• 11:38 am, 12th March 2006
  • events, web
  • 1 Comment

ETech 06

I went to ETech for a number of reasons, one of which was to see Cal Henderson‘s tutorial on how they built Flickr. Another reason was to find out what developers wanted from data feeds and APIs and possible examples for best preactice. I succeeded in my first quest but largely failed in my second.

Cal’s tutorial was well structured and its content well thought-out. He does go deep into some of the mechanics of mySQL database federation and character encoding but the low-level stuff is all the more evidence to back up his high-level view for well-structured web applications. He has been and done it and I wouldn’t bet against what he said. I’d certain recommend going to see his Carson Workshops tutorial if you get the opportunity.

I had hoped ETech was more about the little people so-to-speak. The developers and designers. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of people like me, and a wide variety of disciplines were represented. However, a large number of the sessions were either too vague (allbeit inpirational in some cases) or too specific (a company trying to sell their platform rather than share their wisdom in development).

When the balance was right, the sessions were excellent. Ray Ozzie‘s opening talk on composite applications on the web was both high-level and fundamental and did not advertise. Ray demonstrated a cut-and-paste framework which worked cross-browser implemented in
much the same way as the windows clipboard. It was clever and practical, especially when he showed it applied to dynamic data feeds. The session immediately succeeding Ray also hit the mark for completely different reasons with Jeff Han demonstrating NYU’s multi-touch interface.

The overarching theme of this year’s ETech was the attention eceonomy (tm yet to be established). This was explored by some in very abstract terms, others (such as root.net) are trying to market a service on the back of it. Linda Stone’s inspiring speech on continuous partial attention took the subject at face value and cut through some of the accepted behaviour of the always-on generation. Our attention is becoming consumed by multiple activities as we attempt to constantly feed part of something bigger and physical interaction no longer takes precendence (for some at the conference this was very evident).

As the conference wore on some themes began to bubble up. In order to keep users’ attention, the barrier to entry and participation must be a low as possible. This was expressed by Clay Shirky and Bradley Horowitx from Yahoo! An API is assumed functionality and by this time next year, everyone will have one. Tom Coates put this into context in his discussion about becoming native to the web of data. Tom’s ideal of new services adding value to the aggregate web might not be shared by some of the people seeking a way to make money out of the web of data but I like the thought that it is all for the greater good.

The final afternoon prvided some additional highlights. Scott Berkun‘s advice for good deign in web 2.0 was based on some sound thinking but was largely shouted down by the audience. They sure do love their tag clouds! Jason Schultz and Danny O’Brien from the Electronic Frontier Foundation finished with both a depressing and uplifting account of where the next lawsuits are going to come from. It is very disturbing that developers are put off adding fun and innovative features to their services because of threat of litigation. The example of Second Life not introducing musical instruments into their virtual world through potential (and inevitable?) action from the RIAA is sad. It is good to know that the EFF are trying to tackle this sort of problem through fighting landmark cases and hopefully setting precendence. Sadly they do not have the funds to support litigation against small web sites.

At the end of the ETech the main thing I have learned is the same thing I learned when I first arrived: I need a 15-inch PowerBook.

1 Comment for ETech 06

  • 10:12 pm, 12th March 2006
Ryan Carson

Thanks for letting your readers know about Carson Workshops :)

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