Future of Web Apps – day 2
Simon Wardley gave a talk at the Cloud Expo a month or two back and it was just as enjoyable second time round. Simon, from Canonical, is involved with pushing the Amazon EC2 standard into Eucalyptus on Ubuntu servers. An in-house cloud if you like and open source. Hard to write down the humourous way that he talked around the ubiquity of computing and the way that cloud computing will become commoditised. As demand increases and improvements in facilities occur, cloud computing will be everywhere. The transition will move from the current confusion, through management, trust, security to transparency of the services. What concerns him is the need to have an easy way to switch between services, data transfer etc. By moving to the standard for the EC2 API he says that this will help form de facto standards, which will make these problems easier. Componentisation will (vastly) increase the speed of development.
Yehua Katz (@wykatz) from the EngineYard talked on Merb, Rails3 and the future of Agile. He’s a proponent of pair programming (with @carlhuda) and emphasised the agile aspect of deferring any decision to the latest possible time. Merb helps this; they use the couchDB which is easy to use and grow with, providing a RESTful JSON API. (Uses Lucene which I talked to some other users about for text storage and search) (Also mentioned the multi language mongo database and the Cucumber testing system) Rails3 brings background tasks and more separation for the Controller to allow other Model layers.
Joel Moss (@joelmoss) from Codaset and Sanj Matharu came on to talk about developing for Vodafone devices. It all sounded very straight forward. He suggested testing with Opera, as it is the most common browser on mobiles. The apps need to be zipped to a wgt file before uploading, but beware of Macs which zip into 64bit format. Joel showed a quick “hello” app. They suggest using the eclipse editor, but any text editor will do. Sanj talked about the app store at www.jil.org. It has lots of stats available and don’t forget the AppStar competition.
Looked briefly at the Ordnance Survey stand where they were showing off their maps API. Just for the UK, but it gives their traditional display of the map, with all the features that you’d see on the paper versions. Surprisingly, paper maps figure for less than 8% of their turnover now. Digital is important to them and they are running the Geovation innovations scheme for their OpenSpace API. (note the mis-spelling on their business card at the show). Have a look at bikehike.co.uk/mapview.php to see an example
Robin Christopherson of AbilityNet came on to ask everyone to design for easy access. He went through some truly awful examples of what a blind person may hear when using a web page reader. Facebook is one of the worst. Users find it easier to read the mobile version, but they don’t have the same facilities to edit their pages etc. Remember that accessibility will give better search rankings. Have a look at blog.gingertech.net for advice. There are some problems with video in HTML5 but it looked promising. Google’s Chrome seemed to have some problems and showed nothing in some areas. He mentioned the work of Steve Faulkener at the Paciello group.
Alex Hunter (@cubedweller) came on to talk about branding. He’s ex-Virgin and talked about the need for passion. Define your values at an early stage. Everyone in the company should have the vision; everyone must be an evangelist. You need people that care and that are prepared to risk their reputation. You must create the passion and be aware that the conversation is two way. Listen to the users; watch what they do. He tlked about Qype, a micro meetup site, and amazingtunes where unsigned bands can push their own music.
Lynne Johnson – ex Fast company, talked about the future of newspapers. Print ad sales went down 30% in Q1 2009. Journalists need to find a web presence but perhaps feel undervalued on the web where everything is free. Newspaper functions have been eroded by sites like CraigsList (ad listings), eHarmony (personals), Google (news) email (for advertising/events) etc We are in a new era of social eg sodahead and the huffington post. Look at the CNN mobile app. The NewYork Times now also has several developer APIs.
SixApart did a Uni session as well. Ed was there with Mark Atkins who built the API. They have built a stack in python to connect to the TypePad API. They give full access to the data (whereas Facebook control the access). They use OAuth for the user login, can then do server to server functions or caching. Motion is built on this platform. It runs on your own webserver, similar to FireEagle, it just gives the API. It is built around Django, as they thought this was the easiest and fastest development system; Django also has good documentation. Component apps can be added. The python mapper gives a REST API, similar to a database, giving objects back. They also have a batch http library to combine several http actions together. The limit on the free service is around 3600 per hour. There is also a JSON REST API coming for TypePad.
Dave McClure gave a positive talk about building the business, on the basis that most won’t succeed more than 6 to 12 months. Most sites are building too much and have no idea what is being used. You need to build in real time metrics to allow decisions to be made. Try search Google for “Startup metrics” There’s plenty to read. Recommended “To the smartest person in the room” by Chris McDonough. Concentrate on User experience and distribution; Move users from low to higher value; Have a fast iteration with feedback; Keep it simple. You need to Aquire users, get them Activated, Retain them, get their Referrals, get the Revenue (AARRR – was for his pirates analogy!). Target users are high volume, low cost, high conversion. His slides are on slideshare.
Chris Lea of Virb/MediaTemple talked about Efficiency and Scalability. Efficiency means that scaling will be lower cost; Scalable is true if you can express it in financial terms. If you can do this, you can balance cost with expansion. He rated Steve Souders‘ limit of having a maximum 3 sec page load time, and his 14 things to check. He also recommended Cal Henderson’s “Scalable Web Sites”
The end of the day was re-jigged a little after some audience feedback and twittering. Bruce Lawson came back for another coding session on HTML5 which all went well after finding a laptop that worked. He’s enthusiastic to say the least. Then Francisco came back for a further demo of the Cappuccino framework. Not available yet, so he showed how to use nib2cib to create an app from Apple’s Interface Builder output. There are samples online. He uses Safari for it’s debugging and profiling tools. They just want to make objects that work together by default and two Cappuccino apps should be able to drag images between them.
The end of the afternoon gave us the impressive Gary Vaynerchuk (@garyvee). Loud, brash and knows what he’s talking about. He’s been around a while and the confidence shows. 95% of people are talking rubbish. Cable is not the future, it’s like going to MacDonalds and needing to pay for the whole menu. Business success means customer service and hard work. You can build a business at zero cost, just by doing all the work. (Cash is neutralised by sweat equity!) Care about the people; care about the brand. Marketing is the queen in control of the house. He’s just about to start corkd – a wine social site, and gourmetlibrary.
I came away from the two days in my usual state; full of inspiration and new ideas. Talking to people around the event allows ideas to bounce around and adapt, gaining some momentum on the way. Are they still in that 95% of the rubbish or will they be forgotten in the mad rush of normal life. Who knows. I know that I will have plenty of things to look into on Monday. Plenty of new projects to think about. Plenty of energy for the next month or two. Thankyou Carsonified. There are lots of links here, but search slideshare for FOWA09, you’ll find a few presentations there.