Thoughts on Future of Web Apps summit

by oneafrikan on February 9, 2006

Yesterday was the Future of Web Apps Summit here in London, and I’m really happy to say that I thought it went smoothly and without any major hitches. All in all, the speakers were a super bunch of guys that I’m glad I had the privelege of listening and speaking to.

I’ve been talking and writing about the apparent lack of web innovation happening here in the UK and the apparent reasons thereof, so I’m optimistic that the summit yesterday combined with the second chance Tuesday event on (you guessed it) Tuesday will kick-start something, and hopefully be the start of some momentum. I’m not confident that the UK investor community is on the ball at all (but I could be really wrong), but do think that there is a general feeling amongst the developer community that bootstrapping is the wiser and more sensible route to take (which is probably a good thing). All in all, I think it combined a healthy dose of optimism with a dash of realism.

Joashua’s talk was very interesting, but perhaps the most memorable things for me are that he spent two years working part-time to make it happen (respect) and that he built it to scratch an itch he had. Two important points he made regards web apps that are relevant to me (thus why I remember them) are: DO worry about scaling and DON’T worry about it until the time comes.

I’ve listened to Cal Henderson speak before, so it was cool to hear something different.

Tom Coates was entertaining and inspirational, with quite a different slant on things Web 2.0 to some of the more technical talks. Not much new there for me, but nonetheless great to see his infectious enthusiasm for the future of the web. Let’s hope that his work for Yahoo! building the next generation of user-friendly, user-driven, data-driven mashups bears much fruit.

David Heinemeier Hansson was the revelation of the Summit for me. His approach to development, whilst probably not entirely new, was fresh and openly free of limiting thinking. I particularly like the way he’s developed Rails around his concepts of productivity, so much so that I really want to get started with it (but probably shouldn’t right now for various reasons).

Shaun Inman talked in detail about why you need to build an API, and answered some questions that for me were really relevant and more business focussed. It’s always great to hear from the horses mouth, and I found his approach to building and releasing Mint refreshingly honest.

Andrew Shorten gave a brief presentation on Adobe’s product Flex which was really interesting, not least because it really does lift the lid on any limiting beliefs about what Flash is capable of. There were some “just as good, if not beter than AJAX” moments, and in my experience this is a product that has a great enterprise future if they can get developers to start using it, and people to start showing off what it seems capable of.

Ryan Carson’s talk was the realism pill I talked about earlier, where he delved into actual numbers, problems and solutions involved in the creation of DropSend (which now has about 9500 customers in two months, in case you’re wondering). He clearly strongly advocates bootstrapping based on his experiences, and I think that he did a pretty good job of illustrating why it is possible to bootstrap a web app given realistic pragmatism, caution and a certain amount of financial pessimism. The opposite side of the coin is that if you don’t do the right things it is also possible to make a royal fluff up and spend loads more money than you need to, to get launched and start growing.

Steffen Meschkat from Google Maps gave a relatively (alright, most of it was over my head and lost for it’s complexity) technical talk on AJAX web application architecture. My take homes were:
1) AJAX is better than you think it is even if it has bad name; and
2) It’s easy to misuse it or code badly if you don’t know what you’re doing.
3) Hire an Ajax guru rather than spending months trying to figure it out yourself, if you’re going beyond the regular stuff and building your own client side data driven application.

The panel discussion at the end was pretty interesting, with Steve Olechowski making the announcement that the FeedBurner FeedFlare Open API is live, and a stimulating bunch of questions being asked, mainly focussed around the business aspect of web apps.

Moving forward I think there’ll be a (hopefully not too long) lag between the Summit and the next generation of apps making it to production – with the blogosphere becoming more important to people wanting to create buzz and acquire beta testers. On a techie note, it seemed that the overwhelming majority of people there seemed to be using Macs (either that or my radar is tuned that way), which I thought was interesting. I also (along with Peter) had an interesting conversation with Steve from Feedburner regards RSS, feeds, the way the web and content (publishing and aggregation) is moving, the climate of VC investment in the US and the success that FeedBurner has been enjoying – he’s a great guy and his company is doing some really important work, so keep watching them!

Cool – looking forward to the next one! ;-)

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