FOWA is all done!

Posted: October 11th, 2008 in Out and about

Photo by Benjamin Ellis used under Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial license.

The second and final day of the FOWA expo (or third and final day if you attended the workshops on the 8th) has now concluded with what was surely a riotous filming of diggnation with Kevin Rose and co. Starting much as the first day did with a stellar keynote, this time by Tim Bray of Sun Microsystems and XML fame, followed by Adam Gross of Salesforce giving a quick demo of his company’s online offering. Tim certainly started off the proceedings strongly with a frank and intelligent exploration of how web applications and more specifically, those developing them, can survive in hard times; while other attendees touched on the banking situation, none covered it quite so lucidly and with such brilliant advice attached. Adam’s talk was part marketing, part demo and, unfortunately, all forgettable.

The developer-centric talks started with Chris Messina (one of the founders of BarCamp) about how oAuth can help “revolutionise” web applications; this was perhaps a bold claim and presented more of a paradigm shift from “you must register for every website” than the touted upheaval. As interesting as it may be, oAuth and the backing OpenID didn’t seem like an ideal fit for every application but came into its on in terms of streamlining certain use cases. Bret Taylor was the next speaker with a talk entitled “The future of your online presence”, something he was well informed about being the founder of FriendFeed. Bret dug deeper into many things that Kevin Rose mentioned in his keynote yesterday on how to make data, in this case aggregated user data, more relevant to the person using it; the result isn’t simple but represents what is likely to be a burgeoning area of research for relevancy ranking of arbitrary data. The merit of Bret’s talk was enhanced by the many thoughtful questions which followed on everything from monetisation to technical setup.

During the cavernous lunch break I visited one of the “University” sessions – smaller, more focused talks by less well known individuals – on Microsoft Silverlight. Mike Ormond, with a pleasingly British accent (Scottish), demonstrated the technology which recently reached version 2.0 and further proved that Microsoft has a good handle of where Silverlight fits in terms of a web experience and where it’s going.

The first post-lunch developer talk was (if the amount of notes I took is any indication) the most engaging of the day, and likely the whole event. Andrew Turner of Mapufacture ostensibly talked about “Evolved maps, deconstructed” but managed to cram in many links and technologies and initiatives all centred around mapping and the analysis of map data and so much more, it would take many more words to even scratch the surface of all the material presented. Andrew spoke quickly but clearly and was keen to push the message that cartography on the internet is more than just slidy maps and spinny globes. Switching to the business track was a session about cloud computing by Jeff Barr of Amazon Web Services and Tony Lucas of XCalibre and FlexiScale. The format was novel but the content disappointing, neither Jeff or Tony revealed anything noteworthy even with being in the trenches of their chosen topic.

Jeremy Baines started the afternoon talks with “How to build a desktop app for your web app”. This is a topic I’ve been sceptical of since Adobe launched Air (the product previously known as Apollo) and nothing that Adobe or Jeremy have said asofar has convinced me that the idea of a hybrid web/desktop application is viable or even sensible. Jeremy’s talk did the opposite and convinced me that the arm’s length dabbling methodology he championed would be counter-productive for all involved. Christian Heilmann was the second talk about the Yahoo! Open Strategy. The Yahoo! talks are always insightful and Christian managed to balance the right amount of product evangelism and developer interest. Dave Morin rounded off the afternoon trio with a talk about Facebook Connect, a successor service to the existing Facebook Platform. The most succinct way to describe Connect’s appeal is: for sites that have users but want access to the social graph.

Before the late afternoon session commenced was a brief interstitial announcing the winner of the Adobe Air competition whereby the best idea would win capital to develop it. It was given a similarly derrogatory Dragon’s Den treatment as the startups were yesterday and smacked of marketing hyperbole more than genuine worth. The developer hall was packed though for the following interview with Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook by Ryan Carson. Lasting only half an hour meant a lot of ground was covered with very little depth and the interview felt stilted with Ryan at times wanting to delve into tough issues but not having either the time or the chutzpah to follow through with them. Mark seemed to pad his answers but overall came across as sharp and approachable rather than the socially commanding presence one might expect.

I didn’t manage to catch Kathy Sierra’s closing keynote or the previously mentioned diggnation filming but that didn’t stop the day overall being excellent. Another barrage of excellent talks, the zenith being Andrew Turner’s mapping extravaganza, closely followed Christian Heilmann’s kitten-filled overview of Y!OS. I’ll likely have further to say once everything has been digested and I’ve spent the weekend decompressing but the conference had a pervasive feeling of enthusiasm and exuberance.