Full Frontal Conference 2011 review

Last Friday I attended Full Frontal 2011, which turned out to be the best conference I’ve attended so far.

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For the first time in 5 years of conference going I had no complaints whatsoever. I am often irritated by excessive promotion of products by sponsors, talks which are really little more than product placement, poor quality speakers and a host of other minor niggles which reduce the quality of an otherwise great event. At Full Frontal, this year (I attended the first, which whilst still good, wasn’t quite up to this years standard), I had no such problems. Instead I enjoyed a stream of high quality professional speakers discussing a range of topics at various levels of complexity.

First up we had Jeremy Ashkenas, one time creator of Underscore, Backbone and now Coffeescript, give an overview of what Coffeescript is (write JavaScript in another language, which compiles to pure JavaScript). Like a few others I spoke to, I have some serious issues with using Coffeescript for projects where I’ll be handing to code over to others, but as Jeremy explained, it makes writing JavaScript simpler and more logical, which could be fun to try on a personal project.

One of the days highlights came next, Phil Hawksworth, who delivered one of the best talks I’ve seen in terms of pacing, humour and keeping a high level of engagement. Phil implored us to not use HTML5 as an excuse to return to the long loading screens and inaccessibility of Flash in its shitty heyday. Just because we can, shouldn’t mean me should, and I couldn’t agree more. There is a fashion appearing at the moment for huge single page sites with mock navigation, no urls and no non-javascript support, and like Phil, I hope these don’t become common place and we see a return to standards based websites which use not abuse the new techniques available to us.

Two talks about coding within the browser by Marijn Haverbeke and Rik Arends have made me decide to investigate the cloud 9 online IDE further. If any talk came close to product placement today it would be Rik’s, but rather than irritate me, he managed to tread the line between salesman and technical guy carefully enough to keep my interest.

I learned the most today from Yahoo’s Nicholas Zakas who nailed exactly how to structure a large-scale JavaScript application with his talk on Scalable JavaScript Application Architecture. I am already structuring code in a way that is close to how he described, but not quite close enough for my liking. It felt like he pushed me that last step to total clarity, and I’ll certainly be writing more about this in the coming months.

Prize for the most passionate hacker of the day goes to Glenn Jones, whose demos around Microformats and drag and drop showed what should already be mainstream. It was inspiring to see someone thinking outside of what is obviously possible and pushing the boundaries. Marcin Wichary, the creator of interactions on many of google’s doodles also showed us how to make the impossible achievable, simply by thinking about problems in different ways. Browser limitations mean his code may not be ‘perfect’ and totally clean, but he makes things that work, and they go on the Google homepage.

I’ve never been a big fan of the kind of sites Brendan Dawes and his team creates, but I’m glad they exist. He took us through the thought process that leads to the creation of these exploratory sites, and proved that what works for one person may not work for others. I prefer simple clear navigation, but I don’t tend to stay long on sites. There are multiple use cases, and Brendan showed us this.

A great day, thanks to all who helped make it happen!


  • Michael Mahemoff (@mahemoff)

    Hey Mark,

    Great to see you there and watch your async talk. Thanks for the writeup.