Thoughts

Our Top 5 Highlights of Web Directions 2014

By Oliver Benns9th May 2014
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We recently headed over to Melbourne Town Hall for the Web Directions 2014 conference that promised to inspire and educate us on the latest web technologies, which it certainly did.

It's very difficult to summarise an event that brings together a number of speakers, talking about a wide variety of different topics, including CSS, Javascript, ES6, code readability and heck, even robots! So instead, we thought we'd present to you our personal highlights and what we learnt from them.

The Device API - @ajfisher

As an agency that often finds itself doing a lot of mobile development work, we were excited to learn about the planned API's of mobile browsers and what we could soon be using to improve our user's experiences.

Since our entrance into mobile development, we have only really ever been able to detect device motion, orientation and geolocation inside the browser. But our minds were soon blown as Andrew explained to us how we could control the phone's vibration, detect the phone's performance, proximity and battery level all inside the browser. We could even start detecting temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure and ambient light!

Granted, some of these features may seem a little farfetched. A real-use case for detecting humidity is clearly slim and can't really be used much outside of a weather app. However, even on a standard website, you'd be surprised at what we could utilise to improve the user experience. How about making use of the user's phone vibrate to indicate a validation error? Or controlling the colour contrast on your site based on ambient lighting, allowing for better readability?

Demonstration of using colour contrast correctly based on the level of ambient light

SVG - @DmitryBaranovsk

Dmitry's voice was loud and clear at this year's Web Directions. He spoke about the often neglected web technology, Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG). By demonstrating the power of SVG through his presentation, he communicated a strong argument as to why we should stop being hesitant and consider using them more.

Dmitry is also founder of Raphaël, a library for cross browser support of SVG's, something that is definitely worth looking into if you are considering plunging into the world of scalable graphics.

In short, SVG is beautiful, use SVG more and long live SVG.

Offline First Approach to Apps - @espylaub

"For every miraculous iPad there are countless partly broken realities: WiFi passwords, connectivity, battery life, privacy and compatibility amongst others." - Nick Foster

In an age where the internet is all around us, it may seem unnecessary to speak about providing offline experiences for users. But the truth of the matter is that our technology has never been perfect and mobile connectivity is clearly one of these issues. Be it travelling or heading down to the basement, we have all become victim to downtime of our 3G/4G networks.

Alex explained that we should not just forget about these users and we should give a different experience for these poor souls. Techniques described included saving more app assets to the user's phone, caching local data when the user last had a connection or simply providing messages to say your connection has been lost. Furthermore, he and 6 others have developed hoodie, an Offline First library & environment for apps on the web.

Hoodie Logo

Read more on the Offline First Approach

The Indie Web - @t

Tantek Çelik spoke to us about how the web has developed from a place for indie developers, personal blogs and basement hackers to the rise of our content being hosted on the giants of web publishing, or, as coined by The Indie Web, ‘Silos'.

Web Silos

The problem this poses is the threat of longevity, integrity and ownership of our work. While some “Silos” close down (like the recent closure of blogging platform Posterous) , it can only make us question if our work is truly safe and how much control we really have over it.

Posterous Closing Down Banner

Tantek proposes that individuals take control of their content by hosting and registering it themselves rather than rely on big publishing companies. What this allows is full creative freedom, avoidance of content loss, less censorship considerations, and an overall stronger identity on the web.

Controlling 3rd Party Scripts - @bbinto

It's almost impossible to find a website that doesn't utilise, or in many cases rely on, some kind of 3rd party script or library. Unfortunately this means that publishers don't have much control over the provider's code and therefore have to trust the quality of the code.

Barbara explained the best practices and tricks of the trade to be able to overcome the difficulties that 3rd party scripts give. This involved explaining how to avoid bottlenecking, measuring performance, and how to reduce risks of failure.