The official Welcome signThe AOL Open Services DevCon has been a lot of fun. Apart from the pretty warm weather (understatement of the week) and the pretty cool hotel, it was pretty nice to meet some of the guys behind some of AOLs nicest products.

The DevCon in itself was also a pretty cool event. It was themed after “Lord of the rings”, with a nice tshirt, a pretty cool badge and a nicely layouted program flyer. Not to forget the ring. Yes. The one to rule them all. Unfortunately in plastic. And its not working either. But pretty cool nevertheless.

Day One

Day one kicked off with an inspiring speech of Sree Kotay (SVP Open Services) and a Keynote by Jon Miller himself, both stressing the importance of the Web 2.0 turn. It seems that they really want to take the challenge. The most interesting thought was to “become the soil” for Web 2.0 Mashups, by opening every single application to third party usage (by APIs or other ways). As everybody else you always come to think "okay, but how the hell are we going to monitarize this. AOL seems to think that they are going to do it by advertising only. Not much heard about premium services and such. And while i am not that confident in that strategy, it was interesting to hear that (an AOL property) is already the single largest advertiser on It will be very interesting to see how AOL germany will go on in that context.

After the keynotes, we dived into the first breakout sessions. The first one was a rather boring introduction of the AIM web API. It has some cool features, including a pretty descent permission engine. But it became evident rather quickly that the most important thing to a presentation is actually the presenter. No disrespect to the AIM API guys, though.

After lunch (or should I say feast?) we had the second session where Joe Dzikiewicz described how the SCRUM methodology is used in the Publisher Project. It was good to see that they basically have the same problems as we do have in germany, with the business side rather not participating directly in an “out of the scrum book” product owner sense. I was kinda disappointed though on how many sacrifices they made to fit the scrum process into the AOL project process. Though joe assured me that they had enough advantages to make “using scrum” a good idea, I was hoping for a little more strict approach. Probably it’s really like Ken Schwaber says: “It takes time”. At least Joe said that there are hopes that the AOL project process will be adopted to officially allow agile methods. Probably then the Scrum masters will be able to change the organization in a Schwaber way then.

The highlight definitely has been the “”" >Kevin Lawver Show", which was originally the AIM Pages/Module T Microformat Session by Kevin and Steve Chipman. Kevins rant on how Microformats are the better XML and how the Module T moduley can be easily turned into Dashboard Widgets, Opera9 Widgets and even things like or netvibes modules has been the most inspiring thing I heard on the DevCon. I will be definitely look into microformats now.

Unfortunately the worst thing on devcon was about to come then: The Tagging Infrastructure Session. While the Tagging Infrastructure as such seems to be an interesting product, again, its all on the presenters. In this case the presenter was hard to understand, the style was boring and often redundant. Nevertheless, the tagging infrastructure will be a fun thing to play with since it allows for easy implementation of tagging in any application and even has special features like tag suggestion for adding tags to a ressource.

That concluded day one (I’ll leave out the drinks and chats and the extended shopping tour)

Day Two

Day Two started off with a “Web 2.0 exploration panel” with Sree and some other Guys I can’t remember the names of. It was kind of interesting but it didn’t really stick, since I can’t remember anything.

The Sessions started for me with a rather strange introduction to MSRP, a search centric Web application framework. It was hard to follow with no MSRP knowledge since though they showed pretty (and complicated) Architecture Diagrams, but at least I didn’t really get how the thing is actually working. I had a brief chat with Ultan O’Carroll, one of the two Dubliners who held the Presentation afterwards and he directed me to the documentation that should make things clearer. The whole thing sounded pretty interesting though. Since MSRP is the future Search Platform, even for germany, we’ll see more of that soon, I’m afraid…

Then I attended the bushido/CPL platform session. Bushido seems to be the USA way of attacking the internal search problem. The Presentation of Gary Chen showed a pretty much standard search framework with standard processing and indexing capabilities. CPL, the used indexer platform is not UTF-8 compatible, which might pose a problem for foreign people and UTF based platforms. They were also investigating exchanging CPL for Apache Lucene (which is capable) but as Ultan pointed out to me it’s not likely to happen anytime soon. Don’t we just all love corporate politics. Again, the bushido platform shows the AOL urge to reinvent the wheel. As I has been attending a few rounds of search engine evaluation in Germany, I was not too impressed by the bushido feature set.

The third session was the Ab Initio Session, which was a combination of presentation and live demo. Ab Initio is a very expensive ETL tool, that will be used in the Feed factory as I understood it. It actually looks quite cool, seems to be simplifying the feeding process and actually has only one disadvantage: It’s very, very expensive.

The last session, which was probably the most fun one, and also the most useless to me, was the ATLAS session by a Microsoft “Technology Evangelist”, Kirk Evans. While the Demonstration was only mildly impressing (ATLAS seems to create a not-so-pretty code mess, with Taglib style Tags and Javascript code intertwined for no apparent reason. The Visual Studio Kirk used still looks pretty cramped. Once you used Rails RJS templates, you never want to see the HTML / Javascript mess again. The fun thing was that Kirk used the session to turn some MS schwag loose. I think I was one of the few people actually getting something useful (who really craves a long sleeve button down MS office shirt?), a very small four port USB hub.

The DevCon was closed by a short Speech by Sree and a very nice selection of food and drinks. Although I must stress that the beer in the USA is mostly not worth mentioning.

All in all, it has been two fun days with loads of interesting people and quite a few nice chats. I really hope I can attend one of those again sometimes.