Yak shaving wows crowd at FOWA 2007

Real web development tools unearthed among hype

Carson Systems' Future of Web Applications (FOWA) conference returned to London this week with an impressive lineup of speakers – and a very Web 2.0 look at the world.

Sessions covered everything from finding venture capital to Amazon's developer platform, via building effective online communities. Once you got past the feeling you were back in the days of the dotcom bubble (with startups pitching ideas from the stage), there was plenty to learn – and several significant announcements and demos.

A shaggy yak on the Fotango stand was a clue to Simon Wardley's entertaining duck and Blair-filled presentation. Describing the art of setting up a web application infrastructure as "yak shaving", he introduced Fotango's Zimki service.

A hosted Javascript application platform, Zimki uses a similar pricing approach to Amazon's EC2 to deliver applications that use web APIs. Charging per JavaScript operation (an approach that'll require developers to learn just what each line of code costs) Zimki will also allow developers to connect Zimki servers in a grid – creating a much more distributed operation than other Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms. It'll be interesting to see how Zimki develops, and whether JavaScript is enough to deliver compelling web applications.

Perhaps the biggest announcement of the event came at the end of day one, when Kevin Rose of Digg announced that the social news system would soon be supporting OpenID. With Digg following hot on the heels of similar Microsoft and AOL announcements, OpenID seems to have become the flavour of the month.

Rose's presentation also looked at the analytic tools Digg uses to manage its story swarms and prevent site gaming, and how the site needs to fragment its user base to continue its growth. Fragmenting the diggers would, Rose suggested, allow new communities of interest to grow that would "neuter" the more obstructive and obstreperous of the current monolithic community.

Yahoo!'s Bradley Horowitz (VP advanced development division) encouraged the audience to think differently about their users. Even though user-generated content could end up as videos of karate chimpazees, it also could offer the images you find on Flickr. Horovitz described how attention data was used to build Flickr's "interestingness" ratings, based on a mix of comments, views, "favouriting", blogging, and linking.

As this was information about an image, even though interestingness was developed post-Flickr's purchase by Yahoo!, it could be applied to every photo ever taken and ever uploaded. This organic metadata approach is at the heart of how Yahoo! sees it can link Flickr and the rest of its properties – including MyBlogLog and Upcoming.

With Pipes recently out the door, it wasn't surprising that Horowitz spent some time discussing just how the service worked – and how it could be used to build general purpose inter-site plumbing. It'll be interesting to see how Pipes evolves, as Horowitz revealed that Yahoo! was looking at tying it into its widgets platform.

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