Balisage 2023

The Balisage 2023 markup conference is over. I presented, and I think my paper was well received. There was a good discussion afterwards, in any case, and I certainly enjoyed it.

There were a good number of great talks, too. For whatever reason, my favourite as I write this is Amanda Galtman’s clear overview of accumulators in XSLT 3.0 and all the things you can do with them, not to mention how you can test them. Before the conference, there’s no way I could have predicted this; there was any number of other talks I imagined would have taken that spot.

What struck me the most, though, was the feedback session afterwards. We all agreed it was a great conference. We all lamented the demise of the physical meetup in Rockville, and we all discussed ways to mitigate the fact that we are now meeting online only. There was, in fact, a push for meeting more than once a year. Maybe shorter talks without a peer review? A Slack channel at leading to those, or maybe some more impromptu meetings? A hybrid conference was mentioned, and people reminisced on the past and briefly wondered about what the logistics of a hybrid conference might look like. Brief thought was given to specifics, including where and how to ask questions, but there was no consensus or will to say “yes, let’s meet in person again.” Which is fair enough, in a way. Getting to Rockville was never an easy task.

Only afterwards did it occur to me that no space was given to thinking about how we might want to bring in new blood. Young people. Fresh minds still thinking clearly, with strong views unaffected by decades of compromise. We are all getting older, and this was not a discussion about anyone below 50. I am by no means an SGML old-timer, I but was there using it before there was XML, which means I am actually getting old, too.

I am in a position now where I can bring in young people to work with markup, so that’s what I try to do. It makes perfect sense; younger people will have more ambition, more will to achieve things, and if I can guide them in a certain direction, then I will.

See, when you get older, you will no longer be the bright new talent and that will feel very much like a loss, but you can possibly, maybe, be that experienced old hand and be able to guide the younger ones, influence them in one direction or another.

What does that mean?

Well, for one thing, you can demonstrate the value of semantic markup and declarative languages. You can highlight the benefits of XML technologies and get them interested, inspire them to use those technologies to solve a problem. And then, when they succeed or at least get interested enough, you can point them at markup conferences. You can encourage them to present, talk about a project that went well or an idea they had to make a difference.

And that was never even mentioned at the feedback talk, and now I find it remarkable.

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