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May 05, 2005

Web Essentials 2005

Those who have read this blog more than once will probably know of Web Essentials, the conference that Maxine and I at westciv ran with the wonderful Peter Firminger and Russ Weakley from Webboy/Max Design/Web Standards Group.

Early last year, the four of us, as much through naivety as enthusiasm decided to put on a conference in Sydney devoted to standards based web development. Both Peter and Russ, and Maxine and I had long thought of doing something like this, but frankly both groups were smart enough to realize that it would be a shipload of work, too much for two people to handle as a part time "do it for love" thing.

Somehow together we pulled it off with Web Essentials 04. Douglas Bowman, Dave Shea and Joe Clark all somehow agreed to come, and what's more actually made it! (we'd been told that is was common for late cancelations with any conference).
220 people from all over Australia, from New Zealand, Japan and even the UK came.
The sessions were fantastic, both from the international stars and the local speakers.
And the crowd loved it (well, the told us they did).

It was one of the very proudest achievements of my life, and I am sure Russ, Maxine and Peter would say so too.

Web Essentials opened my eyes to the importance of physically meeting with and listening to people. Particularly here in Australia, we tend to rely on the web, email and chat to form and keep relationships with our peers. For years, in all honesty, I'd never even met many Australian developers.

So much was I struck by the importance of meeting with people, Maxine and I decided we had to get to South by Southwest this year. We even went so far as to sponsor their Web Design Awards.

Now, I keep promising to write about our experience there, but simply struggle to find the time. In short, it was genuinely fantastic. Some of the content was great, some of it was so so, but above all, the opportunity to meet with your peers, formally and informally was amazing. I even forwent seeing Malcolm Gladwell speak (I am a huge fan) since Jeffrey Zeldman and I (we'd known each other since last millennium, but had never met) were having lunch together. And I don't regret that in the slightest.
In all I caught up with dozens of people like that, whom I had known for months or years, but had never physically met.

And we came away from SxSW even more enthused about Web Essentials. While it will never match the several thousand attendees of SxSW, we wanted to catch something of that atmosphere, where after the sessions are over, and even in between sessions, you meet new and fantastic people, swap ideas and stories, talk about what you've just heard.

All of this went into the blender when it came to finalizing Web Essentials for this year.

So, we went looking for even more speakers than last year, and looked to broaden the base of the conference. Last year was very much about motivating and inspiring those who came, where this year we wanted the focus to be almost entirely on learning practical skills and new ideas.

Last year the focus was standards based web design and accessibility. This year we wanted to broaden this to include "User Experience" (which is really exploding as an issue, and rightly so), emergent semantics (tagging, and particularly Microformats, which is the breakout star of the web this year I reckon, based on SxSW and the upcoming developer day at WWW2005 in Chiba - at which I am speaking), and management/strategy issues as well.

For some months we have been negotiating with speakers, and we've finally got all our ducks in a row. Here is how they stack up.

Our keynote speaker is Molly Holzschlag. She's funny, smart, eloquent, and amazingly well published. She's recently published, with Dave Shea, the Zen of CSS Design (link proceeds to the authors). It's a brilliant book. Fingers crossed she'll be signing copies at our book signing.

In the field of User Experience, few come close to Jeffrey Veen from Adaptive Path for expertise and knowledge. He's also a brilliant presenter, funny, smart, and very tall. Last seen on these shores as part of Jacob Nielsen's usability world tour a few years back (that's like touring with the Rolling Stones), miss Jeff and you will kick yourself.

Eric Meyer needs no introduction. Seriously. He is Mr CSS. I'm so excited that we've lured him here. I've known him for many years, but we only met at SxSW. Saw his presentation there and it was fantastic.

Tantek Çelik is probably best known for the Tantek hack. This is kind of unfair, as

1. he must be one of the smartest people on earth (I don't say things like that lightly)
2. I'd be prepared to say that he is as responsible as anyone for the success of CSS. Before IE5 for the Mac, CSS was long on promise and short on delivery. Tantek showed the world what CSS could do by building the first halfway decent implementation a rendering engine which supported CSS. (The rendering engine in IE5 mac was called Tasman, so there is a nice connection with Australia too)
3. His girlfriend is a famous DJ, and even the women at SxSW could not stop going on about how beautiful and sexy she is! I reckon I do one better in this department as I have a beautiful sexy wife who is a sports broadcaster.
4. loads more, check out his bio.

We've also managed to lure three other speakers form the US and Canada.

First we have the return of Douglas Bowman. Doug enjoyed WE04 and Australia so much he simply wanted to come back again, so we thought it would be ridiculous to have him on our shores, and not have him speak.

At SxSW I had asked Kelly Goto to speak on my panel. She sadly had to pull out because she was leaving the morning of the panel, but when we spoke in Austin, it transpired she often comes to New Zealand for work (she's setting up an office of GotoMedia there) and jumped at the invitation to speak.
Kelly will bring a great deal to WE'05, it's a privilege to have her.

One of the definite rising stars of web world is Canadian Derek Featherstone. He's a developer who knows his stuff backwards, and with a strong interest in accessibility. He'll bring a lot of practical accessibility know how to WE05. He's also a load of fun, and a really nice guy as well as great engaging presenter.

I think the success of WE'04 was really the content. We worked hard to develop a programme that met the needs of developers. We then went looking for the very best presenters here and around the world to deliver.
This year we followed the same plan. Unlike many conferences, still 6 months out we have a complete programme published, and a full roster of speakers.

There'll be a lot of work in the coming months, no doubt, but I'm really excited about WE'05, and can't wait for September.

May 5, 2005 in Web Essentials | Permalink


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I'm exciting about WE05, too. I may get my ticket to Sydney, but it's up to my boss. BTW, though I've checked the program, I couldn't find "Smackdown"! You missed it? ;-)

Posted by: Kazuhito | May 5, 2005 12:22:00 PM