The Future of the Web from the Google Developers’ Conference (Part I)

JMSC Web Developer Cedric Sam joined thousands of tech-heads attending the Google I/O 2010 conference in San Francisco. He recounts some of his impressions:

Watching the sessions from I/O on YouTube last year inspired me to go through the trouble to attend the conference in person this year.

Cedric Sam at Facebook HQ

JMSC Web Developer Cedric Sam at Facebook HQ

Friday, May 14 — Monday, May 17: Arrived in San Francisco. Spent the weekend and Monday touring the  landmarks of the Bay Area tech industry. These included the offices of Cisco, PayPal and Yahoo! (all had in common cubicle farms and free espresso), and also the Intel museum at Intel Headquarters in Santa Clara.

Silicon Valley is perhaps a little underwhelming, aesthetically speaking. At the heart of it is the City of Sunnyvale, an expanse of bungalows, strip malls, with few office buildings taller than five storeys (this is a region highly susceptible to earthquakes). Probably best known as home to Yahoo!, the valley has the most impressive line-up of IT companies (see list), living up to its reputation as the world’s technology capital.

HTML5: The Future of the Web

Tuesday, May 18: The Google I/O bootcamp, a series of sessions for newcomers, consisting mainly of tutorials and discussions of topics to be covered in depth during Google I/O.

Google's Sundar Pichai fronting the Google I/O keynoteWednesday, May 19: The conference officially starts.  The keynote address on the first day of Google I/O put a clear emphasis on HTML5, the latest revision of the HTML standard. More than half of the two-hour introductory presentation was reserved for HTML5, with Google’s spokespeople and guest partners speaking of HTML5, qualifying it is “the future of the Web” (a quote from Microsoft’s IEBlog).

For end-users, a fully HTML5-compliant browser would mean features we often take for granted, such as video, being supported “natively” by the browser, rather than through a plugin such as Adobe Flash, as it is widely the case today. It will allow webpages to be richer in ways that we may have never even imagined before. Some HTML5 applications like MugTug (an all-Web equivalent of Photoshop) and Clicker (an online video store and player) were both showcased during the keynote.

Google I/O also has its importance for media watchers. Terry McDonell, the editor of Sports Illustrated Group, spoke during the keynote event to introduce the Sports Illustrated (SI) application (a collaboration between Google, SI and The Wonder Factory), for Google’s brand new Chrome Web Store. The app is an HTML-only version of a Sports Illustrated magazine, laid out with typography, cool transitions and even video, all of it rendered by the browser (without the need of Flash), perhaps a preview of what full HTML5 sites could look like in one or two years’ time.

Throughout his address, McDonell emphasised the importance of open standards, as well as the need to work with programmers and technical specialists to bring innovation to the field of publications. He thinks that neatly designed apps like the HTML5 version of Sports Illustrated will generate revenue from advertisers and customers. The following is a video of his talk:

Google’s annual developer conference has been a vehicle for product launches in its past two editions. In 2009, Google Wave and a new version of Android were launched.

Technology observers (see article on FT.com) this year expected Google’s new Google TV platform to be the big announcement this year. A new version of Android, Froyo 2.2, with long-awaited support for Flash, is also expected during I/O. A giant bowl of frozen yogurt still in wraps could be seen in front of Google HQ in Mountain View.

Google I/O remains a showcase window for Google’s products. The event is essentially composed of developer sessions of one hour each, during which Google employees and other specialists from the industry talk about how to make use of development platforms and services. They are technically involved, but let developers exchange ideas among themselves and directly with Googlers as well.

Ignite Google I/O

Again at this year’s I/O, Ignite was held as a session. It consists in a presentation format where successive speakers talk for five minutes about a topic of their interest, generally departing general techtalk, while their slides are being flipped through at each 15 seconds.

The presentations generally cover wacky topics (Matt Harding’s The Imaginary Line of Ancient Cosmic Weirdness), hobbyist obsessions (James Young’s You Sank My Battleship! on 1/144 scale battleships battles), but also life-defining experiences (Bradley Vickers’s How to Row across the North Atlantic, Ration Food and Not Have Your Teammates Eat You). Some are totally “out of left field” demonstrations of mastery of the format, such as Ben Huh’s Evolution of the Meme (he is the founder of award-winning time-sucking site I Can Haz Cheezburger). [See session webpage]

Knight Fellow and radio journalist Krissy Clark’s Narrative Landscapes (Or a Vision I Had in the Desert) was a compelling story of her epiphany with location journalism, or how the advent of augmented reality brings us to literally want to “click” on the environment surrounding us to read or hear stories.

All sessions (including Ignite Google I/O) should be available online on YouTube within the next few days, if not hours, and available on the sessions page.