Wow, I had a great time at the The Next Web conference in Amsterdam!! I tell you, I’ve seen things in Amsterdam that I don’t think I’ll ever see in other cities. Fun things! Also now, I can say that I’ve been to Europe!
I was supposed to go to a SharePoint conference in LA. When I saw that there was a tech conference in Amsterdam, since I’ve never been to Amsterdam, I decided signing up for The Next Web. A part of me wishes that I was in LA and participated in all the SharePoint 2010 boot camp-style sessions there. But I’m very happy I attended The Next Web; something different, something fresh. You see training and all that is nice but sometimes you get tunneled-vision for a particular technology. It depends on the personality of the person I suppose. With me, I get so focused on a particular subject/technology that I sometimes lose track of the “big picture”. ASP.NET 4.0, SharePoint 2010, Silverlight–lots of stuff to master on the Microsoft technologies and I tend to hone on these things. Sometimes you just have to take a “step back” to gain new perspective on things. Going to Amsterdam gave me perspective in more ways than one! I’ll get up to speed on Microsoft technologies like I always do.
One of the themes at the The Next Web 2010 conference is this gradual but definite move towards mobile devices. Most speakers and many startups that presented had some sort of mobile angle. I have a very good friend, damn fine ASP.NET and SharePoint developer, and once when I told him that I’m thinking about developing mobile phone apps. He asked me “why bother building apps that a 17 year-old can hack and build?” There is some truth to the question he asked but he is incorrect. I went to youtube.com one time to see if I can find some iPhone coding tutorial. First video I picked was done by some 13 year-old or 14 year-old kid. The kid was enthused but man, was it a pain to follow a presentation/tutorial that is scattered and unorganized. Yeah, so teens can build iPhone apps. So what? Apps are mostly free now you say? Well, there are different business/pricing models for apps that are coming about due to mobile apps. Traditional software vendors are used to the “licensing” or “subscription” business models. In mobile apps, you can be creative how you get rewarded. Some people get paid real money for “virtual chickens”–can you believe that?? Anyway, back to the mobile stuff–there are stand-alone apps such as games and utility-apps, but there’s another category of mobile apps which really caught my attention. These are the front-end mobile apps for existing services or aggregation of existing services on the Web. Examples: Facebook app is client to the FB Web API, Tweetdeck is client for Twitter API, etc. Which brings me to the other theme that I picked up on The Next Web Conference: services.
Amazon.com Chief Technology Officer Werner Vogels spoke at the conference. He spoke about what he sees as the future of apps–apps will be aggregation of existing services on Web. “Don’t re-invent what’s already out there.” You can’t help but think maybe he’s just trying to hype up cloud-computing, services, etc., since Amazon provides S3 cloud-computing. Lol. But I see the appreciation of the trend and I agree with him. Mash-up these; mash-up that. The word “app” truly has evolved over time. It used to be just a computer program. If you ask a Java developer or .NET developer what is an app to them, they’ll probably give you Web app or Desktop app as answers. All kinds of developers from Java, .NET, to PHP know what a Web service is or what API is and know how to consume them. Yet, a lot of “apps” (Web applications) are still being developed with no API (especially in the world of custom-built applications). Without getting into a debate whether an API should be opened up for other apps, apps should use its own API. Even if no other app use that API other than that one app itself, the API, if made, is at least available and can be opened up for other apps should the need arise in the future. Take SharePoint for example: it is a Web application but underneath all that glitz is a set of services. Each SharePoint site has WSDLs available for discovery for developers wanting to hookup to SharePoint API. In SharePoint, themes and branding are nice but not as important as the content itself. I just want to be able to get my tasks, calendars, and documents.
And you know what the funny thing is? Since the inception of Web services a decade or so ago, the promise of system integration, where all kinds of different applications and domains are integrating with each other, is just being appreciated now. It’s been 10 years man since Web services came about. More in the app-development community are appreciating services (it’s assumed it’s on the Web!)
Rich apps (iPhone, Android, Silverlight) for front-end. Web Services (REST, SOAP) for back-end. Yes, it seems trivial just to say that but you know what, I’m glad I attended these sessions at The Next Web conference. Again, it was a nice step-back from .NET and SharePoint and get a fresh-perspective on application development.