The future and the tightrope: Fronteers 2015

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The last two days i’ve been attending the Fronteers 2015 conference in the Tuschinski theatre in Amsterdam. This was my fifth Fronteers conference, i was there in 2014, 2012, 2011 and 2010 as well.

The mix of talks was ideal: from the extremely technical (MPEG decoders in Javascript and WebAudio) to more higher-level presentations on team management and digital governance.  The team of volunteers making it all happen got a well-deserved standing ovation at the end of the conference.

Not just boys anymore

Of the 16 presentations, 6 were given by female speakers. That’s over a third. In 2010, five years ago, there were just 2 female speakers. Because we don’t want to have a web that’s primarily target towards white guys living in the Bay Area, it’s extremely important to have speakers that are as diverse as the world itself. If we want to have more woman in tech, we need role models to show that girls can code just as well as boys. So i loved the fact that one of the most in-depth technical talks, about the WebAudio API, was given by Soledad Penadés, who didn’t stop coding because she was a girl.

We need CMS as a service

For me, the most interesting talk that directly related to my work was the one by Phil Hawksworth on static sites. Because building static sites is basically all i do nowadays at de Volkskrant this talk was especially useful to me. Phil briefly mentioned ‘content as a service’ as one of the key pieces in a static site infrastructure. Unfortunately it also seems to be the thing that’s not widely available right now.

I’ve written before on how the perfect CMS should just be a CMS for an API instead of a site, this is basically the same line of thought.

Contentful is a CMS-as-a-service that is mostly following this route, but for now i don’t really like to bet on a proprietary solution. I would love to see some (open source) development in this area.

The future and the tightrope

You can’t have a frontend conference without talks about browser features that aren’t (yet) widely implemented and tips and tricks to improve performance. It was fascinating to hear about the new possibilities with service workers and ‘above-the-fold’ CSS rendering. And i think Chris Heilmann is right in ranting about how webpages still take up too much space, use too many requests, and don’t work without Javascript.

On the other hand, there is a reason why so many webpages are like that and i think it was best explained by the highlight of this conference: Primate’s talk about “the tightrope between mediocracy and bankruptcy”. In an entertaining and, at times, hilarious presentation, Espen, Bart and Gordon brilliantly explained the difficulties every small and medium-sized web agency faces. From the balance between using mediocre templates (that are cheap) or custom designing every piece of content (which is expensive) to the choices of having no clients or bad clients, they were spot-on.

Simply put: you just can’t put every single ‘best practice’ in practice because, well, you’ll go broke.

It’s fine to put every cutting-edge technology in your app if you’re Google or Facebook (because you have a virtually endless supply of money), but if you’re a regular company, you need some very good reasons to introduce such technology, because those developers don’t come cheap, and they’re not doing something your client will happily pay for.

That doesn’t mean you should never use anything cutting-edge in your sites, it just means that you need to consider the advantages and disadvantages, the exact thing your client is asking, and how much time and money you can spent.

To sum it up in that two-word developer cliché: it depends.

See you next year in April!

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