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FOWA Conference Review, Cambridge

14:16 on Sun, 21 Jun 2009 | Development | 0 Comments

I had been looking forward to FOWA – The Future of Web Apps conference for some time. Having attended the FOWD – Future of Web Design conference in London last year, I had high expectations that only a highly technical conference could satisfy due to the FOWD being aimed primarily at designers so 90% of content was about user interface and usability.

This was to be the first time the FOWA would be hosted in Cambridge and by reading various blogs I had gathered information that it would be a smaller audience compared to that of FOWA London.

First up was Microsoft's very own Mark Quirk who presented a workshop on implementing a very small 'hello world' application on Microsoft's new 'Windows Azure' cloud services operating system. According to Mark, it will provide developers with a platform for computing and storage to host, scale and manage web applications on the Internet.

In the previous years Microsoft have been renowned for developing their own technology and “sticking” to their own technology which has caused a “San Andreas”-like fault through the development world, steering developers off down different language routes but it appears that with the new Azure OS, Microsoft say it will also support non-Microsoft languages and environments.
Essentially the way this new 'Pie in the Sky' idea works, is that everything needed to run your developed application resides on-line including .NET services and SQL services. Microsoft also host your application on one of their data centres so all you need to do is develop your application and upload it along with your chosen storage utility and hey presto, you have your application running independently in the 'Cloud'.

 “Does development of a cloud application require on-line Azure services or can it be compiled locally and uploaded at a later date” I asked as the first question from the audience;  to which Mark responded positively that it will be possible for applications to be developed without an Internet connection and uploaded when one is present using the API shipped with the distribution.

Next up was Simon Wheeldon from SalesForce with a discussion on cloud computing in the enterprise sector and how businesses are taking advantage of this. Unfortunately there were a couple of presentations in the day that came across more as sales pitches and this was one of them.

After lunch Will Harris from ChannelFlip Media gave a talk on starting up a business with no budget, no technology and no idea. Will presented some good concepts that he has learned first hand from starting up a successful media publication ChannelFlip Media. ChannelFlip is an interesting company that offers an on-line video magazine for “switched on men”. They create all of their own content which range from cars, film and music to web, girls and snacks and distribute it to over 40 websites. Will's main point was that if you have an idea you should start sketching it out immediately, the great thing about the beginning of a concept is that you are not limited by boundaries, if you are not familiar with the market, budget costs or many other tangible restraints then you can be as creative as you like which is when some of the best ideas are born. 6 months physically working on a project is better than 6 months thinking about it.

Up next were some more concepts and insightful information on starting up a web business from the CEO of Moo, Richard Moross, Unfortunately Richard could not make the conference but instead his colleague and CTO of Moo Stefan Magdalinski gave the talk. Stefan's card throwing introduction and articulate choice of wording meant there was not a developer yawn in sight and helped portray the relaxed working environment that Moo have created. For those of you that have not heard of Moo, they are an on-line printing company that print a range of products from business cards and mini cards to stickers and Christmas cards and have successfully adopted the web 2.0 method to allow customers to purchase and spec-out their product in a more interactive way.

Due to exceptional sales figures they have recently opened up an office in the states due to a high percentage of their customers being based in the USA. Stefan pointed out that by also being situated in the USA they could reduce a recorded delivery package from 11 days postage from the UK to the USA to 2 days, which would meet the expectations of their customers. Stefan explained that he and the development team had come across multiple problems after deploying the website due to the web 2.0 technology but of course this was expected. His outlook was very similar to the previous speaker's – Will Harris -  in that the best testing system is the general public. You will always have errors with a new product, its very hard to eradicate them all with a tight deadline, as long as you have fixed the major issues, you can iron out the minor ones later.

After Stefan’s interesting yet sometimes comical speech, we headed for lunch, recharged the batteries with some more caffeine and headed back to the theatre for Dorothy Briggs presentation on building a web 2.0 solution that's fit for the enterprise. Apologies to Dorothy as I would like to write a bit more on this but I can honestly say by the end of the 30 minute slot I had no idea of what  she was talking about, whether it was extreme lighting glare due to the different area of seating we had chosen or the humidity that was rapidly increasing due to the air conditioning slowly packing up, I know the word enterprise was mentioned a lot.

Finally, what was to be the most anticipated speech of the day, that of Christian Heilmann from the Yahoo Developer Network with his presentation on remixing and distribution of web content made  easy. Christian’s point of view was that the Internet is an evolutionary process which is constantly changing and forming into something new and as humans we are predestined to collect too many things due to our hunter-gatherer like instincts - which is precisely why there is so much outdated information on the Internet. The more information you have the harder it is to manage and rather than deleting old information and updating it with the new, we create another version which is added alongside the old. There is so much information available on the Internet that search engines are finding it increasingly hard to index it all. Christian then explained that in order to stop increasing obsolete information we need to find a way of using information from other sources and combining it with our own information. To do this we can use API's (Application Programming Interface) but there are so many out there written in various languages, it can take long enough to learn how to implement one API let alone multiple versions in various languages. His solution... YQL.

YQL (Yahoo Query Language) is a SQL (Structured Query Language) style query language for the web. It allows you to perform simple query commands to gain access to huge amounts of information via services such as upcoming, twitter and flickr. Not only does YQL allow you to mashup multiple API's in a few queries but it allows you to filter the results, requires minimal research, the results are cached for you and its also proxied on Yahoo servers, meaning the connectivity from a Yahoo server to another server is probably faster than from your server to a another server. Because of this Yahoo do all the hard work and all you need to do it pull down the information in one request. You can also add your own services if you wish to do so via submitting an XML schema to YQL.

All in all, there were some interesting ideas throughout the day put forward by people within the industry who are obviously are highly credible and successful in one way or another. I would have like to have come away feeling more assured as to what to expect in the future of web applications but I still feel slightly uncertain. (I guess things change and evolve daily!) Knowing that companies are investing in breaking the barrier to a more interactive web 2.0 world makes me feel like there is a major change happening. And one thing for certain is that we will be hearing a lot more about 'The Cloud' which I have a feeling will be the next buzz word.

Unfortunately not a lot was said about mobile applications but I did hear that Carsonified are throwing a FOM (Future of Mobile) conference in London in November.

My favourite talk of the day goes to Christian Heilmann on YQL. Developing a query language which allows access to such vast amounts of information via different services, making it simple enough for basic developers to use and doing all the hard work on Yahoo servers will definitely gain a lot of attention from around the world. I think technology such as this, which brings current information together in a single more accessible format is the future of the web and I would not be surprised if we start seeing some very exciting and powerful services developed very soon as a result of it.


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