Web Essentials kicks tail

Well, Web Essentials wrapped up on Friday night, and I can truly say it was one outstanding conference. Earlier, I think I wrote that it looked to be the largest web standards event in the southern hemisphere this year. That… was an understatement. It was easily the largest event focused exclusively on web standards in the world (outside the W3C), and the wonderful organizing team pulled it off flawlessly.

The two days were packed with so much material (and good material) that it seemed to be the equivalent of a three- or four-day conference. Dave kicked things off on Thursday with a solid keynote, and Russ followed with a modest but well-executed intro to web standards. When John Allsopp took the stage, I realized he’s probably the most under-utilized yet contagiously energetic speaker I’ve seen so far, and anyone in the U.S. or elsewhere needs to be sure to think of John if you’re looking for a dynamic speaker full of web standards knowledge.

The accessibility sessions both days captivated my attention. Joe Clark is way too self-deprecating, and despite what anyone thinks of his online persona, he’s an excellent speaker, well-timed, confident, and has a good stage sense of humor. Bruce Macguire gave a humbling talk about accessibility and discrimination that carried a different kind of gravity than all the other presentations, and Roger showed how horribly inaccessible and unusable navigation can be when not implemented well. David Woodbridge effectively demonstrated how horribly some sites function in JAWS. This was the first time I’ve witnessed someone actually using JAWS to navigate a page by headings, which put an exclamation point on their usefulness. And Mr. Dean Jackson was absolutely hillarious on stage, and proved that W3C members can get their points across much more effectively when they don’t take themselves so seriously.

The conference attendees were extraordinary, fun-spirited, and filled with challenging questions. With well over 200 attending the conference, the majority of them Australians from all over the country, Australia has clearly proven a dedication and concern for standards-based design. One need look no further than the exploding popularity of the Web Standards Group, and the consistently large amounts of folks they pull in for regular meetings. Aussies are effectively showing up the rest of the world when it comes to their thirst for knowledge and interest levels in web standards and making content accessible to all. With what I’ve experienced of this insanely hospitable and welcoming country so far, the commitment to access for all, and aggressively charging ahead to take advantage of whatever they can the right way the first time… it’s really no surprise that web standards are on fire here in Australia.

I’d like to publicly thank and congratulate John, Maxine, Russ, and Peter for an outstanding job pulling together such an excellent conference. If you couldn’t make it this year, for whatever reason (budget, distance, time off work) make sure you start planning now to attend next year. By then, I’m positive the conference will be at least twice the size it was this year, and will attract even more speakers and attendees from all over the world. My only question now is, do we really have to wait a whole year for the next Web Essentials? Maybe we can convince them to make WE an official Aussie export and begin planning a couple more conferences just like it in other locations throughout the world.