The Same Old Faces | January 17, 2013

I occasionally hear people grumbling on Twitter about the “same old faces” appearing in web design magazines and at conferences. As somebody who takes an active interest in nurturing new talent, I’d hate to think we had a “glass ceiling” that prevented people from progressing in our industry.

With the ubiquity of self-publishing tools and grass roots events, it certainly doesn’t feel like there are any major impediments to getting your message out. In fact I’d say it was easier to share your knowledge today, than at any time in history.
Maybe this is the problem? There are just so many people sharing that it’s becoming impossible to get heard? Pundits in the music industry argue that today’s networked society makes another Elvis or Michael Jackson an impossibility. Instead we’re entering into a world of musical diversity.

I think this argument holds some water. After all the networked society favours people with the biggest networks, and one way to do this is to have been there from the start. Starting conditions mater and various scientific experiments have shown that the artists at top of a randomised list end up becoming dominant, irrespective of the quality of their work.

The funny thing is that I’m constantly reading articles or sitting in conferences listening to people I’d not heard of 2-3 years ago, and the things they have to say are pretty good.
I think a lot of this has to do with the perception of time on the Internet. It can take years for people to graduate from writing a few blogs posts to taking their first steps on stage. By the time this happens—if you’ve been paying attention—they already feel like one of the “usual suspects”.

Interestingly I’ve had conversations with at least 3 speakers who on their second or third talk ever, were already being lumped in with the “same old faces”. I’ve seen this happen many more time, so it would seem that you really can’t win.

Posted at January 17, 2013 7:33 PM


Dave Taylor said on January 19, 2013 11:10 AM

Thank you for your article. I have to admit sometimes it feels that way although I think you are right that it’s a strange perception. On reflection I too can think of several people who have emerged in the last year or so who have become widely known because of their contributions.

I personally am not looking to be a “face of the web” although for me the frustration has come when I genuinely want to explore an idea but cannot gain enough exposure/traction on the web to get a good discussion going. I think this is the nature of a large thriving community. As you say there are so many people sharing. At the end of the day it’s still an amazing community to be a part of, even if its just a small part.

Matt Hill said on January 21, 2013 1:08 PM

As someone who’s been in the web industry over 15 years, and who doesn’t go to web conferences, perhaps I have a different perspective on “the same old faces”.

Everything I’ve learned about the web has come either through my own experimentation and hard work, or reading things on the web. The material available for devs/designers to learn their craft is amazing, and it doesn’t matter to me whether it was written by Andy Clarke or Joe Unknown.

Those who have been in the industry a long time, and who have shared their knowledge (whether through writing or speaking), have a different perspective than say, someone who is just setting out on their career.

For example, experienced minds tend to be wiser about the stuff they share and speak about, and that wisdom is borne out of experience “in the trenches”. Younger minds are more likely to be inexperienced and full of energy and enthusiasm and may not yet have learned the realities of the true nature of web development: that everything is a case of “it depends”. Both have valuable knowledge that they can share; just its nature is different.

“Old faces” are respected by the likes of me because we recognise that they worked hard, shared their knowledge and talked good sense. That’s really all that matters, and I use the same yardstick for assessing the output of anyone else. Of course, as an industry we should certainly nurture new talent, but there’s no reason to write off the old faces either — they built the web that the new faces are entering, after all! Like most things in civilisation, new things are built on what went before.

For me, it makes no difference if someone is an “old face” or a new face. What matters is what we all share together, so that we all learn together.