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Future of Web Apps London – Day 1 Review
Below is Jason Sadler's recap from Day 1 of the Future of Web Apps in London. Jason is co-founder of popular startup Only Human and also runs a blog at Thought & Theory. The following presenters are covered below: Michael Arrington, Edwin Aoki, Tara Hunt, Ben Holmes, Matthew Ogle, Anil Bawa Cavia, Werner Vogle, Kevin Rose and Stefan Fountain. His picks of the day are the Digg announcement about OpenID support and the Soocial Demo. (Allen's note: This is a great recap post, very worth the read.)
Michael Arrington (TechCrunch)
A frequent TechCrunch reader myself; I was interested to hear if the tone of the site came off in Michael Arrington's speech. Michael, an eloquent speaker as most lawyers are, was straightforward and poignant. As someone who typically doesn't seem to talk much about the "little guy" in the Web 2.0 world, his speech (entitled "The Magic Formula") had some great information and insight. I came to a realization while listening to other speaker's talk and that is that everyone follows TechCrunch. A big part of this comes from Michael's tenacity to seek information, whether it online (his day job) or offline (during Jonathan Rochelle's talk about Google Docs & Spreadsheets).
Edwin Aoki (AOL)
The main point that I took from Edwin's talk was concerning the drive people have to build status or ranking via web apps. He discussed Second Life and the fact that hundred of thousands of dollars are spent every day in a virtual world. This is something I have been stressing since the inception of our first project (Only Human) and it was great to hear someone at AOL stressing it as well. Another point of emphasis was building web apps that are accessible to everyone; blind, elderly etc. This was definitely something that spawned a couple of ideas in my mind and affirmed some ideas that Dennis and I have been discussing.
Tara Hunt (Citizen Agency)
In her talk 'Fostering Online Communities,' Tara delves deep into the concept of a community and its integral parts. One of the most important points that I took note of was the succession of a site-user: from Visitor – to Customer – to Community Member. It is foolish to think that any person that comes to your website will automatically become the community member and evangelize your web community. You can, however, build a community that emphasizes key benefits such as loyalty, self-policing, word of mouth, user feedback and stronger filtering of content. Tara mentioned some key themes to a community which I think we have a strong grasp on; simple platform to use, sense of fun and play, an active dialogue, involved customer support and friendly greeting of new users. Tara, like Michael Arrington, mentioned the power of word of mouth. This is definitely the only way a small startup can possibly get off the ground utilizing blogs, RSS feeds and friendly interaction with other sites.
I spoke with Tara before the end of the conference and hope to pick her brain for some marketing ideas. It will be nice to know the exact process of guerilla marketing and buzz for future projects.
*Tara's speech confirmed two features that we are going to be implementing soon on Only Human: When someone uses the 'relate a story' feature, we will notify the original story creator and ask them if they have met this user and if they'd like to view their profile, read other stories created by them or send them a message. The other feature is anonymous story posting without user-signup. We believe this feature will be heavily used because our light users want to get involved, but are not comfortable signing up, they can post a story and take note of all the great features they are missing out on by signing up.
Ben Holmes (Index Ventures)
Dennis and I recently visited with a Small Business Development person at the University of North Florida and we had an eye opening experience that was backed up by Ben's speech. Looking back it makes me think I was a bit naive about the whole investing situation, but it all makes perfect sense when a company gives you serious amounts money. A solid point of emphasis was that Venture Capitalists are prone to invest more into a solid group of people, more than just a product. It is reassuring to find that the right people can be invested in, even before the perfect product is made. It does seem to become a financial decision at this point and you have to understand it is about managing your financials and keeping the passion going (with the allure of money sitting in the bank). Edgar spent a few minutes talking to Ben and will be following up with his opinions and insight.
As a short note, I have been reading Guy Kawasaki's books The Art of the Start and Rules for Revolutionaries. All of the major points that I dog-eared or highlighted were the important points of Ben's speech as well. If we are going to take on funding I do not think a Venture Capitalist is the way to go and that we will look to find an Angel Investor (or a few).
Matthew Ogle & Anil Bawa Cavia (Last.fm)
Unrelated to the content from the speech of the Last.fm guys, I thought they spoke well together. It is hard to go back and forth seamlessly and I thought they did a very solid job (as well as the guys from Moo). A point of emphasis that I circled in my notes was "not to over extend – scale with your growth." Our site, Only Human, can greatly relate to this because we are unveiling feature sets as the site grows and as users give feedback. It is a relief to hear that companies that are currently successful did not start out doing everything right and that users came along and stuck with them throughout the trial and error periods.
Being open with your users, giving them the ability to give feedback about anything and communicating honestly pays off. It was unexpected, but they showed an IRC chat hack that was basically an ongoing log of programming tasks, error checking etc that turned the light bulb on above many people's heads in the conference. I was previously a hardcore Pandora user, but I think I might try Last.fm out after hearing these guys speak.
Werner Vogle (Amazon.com)
It couldn't have been put better – "compete on ideas, not resources." This short statement unequivocally describes Amazon.com's EC2 and S3 services. The S3 service can be summed up as infinite hosting capability that can scale to the moon.
One of the biggest hurdles an Internet company has is not only do they have to focus on their business, but think about resources, hosting etc. Werner stressed the fact that you should be able to manage your growth easily and have resources on demand. We are thinking about using the EC2 service for our next project as it could grow very quickly and require the ease of scaling (without overspending on resources).
During the startup period there is no concrete way to figure out how many users you will have and how much of your resources they will be using, so this service could be very valuable. Werner did an excellent job presenting a very technical oriented subject in a very simple and understandable speech.
Stefan Fountain (Soocial.com – Sponsor Spotlight)
In my mind this short (10 minute) presentation was the highlight of Day 1. A lot of people would argue that Digg's announcement to use OpenID was the highlight, but for the skeptics of OpenID it was ho-hum. Going back to Stefan, the product is simply a web app that organizes all your contacts for your laptop, desktop computer, cell phone and PDA. Stefan's message was "ungimp your contacts."
I think his stage presence is what sold most of us on his product as he moved around and captivated the audience. After 8 hours of previous presenters, if you aren't Kevin Rose the chance of keeping the audience's attention is slim to none. There is no secret that the technology is not groundbreaking, but after watching Stefan's presentation I immediately signed up for his alpha software release (which currently has 380+ people signed up).
Kevin Rose (Digg.com)
Being Digg user, I was interested to see what Kevin had to say. With so many different personality types, I give Digg a lot of credit because they have to manage each one of those user's needs and motivations. Kevin mentioned an interesting point about with so many users on the site, its just inevitable that some people would not get along.
Kevin showed some interesting slides about how they are filtering out user-influenced content and what their growth has looked like. It was interesting to see how they could tell when people were gaming the system and could act accordingly or let the system take care of itself.
Digg seems to do a good job of listening to their users, yet people have been asking for a 'photos' section for quite some time.
The last announcement Kevin talked about was the adoption of OpenID. This comes after AOL and Microsoft's announcement, which makes OpenID a reality in more ways than one. I'm still kind of skeptical of how useful it will be in the future but it seems like its coming to fruition regardless.