Future of Web Apps – part 2

This is the second of two pages on FOWA08 in London. See the first page here.

Tim Bray started the second day, which took some of the feelings about the current financal climate.

Development is more agile; no long development cycles; developers need to look at how to stay in the most flexible position. It is sometimes difficult to see which direction things are going, so it is important not to be too locked in to any particular technology. This would obviously make a move towards open source and open standards, which is where Sun are positioning themselves. Being multi-skilled means that a developer has more chance to keep the lion’s share of what work is available. Networking and publishing is a must, to keep a developer’s presence in view, as much as their social visibility.

Developers have many opportunities to use open source interfaces in both web and mobile environments. What with gadgets and scripting interfaces, it is easier to dabble with the new technologies and techniques. Dave Morrin talked about interfaces to Facebook. I must have a look at how Digg are taking the users Facebook information into Digg. The other area I keep meaning to look at is twitter. Maybe the talk by Elaine and Paul from meebo will give me a push. They talked about how they grew meebo from nothing to 3 million users in 3 years. They gave advice that would be useful for most ongoing projects, with four main points,

  • Simpler is better. Get it out early and you’ll have time to iterate other options.
  • Know your bottlenecks, through measurement. Optimise after you know where the pronblems are; they might not be where you expected.
  • Do a quick fix, or go for a home run. Either do it quickly, low effort or plan a change properly and do it well; nothing in between.
  • Look for useful abstractions; use the code/ideas again.
  • Having worked with Flex and Air for eighteen months, it was interesting to listen to some of the talks form competing technology, not just the obvious Silverlight, but the growing strength of Javascript libraries such as jQuery, dojo, and the latest from Google and Yahoo. Yahoo have probably the largest library and now offer their blueprint language for building mobile widgets as a service. Using the libraries on mobile phones is especially positive as Flash Lite is not really up to the job and developing native iPhone applications has such a step learning curve. I am coming back to the idea of these javascript libraries. Firefox has helped with this; the plugins they have make it much easier to do small jobs and debug larger ones. It comes back to not having time to devote to longer projects. Is that just me? I get the feeling that even young, capable developers are doing the same and becoming much more lithe in their approach.

    Kathy Sierra ( of the HeadFirst series of books ) finished off the main conference with a talk on how to grow a community. Inspiring again, even though the mind was feeling a bit stretched. Lots of talk about how to get users into the system easily and to quickly have them doing cool things. Everyone wants to feel cool and if we can encourage users to help others, while they remember what help they needed when they themselves were starting out, they will feel smarter and the site will be easier to learn. Users still have the urge to be better than others, but to build up the overall community the site need is to make users ‘happy for 5 minutes a day, but obsessed for 5 hours’.

    As we walked out of the final session, we saw the huge queue to get into the hall. This was for the Kevin and Alex session on the couch. I decided to stay and watch, with a free beer or two courtesy of our friends at Google. It was worth the wait. Such an atmosphere; such energy at the end of a long day. They didn’t have to say much, they’re more like entertainers now, than being there to impart technical knowledge. Certainly the crowd didn’t care. I’ll be interested to watch the final edit when it gets to the podcast. After the event finished, the crowd just poured down the steps into the Fox bar, where the couple played DJ for a while and gave away more stuff. Their usual beer or two must have turned into quite a few. I hope Alex’s new fiancée survived the publicity.

    Overall the conference was even better than last year’s and was certainly as inspirational as I’d hoped. I will plan my work around next year’s version. It’s already in my diary. Even better was the fact that Ryan had arrange for all the sessions to be recorded in HD and to have a transcript. How cool is that. I’m sure that they will be at the top of my most recommended list. Go and have a look at the Carsonified site right now.

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