First day of FOWA wrap-up

Posted: October 9th, 2008 in Out and about

Image by Pip, used under Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike license

The first day of the Future of Web Apps conference has drawn to a close and an excellent day it has been so far. The day kicked off with a bang with a talk by Kevin Rose (of digg fame and as close to a web apps rock star as is possible) on the future of news, specifically social news and what can be done to make it more appealing to users. This was followed closely by a short talk by Edwin Aoki of AOL with possible prognostications on where web-apps are going and how they’ve evolved since his talk at the last FOWA in London.

After a short break of walking the expanded expo floor, Blaine Cook and Joe Stump (the former having worked at twitter and the latter still working at digg) on scaling and how your programming language has very little to do with how a well visited application scales. As insightful as the talk was, it wasn’t anything that hasn’t been covered in previous FOWA sessions or numerous online articles and the pair seemed to spend a lot of time quoting obscure industry veterans rather than anecdotal evidence of what they were presenting. Following this was a talk by Kevin Marks of Google on the future of enterprise level web applications which focused mainly on the evolution of applications (likening it to the progression of telephones) and options available for non-bespoke components of applications such as authentication solutions. The high-level overview was great, especially from someone in the Google camp and it managed to stay relevant without devolving into jargon.

Lunch was segued by Alvin Woon of Plurk talking about the future of social application interface design. More than just an advertisement for Plurk, Alvin covered a lot of ground including adaptive user interfaces (providing different content depending on location and proficiency of a visitor) as well as possible pitfalls of this approach and touching on localisation and internationalisation, something which Iris is seeing more and more of with sites such as Cogent Careers in Welsh and Nottingham University Ningbo campus in Chinese. Blaine Cook went solo next covering different methods of pushing content to users with his obliquely titled talk “Colliding Worlds: Using Jabber to make awesome websites”. Blaine showed boundless knowledge, sometimes struggling to elucidate everything, and covered a lot of low-level technical details and, most importantly, pointed to a proof of concept soon to be out of closed-beta: Yammer.

The penultimate developer track talk was by David Recordon of Six Apart about “Blowing up social networks with Open Tech” which was unquestionably the best talk of the day. Touching on so many different aspects, the overriding message was that open protocols and formats would pull social networks out of the “walled gardens” they currently reside in and provide a better experience for a wealth of services. Many different options are available including OpenID, oAuth, XRDS-Simple and working prototypes such as Ning and the DiSo Project. Francisco Tolmasky finished the day off with a disappointingly zealous talk about Cappucino and Objective-J, the technologies behind the otherwise impressive 280 Slides. Francisco was obviously enthusiastic about his product and work, unfortunately that seemed to translate into a blinkered approach to the problems presented.

The final keynote was by Crick Waters of BT and Ribbit who continued the telephony theme started earlier in the day with an impressive demo of in-browser telephony services without the need for an esoteric plugin. The last event was a panel of notable entrepreneurs turned investors (including Ryan of event organisers Carsonified) hearing and rating several web start-ups that were brave enough to attempt a 60 second presentation in front of them. Following the format of Dragon’s Den, the comments were frank and to the point and seemed to reflect a fatigue that seems to have set in with the number of startups clamouring for recognition. The stand-out company was Erepublik which took strategy games of yore and dropped them into the slick shine of web 2.0.

Overall it was a brilliant day, a more polished offering than last year and a uniformly high quality of talks being given. What’s also good to see is that Carsonified are making all of the talks available in high-definition as and when they can, normally within a few hours of the talk itself finishing.