Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/02/24/future_web/
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.
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.
In a similar vein, Amazon CTO Werner Vogels walked through the growing number of Amazon developer properties, from S3 and EC2 to the Mechanical Turk. Demonstrating services like Gigavox's web-based podcasting tools, he posed the question: what if developers only had to compete with ideas, rather than with resources? As a rationale for a growing portfolio of SaaS tools, it's a philosophy that makes sense for Amazon. However, a question still remains for the rest of us – what will the cost of exit be?
Adobe's Mark Anders built a simple Flex application on stage, using the Flickr API to build a simple photo search tool, before introducing Apollo , the upcoming browserless Flash host. Two demos showed off its features, the standard Web 2.0 map mashup, and an Apollo-hosted UI for eBay. Anders also described the changes in Flash Player 9, and its new JIT compiler – and its open future as Mozilla's Tamarin .
Microsoft's Chris Wilson apologised for Internet Explorer 6 one more time for luck, and talked about the features in IE 7. With an audience of designers and developers, perhaps more could have been said about the rest of Microsoft's web technologies – though that may have stolen the thunder from Microsoft's own upcoming Web 2.0 conference, Mix 07 .
Talks were generally light on technical detail, and most of the interesting demonstrations were on Microsoft's and Adobe's stands. Both were showing off their newest web technologies, Adobe with its Apollo Flash platform and Microsoft with its cross platform WPF/e  running on a Macintosh – as well as giving away copies of its Expression web design tool.
Google gave away sweets, and Spinvox plied the world with tiny flashing lights. Sadly, the conference's Wi-Fi failed to materialise, and a single BT Openzone hotspot struggled to cope, though at least there was plenty of power for the myriad laptops in use.
The future of web applications is more than social media and Web 2.0. FOWA may have left you thinking that they were enough, but once you deflated the hype balloon and dodged the rush for VC funding, there was plenty of meat on the bones.
Mixed metaphors aside, FOWA 2007 was a useful event, with plenty of networking opportunities, and a set of speakers that managed to do more than deliver a marketing message. In this day and age that has to count as a win. ®