RIAPalooza Recap – Thoughts and Photos

The inaugural RIAPalooza event turned out to be quite successful and interesting for everyone who attended. For photos, check out the stream on Flickr and also view the Twitter stream.

I find that a lot of conferences become clouded with sales pitches disguised as presentations and force-fed information that is designed to push agendas of one form or another. This is why RIAPalooza was such a refreshing difference.

As an event that was conceived, planned, and put on by members of the Chicago development community, RIAPalooza was really focused on honest expert opinions and group discussions about the various platforms available for RIA design and development.

I was honored to be able to give the conference opening presentation on Friday evening. As usual, I couldn’t help but to talk about the importance of user experience and about how the technologies that we now have as part of our design and development toolkits are much less about technology and more about enabling people to take creative ideas and bring them to fruition.

In my presentation, I gave an overview of the last 13 years of user interface technologies that we’ve had at our disposal and how they’ve evolved to the fantastic tools that we have today. In addition, I shared some concepts with the audience that I believe will be instrumental in the next 3 or so years as we continue to work as creative problem solvers with a flair for digital end-products and both online and off-line user experiences.

After my talk, all of the speakers that were in attendance joined me in front of the conference attendees for a rather lively panel discussion. There was no topic for the panel, rather “just ask what you want to ask.” This format lead to some rather interesting and unexpected topics. One would think that most of the questions would be related to specific technologies or “the how” of Rich Internet Application development. Instead, the audience seemed to focus their questions on other topics, all of much more interest to a guy like me! Some of the items that were touched on:
  • What business factors go into deciding which RIA platform would be best for me?
  • How can I convince my upper management that user experience matters and that we need to build more experiential software?
  • How do you convince large corporations to adopt new creative technologies? What is the justification?
  • Are plugins an issue? Whether it be Adobe Flex or Microsoft Silverlight, users need a plugin. How do we justify this?
  • How is the process of designing and building a Rich Internet Application different than the Web sites or software that we have been building?
As you can imagine, the panel of experts had a lot to say! The information that was shared with the audience was spot on and extremely useful and I am sure that the panel discussion added a lot of value for those in attendance. The panel, which was supposed to only run for a bit and end prior to 9:00 PM went over and we were still taking questions when the facility started turning off lights and kicking us all out. That doesn’t happen often, and was a sign for me that the presentations for this conference were going to be really valuable and interesting.

The rest of the conference (on Saturday) was filled with back-to-back knowledge sharing and expert insight into RIA design and development and because of the mix of presenters, covered the range of tools and technologies available in the market.

I spent the majority of my time speaking with Josh Holmes and Mike Labriola. Josh is a new Silverlight/RIA evangelist from Microsoft and Mike is a friend, fellow Chicagoan and perhaps one of the most wicked Adobe Flex architects on the planet. Mike is the founder of Digital Primates and works with Jeff Tapper and Mike Nimer… some of the brightest minds in the Adobe enterprise development community.

Josh and Mike teamed up to give a co-presentation on RIA best practices from both a MS and Adobe technology perspective and didn’t only provide some great information, were great together and highly entertaining. I really hope to do some more talks with these guys and would love to seem them tag-team again at some larger events.

Personally, I found that the information presented by the handful of Microsoft staffers at the conference to be really valuable. As the guy who manages Roundarch’s relationship inside Microsoft’s “Mercury Agency Professional Program” I am often more focused on strategy and creative idea generation than “how to build” things. For someone who is generally a bit further away from the code than I sometimes should be, the information that was presented was worthwhile to say the least.

I learned a lot from Corey Miller and Anthony Hendley, clearly experts in MS Silverlight, WPF and XAML and was blown away by the expertise that both Corrina Barber and Tim Heuer showed (and shared) regarding Silverlight development and designer-developer collaboration and workflow. Very valuable and eye-opening stuff, and critical to anyone that is going to embark on a Silverlight-based project.

I was also really pleased to hear some of the ideas that have been brewed in my fair city of Chicago as Ka Wai Cheung (From We Are Mammoth) talked about his project that combines .NET with Flex and is essentially an online application built in .NET that builds Adobe Flex applications. It is innovation like this that really inspires me (and should inspire everyone!)

Lastly, Geoff Cubitt, President of Roundarch, showed off some of the applications that we’ve built in both AJAX and Adobe Flex and talked about how application development changes when moving from non-rich to “richer” to “very rich” UI technologies. People really “got it” when he showed off the demo application that we’ve developed for Fast (enterprise search) with an Adobe Flex UI. Fast was just purchased by Microsoft so it was great to show another example where technology from both Adobe and Microsoft have been leveraged to create a killer user experience.

All in all, it was a great experience and I was fortunate to have met some of the interesting people that I did and have such great conversations. It is a real testament to the will of the “community” that events like this are taking shape across the country (and world). It is thrilling to see that a lot of the ideas that I’ve been harping on for years becoming accepted by the masses and that the community as a whole is now focusing on technology as a means to create better user experiences.