Panel discussion at The Future Of Web Apps summit

So, now it’s time for Q&A. By the way, nobody has cried Bingo. Also, get 20% off all Rails books using the code: web2020.

First, an announcement from Steve Olechowski from Feedburner. He’s launching an open API for FeedFlare.

Onto the panel.

Question: “Many web apps are very specialised. Is the future of the web about focused tools?”

Cal: Yes. Small tools loosely joined. But who knows what Web 3.0 will bring?

Steffen: Everything should be integrated: addresses, events, emails. They all have timestamps.

Ryan: How do we solve the identity issue?

Cal: Microsoft Passport (joking). Microsoft is working on something better.

David: The problem is over-rated. Most people use the same password. There’s your identity.

Joshua: Do we need the whole username/password paradigm anyway? Don’t confuse authentication with identity.

Tom: The problem is with multiple registrations. Loads of forms to fill in, like 30 boxes.

Question: “Given that Ajax allows user interaction comparable to desktop apps, should Ajax apps be designed like desktop apps?”

Joshua: I think we’re going to see desktop apps that look more like web apps, especially with the new Microsoft equivalent to SVG.

Tom: There’s a profound difference between the silo of the desktop and the Web, which is addressable.

Steve: There are a whole class of users now who are used to the Web, more than desktop apps.

Ryan: Then surely we are moving towards a model where either the browser becomes the platform or your platform becomes the browser. For instance, in Opera 9, you can build on the browser.

Tom: The boundaries will blur.

Steve. Paradigm shift. Zing.

Question: “How do you decide on a pricing model to monetize your product?”

David: I like what Ryan said in his talk: what would you yourself pay? People will pay more for a service they like, even love.

Shaun: I set up a barrier for entry so that savvy users get through. A price point helps.

Question: “How much re-engineering did you have to do to scale up?”

Cal: Flickr is still in beta. We refactor every half hour.

David: Beta is bullshit. Everything is beta. Web apps are never done.

Question: “Frequent and early releases seem to be a mantra of new products. How do you know when you’ve got enough to launch with?”

David: If you can use it every day, if it’s useful, release it.

Steve: You get a lot of good feedback by releasing early.

Ryan: How do you predict how many users your app will attract?

Steve: You can’t know.

David: No idea.

Joshua: I did del.ico.us on the side. I think VCs are useful for connections, not just funding.

David: Building a business with the money you’re getting in from the business has never been easier.

Question from the floor for Steffen: “Were you influenced by map.search.ch when making Google Maps?”

Steffen: Actually, I didn’t do all the Google Maps stuff. Speaking of maps, if you want to build an interactive web application and think about how to do it, it’s a natural evolution.

Question from the floor: “There’s nobody here from Microsoft. What are they up to?”

Apparently, they’re scaling back on their RSS promise in Vista.

Steve. Paradigm shift. Zing.

Question from the floor, related: “With IE7 and Vista on the horizon, is Web 2.0 happening because of a technological shift or paradigm shift? Zing.”

Tom: There’s always dominant metaphors. A few years ago it was computers, then networks. Now it’s on the web: social networks, connected services, and so on. But Web 2.0, whatever the hell that means, isn’t technology dependent.

Steve: For me, Web 2.0 is about very atomic applications. It’s taken us years to figure out how to use XML well.

Tom: Every few years, we rediscover what was so good about the Web to begin with… like good URLs (I think Tom is bang on the money). We also have successful poster children, like Flickr.

Question from the floor: “A few years ago, the buzzwords were web standards. Today, nobody said accessibility (he’s wrong, by the way: Andrew Shorten mentioned it). So, when building Web 2.0 apps, what are your experiences with accessibility?”

Ryan: Oh, shit.

Tom: Spirals. Ajax. Confusion. Awkwardness. A drive for standards combined with envelope pushing. We’re heading for a transition point.

Ryan: The simple answer is: of course, accessibility is important but in the real world, blah, blah, blah.

Steffen: You can make inaccessible pages by throwing text-as-image online. You can make Ajax apps accessible because it’s basically text.

Question from the floor: “With all these web services living on top of each other, are we going to have licenses that live on top of each other? Services that rely on other services: what are the legal ramifications?”

Joshua: People used to build stuff before there was even an API. The API is like a contract, but not a legal one. We’ll see more stuff connected with no legal binding whatsoever.

Tom: I don’t agree. If you’re building a business on someone else’s APIs, you have to know that it’s secure and solid. You need some kind of terms of service, even if it’s not lawyers talking to each other across a table. Nobody has thought about this issue much.

Question from the floor: “There seem to be two kinds of web apps: up-front payment or ones where you must wait for critical mass. How do you strike a balance?”

Tom: It’s easy to spot the ones that need a critical mass: they’re the social networks.

David: I don’t think ad revenue is a good model. I think it’s better to provide value directly.

Follow-on question: “If Flickr charged from the start, would it be as successful as it is today?”

Cal: Probably not. As Tom said, with social software, you need a critical mass.

Ryan: That’s it.

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