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Future of Web Apps - day two

2009-10-06 21:28:03 +0000

So what was the highlight of the second day of FOWA for me?  Believe it or not the marketing stuff.  We were exhorted, repeatedly, that listening to your customers is the most important thing in business.  Something that I've forgotten, and something that can be applied to all areas of Software Development.  The customer is king, fail to understand what he/she wants and you may as well be building sandcastles for all the good it will do when the tide comes in. 

So, back to FOWA, first up was Brett from Twitter, who was here to tell us about the future of frontend engineering.  Unfortunately again this was a fairly disjointed presentation, with a couple of good points, covering thinking about your javascript and frontend systems as scalable full systems from the start, rather than the way that we often do, which is to consider it an addon, and not managing the system complexity the way we would for any other language or programming area.

There was an interesting announcement that Brett managed to sneak in, which is that twitter has been working on a twitter labs feature.  They will be open sourcing some backend code that allows them to store a number fo option bits against different users, and turn them on and off.  This enables the twitter labs features in much the same way that google labs allows certain google docs and mail features to be applied on a per user basis.  Interesting announcement, we'll see how it turns out.

Next up Simon Wardley of Canonical came to teach us about the cloud, and to let us know what canonical is doing, in the guise of Eucalyptus, to ensure that no single vendor controls the cloud.  They see that the future of web applications as being commoditisation, like cloud computing, and that in order for it to not become a dangerous monopoly run by a single company, open source is the only way to go.
Simons presentation was excellent in outlining how murky the cloud is defined at the moment, and the commercial dangers for a web app that is hosting itself on the cloud, in the sense that it is held hostage by the cloud provider if it is unable to migrate to another cloud platform easily and portably.

Alex Hunter spoke about marketing your web application, and he spoke very pursuasively about how important branding is to your company, and the many ways you can totally screw up your companies image.
Alex suggested that companies need ot be empowering employees to love the company, love the brand and get out and talk about it.  Companies that restrict the employees access to talk to the customers, who restrict the customers ability to talk back to the company are dying and surely because they are not responding to their customers and not providing what they want.
Alex then followed that up with some excellent advice on how you can work out what your brand values are, I wont cover that here, but let me assure you that he said if you have a brand meeting and come up with "Fun, Ethical and Challanging" you've missed the point.  Every company wants to be and says it has those brand values.  What do you do to actually represent those values.

In startup metrics for pirates, Dave McClure also pointed out that companies that don't listen to their customers are loosing out.  He suggests that you should cut back on features in your web app, and measure the actual customer usage.  He suggested removing a feature a week, wait until the users really scream, and then you've found the killer feature, so bring it back, and focus on it.
Listening to your customers will ensure that you are not wasting your time on features that only 0.2% of your customers use, but take up 80% of your time.

After an exhausting day, there was an excellent talk by Chris Lea about performance and scalability, which I'll cover in a totally separate post, and then it descended into the live demos, launch events and fun of FOWA.

My overview of FOWA as a whole is that it was an enjoyable and fun conference if you are starting up a company that runs a web based application, or have the open mind to not be totally focused on technical things.  A few of the overly technical people I met seemed very unhappy about the lack of hard technical content, but that I think is missing the point.  FOWA is not a technical conference, and is aimed at more rounded individuals who have to do a bit of technical development, a bit of marketing and a lot of decision making around the business.