The future of the web browser
Chris Wilson from Microsoft, who has worked on Internet Expolorer from version 3 up, was here to talk about the future of the web browser. He looked back at the days when Outlook Web Access was one of the most advanced web apps around and was using AJAX before it was even called AJAX. He talked about the rebirth of the semantic web movement with RSS, microformats, and tagging. He ultimately talked at length about IE 7 and the importance of security, standards support and more.
I am a web developer and I spend most of my time trying to work within browser limitations. But I don't buy the idea that IE 7 is a progressive browser. It has taken about 6 years for them to release a new version - and there is nothing revolutionary about it. They fixed all of the IE 6 bugs and added a list of modern features, that we had already seen in FireFox. Yes IE 7 is at last a good stable browser from Microsoft, which has addressed the security issues that had plagued IE 5 and 6, along with the problems with lack of standards compliance, but I don't think they deserve a pat on the back for that.
Chris Wilson also addressed an issue that is for some people the holy grail in terms of developing products for IE - having multiple versions of IE running on one machine. In short he said that this just would not be possible now or in the future. It just can't be done, so no joy there. Not really a lot of information on the future of the browser in the end, but looking forward the wpf/e browser plugin is coming soon as a possible competitor for flash - and by the looks of it, it might just cause a few shock waves.
Lunchtime Panel Discussion
The following people were involved in the panel:
- Mike Butcher (Chair) - Vecosys.com
- Tariq Krim - NetVibes
- Chris Messina - Citizen Agency
- Dave Nicholson - Zopa
- Colin Donald - Futurescape
- Richard Moross - Moo
- Max Jenning - eMomentum
The lunchtime discussion was based on the topic: "European start-up culture - playing catch up to the US". It was a fairly brief and humorous discussion between the audience and the panel members about this hot topic. The thoughts of the panel included Ryan Carson voicing the need for some kind of bigco sponsored incubation centers, with access to lawyers and business advisors to help foster new businesses. Mike Arrington bluntly stated that people here need to stop talking about doing it and just do it. Mike Butcher felt that the UK and Ireland has a very talented pool of creative people in this industry, but there are structural and cultural barriers to over come.
The rest of the panel talked about the problems with access to seed capital and the fact that there have been some very successful companies in Europe, such as Skype, who should be an inspiration to local startups here. There were some good questions from the audience, but there was just not enough time to discuss this topic. George Bush was dragged into it, Arrington called for the BBC to be dissolved and Tariq Krim was accused of using his position to chat up girls in Silicon Valley! A good show though overall.
The Mobile Web
Vodafone. The first thing he did was to find out, by way of the raising of audience hands, who used their mobile to access the web regularly. This showed that most people in the room here use a mobile device to access the web on a regular basis, and that most had even done so in the past 24 hours. A very interesting fact that is obvious when you read it, but very interesting at the same time, is that there are up to 4 times more mobile devices in use around the world that have web access, than there are computer and laptops with web access. These numbers are confirmation of just how big this space really is. In the UK vodafone data shows that the biggest destinations for web users are Hotmail, BBC News and then Google. He talked at length about the need for more adoption of standards by mobile developers. Vodafone has a best practices list that they advise everyone to follow:At last some talk of the mobile world came in the form of Daniel Appelquist from
- Design for one web
- Rely on web standards
- Stay away from known hazards
- Be cautious of device limitations
- Optimize navigation
- Check graphics and colors
- Keep it small
- Use the network sparingly
- Help and guide user input
- Think of users on the move
He also stressed the importance of thematic consistency for your content, across
mobile and more traditional browsers, to ensure a comfortable user experience. For more
info on best practices, check out: http://www.w3.org/2005/MWI
Netvibes made a quick announcement about their new universal widget API. You will now be able to develop a widget for Netvibes and it will work across a whole host of other platforms, such as google desktop etc. You can see a preview of it here next week: http://eco.netvibes.com/uwa. He also mentioned that they are going to support OpenID in the near future.Tariq Krim from
Khoi Vinh, design director for the New York Times, said that "the future is going to be awesome!" He talked about the problems they had in coming to terms with using the web as an effective outlet for their content, and interestingly how they tried to use the same templates in terms of content and layout where ever possible, both in the print and online versions. They understood that it was important to open up a dialogue with their readers, obviously learning from the power of the blogosphere in communicating with their readers in this way.
NYTimes has some cool new community applications to enhance the user experience. MyTimes is a sort of start page app that you can use to pick and choose the kind of content from their site that you want to see. TimesFile is a bookmarking system for creating your own archive of stories you like. Integrating one click sharing with digg, newsvine etc. has helped to generate more and more readers.
Vinh also talked about the problems that many sites have to deal with in displaying 'counter-quality sources' - such as high def video and quality photographs from a digital SLR, right down to YouTube quality video and images taken on camera phones etc.
Opining on OpenID
Simon Willision was here to help promote the OpenID standard, and he talked very passionately about it. He also talked extremely fast, so please excuse me if I have noted anything incorrectly here. With a number of high profile sites recently announcing support for OpenID, such as AOL and Digg, it is a topic that is really beginning to come out of the shadows and into the realm of wide spread adoption. [Ed: see Read/WriteWeb's current poll for more on this topic]
Simon started by addressing the all important question of: "what problem does it solve?" Well its simple, if it takes off - all of us will just have one ID and password to log in and out of all of our accounts. Keeping track of all your account information is a nightmare, if you have a very bad memory like I have. I'm not going to go into too much detail about how OpenID works, but what sets it apart from similar systems is that it goes a long way to solving one big stumbling block people have with this concept - would you trust one company with managing your identity? With OpenID anyone can manage your identity, it's up to you to choose that provider. Once you do choose a provider, which at the moment could be live journal for example, all you have to do is log into that OpenID account once and then you can go to any site that supports OpenID, enter your ID and password, and your details will be confirmed against your provider. That's it, one login for all of your sites.
One great concept of OpenID is that you can create multiple personas on the one ID. You create a persona that you want to submit to a particular site, and another one that you want to submit to a different type of site. So I might choose to make up a fake name to use on my AOL account and not hand over very much address information, while at the same time I might choose to give far more accurate data over to my Digg account, through a different persona attached to my OpenID.
In Simon's own words, the things that "suck" about OpenID are various issues surrounding phishing and security, but I'm sure most of these can be overcome. One interesting benefit of OpenID is that when a user comments on a blog, he/she can be added to a whitelist as a trusted user. When a user or bot enters spam into a blog comment, they can be added to a blacklist. These lists can then be shared amongst bloggers through various yet to be invented systems, which would help identify the good users from the bad. I think it's very clear from this simple example, that the idea of rating users based on their behavior, and this then being shared between applications, would help streamline a lot of avenues on the web. One downside I see with a third party holding your info, is that they will be able to track your activity across the web with very little effort - but you do get to choose your own provider that you trust and so you are not locked into any particular one. But the stakes are higher with OpenID, if it's adopted, because any security breach of the data would be disastrous. Get someone's OpenID details and you get access to all of their sites.
The Future of Web Apps conference came to a close today. They are hosting a day of workshops tomorrow, which should be very informative. I talked with conference organizer Ryan Carson for a while today and he said that the next FOWA was going to take place in the US in September; and again in London this time next year. If you are near one in the future, I would definitely advise you to go along. It is good value for money and is small enough that you get to meet a lot of the people speaking, to talk with them further on a one to one basis. As with any conference like this, there are also ample opportunities to network. I for one have enjoyed the past few days.
Ed: Thanks so much to David for summarizing the two days for those of us who couldn't attend.