London Geek Dinner

Last night I attended my first "Geek Dinner" in London. When I arrived at the Hogshead in Dering street I got myself a pint of the black stuff and shortly after the guest of honour Molly Holzschlag and Andy Clarke turned up at the bar, having come from the course they'd been running at Carson workshops.

After briefly introducing myself I followed Molly and Andy down to the lower bar to the gathering of geeks. It was good to see Andy Hume of multimap.com, who I had met a couple of weeks back at the d.Construct conference, so at least there was someone I already knew! I chatted with Andy and Harry Jones about working in a web development team in a large corporation, which is something Andy and I have in common.

I then met up with Paul Farnell who is part of the team behind SiteVista (the browser screen capturing service) and we talked about how SiteVista's backend technology is put together and their plans for the future which include the likelihood that users will be able to log onto a machine and use a browser as a user rather than just viewing screenshots. If this happens I am pretty sure that SiteVista will see a tremendous amount of further take-up of their services.

I talked to Jeremy Carroll who is working on part of the XHTML 2.0 spec, it was interesting to hear about the work that's going into the specification and how XHTML 2.0 is going to have the potential to bring about the semantic web which would make it possible for machines to read and understand the web more readily. Jeremy gave an example of this where you could use a tool to go and search for flights and having defined a set of parameters this tool would go off and return with results based on your chosen criteria.

Molly was introduced by the organiser Ian Forrester to explain who she was to anyone who didn't know and also to take a short Q&A session. Simon Willison asked Molly to describe web 2.0 in 10 words - and to be fair she did a pretty fair job in about 15 words and promised to work on it for another time.

During the Q&A session someone asked Andy Clarke whether there had been any response from Disney over their decision to not use web-standards in a new version of their site. (The previous site created by Andy's company Stuff and Nonsense was standards based and built to be accessible. Andy declined to comment as he is under a NDA but he did say that Disney are well aware thanks to the blog posts in response to Molly's open letter. See this google search to see why - all of the posts in reaction to the new site are very high in the search results for Disney store UK. Molly added that this kind of thing demonstrates the power of the web standards community.

I asked Molly whether she thought the emphasis on graphical design has gone too far within the web standards community in the sense that a lot of the CSS showcase sites often focus purely on design and are not concerned with how well a site is put together in terms of semantic mark-up and accessibility. Molly answered saying that more work needs to be done to get across the bigger picture and to help designers to work in new ways, ways in which they're not used to working. Hence the need for workshops like the one she and Andy had been running at Carson Workshops. Molly then passed over to Andy who added that as designers we don't really know what we're designing for on the web yet. He went on to say that there are people who have been working with the web for a long time who in adopting standards are just doing things in the same way they always have done with the only difference being that they use divs instead of tables, which is just bollocks. A great answer and I couldn't agree more.

I spent the rest of the evening speaking to Laurent Muchacho, Christian Heilmann and Shannon Grothaus about all kinds of stuff from Dee-lite and Herbie Hancock samples to bad fashion from the eighties. In fact I think a whole 5 minutes went by without anyone talking about anything to do with the web. : )

All in all a great evening was had by all and I'm looking forward to doing it again. The food was good for a quid per head. The only thing that was missing was a PA system for Ian introductions and Molly's Q&A session.

Thanks to Molly and Ian for a great night.

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