Christian Heilmann

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Archive for March, 2013

No more “petting zoo for developers” for me

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

Do not scare programmers I just finished a talk at another “developer conference” which is a side-attraction at a larger trade show and decided that this was the last one of those that I will do.

The reason is that I’ve done a few of them, and they’ve always been a disappointment to me. Of course there are great ones, I am sure, but I’ve had quite a lot of very disappointing experiences. In detail these were:

  • Poor attendance by developers – it is a trade show, people are busy running around and dousing fires on demos not working instead. Trade shows are full of distractions and attractions and having a full day taken out is too much for a lot of people.
  • The AV setup was always abysmal. I always had to bring my own connectors and got a minute or so to set up whilst the last speaker still answered questions. The sound was always bad as you are in some hall to the side with lots of blaring music and advertising and – in the worst cases – with two side-by-side stages where you hear other people talk and not yourself
  • There is never a recording of the talks or a centralised repository where to get the slides and other materials afterwards. It seems organisers just expect lackluster talks by company speakers to lure people to their respective stands and writing a bespoke talk made me feel like a waste
  • There was always an overall feeling of half-hearted organisation being sold as “being different for developers”

All in all these “amazing developer event inside the main event” appear to me as a petting zoo for developers. The market knows developers are important, but there is no point or much of value for them on a trade show. So, let’s have some own playground for them to do two hour hackathons with prizes and some talks that don’t really need planning. It feels condescending and to me out of place. Especially when the rest of the show is staffed by half-naked booth babes who have no stake in the product they are actually promoting (something that simply needs to stop). Developer events have a different goal than that.

If you want to integrate developers into trade shows (as it might be useful as they will be around anyways) have an own event in an own venue or a day before or after instead. The way I found things to be organised now just seems like a bleached carbon copy of a good idea. Instead of asking known speakers or asking for sponsoring from large companies and yet another “look our product $x makes it so easy for developers, you are almost redundant” talk, have unknown speakers get up there, allow local small companies to do a technical talk and show themselves (as they are not likely to be able to afford an amazing booth at the show). Have partner companies of large corporations show how they use the products sold as infallible and give information what the real experience looks like. Be disruptive, be different than the main event, but don’t force it by stating you are different without delivering.

Hackathons take time, workshops need dedicated and non-disrupted and prepared attendees, developer talks need audiences. Don’t cheapen this because it seems simple to organise and you already have a location – of sorts.

If this sounds arrogant then it is only because I have been disappointed about all this. I love events, I know how much work it is and I want every event to count for the audience, the organisers and the speakers. I’d rather have “conference in conference” organisers allow someone unknown to speak and give them coverage and promotion in the main event channels than get known speakers in. That’s helping more people on the whole.

I am happy to give a keynote at a partner booth, show demos and examples and talk to the press. But I will give someone else the chance to have a go at talking at these sorts of events in the future. Not because I feel too good for them, but because I feel that these events need to change drastically – or vanish.

Making HTML5 work with Firefox OS – a talk at CeBIT

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

I just got back from CeBIT in Germany which hosted the Mooseconf developer conference. My part of the show was to give a talk about Firefox OS and what it means to HTML5.

HTML5 means more than 'what works on iphone'

I gave that talk twice, once in the morning for a closed audience of developers and a repeat in the afternoon for the open part of the conference. The slides and notes are online and there is a screencast available on YouTube.

In the talk I reminisced about the time I had at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week showcasing Firefox OS to 57 different journalists. I especially remembered running into an interviewer who was very much a novice in the ways of the web. To make him understand I came up with a simile in my desperation explaining that “Firefox OS is the Volkswagen Beetle of smartphones”.

This was based on the original idea of the Beetle as a car that is affordable for everyone and to be a massive boost to the car-manufacturing industry.

The Volkswagen Beetle, officially called the Volkswagen Type 1 (or informally the Volkswagen Bug), is an economy car produced by the German auto maker Volkswagen (VW) from 1938 until 2003. With over 21 million manufactured[6] in an air-cooled, rear-engined, rear-wheel drive configuration, the Beetle is the longest-running and most-manufactured car of a single design platform, worldwide. Wikipedia

Firefox OS follows the same principles:

  • Its aim is to replace feature phones in emerging markets with HTML5 based phones that match the functionality of non-affordable or even locally available smartphones
  • The phones are based on the proven Firefox engine (Gecko), fully open and standard-proposed APIs and a Linux core (Gonk) that also powers Android
  • Parts of the beetle were interchangeable between its versions. That ensured that spare parts are easy to come by. Firefox OS is powered by and runs HTML5 applications. You can easily turn a current mobile-optimised web site into an app and get much better hardware access support with a few lines of JavaScript and a manifest file
  • The idea is to give HTML5 the hardware platform it deserves, not to be allowed to run on platforms that treat it as a thing that runs in browsers and is blocked from accessing the interesting parts of the device

In the rest of the talk I went through the different parts that make Firefox OS special. The ability to search for apps by content for example – enter the name of a band and you get Music, Video and Lyrics apps, enter “restaurant” and you get review apps. In essence we make app discovery and “try before you buy” as easy as surfing the web. This means we need you out there to spice up your “mobile friendly” pages and at least add local caching mechanisms.

I talked through the different levels of apps in Firefox OS and their rights to access the hardware and how to make even your hosted apps get access to the hardware by asking the user to do it with web activities. These are the same idea as web intents that Chrome had and now discontinued (for the moment).

I end with a listing of the resources to get you started and an explanation that the web as a platform is far from over. If you bet on HTML5, you build for now and all the other platforms (using for example phone gap) and the future. And with Firefox OS you reach a whole new market that now only could afford low-end Androids running the stock browser which is not the best HTML5 platform by a long shot.