan, Terry, Brian and my other new best friends.
I did have one hitch on the trip, in that I was stranded at Los Angeles airport for five or six hours waiting for a connecting flight unexpectedly delayed, but I whiled away the early morning hours chatting to a 70 year old Greek artist about the history of Western civilization. As you do.
Then more movies on the flight back to Sydney (Elizabeth – The Golden Age, Across the Universe, Bee Movie), a lovely airport reunion with Hazel, Cormac and Augusta, and it’s back to the grindstone, fired up with new techniques to implement, new understandings to assimilate and new challenges to rise to.