Around eight years ago, when I started working in the web performance space, I knew nothing about performance. I’m not exaggerating or being falsely humble when I say that. I knew zip. Zero. Nada.

My first O’Reilly Velocity Conference, back in 2010, was a revelation. Not only was there this arcane-seeming niche inhabited by people who were dedicated to making web pages faster, but this niche was surprisingly big.

Since 2010, that performance niche has grown even bigger and vastly more complex (much like the average web page, but I digress). Companies both huge and tiny offer incredibly nuanced solutions to problems we barely knew existed a handful of years ago. As my father-in-law used to say, “It’s been a helluva toboggan ride.” It’s been my joy and privilege to be on this ride with so many talented, caring people.

Last fall, when the folks at O’Reilly told me that they were re-jigging Velocity to focus more on the engineering and operations side of things, and shifting the front-end focus over to Fluent Conference, the decision made immediate sense. When those same folks invited me to co-chair Fluent and help with the transition, of course I jumped at the opportunity.

In a completely random coincidence, just a month ago I joined Steve Souders and Mark Zeman at SpeedCurve. For those of you who may not know this, Steve is one of the co-founders of Velocity. Mark is the founder of SpeedCurve, the performance monitoring company he created that was inspired by things he learned at Velocity. Mark and Steve’s eventual partnership sprang up out of their connection at – you guessed it – Velocity. And Velocity was where I got to know Mark and Steve over the years that led up to them offering me a role. I can’t even begin to describe the feelings of delight and serendipity I have at the fact that here I am today, working with Mark and Steve while also helping chair Fluent. Eight years ago, if you’d told me that I’d be here… well, I don’t know what I would’ve thought.

As you might guess, I have a very sentimental attachment to Velocity. It’s been a touchstone of my working world for many years, and I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. I take my role as a shepherd of the evolution of Velocity and Fluent very seriously. The performance community is an amazing group of people, and I want all of those people to know that their work is more important than ever.

Here’s why.

The theme of Fluent is “Building a Better Web”. When my co-chairs – Rachel Roumeliotis, Ally MacDonald, and Kyle Simpson – and I first discussed this theme months ago, it was pretty easy to agree on what a “better web” means to us.

A better web is:

  • accessible,
  • secure,
  • reliable, and
  • fast.

Obvious, right? And some might argue that, yeah, while the web isn’t perfect, it’s good enough. So we’ve more or less hit our goals, right? We can all go home? Not so fast.

Many of us are lucky to live in happy bubbles where the web is accessible, secure (well, reasonably secure), reliable, and fast (well, reasonably fast). We’re the web equivalent of one-percenters. And like one-percenters, we’re dangerously at risk of being oblivious to what the rest of the world experiences.

internet
Image: DAPD

The vast majority of people around the world – the 99-percenters – don’t live inside happy web bubbles. Yes, roughly half of all people worldwide have access to the internet (mostly via mobile devices), but their experiences are difficult, non-secure, unreliable, and slow.

From a purely user experience perspective, this sucks, especially given the fact that more and more vital services and information are migrating to live solely online. But there’s more at stake here than just UX.

The modern web is a mirror of the modern world. For too many people, it isn’t just the web that’s inaccessible, unsafe, unreliable, and slow – it’s everything. It’s education, governance, economics, food, and water. As technologists, we may not be able to fix all those problems, but we can fix the web.

The web has become a vital part of how we live and share this planet. When we talk about building a better web, what we’re really talking about is building a better world. We may not be digging wells or building schools, but our work matters. This is why, when you look at the Fluent program, you’ll see so many talks that focus on how to use existing and emerging technologies to make the web accessible, secure, reliable, and speedy – in real-world, non-bubble conditions.

I’m an optimist: I believe the world is getting better. But I’m also a realist: I know it takes a lot of hard work to make things better. I’m looking forward to working hard with you.

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One thought on “What this year’s Fluent Conference means to me

  1. Thanks for this. I moved to SF 3 years ago and afterwards, for the first time in my 15 years working on the web, I began thinking of leaving the web technology industry. I believe deeply in the importance and value of net neutrality, crowdsourcing, and universal accessibility, but the Bay Area zeitgeist I’ve encountered has been thoroughly disappointing. The place I work, the meetups I attend, and the people I meet are saturated with highly privileged niche thinking. I’ve been told that the only audience that matters is an audience with a recent iOS device–“everyone” has one, after all. But I never had enough money myself to afford one until I moved here and I’d still much rather save a few hundred bucks. You should see the looks people give me when I say this, like I’m an alien and/or a moron. Apparently it’s never occurred to them that most people don’t make $100,000+ a year. The attitude seems to be, well, why don’t people with that problem just smarten up and get a better job and a better connection and a better device?

    Like

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