The first day of the Inman Connect conference this year included the ConnectTech Workshop, which I moderated. The idea was to bring back some more technical topics to appeal to the developers and geeks in the industry. See the full agenda here.
Here’s a synopsis of my take aways from each session:
- Mobile – The statement was made repeatedly by Eric from SmarterAgent and Jim from Kurio that users demand native apps customized for each phone. That may be true right now, but I see the adoption of HTML5 in mobile browsers, combined with abstraction toolkits like PhoneGap, making possible universal, browser-based apps in the future. At least I hope so – building native apps for each platform right now is a very expensive and time consuming endeavor. Sasha from Redfin concentrated on the importance of a clean and simple UI for the phone, but would not give up any details on the rumored imminent release development of a Redfin mobile app.
- API’s – Oren from Mashery made the point that you should think of your API as an “ecosystem” wrapped around your data or service. That was very well received, and set the stage for Matt from Walkscore and Steve from Education.com to discuss exactly what they’ve done, on a more practical level, with their API’s. We use both of those API’s in Dwellicious and that data is very popular.
- MLS Hell – What would an Inman conference be without people complaining about MLS data standards? The panel – Chris from Wolfnet, David from eNeighborhoods, and Mark from Homefinder – each gave an overview of their architecture for downloading and normalizing MLS data. The general agreement was that RETS succeeds in giving real-time access to updated data that can be easily downloaded, but fails when it comes to data standardization, thus the need for sophisticated normalization procedures that are unique to each MLS. Mike Wurzer from FBS asked the group if they would adopt a new standard for field names if RETS were to create one, and the unanimous consensus was yes – although there didn’t seem to be too much confidence that this would see the light of day anytime soon. One thing the struck me was the huge cost that hundreds of vendors are incurring doing the same exact thing – downloading and normalizing MLS data. Of course, that cost is being passed on to the customers.
- User Experience – This panel was designed to be a discussion about Flex, Silverlight, and AJAX. Cosmo from ForeclosureRadar.com was up first and gave an overview of their architecture which used a web services back-end and a Flex front-end. He was very careful to point out the positives and the negatives of Flex – the main positive being the speed of UI creation and the main negative being lack of a good PDF/printing solution. For PDF creation, he had to fall back on a PHP solution, but I felt that was a good example of using the best tool for the job and not forcing everything to be Flex. Ben from Ajaxian.com and Mozilla then gave what I thought was the most fascinating presentation of the day when he showed browser developments coming in the next year. He showed what could be done with HTML5, Canvas, and made the point that the speed of the new generation of browsers made certain client side and AJAX techniques possible that weren’t just a year or two ago. His presentation further convinced me that open standard browsers are, currently and in the future, the direction to take for client side UI. Interestingly, we were not able to find anyone to speak on Silverlight, and even those few in the audience who indicated they were doing some development with Silverlight had no positive comments to make about it during the Q&A segment.
- Agile Development – This was a panel I was really looking forward to, being that it’s a hot topic right now, especially in the Ruby on Rails community. Mike from Elevated Rails gave a great overview of Agile, then Zach from Point2 brought some practical experience and stories about how he used Agile to make their large team of developers more efficient. Galen from Estately then followed with details of how they use Agile and Rails with their small team of developers. My take away on this one is that Agile not only makes development teams more efficient, but also makes them happier because they are getting constant feedback on their projects and that is keeping them from going down blind alleys, diverging from the goals of the customers and the rest of the organization.
My one complaint was that 45 minutes for each panel of three speakers made everything too rushed – I would like to see one hour sessions next year.
What did you take away from ConnectTech? I covered the entire Inman Connect conference in another post.