Balisage has become for many XML (and the occasional SGML) coders the must-attend conference of the year. Run for many years as the Extreme XML Conference, the shift to the use of Balisage - a French term best translated as running lights, such as those used to highlight a ship or an airplane runway. These markings then translate into the syntactic markings found as a key part of XML. (That Balisage continues to be hosted in Montreal, that most French belle dame of Canadian cities, probably accounts for the name as well )
While no one theme usually predominates during this conference, this year's Balisage 2009 conference starts with a pre-conference symposium, Processing XML Efficiently, hosted by XSLT giant Michael Kay. In that particular symposium, the attendees will grapple with the challenges of efficient encoding, whether via Binary XML encodings, infinite stream processing, compressed data and optimized XML Database mechanisms. It's becoming a critical issue - as the volume of global XML continues to rise (especially at the enterprise messaging level) the need to be able to increase throughput with XML is also becoming more important, and the workshop here will focus on a number of the techniques and proposals currently floating to make this happen.
The conference can best be described as cozy. This isn't a big trade show conference - there's nary a vendor booth in sight, and the idea with the conference is that it is a place where XML technicians - the standards creators, the implementers, the idea people - can get together quietly and talk about markup, at a very core level. It's definitely a deep pool, but there are no sharks, though there a bunch of dolphins, orcas and a blue whale or two. It's in many ways the ideal of what technical conferences should be, and its encouraging to see that more and more of them seem to be opting for the Balisage-type model. B Tommie Usdin and Deborah Aleyne Lapeyre, the Godmothers of XML (though whether that means magic wands or horse's heads is always up for debate), put on a good show, a thought-provoking confab that's well worth taking the time to attend.
There aren't really any keynotes - when you have people like Norm Walsh and Michael Kay giving talks in the morning, with Uche Ogbuji and C.M Sperberg-McQueen presenting talks in the afternoon, it's rather hard to say that you can just catch the big keynotes and miss the rest of the sessions. You can't - these are just too important to miss. I will unfortunately miss two talks that I especially was hoping to catch - Alex Milowski's XML in the Browser: the Next Decade and especially Liam Quin's Automatic XML Namespaces, as I think that we're on the cusp of revisiting the XML Namespaces issue in light of HTML 5, but if you can make the conference on Tuesday I would especially recommend catching these two. I'll be speaking on Friday morning on Open Data and XML Services, where I hope to address the issues of how RESTful services are going to profoundly shape the next decade (and what the XML community should be doing about it), and I'm hoping to host a Nocturne on XRX Thursday night, if slots are available.
Overall, Balisage is continuing to evolve into one of the most influential XML conferences in the world, and if you can come, I would heartily recommend it ... even if you're one of those truly pathetic French illiterates like myself, n'est-ce pas?