Online conferences and why they're the bestest

Posted by Emma Hughes on 23 February 2017

As a web designer or developer, it's imperative to stay current. The environment that we work in moves at an incredible pace, with new standards being developed constantly and technology emerging at rates unlike ever before. It's essential to stay informed, and luckily for us there's a number of ways to go about doing it. Keeping an eye on leading industry blogs and subscribing to their newsletters is a really great idea (and something I think we should all do), but another popular and excellent way to find out about new stuff, learn and experience the industry through the work of our peers is to attend conferences.

Truly there are a lot of events around in destinations all over the world, and if we had unlimited travel expenditure and time we might even consider ourselves spoiled for choice. But for those of us who can't travel - whether it be for budgetary, convenience, scheduling or other reasons - don't despair, because online conferences do exist and are something well worth attending, and giving support to.

I was prompted to write this after attending the 2016 JavaScript Summit - a completely online conference that I was able to attend from the comfort of my own studio apartment. This was my second time attending and so when it came back onto my radar earlier last month I was keen to go again after experiencing it for the first time in 2014. Because I am based in the United Kingdom, the talks began at 3pm for me (instead of the perhaps slightly more convenient 9am Central Time), but that didn't actually matter - not one bit. I came to the office in the morning and headed home at lunch time, settled myself in with a latte and a notebook (the paper kind!) and Adobe Connect on my laptop.

For me, being a bit of a homebody who is most at home behind a screen, the ability to watch talks and chat about modern web development in my cookie monster onesie with a tassimo machine close at hand is pretty much the perfect answer to professional development, but you could attend it from anywhere (even the office, I suppose).

Run by Environments for Humans, who offer a wide variety of conferences throughout the year both online and offline, the structure of the summit is a familiar one for anyone who has been to any sort of conference before - whether Smashing or Comic, Conf or Con - and one easily digestible by any newbies to the format. The day is split into a number of hour-long presentations with deft MCing by the E4H team bookending each one and great music in between.

There's plenty of time for questions in the chatroom at the end of every talk. You can pick and choose what you’d like to attend and you don’t need to worry about being able to get a good seat. You don’t have to study a map of the venue just to find out where the bathrooms are or spend twenty minutes finding yourself a suitable nook or cranny to sit/hide/burrow in during the lunchbreak. Videos and slides from all the talks are made available afterwards, which is super handy for referencing back or watching later if you couldn’t make it to all of them.

And maybe the second most important part of attending conferences (after the talks themselves, of course) is totally taken care of, too - you won't miss out on those precious freebies or the chance to win prizes.

The content of the talks varied greatly, from wonderfully pretty things like drawing with SVG and HTML5 Canvas to uber-technical security issues and mapping, which is, admittedly, way over my head as a designer. The highlights for me in particular were the talks by Chris Sauve and Justin James, the former giving us a really useful run-down of component first layouts - and within that, an explanation of the CSS3 Flexbox layout mode, which I am just starting to use in projects - and the latter extolling the virtues of Ionic Framework, for mobile apps. Even just those two talks have given me plenty of value and I don’t doubt that the same can be said for all attendees, no matter their ability level or focus.

The only problem with all of this, in my opinion, is that there isn't enough. Environments for Humans do a fantastic job and have recognised a need for more accessible conferences - I can only hope for the day that their CSS Dev Conference is streamed online as well as IRL - but apart from their offerings there doesn't seem to be much else out there in the wild (at least as far as a google search and a couple of curated lists go). Hopefully, as awareness and support for online events grows, we will see more emerging as a result. Likewise, if you know of any that I don't, please let me know in the comments. I, for one, will definitely be checking them out!

Emma Hughes

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