Last week I attended the O’Reilly Fluent conference on behalf of New Relic. It was both fascinating and completely exhausting. I’ll be wading through the huge pile of information I accumulated there for weeks. And even if only a couple of the tips I picked up pan out, it will have been more than worth my time!
Here are a few of the larger themes of the show that struck me:
Node.js Was Everywhere
Yet Another Death for the Client-Server Model
Way over on the other end of the spectrum, some of the most interesting presentations were from teams who have built single-page apps with minimal backend support. (Lea Verou’s keynote took this trend to its ultimate conclusion, showing how to make apps “infinitely scalable” by using no server APIs at all!) SoundCloud demonstrated the new version of their frontend, which is a total rewrite of the user experience, but required almost no changes to the backend API. It’s interesting both as a real-world demonstration of the value of RESTful API design and of the increasing power available to in-browser app developers.
Many sessions demonstrated tactical ways to bridge the gap and roll your own packaging systems and asset pipelines to deal with a world where you have as many as a million lines of client-side code.
Drinking From the Firehose
This is great, but also a little troubling. One of the great strengths of the last wave of web frameworks was how large communities coalesced around them and built a huge, solid framework that everyone could use. (By which I mostly mean Rails and Django. Make no mistake, almost everything discussed at Fluent owes a lot to either them or jQuery, even if removed by a few degrees of inspiration.) Some (including me, most of the time) would argue that one of the strengths of new-school web development is that it offers the ability for you to only pick what you need and keep things lightweight and minimal. It’s not like the other frameworks are going away (some of them have even been undergoing a bit of a renaissance lately.) However, it’s hard to stay on top of things, there are an awful lot of half-finished “good enough” projects out there.
Exciting Progress in Client-Side Development
Overall though, there was a lot of incredibly creative problem-solving on display. Kent Brewster gave a tour de force presentation on writing embedded HTML5 widgets. That was followed the next morning by Gary Flake giving an amazing demonstration of the technology underpinning his newly-live web clipping service. Between them, their presentations advanced the state of the art by several years. I look forward to the knowledge they shared disseminating out into the wider community. Applications like Cloud9′s browser-based IDE and the new SoundCloud are excellent examples of rich media web apps that match (or, in SoundCloud’s case exceed) the capabilities of traditional desktop applications.