Software

State of the Browser 2021

This is the first in-person conference I’ve been to since the pandemic and since it normally clashes with PyCon UK this is also the first State of the Browser that I’ve been too in a while.

As a high-level pitch for the conference it a chance to hear from standard makers and browser developers about their thoughts on the web, web standards and issues in web development.

The conference had an audience of probably a third of what I felt it had the last time I attended in person. There was not issue with distancing and you could add a stickers to your attendee batch to nix photography and to ask for people to keep their distance.

Usually the chance to socialise and network is a major part of the conference experience but once I was there I realised that I didn’t really want to spend the time required to get to know someone new while COVID is as prevalent as it is, not attend the generous post-conference drinks.

Which made me wonder why I was there at all. The answer, on reflection, is that being physically present meant that I was actually present for the talks as well. I’ve bought tickets for virtual events earlier in the year and I still haven’t watch the videos.

By physically turning up I did pay more attention and I did engage and learn more than I did virtually.

I found a few things about the conference frustrating though. Firstly a number of the speakers weren’t there and instead had recorded a talk so being at the conference ended up being a collective video watch without being able to control the video and skip the boring bits. Also there were no questions from the audience because that was being handled on Discord. Now most of my Discord is taken up with gaming because, y’know that’s what Discord pretty much is for the most part. So I wasn’t able to see that side of things because I didn’t have time to set up some kind of work account. But generally whether it was Slack or something else I kind of think having the questions on the conference chat meant that the talks were actually lectures and where the speakers weren’t that proficient with their delivery it made the talks more boring.

So at the end of the experience I have no idea as to whether my attendance was a good idea or not. I probably would have been distracted at home but at least I could have sorted out Discord and have watched the pre-recorded videos in a more comfortable environment (I certainly could of dodged the morning torrential rain).

But when there was a good in-person speaker it was great. Rachel Andrew was the standout for managing a review of the history of layout systems while also previewing the thinking of the standards groups. In particular drawing a fascinating line between the necessity of the contains CSS directive to the ability to be able to look forward to container queries. Stephanie Stimac shared similar insight into what the future may hold for the development of the Form elements and their backwards-compatible codification and customisation.

Alex Russell offered a rebuttal of the locked down mobile ecosystems from a capitalist perspective but failed to really offer remedies given that this overall is a capitalist failure.

In a totally different vibe Heydon Pickering did a talk about requiring people to switch off Javascript to read his blog. It was closer to standup and I did laugh out loud several times although trying to explain what made it funny and entertaining has proven highly difficult.

Rachel Andrew is one of the people behind Notist which a few people were using to share slide links. I hadn’t heard of it before and I can see it’s pretty handy compared to trawling Youtube trying to figure out if some talk you half remember has been posted there.

Overall I think it was worth the effort, I felt I got outside my bubble for a while and felt a bit more connected to the efforts that are still ongoing to safeguard and advance the web as a whole.

Standard

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