Kilian Valkhof

Building tools that make developers awesome.

10 things I learned at The Future of Web Apps conference

Web, 11 October 2007, 4 minute read

Last week I attended the Future of web apps conference in London. It was my first large conference and I had an absolute blast being there.

1. The 35% accessibility bonus.

One of the first presentations was by Robin Christopherson from Abilitynet. They do a lot of interesting research in the accessibility-field of web development. One of their results was that accessible sites weren’t just appreciated by people with disabilities, but normal users are 35% more content with accessible sites. They call this the “35% user bonus“. This bonus is independent of the graphics. So it basically means that when you take any site, make it more accessible, your users will be 35% more content.

2. Don’t make your mark-up dance around

From the same presentation, Robin Christopherson showed the Vatican’s official site. The tab index was all over the place and very confusing to, well, all users. This confirms what I’ve been doing for a long time now: build your mark-up like your layout. if your menu is the topmost element, put it at the top of your HTML. Doing anything else will just confuse users that use the tab key.

3. Optimise for cache

During the ‘high performance websites’ presentation, Steve Souders told us that 80% of the page views are with a cache, I didn’t think it would be that high. This means that when you optimise your website (by expires headers, static URLs), 80% of your page views will be faster. It’s what Yslow illustrates quite nicely.

4. Create a crappy version 1

Paul Graham of Ycombinator advised us all to create a crappy version 1 of our product. His reasoning was that this allows you to develop quickly, and after your version 1 you will have a lot of feedback from your users and you will be able to create an awesome next version.

5. Moo cards are overrated (but I still love them).

Here in the Netherlands, whenever I hand out my moo business card, the receiver always reacts very enthusiastic, and looks at it for a good while. At FOWA, the reaction was “oh, a moo card…”. Practically everyone has them there. And their stickers, too! Luckily, when I got back to the Netherlands, the reactions here remained as enthusiastic as ever.


About 4 months ago I finished a large school project using Google maps and it’s API. I really enjoyed Working with the API, and apparently ‘the fad caught on’. Almost every large web application has an API, and a lot of people are doing a lot of cool stuff with it. Something to look in to in the future.

7. Mobile development is a minefield

The ‘Taking your application mobile’-presentation by Heidi Pollock was an eye-opener for me. Being the owner of a javaME enabled mobile phone, My idea of the mobile web consisted of opera mini. Turns out the most used mobile phone (and presumably browser, too) is a phone with 30 chars and 8 rows. Ouch. Aside from that visual limitation, bandwidth is a very large limitation too. I’ll be keeping this in mind when the time comes.

8. All hail Adobe AIR

AIR looks absolutely awesome. Being able to take your web applications to the desktop with a rich user interface as well as a rich application interface is a dream come true. That, and them handing out free beers made Adobe a very cool addition to the conference.

9. The competition is hard

During the conference I spoke a bit about Fronteers, the Dutch guild of front-end developers at the Open Mic stand. Only a hand full of people attended, But I still enjoyed talking about it. I actually anticipated it, not a lot of people will want to watch a mini presentation when there are full-blown ones by well-known web people to see as well. Though, it’s not often I get to present in English, and there were countless people walking by that caught glimpses.

10. Be Open

At FOWA, there was a large emphasis on ‘open’ and ‘sharing’. Most of the people were very open about what they were doing, and there was a lot of talk about openID and oAuth. Here in the Netherlands, an oft heard complaint is that people are too secretive about what they are working on, and that we would be better of if everyone was a bit more open. It’s something we discussed at the first opencoffee as well. It’ll come with time I think.

So there you have it, 10 things I learned from FOWA. And I even left out the non-webby stuff I learned, like ‘Kevin Rose is a superstar‘, ‘Docklands, London looks absolutely miserable‘, ‘London metro’s are as bad as Amsterdam metro’s‘ and ‘Plan earlier next time‘. But that’s material for a whole other blog post :)

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