Fronteers 2016: Performance & Accessibility

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As always, Fronteers manages to create an event split over 2 days with loads of diversity. Aside from the smooth organisation during this event, catering and the beautiful venue Tuschinski it remains one of my favorite conferences to attend.

As said: diversity.

In these two days a lot of topics are passing by from progressive enhancement in CSS, visualizing big data, progressive web apps, WebVR, scaling a front-end development team, adapting to input, lean websites, content security, functional animations, accessibility, up to the future of the web. As you see from quite designer-like topics to very technical ones. Personally I’m somewhere in between, I like the design part but I’m not really a designer and I also like the challenge in the more technical aspects of this profession.

I can relate to the title of Scott Olson’s talk ‘How you do is what you do is who you are’ in a way I’ve done web development with this in the back of my head and not really thinking about that I’ve been doing it this way for quite some time now.
Always trying to use the most applicable markup element, carefully choosing Vanilla JS over any other framework when more appropriate or unneeded, in essence aiming for the minimal that can fit the job. So progressive enhancement isn’t new to me.

Yet by attending Fronteers for quite some years now, some topics are always present: progressive enhancement, performance and accessibility. On the one hand I don’t expect a topic like progressive enhancement still needs the attention it gets since on the other hand this has been advocated for quite some years now and shouldn’t be an unknown item anymore. Maybe my assumption is wrong here. Then again, it’s a good thing to keep mentioning as a reminder.

Performance & Accessibility

This year I’ve started to focus more and more on performance and accessibility, so I’ve had quite some interesting information over the two days. Especially the part of progressive web apps (PWA) in Nolan Lawson’s talk, whereas he outlined that a PWA can be offline, progressive and multithreaded via service/web worker.

Being offline first isn’t about laggy connections, but it’s about speed. Going to the local cache is always faster than accessing the same information over any network. On the other hand, the general feeling of web tend to be slow which is true for certain segments (i.e. news sites). It boils down to ads: ads account for 9% of the webpage, but account for 54% of the load time and 55% of the bandwidth.

Native apps (like Facebook and WeChat (mainly in China)) are trying to win more and more users by serving web pages within the app without the ads thus mimicking the fast web as it’s always been. This has already been already successful in countries like Myanmar where Facebook is the internet. The web isn’t just the browser anymore, people don’t care where they see the information, they want to get things done. API’s like web bluetooth, web payments, NFC, beacons, speech recognition, gyroscope are there to enhance the experience. PWA’s are a good fit for emerging markets in Asia and Africa, where every MB downloaded directly affects the user’s income. By progressively enhancing the experience we can help the user.

With the rise of these API’s, the physical web and IoT we need to take security into account. More and more we see the usage of HTTPS which is a good thing, with services like Let’s Encrypt it has become easy to turn this feature on. But there is more we can do: content security policy, strict transport security (HSTS), public key pinning, subresource integrity and more. Aside from above, if you want to enhance the experience by using a PWA service worker or asking the geolocation from the user, serving over HTTPS is a must or it won’t work. A good summary on using HTTPS now you’ll find on Scott Helme’s website.

At Fronteers there where more various topics to digest. Interesting to see and hear is the rise of the emerging markets, so it will be quite likely that your new customers will come from these markets. Like Alibaba is expanding from China to Europe with new user challenges like clients who use proxy browsers (i.e. Opera Mini): millions of people in Indonesia have only one name and requiring a surname disrespects them. And that is just one example of the interesting times ahead. The web is great in adapting thus by progressively enhancing the experience and focussing on the user to get the job done as fast as possible. We can adapt along the way.

All in all Fronteers 2016 was a good refresher in the stuff we can use already, yet we tend to forget it from time to time. 😉

My personal takeaways:

  • Re-watch Monika Piotrowicz’s talk (video coming soon I hope) on scaling frontend development (language styleguides, code reviews, pattern libraries, ui libraries);
  • Work with PWA, new API’s: bluetooth, gyroscope and more;
  • Take performance into account from the start;
  • WebVR is cool, bleading edge, but very cool.

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