Christian Heilmann

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Archive for May, 2014

Open Web Apps – a talk at State of the Browser in London

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

state of the browser panel

On my birthday, 26th of April 2014, I was lucky enough to once again be part of the State of the Browser conference. I gave the closing talk. In it I tried to wrap up what has been said before and remind people about what apps are. I ended with an analysis of how web technologies as we have them now are good enough already or on the way there.

The slides are available on Slideshare:

The video recording of the talk features the amazing outfit I wore, as originally Daniel Appelquist said he’ll be the best dressed speaker at the event.

Open web apps – going beyond the desktop from London Web Standards on Vimeo.

In essence, I talked about apps meaning four things:

  • focused: fullscreen with a simple interface
  • mobile: works offline
  • contained: deleting the icon deletes the app
  • integrated: works with the OS and has hardware access
    responsive and fast: runs smooth, can be killed without taking down the rest of the OS

The resources I talked about are:

Make sure to also watch the other talks given at State of the Browser – there was some great information given for free. Thanks for having me, London Web Standards team!

Thank you, TEDx Thessaloniki

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

Last weekend was a milestone for me: I spoke at my first TEDx event. I am a big fan of TED and learned a lot from watching their talks and using them as teaching materials for coaching other speakers. That’s why this was a big thing for me and I want to take this opportunity to thank the organisers and point out just how much out of their way they went to make this a great experience for all involved.

thanks tedx thessaloniki

Hey, come and speak at TEDx!

I got introduced to the TEDx Thessaloniki folk by my friend Amalia Agathou and once contacted and approved, I was amazed just how quickly everything fell into place:

  • There was no confusion as to what was expected of me – a talk of 18 minutes tops, presented from a central computer so I needed to create powerpoint or keynote slides dealing with the overall topic of the event “every end is a beginning”
  • I was asked to deliver my talk as a script and had an editor to review it to make it shorter, snappier or more catered to a “TED” audience
  • My flights and hotel were booked for me and I got my tickets and hotel voucher as email – no issue getting there and no “I am with the conference” when trying to check into the hotel
  • I had a deadline to deliver my slides and then all that was left was waiting for the big day to come.

A different stage

TEDx talks are different to other conferences as they are much more focused on the presenter. They are more performance than talk. Therefore the setup was different than stages I am used to:

  • There were a lot of people in a massive theatre expecting me to say something exciting
  • I had a big red dot to stand and move in with a stage set behind me (lots of white suitcases, some of them with video projection on them)
  • There were three camera men; two with hand-held cameras and one with a boom-mounted camera that swung all around me
  • I had two screens with my slides and a counter telling me the time
  • I was introduced before my talk and had 7 seconds to walk on stage whilst a music was playing and my name shown on the big screens on stage
  • In addition to the presentations, there were also short plays and bands performing on stage

Rehearsals, really?

Suffice to say, I was mortified. This was too cool to be happening and hearing all the other speakers and seeing their backgrounds (the Chief Surgeon of the Red Cross, famous journalists, very influential designers, political activists, the architect who designed the sea-side of the city, famous writers, early seed stage VCs, car designers, photo journalists and many, many more) made me feel rather inadequate with my hotch-potch career putting bytes in order to let people see kittens online.

We had a day of rehearsals before the event and I very much realised that they are not for me. Whilst I had to deliver a script, I never stick to one. I put my slides together to remind me what I want to cover and fill the gaps with whatever comes to me. This makes every talk exciting to me, but also a nightmare for translators (so, a huge SORRY and THANK YOU to whoever had to convert my stream of consciousness into Greek this time).

Talking to an empty room doesn’t work for me – I need audience reactions to perform well. Every speaker had a speaking coach to help them out after the rehearsal. They talked to us what to improve, what to enhance, how to use the stage better and stay in our red dot and so on. My main feedback was to make my jokes more obvious as subtle sarcasm might not get noticed. That’s why I added it thicker during the talk. Suffice to say, my coach was thunderstruck after seeing the difference of my rehearsal and the real thing. I told him I need feedback.

Event organisation and other show facts

All in all I was amazed by how well this event was organised:

  • The hotel was in walking distance along a seaside boulevard to the theatre
  • Food was organised in food trucks outside the building and allowing people to eat it on the lawn whilst having a chat. This avoided long queues.
  • Coffee was available by partnering with a coffee company
  • The speaker travel was covered by partnering with an airline – Aegean
  • The day was organised into four sections with speakers on defined topics with long breaks in between
  • There were Q&A sessions with speakers in breaks (15 minutes each, with a defined overall topic and partnering speakers with the same subject matter but differing viewpoints)
  • All the videos were streamed and will end up on YouTube. They were also shown on screens outside the auditorium for attendees who preferred sitting on sofas and cushions
  • There was an outside afterparty with drinks provided by a drinks company
  • Speaker dinners were at restaurants in walking distance and going long into the night


The best thing for me was that the mix of attendees was incredible. I met a few fellow developers, journalists, doctors, teachers, a professional clown, students and train drivers. Whilst TED has a reputation to be elitist, the ticket price of 40 Euro for this event ensured that there was a healthy cross-section and the afterparty blended in nicely with other people hanging out at the beach.

I am humbled and amazed that I pulled that off and I was asked to be part of this. I can’t wait to get my video to see how I did, because right now, it all still seems like a dream.

TEDx Thessaloniki – The web is dead?

Saturday, May 10th, 2014

OMG OMG OMG I am speaking at TEDx! Sorry, just had to get this out of the way…

I am currently in the sunny Thessaloniki in Greece at TEDx and waiting for things to kick off. My own talk is in the afternoon and I wanted to share my notes and slides here for those who can’t wait for the video.

The, slightly cryptic overall theme of the event is “every end is a beginning” and thus I chose to talk about the perceived end of the web at the hand of native apps and how apps are already collapsing in on themselves. Here are the slides and notes which – as usual – might end up just being a reminder for myself what I want to cover.

TEDx Thessaloniki – The web is dead? from Christian Heilmann

Hello, I am here today to tell you that the web is dead. Which is unfortunate, as I am a web developer. I remember when the web was the cool new revolution and people flocked to it. It was the future. What killed it?

Typing on a Blackberry Torch

The main factor in the death of the web is the form factor of the smart phone. This is how people consume the web right now. And as typing web addresses in it isn’t fun, people wanted something different.

We got rather desperate in our attempt to make things easier. QR codes were the cool thing to do. Instead of typing in an address in a minute it is much easier to scan them with your phone – and most of the time the camera does focus correctly in a few minutes and only drains 30% of your battery.

This is when the app revolution kicked in. Instead of going to web sites, you can have one app each for all your needs. Apps are great. They perform well, they are beautiful, they are easy to find and easy to install and use.

Apps are also focused. They do one thing and one thing well, and you really use them. You don’t have a browser open with several windows. You keep your attention to the one thing you wanted to do.
So, in order to keep my job, I came up with an idea for an app myself.

In my research, I found that apps are primarily used in moments of leisure. Downtime, so to say.

This goes so far that one could say that most apps are actually used in moments historically used for reflection and silence. Like being in the bathroom. My research showed that there is a direct correlation between apps released and time spent in facilities.

chart: time spent in toilet playing games

And this is where my app idea comes in. Instead of just using a random app in these moments, use WhatsOut!

whatsout logo

WhatsOut is a location based checkin app much like Foursquare but focused at public facilities. You can check-in, become the mayor, leave reviews, win badges like “3 stall buddies” when checking in with friends.

Marking territory

The app is based on principles of other markets, like the canine one where it’s been very successful for years. There are many opportunities to enhance the app. You can link photos of food on Instagram with the checkin (as an immediate result), and with enough funding and image recognition it could even become a health app.


Seriously though: this is my problem with apps. Whilst technically superior on a mobile device they are not an innovation.

The reason is their economic model: everything is a numbers game. For app markets to succeed, they need millions of apps. For apps to succeed, they need thousands of users. What the app does is not important – how many eyeballs it gets is.

This is why every app needs to lock you in. It needs for you to stay and do things. Add content, buy upgrades, connect to friends and follow people.


In essence, for apps to succeed they have to be super annoying Tamagotchi. They want you to care for them all the time and be there only for them. And we all know what happened to Tamagotchi – people were super excited about them and now they all collect dust.

The web was software evolved – you get your content and functionality on demand and independent of hardware. Apps, as they are now, are a step back in that regard. We’re back to waiting for software to be delivered to us as a packaged format dependent on hardware.

That’s why the web is far from dead. It is not a consumable product. Its very nature is distributed. And you can’t shut down or replace that. Software should enrich and empower our lives, our lives should not be the content that makes software successful.

Presentation tips: using videos in presentations

Sunday, May 4th, 2014

I am currently doing a survey amongst people who speak for Mozilla or want to become speakers. As a result of this, I am recording short videos and write guidelines on how to deal with various parts of presenting.

movie projector
Photo Credit: Carbon Arc via Compfight cc

A lot of the questions in the “Presenting tips for Mozilla Reps” survey this time revolved around videos in presentations. Let’s take a look at that topic.

Videos are a great format to bring a message across:

  • They are engaging as they speak to all senses (seeing, hearing, reading)
  • They allow for a lot of information in a very short time
  • They are relatively simple to make and with the help of YouTube and others very easy to distribute

As part of a presentation, videos can be supportive or very destructive. The problem with videos is that they are very engaging. As a presenter, it is up to you to carry the talk: you are the main attraction. That’s why playing a video with sound in the middle of your talk is awkward; you lose the audience and become one of them. You are just another spectator and you need to be very good to get people’s attention back to you after the video played.

Videos with sound

The rule of thumb of videos with sound is either to start with it and thus ease people into your talk or to end with it. In Mozilla we got a lot of very cool and inspirational short videos you can start with and then introduce yourself as a Mozillian followed by what you do and what you want to talk about today. You can also end with it: “And that’s what I got. I am part of Mozilla, and here are some other things we do and why it would be fun for you to join us”.


Screencasts are a superb format to use in your presentation to narrate over. Using a screencast instead of a live demo has a lot of benefits:

  • They work – you know things work and you are not relying on a working internet connection or being able to use a certain computer setup.
  • You can concentrate on presenting – you will not get into trouble trying to talk and do things at the same time. This is harder than it looks and it is astonishing how many speakers forget their password when talking and logging into a system on stage
  • They have a fixed time – you know the time you will use for the demo and not get stuck at your computer slowing down for random reasons or showing the audience a loading animation for minutes because of the slow WiFi. Silence on stage is awkward and whilst you can crack a joke it seems bad planning
  • You can focus on the important bits – you can zoom in and out in a screencast and only show the relevant bit. This is also possible with a live demo, but needs more skills

Of course screencasts have a few pitfalls:

  • They could appear as cheating – make sure you explain the setup used in the demo and point people to live examples where they can try out the same demo for themselves. Do not show things working you know not to. This is what sales weasels do.
  • Make sure you have the video on your computer – no, you will not have a connection fast enough to show a YouTube video at every event. Actually that is almost never a good idea.
  • Test the video with the projection system – sometimes presentation software doesn’t show the video and you might need to use a media player to show it instead
  • Keep them short – you want to make a point, not narrate a movie to an audience.

What about length?

Videos in presentations should make a point and have a purpose. In the end, a talk is a show and you are the star. You are the centre of attention. That’s why videos are good to make things more engaging but don’t lose the audience to them – after all they will have to look at them instead of you. One minute is to me a good time, less is better. Anything above 5 minutes should be a screenshot of the video, the URL to see it and you telling people why they should watch it. This works, I keep seeing people tweet the URL of a video I covered in my talks and thanking me that I flagged it up as something worth watching.