Programming

State of the Browser 2022

I’ve attended a few of these conferences and have always found them helpful. This year it had relocated to the Barbican Centre with the food and drink area overlooking the beautiful Conservatory there, great choice as a venue.

The conference was a hybrid in-person/online event that I think could serve as a model for other conferences that seem to only be focusing on their return to in-person. Due to other commitments I wasn’t able to be at the venue all day and so at lunchtime I headed home and picked up a few of the rest of the talks on the livestream. It was great to have the flexibility and made the whole conference more accessible.

Talks-wise it was interesting as ever and a little bit less inward looking or niche interest that it has been in the past. There were the usual mix of upcoming standards and challenges in implementing them, how to apply techniques to the current broad mainstream of browsers and a little bit of evangelism for playfulness and environment impact.

One of my key takeaways was on this last point; using an image CDN that can do automatic content negotiation to use an efficient modern image standard has a huge carbon saving. It feels a bit crazy that so many companies are still serving fixed sizes and formats off things like Cloudfront and S3.

Bruce Lawson kicked off the event with a good historical perspective talk on the history of standards (and the struggle to create and maintain them) and brought the issues of standardisation through the search for technical solutions to the world of regulation and better digital policy. Engaging with law makers is a more realistic way to improve the online world that the search of technical solutions to social problems.

More practically we can hope that Apple will be compelled as a digital gatekeeper to allow competition on browser implementations on its platform and maybe even fund its Safari team properly to have better compatibility with the general web standards on iOS. I felt it was nice for a recognition that government organisations can be engaged and willing to listen and that progress can be made be working together rather than outside of regular power structures.

Probably the best talk I heard was “Be the browser’s mentor not it’s micromanager” by Andy Bell this talk neatly encompassed two major ideas: the first was the way that layout systems in CSS have advanced to the point where you are describing structure and allowing the layout manager to actually decide the rendering and secondly on how digital design approaches have managed to fall between the abstractions of the grid system and the precise layout of magazine style layout.

By leaning on the layout engines the amount of CSS we have to write is much more minimal than the micromanaging fussiness typical to component design systems. It is also more powerful and expressive, avoiding the overly complex muddle that is often associated with component style systems but also not going too far down the class frenzy of utility class systems.

Sophie Koonin taught me how to use the prefers-reduced-motion preference via the medium of late 90s website chaos. A good example of the mixture of fun and practical content.

I also enjoyed Alistair Shepherd‘s talk which had a few technical bits and pieces but managed to bridge the themes of the conference by wanting to create a personal website that first and foremost reflected his personal interests and then used the tech to deliver the vision he had for himself. Although the idea to have websites that vary according to the time of date is quite an interesting idea.

I didn’t catch the last few talks so I’m hoping to be able to watch them when they come to YouTube (or maybe some federated alternative!).

Overall still one of the necessary conferences to catch for web technology and now easier to engage with than ever before.

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