Future of Web Apps in Kensington – day 1

Another year rolls around to one of my favourite conferences, Future of Web Apps organised by Carsonified. It’s a little smaller this year and returns to the previous venue at the Kensington Town Hall. This is a comfortable size but previous problems with wifi were repeated on the first day. Intermittent though so I didn’t hear too many complaints. There is only one stream this year so we didn’t have to read through all the summaries to decide which to attend. Nice and simple was what I needed as I had been quaffing cocktails til the early hours with a few of the Microsoft web guys. They appeared at the show as well, so it was good to see that they’d survived. (Second day is here)

Fowa09 was kicked off by the ever enthusiastic Kevin Rose. I feel he has more direction this year, but maybe he has regained more of a focus and found his own niche. 10 rules to follow in order to move up to a million customers, sounded a bit simplistic, but all good advice.

Mike McDermot from Freshbooks, the online accounting/bookkeeping service gave us some of his “totally tubular” ideas. His Freemium accounts allowed users to get into the action easily and quickly, with few restrictions other than numbers and branding. His advice was to not build anything that you didn’t need to, apart from tracking systems. You need to be able to tell where your users are landing, the keywords that they used to get there and their path through your pages while they stay. He didn’t think that Google Analytics was good enough, but I’ve use Google to track paths quite successfully. Main point was to build the reporting systems well, so that your programmers don’t have to constantly work on management reports.

Ryan had developed a “hello” app (using some help from RedBus and Microsoft) It was an experiment in crowd twittering and I though it intriguing but it may not give the expected results; perhaps there were no expected results. It was built around using tweets to show what type of people were sitting where in the auditorium (each chair had a unique code!), and to meet to discuss topics helped by the requirement to exchange tokens. In scoring points, the users would mix more and be collecting the points for prizes on the second day. (Interesting idea and could this be used for corporate?) We shall see. They had a small panel later with Scott Guthrie pushing Microsoft’s “spark” initiative which allows small companies free licences to all the tools for three years. Matt Lee from RedGate helped develop the app using ASP/MVC. It was like a sponsors message for Microsoft but done in a casual way. Interesting ideas as usual from Carsonified. The app will be open source after the conference. Websitespark.com for the Microsoft tools. If you’re a student, you get all the tools free anyway – search for dreamspark. Microsoft are being very friendly, friendly and even have an installation wizard for setting up all their server and development software. Surprisingly though it will also give you the option to install php under the IIS system along with a selection of open source software such as Drupal, WordPress etc. Looks good; it says it can handle updates as well, but not sure about the third party software. Expression 3 looked impressive. Definitely worth a try for the SketchFlow features and state control.

Dustin Diaz of twitter (@ded) talked about the beauty of Javascript frameworks. He’s been around several of the corporations in the valley – google, yahoo but is now with twitter. He didn’t pick between the libraries, (jQuery, Dojo, YahooUI, Mochikit, Prototype, Mootools, Sproutcore ) but was trying to tell us to roll our own. You’ll know the library better, and can keep the error checking and validation down to limits. His main advice – keep it small, separate the business and the look, use proper classes and avoid over abstraction. Pointed out Dean Edward’s Base, and Dan Webb’s LowPro, neither of which I had heard of before. I’ve been using jQuery with some success and I asked Yahoo about the size of their tools to compare. Their answer is that they have stored their libraries on their edge servers (and Google’s). This allows them to serve the library at top speed for any web site using them; probably faster than storing even a smaller library on your own servers. Interesting thought – more speed tests to do here.

Addison Berry (@add1sun) gave us a talk about the need for passionate people. She finds hers in the open source community, especially with Drupal – a lot of effort can be found for very little monetary return. If you can find some passionate people, treat them with passion and there will be great returns.

Francisco Tomalsky form 280North was next. He’s ex-Apple, from the Safari team and has moved on to bring Objective-J from the Objective-C background, and then ported a version of Coco to be the Cappuccino framework. Really impressive. He was brought back late on the second day because there was such a tweet around this first demo. I’d seen the demo before, but it still felt extra quick. They have moved from producing their 280slides application, to the full development environment with 280atlas.com. Original plan was to produce web apps, running in the browser; now everyone is asking for desktop apps so they’ll be competing with the likes of Air and Titanium. It will be based on a local webdav Cappuccino server, with html5 and Google Gears. Look out for the Beta on November 15, (priced at $20)

David Prager (@dlprager) from Revision3 next up with more passion. His advice was to that you can find a niche where there are lots of passionate people. Use this passion to find evangelists. They are the group that will spread the word and build your business. Another person advising the importance of having good reporting.systems; they allow you to monitor the effects of changes.

At lunchtime I went to one of the Uni sessions, this one with Gerry Gale (@vicchi) now taken over by Yahoo geo team. He set up PlaceEarth, a system of identifying everywhere in the world and being able to find the places from a huge variety of local and international contexts. 85% of the data on the net is unstructured and it is doubling every 3 months. As most of this information contains geo references, this system can be used to find an exact location from a variety of text phrases automatically. Yahoo are promoting their WOEIDs (where on earth…) as the index to the location, which could be a place or an area. They are building these from their own sources at the moment, but will bring user input sometime next year, to allow user authentication and editing. The developer API looks good; it even allows a call to scrape a remote url to get the information to pinpoint the location. It will then fix the html and give structured data to use with its YQL query language. No JSON yet and only POST but early days for the API and they will be looking at the developer response. Go to developer.apps.yahoo.com/wsregapp to sign up and to get a key. ygeoblog.com for the blog. Demo at Isithackday.com/hacks/placeearth

Paypal, another sponsor of the event, were pushing their developer API, Paypal-X. Find out about it on the x.com website (is that name allowed!) They have been through the various permutations of payments and seem to have most variations coverd – split payments to several people, chained payment through middlemen, commission payments, approvals. It looked good to cover anything that I would want. Still seemed a bit expensive for micropayments tho’, 5cents + 5%. They leave some room for competition. Their iPhone app has been popular. 4million downloads in 9 months and lots of cash passing through it. The Android version is coming soon. Paypal were predicting that the value of digital goods will exceed eBusiness revenue with the next year. They have their first developer conference in San Francisco in November. Use the FOWA99 code for a discount.

After lunch, Chris Abad (@chrisabad) talked us through his success with the Spymaster game. Why did Irata Labs have such success? They started with a great product, had some passionate fans and the scoring in the game was based around spreading the word and recruiting people. It used twitter to run the game, with points for followers and transactions, so the popularity blossomed as the hash tag became a leader in the trending topics. They also seemed to have some influential people invited to the initial game play, which meant the publicity arrived on the news sites pretty quickly along with strategy guides from the fans. It needed to be a good game to get the fans whipped up and features were added after listening to their feedback. Chris’ marketing slides are at iratalabs.com/spymaster_slides.pdf

Cat Lee came on to promote the use of Facebook Connect. There are interfaces to get Identity, Connections and Activities for users. The push is to allow web builders to add Facebook type functionality within their own sites; the Livestream box used on the German elections had 9,000 messages. Have a look at all the widgets that are available, http://www.facebook.com/facebook-widgets/ There’s a lot of functionality from Facebook that you can put on your own web pages. Facebook has also allowed users to translate the various phrases on the site. By doing this, they had the French version done within 24 hours! Many other languages followed. Now they’ve opened up the service to allow people to use it on their own sites, with voting, monitoring and moderation services. Looks great if you’re doing a multi language site.

Ed Anuff, Mike Malone talked through the announcement of Motion from TypePad. It’s an API for developers to interface to a data store in the cloud. Initially for blogs and connections for users. Ed was at Kevin Rose’s Pownce before the takeover and a lot of the ideas have been rewritten into the new system. It’s Django/python based, storing all the data in the cloud. They have objects for all the normal user, connection, follower, blog type objects and could build a twitter or micro-blog type site fairly easily. I might give this one a try. The open source software is at developer.typepad.com. The example is at motion.typepad.com.

Vodafone were showing off the latest phones and looking for developers to produce some widgets for them. There’s a one million euro competition which should be some help. The sdk is all javascript, webkit based so it should be relatively straightforward for most developers. There are openSocial and micropayment interfaces, libraries for hooking into the hardware etc. Geo location is there now, accelerometer, compass coming later. Looks easy. Give it a go. The Appstar competition page is at widget.developer.vodafone.com/appstar .

Bruce Lawson gave another popular talk about HTML5. Canvas tag looks great but has accessibility problems and needs plugins for Internet Explorer. (excanvas.sourceforge.net ) Video without plugins is another winner. It will compete with Flash and Silverlight in my book. I have been moving back to jQuery and similar libraries as I don’t need my whole page being created by Adobe or Microsoft. Having used Thermo and Expression Blend, I find myself creating whole pages of application that need the latest version of a browser plugin to get the most out of. For day to day this seems over the top. If they can sort out the problems with html5 life could be far simpler. Javascript libraries such as modernizr will help the progress.

Dr Chris Thorpe (@jaggeree) of The Guardian then gave a talk about the future of Guardian services. They seem to be progressive in their search for new media possibilities. They are very aware of the fall of print media and are trying to be part of that disruption and the move towards what he called “mutualism”, or reaching out to get audience input and opinion. They now have an API to all their back content, with output in xml, json and atom formats; free developer access. He pointed out that data from http://data.hmg.gov.uk is now available on Google Groups. Over a 1000 data sets. They are pushing a green ad network , helping novel tweeting in Westminster politics, they have an app in the iPhone app store, their datablog and a flickr group. They’re trying to create a monetising ad network where there can be shared proceeds. The django app that they put together to allow the public to notate MP’s expense was very popular, only took a week to produce and cost less than £100 of the Amazon EC2 cloud.

Aza Raskin (@azaaza) finished the day with a talk about Ubiquity from the mozilla team. They are trying to smooth out some of the users workload, trying to take on some of the tasks within the browser. The work should centre around you. The browser knows your identity, your data, your social connections and it could deal with more of the interfacing that needs to be done. It allows you to search with more natural language, to cut and paste maps with a click or two. You keep your train of thought because you don’t have to switch to thinking about how to do something else. Also mentioned the jetpack plugin for Firefox which I hadn’t seen before.

Everyone seems to be talking social this year, but with a more combined effort. The openID movement a couple of years ago has moved to a position of not wanting to remember any of your personal details. Perhaps you could log in at the beginning of the day, but after that your movement around the web should be aware of your contacts, your tastes and your history. Different systems may start to help this, but Kevin’s thoughts were that perhaps the browser will do all this. The browser will control how your information is put onto the web. Many more browser apps will hold information, presumably in the Cloud somewhere so that the data is accessible from where ever you are. There will be more sharing of data between secure, approved connections.

Link to the second day blog.

One thought on “Future of Web Apps in Kensington – day 1

  1. Pingback: Future of Web Apps – day 2 « Changing colours along the way

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