SitePoint Podcast #33: Team Opera at WDS09

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Episode 33 of The SitePoint Podcast is now available! This week, Kevin Yank (@sentience) asks attendees of Web Directions South 2009 what has them excited, and sits down with three fellows from Opera: Chris Mills (@millsofsteel), Lachlan Hunt (@lachy), and Daniel Davis (@ourmaninjapan).

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Interview Transcript

Kevin: October 23rd, 2009. On today’s show, a collection of interviews recorded at Web Directions South 2009 in Sydney. This is the SitePoint Podcast #33: Team Opera at WDS09.

Kevin: This is Kevin Yank for the SitePoint Podcast. I’m at Web Directions South 2009 in Sydney, and I thought I’d talk to a few of the attendees to see what they’re excited about.

Male 1: The old microformats stuff finally starting to tick … maps going mainstream.

Kevin: So location-aware stuff actually becoming useful.

Male 1: Yeah.

Kevin: Yeah, cool.

Male 2: I’m on a big location-aware binge at the moment, but it’s really nice how everything is sort of starting to get beyond it’s own little individual applications and everything is tying in together.

Male 3: Yeah, I’m really quite excited about just the mainstreaming of the social web, you know, and how Twitter has just really taken off. I’m also quite excited about the implications of the mobile web and what that means about being able to serve applications on a small device, like an iPhone. So that pretty much is exciting me at the moment.

Kevin: Alright. Have you picked your favorite talk that you’re planning to not miss so far?

Male 3: Cameron Adams, always Cameron Adams.

Kevin: Cameron Adams … Google Wave!

Male 3: Yep.

Kevin: Alright. Well, I’ll be sure to catch up with him. Thanks guys.

Kevin: So what are you excited about?

Male 4: Adobe announced two days ago that they would have an export function for Flash to iPhone applications, so this sounds really cool because as of now, I’m not able to write iPhone applications, but I know how to write Flash. So it’s like just because of that announcement, I could write iPhone applications.

Kevin: Yeah, that’s something Ben Galbraith mentioned in his talk as well. He talked about a framework that let you export from JavaScript to an iPhone application.

Male 4: The phone gap.

Kevin: Yeah, yeah, PhoneGap.

Male 4: That’s what I’m suggesting as well, I haven’t heard of it before.

Kevin: Yeah, so the ability to take the Web to these platforms that would be closed otherwise.

Male 4: Yes, and the ability that I, as a web developer, are able to write real applications.

Kevin: What are you excited about?

Male 5: RDFa.

Kevin: Alright, tell us what that is.

Male 5: It’s something that excites me. I’m really excited. [laughter] So we could go around in circles.

Kevin: What’s exciting about it?

Male 5: I’ll be serious. It’s a number of things. It allows you to make the information that you publish more precise, or allows machines to interpret the information that you publish. So often, we have web pages that contain a lot of useful content, like addresses or book reviews, or whatever. Humans can interpret that very easily; you look at the page, you can read it. By marking it up more precisely with RDFa, we can help search engines, we can help applications, we can help user interfaces to deal with the information more precisely.

Kevin: Alright, so the million dollar question – do you think RDFa is going to get more traction than microformats?

Male 5: I would say in many ways, it already has. If you look at things like Google’s recent announcement to process RDFa that marks up licensing information about images or formatting information about videos, there is a new initiative called GoodRelations, which is a complete vocabulary that allows you to mark up products for sale, opening hours of shops, you know, all this kind of thing – all uses RDFa and Yahoo! are processing map format and Google looks like they will, as well.

I think microformat is a very different thing though, and I think – I hope – that some of the things that people have done with microformats is going to move over into the RDFa world. Microformats is a great way of saying to people look, here’s a set of terms, if you use these terms, there will be a benefit, and I think that’s, in some ways, what RDFa needs to do. Here’s the syntax, fine; but here’s a bunch of terms that if you mark – like Google have said about a review – if you use these terms to mark up a review, we can do something clever with it.

Kevin: Thank you.

Kevin: Guys, James Beatie, what are you excited about on the web at the moment?

James: The canvas element. I just think it’s an interesting progression of the Web, you know, being able to do all this graphical stuff with markup and in the browser rather than pre-making and pre-compiling image files and graphics files.

Kevin: Yeah, have you played with it much, or is it something you’re looking forward to?

James: No, I’ve seen demos of it, but I’m hoping today I’ll get enough to be able to then start working on it myself.

Kevin: Great. It’s incredible. Guys?

Male 6: Probably IE9.

Kevin: IE9.

Male 6: Oh yeah, I’m forward thinking. [laughter]

Kevin: I haven’t heard anything about IE9!

Male 6: No, well, not many people have but that’s what I’m excited about.

Kevin: Did you go over to the Microsoft booth and get the inside track?

Male 6: I don’t want to talk to those guys just yet. [laughter]

Kevin: This is Kevin Yank at Web Directions South 2009 in Sydney for the SitePoint Podcast. I’m here with Lachlan Hunt, Chris Mills and Daniel Davis, all joining us from the Opera Developer Relations Team, is that right guys?

Lachlan: Not quite, I’m in Core, but they send me along anyway.

Kevin: Core. What’s Core?

Lachlan: This is the core technology, like on the actual rendering engine in the browser and JavaScript engine and stuff like that.

Kevin: Alright, and Lachlan Hunt, you do a lot of standards work, you work on the HTML5 working group and that sort of stuff.

Lachlan: Yeah, I do HTML5 and I’m in the Web Apps working group group, I work on the Selectors API…

Kevin: Alright, and Chris and Daniel, is your focus the same, or is there something different between your two focuses?

Chris: So the difference in focus really, Daniel and I are both in the Developer Relations Team. I hate to use the word marketing, but we kind of do marketing but specifically aimed at developers and people who actually know what we’re talking about. So we form a feedback loop and a bridge, really, between the ultra-technical guys at Opera and the developers and end users. It’s mainly to develop a focus, but we talk a lot to end users as well. It’s important to keep that going and to help people to learn how to use our new technologies as much as possible but also focus on open web standards, which is a very big part of our remit.

Daniel: Doing this is a growing trend as well, because we’ve just increased our developer relations team rapidly over the past year and Palm now have got a sort of fledgling developer relations team. So I think we’re seeing more of this sort of non-marketing; it’s indirect marketing where we’re not promoting use— Well, we are saying “use Opera”, but we’re doing it in a way whereby if you build on standards, if you build for the Open Web, then indirectly, you’re benefiting Opera, as well as benefiting the web world at large.

Kevin: Okay, so that’s what I’m really interested in talking about is Opera’s choice to approach the developer community so directly. I mean you don’t really see that as much from the other browser vendors. Firefox is kind of – these days, it’s a bit of a browser by developers for developers, so they are around a fair bit if only because the people building the browser tend to be web developers themselves. But, you know, you don’t see… you could accuse Apple and Microsoft of being quite quiet on the developer scene; when they have stuff to say, it’s usually because they have a new browser just out that they want you to take a look at and the other three years of the development cycle, they’re pretty silent. Whereas Opera, you guys, this is at least the second year that you’ve had a significant contingent at this conference – this great conference – but it’s a little conference in Sydney, really.

So why is it such a priority for Opera to communicate with developers?

Chris: It’s because really I think the developers are the most important kind of audience to look at getting into using our browser. And like a lot of the other browser vendors who have all started to release decent developer tools, you know—obviously you have Firebug started that trend off, but all of us are looking to go down that path now as well and all of us are starting to form these – well, most of us, there is a couple that aren’t – but most of us are starting to do these strong developer relations teams that are teaching people how to use the standards and teaching people how to employ better practices in their development, for example. As well as just the kind of the standard developer relations stuff, ee also do a lot of in terms of education. As well as high level and articles, tutorials, and talks at conferences on advanced development techniques and future standards, such as canvas and the other HTML5 stuff and CSS3, we’re also going back to basics and producing things like the Opera Web Standards curriculum that helps students and hobbyists, anybody that wants to just get into doing web development properly to start off on the right foot, as well.

There is a hell of a lot of work to do and we’re almost trying to do a kind of cover-all approach really.

Lachlan: We need developers to understand that we’re there to help them. We want them to test their web sites in Opera and make sure they use standards and stuff. That’s why we’re focused on the curriculum as he said.

Kevin: Daniel, I hear you’re the man in Japan. So are you all on your own there, or does Opera have a presence in Japan besides yourself?

Daniel: Yeah, we have about nearly 50 people, I think, in the Tokyo office now, which is bigger than a lot of people expect, but then we have big contract with Nintendo, we supply the browser for the Wii and the DSi, and also for internal telephone companies, KDDI is a big one. So we have a lot of engineers who take what Lachlan’s team do and then customize it and personalize it for the Japanese partners.

Kevin: Especially a lot of the SitePoint audience is in North America and in North America, Opera continues to be a very niche browser but in the European market, we hear that Opera has a much bigger presence. How is Opera in Asia?

Lachlan: We’re huge in Russia. Massive market there.

Daniel: Yes, it depends on which parts of Russia – I’m sorry, which parts of Asia, just like it depends on which parts of Europe. Russia and Eastern Europe are very big. And in Asia, Vietnam, Indonesia, we’re very, very big. In Japan, unfortunately, not so but that’s my job now to increase that.

Kevin: The Opera browser on Wii used to be a paid product and it just became free, is that right?

Daniel: That’s correct, yes. It used to be 500 points, but they’ve made it free, I think, from this month, they’re going to pay back people who have paid 500 credits in the form of giving them a free game worth 500 credits.

Kevin: Oh geez, I’ve gotta get my 500 free credits back then.

Speaking of reaching the developers, Lachlan, I used to know you as a standards geek who would never, never choose one browser over another, never pledge allegiance to one browser or another because it would ruin your credibility in the standards community. You’ve thrown in with Opera – what got you over that line? Was it this engagement with the developer community?

Lachlan: Well, yes, it’s their involvements with standards, which was my major reason for going there. I was involved with HTML5 before I went there, and I was working with a lot of the Opera team on that and then I was looking for a job, and they said come and work for us. So I did that, I’m still doing what I like to do and I’m still very vendor neutral when it comes to developing websites for standards and stuff. I work with Opera because of what they’re interested in.

Kevin: Right, and Opera understands that about you.

Lachlan: Uh yes.

Kevin: [laughter] That’s good to hear. Opera 10 obviously is out, but you guys are already talking about what’s coming next in your rendering engine. Clearly, you guys are thinking at least a version ahead. What are some of the things that developers can be looking forward to?

Chris: We’re aiming to, you know, keep competitive and keep up with a lot of the stuff that the other browsers are doing, so we’ve got the CSS3 features, such as box-shadow and Transitions and Transforms and all of this stuff is being worked on, if not already, in at least a public released version. It was interesting to hear Ben Galbraith from formerly Mozilla, now with Palm, talk a few times this week about future things, such as really fast JavaScript engines, like in Opera, we’ve got Carakan coming out relatively soon. He actually gave an amazing amount of plugs for Opera in his talks, it was very noble of him. But then again, you know, like a lot of the people in Opera, he’s another guy that really just cares about open standards more than anything else.

Going back to a previous point actually, I think it’s absolutely right of Lachy to talk about, kind of vendor neutrality almost, because it’s a much more convincing story to give to people that we’re supporting open standards, rather than just trying to say “support Opera”. It’s like a lot of the “open the web” activities that we do, which basically involves going around to companies and saying well you know, you’ve got this kind of stupid browser sniffing stuff that really sucks because it makes your browser not work in Opera and Safari usually, but sometimes it’s Opera, Safari, and Firefox – it’s sort of the really bad old IE-only sniffing stuff. But it’s not just about getting into support Opera, it’s about getting into support standards properly. At the end of the day, that rings true with at least all of the developers at conferences like these. But of course, we’re also trying to get into the minds and hearts of these more kind of – how do I describe it – Stuart Langridge once called them “dark matter developers” – these guys that are just, you know, don’t come to the conferences and they’re just sort of toiling away in dark rooms and don’t have to bother to do standards properly. But I think there’s conferences for those guys as well, the “Future of…” conferences seem to have a lot of those kind of guys there. It’s interesting to start reaching into some of their heads as well.

Kevin: Alright, well thank you for taking the time guys.

Chris: Thanks for having us, Kevin.

Kevin: And thanks for listening to the SitePoint Podcast. If you have any thoughts or questions about today’s interview, please do get in touch.

You can find SitePoint on Twitter @sitepointdotcom, and you can find me on Twitter @sentience.

Visit sitepoint.com/podcast to leave comments on this show and to subscribe to receive every show automatically. We’ll be back next week with another news and commentary show with our usual panel of experts.

The SitePoint Podcast is produced by Carl Longnecker, and I’m Kevin Yank. Bye for now!

Theme music by Mike Mella.

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