— aleatory

The Cathedral and the Barcamp

So I attended my first two tech events over the past few days. One good one bad – here’s why:

First the good one. I didn’t really know what to expect from Barcamp Derry and from the spiel delivered online was hoping that was the correct way to approach it. Half hour sessions organised in 3 concurrent ‘streams’ meant the first 5 minutes of each was largely spent loitering in the doorway of each until one grabbed enough attention take a pew.

Although I missed the morning sessions the later half still produced a nice variety of topics – web media, drupal, startup and a few more. It was refreshing to see stuff happening locally that you usually only read about in front of a screen. Effectively it takes the form of a ‘show & tell’ so you get to see stuff that is happening right now in NI. It is accessible and because of that you get an urge to participate and interact in a way you don’t get from say a lecture for example. You get the sense when people are talking they are thinking aloud and the wide variety of topics really gets you thinking.

The whole experience just seems more realtime.

I’m no expert on the philosophy of BarCamp but maybe it’d be an idea to have stream themes so less frantic checking of the timetable matrix would ensue between show & tells. So I could sit down in a room for the day and know I’d be learning about e.g. bootstrapping, but without necessarily needing to know who is going to speak on it until they begin. It’d make for a more open minded audience I reckon since they would have little time to research a speakers angle.

Anyway I found the whole thing an engaging and unique experience and am very much looking forward to the next one on 6th November.

Now the bad one. Facebook Dev Garages are as I understand them a chance for people using/thinking about using the platform to tap into the phenomenol viral power of FB’s network. If you’re not into developing apps solely for the Facebook platform, you’re looking to shoehorn the power of the ‘tell your friends’ social tsunami into your existing application.

The first point is it works. My 1st FB app was a simple little gamer gimic that reached 2k MAU (Monthly Active Users – the standard metric for FB app popularity) within a month, just by adding ‘invite your friends’ and ‘publish to stream’ components. This would not happen via say Google Gadget directory or dare I say it any of the current appstores. On Facebook, your app is actively pushed through your network by its users. Virality.

It’s a relatively new paradigm but unfortunately Facebook Inc has turned themselves into another M$, another cathedral: What we got at yesterday’s Garage was a staid marketing promo. It was a great disappointment – there is a rich dev ecosystem surrounding the FB platform – fbFund, the f8 conference and the Dev Garages elsewhere seem to have got the backing they deserved.

So the conversation began at a bird’s eye view and never really returned to earth.

It could have been so different: At the last minute James Leszczenski, one of the platform dev guys, was roped in. He provided an overview of FB’s crowdsourced translate app and how it could be used by developers to localise their own FB content. Good talk but again he skipped over the FBML and coding (aka the useful bits) I’m guessing to avoid glazing half the audience’s eyes over.

Also maybe it was the travel or whatever but I was expecting him to at least stand for some q’s at the end of his presentation. He just slunked into his seat. So with the other guys demo not coming off this was basically the end of the Belfast Dev Garage. Some marketing guy and a dev who didn’t really talk shop & wasn’t too interested in engaging the audience.

[I asked the InvestNI girl afterwards if there’d be another one in future, maybe with a bit more to it and the response didn’t sound too promising. Maybe there isn’t the demand currently but surely it’s up to the marketing people to get engaging content. Not come here to give a talk on the history of the company and how to create a FB page for your business. There’s a tendency for tech firms opening up in Dublin to adopt the shrinkwrapped M$ model of dev engagement. There is very little understanding of what makes a dev ecosystem tick.]

Anyways fair play to the audience at this point, questions were inevitably pointed in his direction and although a percentage of them were irrelevant in a dev context at least it was interaction.

Not of much value though. His answer to the unreliability of the MAU stat availability was publicly “I’m sure there’s a thread on it on the forum” and privately “There’s no reason why you can’t do your own”. Which is a load of balls: I could invent the Rutherford Active User tomorrow and you know who would be interested? Nobody that’s who. Why would they take the time to discover this brand new metric when MAU exists as a platform standard in every app out there? Just fix your own buggy stats thankyouverymuch.

I’ll admit to getting it wrong on the photos api not being open. Since 2007 to make things worse. But I’m also going to shift the blame on platform dev docs being an absolute maze to work through. I’ll stop digging right there. And I was more just pissed off at all the marketing chatter of open this connected that. hmph.

Although Leszczenski did seem a nice guy in person and at least laughed & agreed with my take on Google Wave still being ‘the app Google released the day Microsoft launched Bing’. Not the first time that’s happened he said, in his best FB disciple knowing look of indignation.

Cathedrals are everywhere.

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