The Future of Web Apps, London

  1. The Future of Web Apps, London

I spent Thursday and Friday of last week at the Future of Web Apps conference in London. The event was organised by Carsonified and I have to say, they did a spectacular job. The event was possibly the smoothest-run and slickest events I’ve been too. That’s not to say I thought it was perfect, but it was an impressive event overall.

Videos of a bunch of the talks are up on the FOWA site. Hopefully more videos will be up soon, but they’ve done a great job of getting content up there so quick. He’s my pick of the talks, and my brief thoughts on the conference.

Kevin Rose of Digg opened the event (at least for me, I arrived a bit late to see the ‘official’ opening). It wasn’t really the most powerful way to start the event. Kevin is a smart and engaging speaker, but to be fair to him, I don’t think putting him on first was a great move. I’ve been the first speaker at a conference and god is it hard. You have a good boost of adrenaline as you get up on stage, but it soon fizzles and it’s really difficult to get people excited at that time of the morning. Maybe he just needed a few more shots of caffeine in him. It was however an interesting talk, but I think Kevin would have shone more in a more sociable timeslot. Watch Kevin’s talk.

I bounced around between the business and developer tracks throughout the day. There were some pretty interesting talks, but nothing that really got me too excited, with the notable exception of lolcat tamer, Ben Huh from and failblog. He seems like one smart cookie and delivered an engaging talk (peppered with lolcats of course!) about how he wrangles and builds his communities. Fun, interesting and inspiring.

Francisco Tomalsky talked briefly about Objective-J and Cappuccino, the framework they built to power 280slides. As a web developer, i.e. someone who believes in the power of html, css and javascript, I can’t say that I’m going to start using their framework, but the fact that they are pulled off, leveraging the browser in a different way and produced a different way of building a true cross platform desktop-class application is astounding. Fascinating stuff. I can see some folks getting all upset that it’s not compliant html and whatnot, but who cares – that’s not their intention, nor necessary for what they are building. Impressive stuff.

For me, Day 2 was the big highlight though. Quite a spectacular lineup of people.

It kicked off with the always-interesting Tim Bray talking about his thoughts on riding the incoming economic disaster and the effect it will have on our industry. Nothing particularly new, but a really good way to kick off the day and get the brain working. Highlight reel.

Bret Taylor, founder of FriendFeed was surprisingly open and frank about how they were building their service, both on a business and technological level. Very refreshing for someone in his position to be so open and not cagey about details. Great speaker and very interesting talk. Full video.

Jason Calacanis and Tom Nixon both spoke for a little while about their thoughts on working. I’ve spun off my thoughts on this talk into a separate post, since it ended up being almost as long as the rest of this post! Great talk and very motivating. Watch the highlights.

Surviving outside of the valley was a fun talk about whether it’s possible to build a successful startup outside of Silicon Valley. Of course we know it is, and the talk focused on how we can turn some of these perceived disadvantages into advantages and also how we can try to work a little smarter. Good, not too heavy talk, both Michael Galpert (of Aviary) and Andy McLoughlin (of Huddle) were good speakers and I’m hoping the video will up up soon, if only to get the links that Andy posted for networking events in London!

Mark Zuckerberg had a sit-down chat with Ryan Carson. It’s interesting that Mark doesn’t give regular keynote-style talks, but I think this format worked well this time, especially at the end of two pretty exhausting days. Ryan seemed to relax him a bit (well, as much as I think it possible as Mark does seem a very nervous little bunny). I am somewhat curious just how comfortable the dev team are with their CEO occasionally working on their code! He made some interesting comments about the ‘other platform’ aka OpenSocial and I think he has a good point. They are without doubt the leader in this space and if you were in their position, how would you feel about being held back from implementing APIs or features? Having a common open standard is obviously the ultimate goal for everyone, but Facebook is ahead of the curve in what they can offer to developers. From what Mark said, I’m pretty confident that they will eventually adhere to the standards. Video is here.

Kathy Sierra’s talk was the perfect end of the day. As I was an avid reader of her blog I’ve wanted to hear Kathy talk for a long time and she didn’t disappoint. Entertaining, practical and incredibly motivating. Awesome stuff. Hopefully video will be up soon.

After the talks finished, we hung around for the filming of DiggNation. What a bizarre experience. The hall quickly filled up with Digg fans that were there only for Diggnation, not the conference and then things turned weird. It was like being transported to a rock concert for geeks. Cheering, whooping and whatnot. All kinda fun, albeit more than a little weird. The thing that suddenly struck me sometime in the middle of the show was that all this fuss was about a web site. Kevin and Alex are web-site superstars. Amazing. Paul Carr commented that it was “everything that’s wrong with the tech scene”. I couldn’t disagree more. I build web apps both for a living and for fun. I love what I do, but that thing that makes me the happiest is when someone else gets excited about a site I’ve built or something I’ve created. Here in this hall we had hundreds of people excited about a couple of guys talking about stories on a web site. OK, I know, there’s more to it, Kevin and Alex are both experts at playing to a crowd, but still, pretty damn amazing.

So all in all, a fun couple of days. Many thanks for Ryan and the team at Carsonified for putting it together.