Edge 5: Here we go again

Last weekend I hosted the fifth edition of Edge Conf, the web technology conference for the people who help make the web work. It was a great success, with over £13,000 raised for CodeClub, a charity close to my heart and those of many others in the industry, as well as many bugs raised, spec changes proposed and blogs written. More on all of that below. First a few reflections on how it went:

Me delivering the opening talk.
Me delivering the opening talk.

It all got a bit heated

We (or rather Facebook, who were in all other respects brilliant) forgot to make sure the air conditioning would be working. As a result, on one of the hottest days of the year, the attendees sweltered in 30C+ conference rooms.

We got a lot of stick for this but it was reasonably good humoured given that we at least did what we could. We hired some large industrial fans on 2 hours notice and had them brought across London (from Gatwick!). They turned out to be too noisy. But then we hit on a better idea and cleared out Sainsburys of literally every ice cream and lolly they had and handed them out to attendees. This went down very well indeed!

Ice creams to the rescue!
Ice creams to the rescue!

We also overestimated the amount of drink needed for the after party. This proved less of a problem.

Panels, breakouts, keynote: on going multi-format

The Network Ops breakout hosted by Natasha Rooney
The Network Ops breakout hosted by Natasha Rooney

This was the first time we tried proper breakout sessions, small rooms, circular seating, etc. it worked very well, with highlights including the installable web apps, Sass/CSS patterns and progressive enhancement sessions. It was interesting to see how different breakout hosts handled their session very differently, and the best were those who had prepared well, imposed a good structure, and made sure to create a collaborative atmosphere. I think Andreas Bovens, Lyza Gardner and Mairead Buchan deserve particular thanks for being totally on top of this.

The panel sessions were still there though, the Edge staple that I’m yet to find replicated well at any other event. We added some new elements though, like a group chat channel for each session (using Slack), and throwable microphones!

Being accessible

We had a record number of attendees with accessibility needs, and I’m pretty happy with how well we catered for these. The venue came with great physical accessibility, and we chose a party venue which likewise offered good access. An FAQ on the website described the facilities available, and we offered several delegates a walkthrough of the venue before the conference.

Our use of Slack caused issues for screen reader users, but Slack has an IRC bridge and we had turned it on, we just hadn’t told people about it.

Dan Appelquist hosting the Security panel
Dan Appelquist hosting the Security panel

Meeting some special people

This year we had some new attendees who it was a privilege to meet and chat to. You should go follow them:

  • Léonie Watson was one of our breakout hosts, and I got to chat to her in the early hours of Sunday morning at unofficial after-party #2. It’s impossible to stereotype Léonie as a blind person when she is the most insightful person in the room.
  • I’m no security expert, but I could listen to J Alex Halderman for hours. Somehow he can make me completely paranoid and totally fascinated at the same time.

Attendee feedback

We got feedback from around 50% of attendees, who rated the sessions like this:

Edge 5 feedback

Most rating feedback on sessions was positive, with the breakouts for progressive enhancement, installing web apps, polyfills and network ops being rated no lower than good by anyone. The front end data and ES6 patterns breakouts were most divisive, with the biggest spread in ratings: they achieved very high proportions of outstanding ratings, but balanced those with high proportions of ‘satisfactory and below’. The security breakout fared least well.

Attendees voted on the stand out contributor of the day. Here were the top five:

  1. Jake Archibald
  2. Jeremy Keith
  3. Alex Russell
  4. Patrick Hamann
  5. Remy Sharp

All extremely smart and vocal people who are well known to the community. It would be great to see some less familiar names in this list though.

The Edge organisers at the after party: Perry, Andrew, Vicky and Ruth
The Edge organisers at the after party: Perry, Andrew, Vicky and Ruth

Ideas for next time

We can already see some ways to improve the event next time:

  • Improve the speaker queue: Slack went totally bananas for large parts of some of the breakout sessions, and some of it got too disjointed from what the panel was saying. I think we inadvertently encouraged people to engage on chat instead of speaking, which we should avoid. I’d plan to change the /q command for attendees (which people thought stood for ‘question’) to /s [summary] (s for ‘speak’), where the summary is a quick taste of the point you want to make. The panel should see only the speaker queue with these queued points, not the whole unfiltered Slack channel, and the fact that people have put themselves in the queue ought to be announced to the Slack channel so that attendees are more aware that it’s something that they should consider doing.
  • Start with ice breaker: We prepped ice breakers for the breakouts, but we actually want more participation in the panels, so it would be good to try and do something at the very beginning of the event with everyone.
  • Shorten the day: People were flagging towards the end. We could lose the keynote, or might drop one breakout slot.
  • Do some microphone training: No matter how much you plead with them, people just will not speak into a microphone.
Josh expertly demonstrates how not to hold a Catchbox.
Josh expertly demonstrates how not to hold a Catchbox


Quite a few blog posts have started to appear with coverage or thoughts following on from the conference. Here are the ones I’m aware of: