Since my first forays into the world of Web design and development I was actutely aware of what seemed to be a circle of folk who were everywhere. There were those that were involved in The List Apart empire, those that contributed to .net, those that had authored books on the subject, those who spoke at conferences and so on. It was very common for those who were involved in one of the above to be actually involved in many.
Bigfoot Sighting by JD Hancock, on Flickr
Starting out, these were the folk I kept an eye out for; if they were doing something new with JS then I should take a look too… and if they had a view on clients then I should probably read up on what they were saying. They were our leaders, our chiefs.
Slowly it dawned on me (perhaps I’m not the sharpest tool in the box after all) that these chaps and chapesses were all quite well acquainted with each other. After some time I formed the opinion that this smallish circle were actually very tight-knit. It appeared to be like some kind of site-cross-linking that had managed to manifest itself out of the virtual web. If one of the members had written a book then others of the group would be very quick to back it up… and sometimes this support seemed to be there regardless of how poor the material was. The pat on the back was always there… even for the most mundane insight or mediocre execution.
I remember one Boagworld podcast (a Christmas special I think) when some dude came on and started talking about a new approach to building sites. He was shouting about it like he’d had some crazy dream and now he had to teach the world. He was, however, just regurgitating the well-known verses of Graceful Degradation and Progressive Enhancement but trying to re-sell it. I was bemused at this.
Please excuse me if you think I’m saying that everything I received from this Web Celeb group was all drivel, it most definitely wasn’t. It was through these dabblers that I first learnt of media queries; it was this circle that brought the wonderful Silverback parallax affect to my attention… and it was these guys and gals who introduced me to cheese and Marmite on toast. I have a lot to thank them for.
And so it was that yesterday, the Responsive Day Out was mentioned on twitter by Jeremy Keith. An instant backlash of “it’s the same folk as at every other conf” appeared… and thus ensued a lovely conversation between Jeremy Keith and Zack Inglis. It was this conversation that sparked me to write my thoughts on the Web Celeb (non)existence.
Having been to a few conferences (note, not a lot) I can say that I’ve enjoyed the whole experience of meeting new folk, chatting about geekyness and drinking beers just as much as I’ve enjoyed the talks. And in general the talks have been good too. I was pleased to catch Jeremy at DIBI as I was initially sure it was he who had babbled on about re-inventing Progressive Enhancement… though I was proven to have made a mistake and loved his talk. I have also enjoyed talks by other Web Celebs but equally have been bored by some. In the same way I have very much been grateful to be in the audience for non-Web Celeb’s talks… as I have also been sad to be for others.
I suppose I should try and bring some clarity to my ramblings (too late, I hear you cry)… and I think it comes down to a couple of points;
What do we mean by Web Celebs?
Are these just anyone who’ll get a retweet by Elliot Jay Stocks or Jeffrey Zeldman. Are these people who we’ve seen on a handful of conference line-ups? Are these the people who appear on Boagworld or have A Book Apart published?
Why are the Conferences full of them?
The answer to this question, although is an easy answer, isn’t the one we all want. Surely a conference organiser wants to break-even if not make money, so why not get a Web Celeb on the line-up? It was these people I wanted to hear from when I was starting out… so surely these folk now starting off on their journey into web design and dev also want to see them too… and are more than happy to part with some cash to see them.
What makes a Web Celeb?
So a Web Celeb probably needs to be good at speaking and getting their point across. Those that don’t will probably fall out of the higher tier quite quickly.
Are they the best at what they do? If we mean designing, writing, developing, etc then the answer is “Probably not”… but that doesn’t mean they’re not good at selling their knowledge and experiecnce.
They also appear to need to work hard on getting where they are. I’ve never written a book (though I was a technical reviewer on Rachel McCollin’s WordPress Mobile Web Dev) but have been told by all who have that it’s very hard work. I’ve also never spent the time writing an article for .net or a tutorial for Smashing Mag. And I’ve never put in the hours needed to record a Podcast. But these Web Celebs have.
The Bottom Line
Do Web Celebs exist? Damn straight they do… but they’re there because in general they’ve grafted away. Perhaps they’re lucky to have a good personality or to know someone on the inside as well… but I can’t knock them for that
What about these conferences full of them? Try not to begrudge the organisers for this. It’s what a lot of people want. If you don’t then perhaps look to attend the smaller conferences… or get involved in organising one.
Do I like it? Nah, but that’s life… and to be honest that’s why I really like the Build It track at the DIBI conferences. Full of folk who really know they stuff.
So Web Celebs and Sasquatch… let’s just say I believe in one of them.