Web identity, Facebook, iPhone debated at Future of Web Apps conference

I’m at the Future of Web Apps conference in London. Ryan Carson is interviewing Om Malik and Mike Arrington about – you guessed – the future of web applications.

Organizers Carson Systems seem to be testing the size of the market for their conference. This one follows another in London earlier this year, at a smaller venue. I suspect it is reaching its limit, though Carson consistently attracts high quality speakers. The conference aims to be an incubator for startups, though it attracts a wider audience than that implies.

As for the debate on stage, it is all pretty inconclusive as you would expect, but I’m interested in how the discussion keeps coming back to web identity issues. “Google pushing its identity mechanism, so is Yahoo, and so on,” says Malik. Carson asks how the problem of multiple identities will be fixed? Malik immediately turns pragmatist.  Developers should “support them all, what do you care? Let them fight it out”.

The conversation turns to Facebook. The participants flail around. Nobody knows how significant Facebook will prove long-term, or how viable Facebook applications are for developers. There is concern that Facebook itself may just copy all the good ideas. Further, Malik is dismissive of what has been done so far. “It is amateur, preliminary stuff,” says Malik. “If it is such as great web OS, where are the smart applications? I haven’t seen any.” Asked where Facebook will be in a year’s time, Arrington says it will go public; Malik says it will be embroiled in legal issues.

Malik is not altogether negative. He sees the real value of Facebook as an identity system. “”One application which shows the potential of Facebook is Free World Dialup [FWD]. Facebook becomes a directory service. That would be my idea of a disruptive application.” FWD integrated VOIP into Facebook.

Has Google been beaten by Facebook? “I don’t think the game is over with regard to social networking,” says Arrington.

What else? I liked Malik’s comment that “You should be building web-apps that are brain-dead simple.” According to him, many web apps “don’t address the principle of fixing someone’s pain point… a lot just do too much and it’s not clear who they are for”.

Malik also noted that European startups have an advantage over the US, though not necessarily Asia. “Europe has a much better broadband infrastructure. You are seeing the next broadband platform. Second, most European startups have the ability to incorporate mobile into their business plans.

Carson touches on mobile development. Is the iPhone a viable development platform? “Why support a platform where the guys who own it don’t want it to be supported?”, says Malik. What about iPhone vs Google Phone? “Google Phone is tackling the emerging markets. iPhone is the upper end of the market.”

One more quote from Malik. “Please stop doing offlice clones. However you might thing Google docs are great, people are not using them.”

Arrington’s big tip is not to spend much money. The beauty of the web is that bright ideas can be tested cheaply.

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1 comment to Web identity, Facebook, iPhone debated at Future of Web Apps conference

  • Hi Tim
    Thanks for the interesting and detailed write-ups – I’ve enjoyed reading them. I would just like to clarify though that FOWA’s aims are not only to gather together the start-up community, it’s about facilitating a conversation about web applications and the implications for development strategies, business, marketing, advertising and online communities. As for the size of the event – without wishing to self-congratulate, the conference sold out so we were pretty happy with the scale of it – the last venue was starting to burst at the seams!