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Future of Web Apps London – Day 2 Review
Below is Jason Sadler's recap from Day 2 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: Mark Anders, Knoi Vinh, Simon Willison, Jonathan Rochelle, Daniel Applequist, Rasmus Lerdorf and Richard Moross/Stefan Magdalinski. (Allen's note: This is a great recap post, very worth the read.)
Mark Anders (Adobe)
Mark's presentation started off with a great overview of the trends of web platform technology: developer productivity, performance scalability and reliability, technical integration and new application capabilities. This is where Adobe Flex comes in, creating flash based web applications with rich Actionscript framework and the ability to use it for free on Windows, Mac and Linux. Mark's demo of creating a Flickr Photofinder via tags was very interesting. The software seems to use a similar WSYIWYG editor like Macromedia Dreamweaver (code/design view), heavy emphasis on using "states" which give you the ability to have two (or more) versions of the same file open within one file, a markup language called MXML and a style component to support CSS.
The next demo Mark showed was that of Apollo, the same product Michael Arrington mentioned about 5 times in his presentation (so I guess that means it is good?). Mark's description of Apollo was using Flash and XML to create desktop applications via local files, online/offline content, drag/drop and background files. He showed two demos, one that was an application called Maptactular, which used Google Maps with flash overlayed, and the second demo was an eBay desktop application that had most of the features of eBay.com.
I remember when Flash first came to the web world and there were a lot of compliance issues and version control; who was using which x.0, who had what web securities, what your local cache settings were set to, etc. If web applications use this technology and users aren't up to date on the newest flash player they will have to go through the download and install process. For things as fragile as web applications, which you want to reach as large of an audience as possible, aren't you going to run into all the same previous flash hurdles? I could see a lot of features being created in Flex, but I am skeptical about how many real-life applications will be made with it.
Twingly (Featurette of the conference)
Ryan took a second to bring two students from Sweden up on stage to show off a small web application. The application was a 3D digital representation of the blogosphere connected to Google Maps. It showed blogs across the world, varying in intensity by the amount of light and size of the light rods. You can click any blog on the map and it will take you to that blog. There is also a small ring around the world, which represents a pie chart of the amount of bloggers per country.
Kudos to Ryan for giving these guys the time to show off their web application.
Knoi Vinh (NYtimes.com)
In coverage of Day 1 I know I said that Stefan Fountain's Soocial.com presentation was the highlight of the conference, but Khoi's speech was by far the most interesting and compelling. Coming from a background working on an editorial website (as a designer/developer), it was very fascinating to hear what Khoi had to say about how NYtimes.com dealt with editorial design challenges.
He talked a lot about templates they use and how much they get changed around but still keep them very limited on design. I wonder if someone will come up with a design-driven WYSIWYG template editor? It would open the doors for architectural planning around content and only help to focus more on the content and less on the design limitations. I completely agree with Khoi's point that there is a lot of tension between designers and editors and the curve to new technology slopes upwards very slowly.
Khoi brought up a great point about "countervailing forces in quality":
- High Definition vs YouTube
- Skype vs SMS
- TimesReader vs Memorandum
- Digital SLR's vs Camera Phones
It is almost ridiculous that in a society of growing technology the masses of people are still hooked on rudimentary and simple items. Obviously some of these have a cost involved, but it's amazing how basic some of the most used technologies are in the world.
The last point I wanted to touch on from Khoi's presentation was offend experts, not beginners. This makes so much sense because experts should have thick skin and will be much harder to offend. The last thing you ever want to do is not listen to your users and only focus on what an "expert" is telling you. Feedback comes in all shapes and sizes from different people and it is our job to do the things we believe in and take into account all the suggestions we get.
Simon Willison (OpenID)
The concept of OpenID is very solid, but I think the implementation and consistency of it around the web is going to be the hard part. In essence you are supposed to be able to get rid of all of your user accounts and passwords by using OpenID (which initially requires a user account ID, password and personal info if you desire). AOL, Symantic, DIgg and Microsoft have all joined the OpenID parade, hoping to lead the way for everyone else across the web.
The biggest problem I have with OpenID, is that if you wanted to set your OpenID account up with your own host or with a site you enjoy that isn't mainstream, what do you do if that host goes away? You would think there could be ONE domain that everyone creates an OpenID account on, but then you run into possible issues of unique names (just like today with user accounts). I think OpenID is good for the greater purpose, but at the moment it is hard to swallow for your everyday Internet user. If my mom/dad can't figure it out, is it ready yet?
Jonathan Rochelle (Google Docs & Spreadsheets)
The needs of many outweigh the needs of a few – this should be Google's mantra. A lot of people have Microsoft Office, use Word and Excel regularly, but what if this software didn't come with your computer? Are you really going to spend money on Office when you can get most of it through Google Docs & Spreadsheets (or another avenue)? Google does a great job of creating simple, easy to use and functional applications that appeal to the masses.
Jonathan talked briefly about the acquisition process, buying 2Web Technologies/XL2 Web (which he was apart of) and Upstartle/Writely. They were two separate projects that were merged to create Docs & Spreadsheets. I would love to hear more about the acquisition process and what it is like working for yourself and then coming into the Google world.
With the announcement of Google Apps Premier Edition a few days ago, you get all of the applications created by Google in one friendly/free package (until April 30, 2007 when it becomes corporate/paid subscription). Jonathan said, "We have nothing to announce at this time" while at the conference, doesn't he know it's not nice to keep secrets?
Daniel Applequist (Vodafone)
It's hard to listen to a presentation entirely dedicated to cell phone applications when the iPhone is looming overhead. I am all for the advancement of the Internet on cell phones, but once there is a full-fledged scalable browser without limitations, what's the point of any application? When I say 'application' I am referring to his demo which showcased a soccer team's stats, some video and a few other editorially related features. What can't you get from that team's website?
Don't get me wrong, the iPhone is not out yet, has not been approved by the FCC and is still in a patent war with Cisco. However, are people really going to go this route for the time being? I know that these applications aren't enticing to me at all and maybe that is simply the American outlook towards cell phones.
Again, I hate to overshadow this presentation with another Apple reference, but Apple transformed the computer when there were already computers out there and Apple also has a pretty good product called an iPod (not even close to the first MP3 player). There are cell phones with web applications that are very popular, people probably use them everyday, but when there is a fully scalable limitless web browser (wait, doesn't my Blackberry have Internet…….) who is going to use applications on their phone?
Rasmus Lerdorf (Creator of PHP)
I have to mention Rasmus' funny stab at the wireless Internet mix-up at the conference, I am sure Ryan was ready to bust some knee caps after all the hassle. Rasmus showed a couple of slides depicting images of a cruise ship, a desert and a tropical mountain. He said he had given presentations at all of these places around the world and at every one there was free wireless access – touché!
Rasmus made an excellent point that he was not concerned with the "Future of…" anything, only concerned with doing things right today and enduring the pain to get to the destination. He talked about why people contribute to things: self-interest, hormones (specifically oxytocin: nature's trust hormone), self-expression and the desire to improve the world. In all aspects of life, it is not about you, it is about what people think about themselves.
I greatly enjoyed Rasmus' presentation and think his final points were spot-on:
- Avoid participation gimmicks
- Get oxytocin flowing
- Solve one problem
- Clean and intuitive UI
- Make it fast and scalable
Richard Moross & Stefan Magdalinski (MOO)
Ryan could not have picked a better presentation to end the conference (aside from the following day of workshops of course). Richard immediately grabbed everyone's attention with a slide entitled "Print is dead." He talked about how much he enjoyed curling up in bed with his laptop to read the .PDF of a book (instead of a novel), how he loved to send informal SMS messages to people on special occasions (instead of greeting cards – which I think Hallmark is doing okay with these days) and how whenever you go to a conference everyone is bluetoothing'ing their business cards to each other (instead of handing them out like 99.9% of the attendees did).
The guys at MOO had to stand out, had to become 'remarkable' and had to tackle the challenge of using a process everyone in the web world says is dead. When they launched another company (Qoop) launched with the same concept. The difference was in MOO's dedication to using the best paper, the best trees, recyclable paper, a unique size and developing a great partnership with Flickr. When you looked at the two companies on Flickr, Qoop had two comments and MOO had 2,264! I would say they have a stronghold on the market and have created a successful product. It was interesting to hear about their marketing strategy, which was summed up in one word – free. They believed that if they gave the MOO cards away for free from the beginning and people liked them, they would be willing to buy them. They also used some small tactics to grow their brand and develop a tone using funny notes inside packaging, cute e-mails and every card shipping with a luggage tag.
I think that we can come up with a very unique partnership with MOO and I look forward to talking to Richard very soon. It was evident that a lot of people had similar aspirations as he had a line of people waiting for him after he spoke (they could have been going after the free MOO card offer though?).