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WSG London

The inaugural WSG London event was held on Friday night, and seemed to go pretty well. There were two excellent speakers in the forms of Clearleft’s Andy Budd and JavaScript guru and author Chris Heilmann. The meeting was impeccably coordinated by Stuart Colville, who is a top chap and thoroughly deserving of all the thanks and praise which was heaped upon him afterwards.

As I mentioned to Stuart in the pub afterwards, maybe six months ago I noticed all those city-centric Refesh events, and wondered why London—one of the world’s great cities, and home to innumerable web development shops—didn’t have any equivalent group. I didn’t do anything about this thought, but to his credit, upon having a similar one, Stuart did, and he needs to be applauded for stepping up to the plate (as our cousins from across the pond might put it).

Nuts and Bolts

Andy Budd’s talk focused on the history of standards, with an entertaining and literate discourse on screws (I’m not kidding), and an unblinking look at the future of web standards, and the web standards movement. He made two distinctions I think are worth discussing briefly.

Firstly, that between the standards themselves—that’s to say the W3C’s recommendations, things like the XHTML spec—and the philosophy of usability, accessibility and semantic markup that has built up around it (and, of course, the movement that promotes this philosophy).

Secondly, that between standards in the sense of a technical baseline that needs to be met—such as the configuration of a USB connector, which needs to be made in accordance with a certain ISO standard—and between a standard as a mark of quality, such as the Quality Standard Mark for beef and lamb.

There are important parallels between these two distinctions. Web standards, as a set of technical specifications, are a clear technical baseline. If a web developer is not meeting these standards then (quibbling over minor issues like unencoded ampersands aside) they are not doing standards-based design. However, as Andy pointed out, one can easily make a validating document that commits any number of sins: using layout tables; using span elements for headers instead of hn elements; mixing up structure and presentation by including style information in the document body. The set of technical requirements is not a mark of quality code.

Quality code, though, is a result of following a philosophy. Quality code is written by people, not machines: Searle’s Chinese room argument is an attempt to refute the possibility of ‘Strong AI’, but we can appropriate it here to say that since machines only manipulate symbols—they can’t derive meaning—technical standards can never encapsulate the fullness of what we now mean by the term ‘web standards’. A computer can tell how long a paragraph is, and even work out what it’s about, but it can’t work out whether it’s well-written or not. Similarly, it can determine whether a document validates, but not whether that valid code is actually well-written.


On a personal note, this was the first web development event I’ve attended, and I can really see the value of them for freelance developers—especially those who, like me, work out of a bedroom rather than an office or studio and consquently tend not to meet professional colleagues in the general course of things. Being able to stand around in the pub and talk shop re-energises one, and gives a sense of community that can sometimes be lacking for those of us who aren’t part of a team (whether of web developers, or as the web guy in a company with some other business).

Overall, then, the first WSG London event gets a thumbs up from yours truly—I’m looking forward to the next one.

3 responses

Wish I could have made it… burned all my money going to @media2006. I am very much looking forward to next years but will hopefully catch some other events before then…


It was nice meeting and chatting to you mate–hope to see you at the next WSG meet!

I definately think networking is important in the web development community, if only as a learning experience. I’m glad your first experience was positive! I also hope to stand around in the pub and talk shop with you some more.

Being a freelancer myself, I’d agree with your comment about the benefits for freelancers - and it’s always an entertaining experience seeing some ‘web celebs’ in action!