Reflections on #jsconf and #nodeconf by a language geek

This isn't a review of the conferences as much as my impression of the different forces acting upon javascript, the language. Before I start, i should get my bias out of the way, as it likely colors my observations: Like many I came to javascript out of nessessity and seeing a C-like syntax tried to make it fit into a mold it was ill-suited for and much frustration ensued. I've taken the language at face value, and being a fan of expressions and lambdas, have found it to be fun and flexible. That said, it does have some well documented warts and in many ways these warts are what are behind the different forces pulling at the language.

jsconf and nodeconf had significantly different vibes, but where I had expected the difference to be due to server vs. client people, it seemed that the difference was more closely aligned to the relationship the attendees had to javascript. My impression is that jsconf is a community brought together by the common goal of creating amazing experiences in the browser. Some embrace the language as is, others rely on frameworks (or this year's hottness, micro-frameworks) to make them productive, while yet others try to bend the language to their will by using javascript as a compilation target.

Of those using javascript as a compilation target, coffeescript was the clear star, with enough talks using it as their defacto language that got the impression that it was a natively supported language. The next to last #jsconf talk featuring @jashkenas even nullified the B Track entirely and was joined by @brendaneich to talk about JS.Next. The talk covered proposed and accepted changes to javascript, and coffeescript was held up as testbed for fast prototyping and experimentation with possible syntax changes

The final jsconf talk was clearly meant to come off as a Jobsian lead-in to a big reveal. This reveal was traceur, google's transpiler for trying out what google wants JS.Next to look like. I don't know whether it was the relatively stilted presentation style or the fact that it re-hashed a lot of Brendan's presentation, but the crowd lacked enthusiam for both the presentation and the reveal. I personally liked what they were proposing, but I can't say I disagree with one attendee later describing it as having a condescending tone, something like "we're here to rescue you from javascript". Brendan seemed to have read the talk this way as well.

All in all, jsconf clearly seemed to be celebrating the possibilities ahead and the power of the language to be mutated into virtually any form. More than once I overhead someone say that they were sold on coffeescript and would try it for their next project.

The following night was the the nodeconf pre-party. I had the pleasure of talking extensively with @izs (of npm fame) and @mikeal about various topics javascript and node. Being the language geek that I am, I brought up traceur and coffeescript and was quick to realize that this was a different crowd than jsconf: Nodeconf is a community that chose javascript as their primary language, finding it preferable to whatever language they had worked with before. Clearly the node community does not need language changes to enable their productivity.

This impression of a community happy with the state of their chosen tool was re-enforced throughout the next day at nodeconf. One talk on Track A was "Mozilla Person, Secret Talk". When I suggested that it would likely be about Mozilla's efforts to create node on top of spidermonkey one of the guys at our table said that if that was the case, he would have to go and check out Track B. As the Mozilla person turned out to be Brendan, our tablemate did leave. The talk itself was briefly about V8Monkey and SpiderNode, the two abstraction layers Mozilla is building to create a node clone, and largely a re-hash of Mozilla's JS.Next talk. The post talk questions seemed generally uninterested in JS.Next and were mostly different forms of "what do we have to gain from SpiderNode."

Clearly the node community is not beholden to any browser vendor. They've created this new development model out of nothing and are incredibly productive in that environment. The velocity of node and the growth of the npm ecosystem is simply unmatched. What node has already proven is that they don't need rescuing from javascript as it stands. Javascript is working just fine for them, thank you.

I do believe that Javascript is at a cross-roads, and being the only choice available for client-side web development, it is being pulled into a lot of directions at once by everyone wanting to influence it with bits from their favorite language. It is clear that JS.Next is actually going to happen and bring some of the most significant changes the language has seen in an age. I can't say I'm not excited about the proposals in harmonizr and traceur, but I certainly can understand why this looming change is seen as a distraction by those who have mastered the current language. Being more of a server-side guy nodeconf was clearly my favorite of the two conferences and while I had started the week in Portland with the intention of writing my future node projects in coffeescript, I've now decided to stick with plain old javascript. I fear not doing so would only lead me back into my original trap of trying to make the language something it wasn't which in the end would only hurt my own productivity.