Design

2011 in review: 15 web conference talks you need to watch

Technology conferences increasingly release videos of their presentations online. Simon Willison, the co-founder and CEO of Lanyrd, presents 15 of the best of 2011

We started Lanyrd in 2010 to help people keep track of all of the great conferences and events happening around the world, and to encourage people to help build a permanent archive of the slides, video and audio produced by the events. Our community added nearly 3,000 videos to the site in 2011 – I've used our data to pick out 15 talks that best illustrate this year's hottest topics in web design and development.

The presentations here span topics from mobile first development to web operations, social graph analysis, web typography, entrepreneurship and more.

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1. Let's use video to reinvent education

Speaker: Salman Khan
Event: TED2011
Video: lanyrd.com/2011/ted/sdccc/

My favourite talk of the year. Salman Khan is the founder of Khan Academy, an enormous collection of free online educational videos which is teaching high school curriculum level subjects to millions of people of all ages around the world. In his TED talk, Salman describes how the Khan academy uses game mechanics and teacher dashboards to help teachers keep track of how well their students are doing – then describes a vision of schools where the lectures are delivered homework videos and the teachers get to spend 100 per cent of their classroom teaching time engaging directly with their students.

2. Mobile First!

Speaker: Luke Wroblewski
Event: Mobilism 2011
Video, slides and audio: lanyrd.com/2011/mobilism/sdxqh/

Luke Wroblewski promotes a simple philosophy: when the times comes to design or redesign a web application, think about the mobile version first. Going Mobile First forces you to strip the app down to the bare essentials and focus on the tasks that are most important to the user. Mobile devices aren't just smaller desktops – in many ways they are more capable thanks to location awareness, audio and video input and direct manipulation touchscreen interfaces. Luke's talk interrogates the opportunities presented by a smart mobile presence.

3. How GitHub uses GitHub to build GitHub

Speaker: Zach Holman
Event: Ruby Conference 2011
Video and slides: lanyrd.com/2011/rubyconf/shzrd/

I'm fascinated by GitHub, not just as a tool but also as a company. Despite growing to 42 people they still maintain their policy where engineers work on whatever they think is most important, with no deadlines and no meetings to get in the way. Zach Holman's talk from Ruby Conference 2011 describes how they use their own service to review code, deploy the site and keep from getting in each other's way.

Zach also has a series of blog posts exploring how the company works in greater depth.

4. Real World Moderation: Lessons from 11 Years of Community

Speaker: Matt Haughey
Event: SXSW 2011
Video: lanyrd.com/2011/sxsw/scrdr/

Good moderation a for any successful online community. MetaFilter is one of the web's longest enduring online communities – the site recently celebrated its 12th birthday, and retains a loyal and dedicated contributor base. MetaFilter founder Matt Haughey presented the lessons he had learned about community management at SXSW back in March, and later released a specially recorded video version of his talk performed in his home office.

5. CSS3 Secrets: 10 things you might not know about CSS3

Speaker: Lea Verou
Event: Fronteers 2011
Slides, video and transcript: lanyrd.com/2011/fronteers/shdqt/

By now, any web developer worth their salt has at least experimented with some of the new capabilities offered by CSS3. Lea Verou's presentation from Fronteers 2011 is really 10 talks in one, exploring a collection of techniques that even the most curious of CSS fiddlers may not have seen before. She showcases some ingenious advanced tricks using border radius, shadows, gradients and transitions.

6. Starting your startup

Speaker: Joe Stump
Event: FOWA Vegas 2011
Slides and video: lanyrd.com/2011/fowa-vegas/sfxcz/

Serial entrepreneur Joe Stump gave this entertaining and highly informative talk at FOWA Vegas 2011. He ran through everything you need to consider when creating a new startup, from selecting the technology stack to finding co-founders, forming a company, raising money, understanding investment jardon (like valuations, liquidation preferences and convertible notes) and building the right product. I co-founded a startup last year, and I really wish I'd seen Joe's presentation first – it would have saved me an awful lot of time figuring out the basics.

7. A Career in Web Operations

Speaker: Theo Schlossnagle
Event: Velocity Europe
Video: lanyrd.com/2011/velocity-europe/skrbt/

Web Operations as a discipline is growing up – as the number of truly gigantic sites grows, increasing numbers of engineers are learning what it takes to survive at a massive scale. In this keynote from O'Reilly's Velocity Europe conference, operations expert Theo Schlossnagle describes the need for more professionalism in managing production systems. He discusses the challenges involved in becoming a career professional in web operations.

8. Place graphs are the new social graphs

Speaker: Matt Biddulph
Event: Ignite Strata NY
Video and slides: lanyrd.com/2011/ignite-strata-ny/skrxf/

I'm a big fan of the Ignite format – 20 slides, 15 seconds per slides and the slides advance automatically, forcing the speaker to carefully rehearse their presentation and make the most of the time available. In this talk from Ignite Strata NY, Matt Biddulph touches on the mathematical foundations for social graph analysis used by products like LinkedIn's People You May Know. He discusses applying social graph analysis to location, discovering relationships between different places using algorithms originally used to analyse people.

9. What Browsers Really Think of your App

Speaker: Alex Russell
Event: Day of JavaScript on Mobile
Video: lanyrd.com/2011/dayofjs/smqcw/

Browsers combine almost every aspect of computer science, and understanding how browsers work is crucial to getting the best possible performance out of your web applications. Alex Russell works on the Chrome team at Google, and previously helped create the Dojo JavaScript toolkit. This talk from the Day of JavaScript on Mobile goes deep in to WebKit's internals, and demonstrates how the limitations of mobile devices affect how modern web applications should be constructed.

10. @font-face – Good vs Legal

Speaker: Jake Archibald
Event: DIBI 2011
Slides and video: lanyrd.com/2011/dibi/sfrkh/

Custom web typography is finally a reality, but with it comes new technical challenges. Jake Archibald spent a bunch of time investigating the fastest, most compatible, least disruptive way of serving fonts. In this talk he dives deep in to the technical details of how modern browsers support fonts, including ways of displaying them cross-browser and clever tricks for optimising their performance.

11. Artur on SSDs

Speaker: Artur Bergman
Event: Velocity 2011
Video: lanyrd.com/2011/velocity/shdyt/

Short, rude and effective – Artur Bergman makes the case for replacing hard disks with SSDs on both your own machine and the servers in your datacenter.

12. Mobile Performance

Speaker: Steve Souders
Event: jQuery San Francisco 2011
Video and slides: lanyrd.com/2011/jquery-sf-bay-area/sdpry/

Steve Souders helped define the discipline of client-side web performance optimisation, with several books and inumerable presentations to his name. More recently he has turned his hand to mobile performance, starting with the tricky problem of analysing performance across different mobile devices without the help of browser extensions.

13. Designing for Disaster

Speaker: Jeff Veen
Event: MX 2011
Video: lanyrd.com/2011/mx/sgrgg/

How Typekit dealt with a major performance problem caused by a successful customer just a few days before the Christmas holidays. Jeff Veen describes the crisis, the response and the systems and culture they put in place to deal with similar problems in the future. Having a well defined emergency response protocol is a crucial part of the user experience of any site that provides a service.

14. Diving Deep into Canvas

Speaker: Grant Skinner
Event: New Game 2011
Video: lanyrd.com/2011/newgameconf/skcgc/

Grant Skinner, a well respected Flash game developer, was asked by Microsoft to develop a game in HTML5 to help showcase IE9. Grant's company produced a tower defence game, www.pirateslovedaisies.com, on top of the HTML5 canvas element and released the EaselJS JavaScript library. In this talk, Grant explores the challenges of game development using HTML5 and some of the performance tricks they discovered along the way.

15. Everything the Network Touches

Speaker: Tom Coates
Event: Webstock 2011
Video: lanyrd.com/2011/webstock/sckdw/

Something nice and inspirational to finish off: Tom Coates speaking at this year's Webstock 2011 conference in New Zealand. Tom talks about the awesome scale of the web we are building together, the power of network effects and the near future of connected objects. Tom's presentation is also one of the best looking slide-decks I've ever seen – here are the slides (and audio) from an earlier version of the talk presented at dConstruct in Brighton last year.

2011 was a fantastic year for conference videos. Sites such as livestream.com, upstream.tv and justin.tv are making it easier than ever to live stream events, and more and more conferences are publishing their content on YouTube, Vimeo and blip.tv after the event. It will be exciting to watch this trend continue to evolve in 2012.

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