Yesterday the Highland Fling conference in Edinburgh, Scotland had about 100 delegates in plush leather seats waiting to learn about "The Browser and Beyond".
The location was the same as last year, the 158-seater Symposium Hall, part of the Royal College of Surgeons in the centre of Edinburgh. Highland Fling is a very different conference insofar as it is the only one in Scotland covering web development and that it has a very cozy atmosphere. This is largely due to the passion of the organizers to push the local development community rather than staging a conference with commercially driven speakers and product showcases.
True to their word, this year even had a format I hadn't seen before in other conferences, with a leather sofa on stage next to swivel chair and the main lecture stand. The reason was that the presentations were limited to 40 minutes with 20 minutes interviews afterwards.
UK Podcaster Paul Boag chaired the event, introduced the different speakers and grilled them after their presentations with very clever interview questions partly made up by him but largely coming from the audience. Delegates were able to use Twitter, email or at the end even text messaging to hand their questions over to Paul. The benefit of this approach was that the Q&A sessions after the talks were much more focused and didn't end up with audience members trying to get personal agendas through rather than getting information all can benefit from. It is a much more efficient use of a short Q&A time.
The day kicked off with Mark Norman Francis talking about "The browser and before", a quick trip down memory lane with detailed information as to how the web came to be, what changes we faced in the past and how we got where we are now. The main message, however, was that the web is change and that as a professional developer you need to be aware of that.
My own presentation followed and revolved around the development of badges for distribution and the general shift of web design away from sites as destinations and pages as data containers towards a web of modules and a network of sites and applications hosting these. The slides are available on slideshare:
After the break Gareth Rushgrove talked about "Being a good web citizen", which was a great overview of how APIs change the web world we live in and what steps you need to take to develop a good API. He covered RESTful URL design, the need to understand HTTP and what output formats are handy to offer to developers. He agreed with my previous remark in my interview that the data you offer and the means to reach it are as much an interface as the web sites we design and need as much care and attention if we want to create a successful web of data and APIs.
Aral Balkan followed with a high energy and enthuisiasm-filled presentation about Flash, what new related technologies like Flex and Air can bring to the web of the future and a detailed dispelling of myths revolving around Flash that have been formed in the late nineties and stick until today. Aral managed to convince a lot of people in the audience that Flash in indeed not 99% evil, but does play well with other technologies and is a lot more open than people generally believe it to be.
The day ended with Simon Willison explaining the wonderful hacky world of Comet and what this technology can bring to the table in terms of future development. Comet, if you haven't heard about it yet is a push technology that allows information and actions from several users in one application to be replicated live in all instances of the application. The main example was Google's Spreadsheets allowing several users to work on one spreadsheet and see live what other people are editing. Simon went in detail through all the browser hacks earlier Comet developers had to create before libraries like Dojo made it a lot easier. He also put his slides on slideshare:
The cozy atmosphere of the location also reflected on the speakers. Like last year there was a very natural flow from presentation to presentation and each presenter mentioned points made earlier and offered hints about the information coming in the following talks. This is not as common either and shows how much work there is actually in organizing a good event and find the right people to present for the audience you'd like to reach.
Speaking of the audience, it was good to see a mix of entrepreneurs, employees, students and even some people who came from Dundee and had taken part in our earlier University Hack Day there. It is a great feeling to be able to reach people who'd normally couldn't afford going to the large conferences.
I am very happy to have been part of Highland Fling again and I am looking forward to next year's stint up north.
Yahoo Developer Network