FOWA08 – Session highlights

Steven | fowa,marketing, advertising & campaigns,Random Thoughts | Monday, 20 October 2008 - 00:16

Below are the sessions I attended on Future of Web Apps (FOWA) in London, and what I remembered from them. I’m going to write some posts about my idea’s about it as well, I’ll update this post with the links when it’s there. I must say that the quality of most presentation was very high. Beautiful slides with inspiring imagery and little words and trained speakers.

I twittered a lot on FOWA, see the archive here. I can now use this same twitterflow to construct my FOWA posts.

You can view most sessions online.

Day 1 – 9th October 2008

The future of news – Kevin Rose (Digg)view online
Kevin Rose - I liked him better with longer hair! The future of news presentation was really a future of Digg story. The basic question here is how to get better results. Better results being recommendations of stories on the Digg platform, on a personal level. How can Digg decide what stories would interest you as an individual. One of the solutions is dynamic grouping, this way it’s possible to go very niche. To get a better involvement it helps to show the impact of individual actions. Example if someone sees him commenting on a story makes the item distributed better, that person would be kind of rewarded or motivated to keep doing so. Digg users must’ve seen the "Upcoming – beta" tab, and this is what it’s about.

Web apps are dead, long live web apps – Edwin Aoki (AOL)view online
Edwin Aoki I can’t remember too much from this talk, but I remember it wasn’t bad, just a bit obvious from time to time. Let’s quote my tweets then :)
"Consumers are going to use what works out for them", meaning you can figure things out as much as you want, in the end it’s the consumer who decides (told you it would be obvious). "Developers aren’t interesting in the money .. it’s just their passion". Then he said something about liquidity of ideas, which sounds good in my ears. And concluding with "follow your passion, not the money".

Languages don’t scale – Blaine Cook (ex Twitter) and Joe Stump (Digg)view online
Blaine CookJoe stumpTwitter, Digg .. heavy used websites that tend to go slow or crash completely. Is this because of the technolgy? Twitter is made in the much criticized Ruby on Rails and digg is made in php. Which one is better for large apps? Well, it doesn’t matter, it’s not about technology. Suppose you figure out a way to make your app 20% faster. If you have a 30% increase of usebase, you’re back in the shit! So you need something else. Any language can do one way or an other, it’s better to let your developers choose what language they prefer, because a happy programmer is more productive. Bottom line it’s about fast IO, this makes sense in my mind. How do you get the information you need asap, and get it out asap as well. One way is caching, and this is something you can take to the extreme. Example: they were speaking about caching trough queuing, sounds sophisticated. Bottom line: scaling is not about the language it’s about the architecture. It’s how you do it, it’s how things interact with each other. It’s about a good and well thought base.

Dopplr: It’s made of messages – Matt Biddulph (Dopplr)
Matt BiddulphThis session was more about caching and frameworks, set-ups .. if I remember correctly it was about a messaging system. So instead of doing stuff, the code dispatches an instruction to some other program that manages an own queue. Interesting theory but I wasn’t that interested to be honest.

How the future of the mobile web is going to change everything – Stefan Fountain (Soocial)view online
imageI loved this session, really well brought, good speaker, nice guy (I met him later). One thing is for sure: Stefan loves the Hoff! Soocial‘s baseline (Hassle-free contacts) is clearly inspired by it. And hassle free contacts is exactly what Soocial does: it’s a website to sync (on a really good way) your contacts to all kind of sources (mobile, address book, ..). I subscribed to the beta and it seems to work just fine! But more than this tool, the presentation was about a different concept of mobility. Mobile, in Stefan’s discourse, is not about the device. It’s about the context you’re in. Mobile can be your fridge that communicates with you. And off course it’s about data portability and accessibility. I really enjoyed this session very much!

Bringing internet television to the masses – Ron Richards (Revision3)view online
Ron RichardsHow much I like Revision3, I thought this presentation didn’t learn us much. If I recall correctly there was a big part about distribution, getting these shows on your tv (not your computer), and so on .. Well, I believe the states are a bit behind speaking of digital television. I’m not saying that it’s perfect here in Belgium (not at all in my mind) but a lot of what Ron was preaching for is already possible with Telenet Digital TV or Belgacom TV. Getting internet shows on the tube .. well, wasn’t that possible with Apple TV (ao)? Well I do think it makes sense to think about the future, and I do believe we need to come up with solution to stream internet content to all kind of devices. I’m pretty sure one day, not too distant, we’ll be there.

How to take your community to the next level – Ben Huh (I can haz cheezeburger)
Ben HuhI can haz cheezeburger – to discover the power of this community just google lolcat. Huh talked about (in my mind) entrepreneurship. The just-do-it mentality. The site proves you can make money with literally anything on the internet, as long as you are driven and work for it. It’s about creating a large community by being different and original. Just start and see where you’ll arrive. I can haz cheezeburger is powered by, that says it all.

So that was day 1 for me, during this last session I was called for some problem solving and I didn’t had the chance to see any more session.

Day 2 – 10th October 2008

The fear factor: what to be frightened of in building a web application – Tim Bray (Sun Microsystems)view online
Tim BrayThis was one of the most inspiring sessions of the conference. Bray started blunt, predicting though times due to the economical crisis. Though "bad times are good times to be agile". So saying it’s good to start things that don’t need that much upfront investments. Bray pointed out that in bad times we’re willing to give up almost everything, but not our cellphones, so there’s a business awaiting, hot in hard times. Micropayments play a big role in here, because many of little is much (Bray gave the example of some iphone app developers who made millions so far with pretty cheap applications). Then there was the part of Venture Capitalist, obviously not Bray’s best friends. According to him, getting a VC on board decreases the factor of success, at all times but especially in this time of crisis.

Cloud computing in the Enterprise – How businesses are taking advantage of the future of the web – Adam Gross ( online
Adam Gross Well, I see the power of cloud computing, I really do. Haven’t used it for real so far, just never needed it, but some day I might. But this session, about Salesforce .. all respect to the product, but it’s just not for me. I didn’t enjoyed this session, not my cup of tea. So I didn’t payed that much attention, read my email and organized a little twitter meetup in the next break.

Innovation, the future an why nothing is ever simple – Simon Wardley (freelancer)view online
Simon WardleyGood session, although sometimes a bit academic in my mind. We have to keep in mind innovation is build on top of other innovative acts in the past. Example: the evolution in computers is only possible because of the innovations in electricity before. Without electricity, no computers. We’re only aware of these conditions when they fall away. If internet is down, people ‘ll miss youtube, or facebook, and realize it’s build on something they take for granted. What’s interesting is that Wardley divided a process (can be anything, like a web project) into 2 pieces: one more innovative, and one more sustain. The different phases need a different approach, and if you want to use a methodology, you can’t use the same for both. In the more innovative track you need a more agile approach, like extreme programming. In the more defined phase (you know what to do, how to do it) scrum would be a better choice. Great onliner to close: innovate to survive tomorrow, adapt to survive today.

The future of your online presence – Bret Taylor (Friendfeed)view online
Bret Taylor For those that don’t know Friendfeed (a whole bunch op people to my surprise) it’s a website that syncs all things you do online, bundles it and brings it to the world as one. So your tweets on twitter, pics on flickr, movies on youtube, diggs, blogposts .. you name it. Here’s mine. You can follow a whole bunch of people on friendfeed, and you’re presented with an awfull lot of data. And that’s what the talk was about. How to filter out the best result, and present you the stuff you really want to see? The 3 golden words in the solution: filters, clusters and ranking. Bret once worked for Google, and with the research he’s doing now (because that’s what it is imho) I predict he’ll become a really big M/A target in say the next year or maybe 2. What’s he’s doing is searching for relevance, and that’s what everyone is searching for, right?

Work/life balance or blood, sweat and tears; which is the startup way? – Jason Calacanis ( and Tom Nixon (Nixon McInnes)view online
Jason Calacanis Tom Nixon
Well, both ways can work, that’s for sure. Nixon started off and was obviously the work/live balance guy. He told that if you start a business it’s difficult to find a work/live balance, but is should be in your longer plans. In the end, for him, it’s not work or life: there’s plenty of time for both. Calacanis on the other hand is more the blood, sweat and tears guy. For him a job is your live, as long as you like what you do (he does). In the end it’s your own choice. Calacanis got his own flamewar when he wrote that startups don’t need slackers. I see what he means, but I guess it’s a somewhat sensitive subject. There’s notting wrong with working hard, and nothing wrong by surrounding you with good people with a common goal and pushing yourselves to the limits to reach that goal! Some other quotes I can truly find myself in "It’s ok to be average, but not in my company .. we decided we want to kick ass!"; "average people push great people out of the company" and "If you can’t afford excellent people .. you’re kinda screwed". I knew Jason Calacanis by name, but this is for sure a guy I’ll keep on following.

The important bits of cloud computing – Tony Lucas (Xcalibrate) and Jeff Barr (Amazon Web Services)view online
Tony Lucas Jeff Barr
Another cloud computing session, with way tooooo many buzz words. You know what: I’ll try it out when I need it and let you know what I found out. Must say the Amazon services look good, and that’s mainly what Jeff Barr’s talk was: a big promotalk.

How to build a desktop app for your web app – Jeremy Baines (Howard Baines)view online
Jeremy Baines I wasn’t sure what to expect from this session, but I was really curious for the company Howard Baines. Turned out to be a good talk. Question: why would you want to build a desktop app. Answer: because you can and because you’ll learn from it. For starters it’s a marketing thing, it can get you a ticket on,, .. they promote your app and you can put your name on it. But you need to think this trough, think about the bandwidth for example. If lot’s of users are pulling data from your server, this can hurt. So be inventive and see if  you can push data for example. Here’s something they developed at Howard Baines: Alert Thingy (in Adobe AIR).

How to survive outside of Sillicon Valley – Michael Galpert (Aviary) and Andy McLoughlin (Huddle) – view online
Michael GalpertAndy McLoughlin

Had big expectation for this talk, but was kind of not satisfying for me. Not bad though, just not much to remember. Bottom line was off course: yes you can do it in Europe as well, and these companies prove it ..Just do whatever it takes to get things done and the money will follow.

Make the web more social with Facebook Connect – Dave Morin (Facebook)view online
Dave MorinWell, I like this! Facebook Connect is a new coming services that enables data exchange between facebook and other platforms. So if you subscribe for a new service, register with your facebook account, and your profile is ready and set-up. So you don’t need to fill in all these forms again, really simple. And simplicity is where the power is. It seems to work just great. Basically this is a big fuck you to openID. Defeated by the large usebase and ease of use. Here’s a demo site.

Fireside chat with special guest Mark Zuckerberg (CEO facebook)view online
Mark ZuckerbergZuck is really passionated about facebook, that shows in everything he says. Facebook is no doubt the biggest internet hype of the latest years. 700 people are working for this 24 year old dude, there are worse things. Here are some thoughts I picked up.
Since the redesign it’s the especially the long term engagement apps that grew big time. That’s a good thing! Second: the frequency people are sharing information is rising rapidly, facebook is picking up on this. 3th: Location and mobile are becoming really important things in facebooks future, as is ubiquity. The platform should anticipate on a really natural way without you noticing. Facebook is critiqued a lot that it’s a closed system, but Zuckerberg stresses out it’s opening more and more, though on a slow phase. They want to build something great and working as should first before they open up. 700 people as I mentioned, but the DNA of the company is technical. Almost everyone working there, no matter the job, has a technical baggage. This helps growing in the right direction. Although facebook is getting so big, Zuckerberg fixes bugs himself from time to time, he said it’s important to know the codebase, I agree, respect.

Diggnation Live!
Free beers by Google! Great show by Kevin Rose and Alex Albrecht, see it here.
Kevin Rose  Alex Albrecht

So that wraps it up. More insights following shortly (I hope).


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