Thursday, March 29, 2007

Barcamp Los Angeles 3 Wrap-Up

Joe stopped-by for a few hours on Saturday and taped his business card to our sponsor logo, reminding attendees that we are, indeed, hiring :)

Sunday morning started with a lavish breakfast, and Heather giving a very interesting demo of ooVoo, with a colleague of hers travelling through Hong Kong, telling us all about his exciting Tuxedo Travels adventures.

After having spent time in the morning putting together some sample demo code, I gave the 10:30am presentation on "DWR, XHTML, JS ...". The first question I asked of the audience was whether anyone had ever heard of "Internet Brands", and much to my surprise, a few hands actually rose.

While we're best-known for CarsDirect.com, we also operate many exciting destinations such as Wikitravel, World66.com, SlowTrav.com for travelers interested in less "touristy" experiences, Loan.com which provides education, advocacy and a vibrant marketplace for consumers seeking Ethical Lenders, DoitYourself.com for home improvement and home repairs, RealEstateABC and its best-of-breed Home Valuation tool, WikiCars.org for all things automotive, autos.com for car research.

I had a Firefox window opened with tabs for all these sites, and after quickly flipping thru them, I went on to our latest project: the complete redesign, rebuild, re-architecture of CarsDirect.com's Used Cars Marketplace, and the challenges associated with developing an advanced, dynamic User Interface, while keeping it maintainable.

The audience asked very pertinent questions about some of the issues and challenges we're still addressing, such as the ability to bookmark various searches as we refine results, and our current inability to get any SEO juice out of the search results page. Many expressed interest in being able to "subscribe" to vehicle searches via RSS. Doug had actually implemented this feature, but we still need to surface it and fix a few cosmetic issues. But if you're curious, here's a feed for Used Cars in Hermosa Beach, CA, with a power convertible top, and manual transmission.

We've got ... a few ideas for RSS, and possibly more advanced feeds, allowing for more exciting applications ... and not just ones built by us.

Beyond user interface, attendees realizing that each click on the results page triggered an asynchronous call, were curious to know how we returned data so fast. When i joined this project, Doug and his team had already built a proof of concept they called "wireframe" that truly showcased this "instant satisfaction" we get from interacting with the interface. It felt ... impressive, leading to a major "Neo-watches-Morpheus-jump-to-the-next-building ... Wow" moment when he explained how they'd architected the app to make this 1) possible, and most importantly 2) scaleable.

But I digress. The rest of the presentation covered the sample code I'd put-together, showing how we can use "cloned templates with mapped data fields" to facilitate the process of injecting data contained in JavaScript Objects into a document, enabling you to keep the Markup away from the Scripting. So-far we still have management's approval to release this framework into a library, but we do need to find time to re-factor a few things.

After the presentation, I got to meet, chat, and reconnect with a number of interesting people:

Jason Fields from fellow IdeaLab company Snap.com was passing around stickers and reminding us about their very cool "Snap Preview Anywhere™" feature.

Chris Gagne showed me Student of Fortune, and later-on gave a talk on leveraging Open-Source concepts to solve real-world problems.

Zach Greenberger told me all about Valuewiki.com. It's a very interesting concept: They're providing a community-driven securities research site. Being a Wiki, user-contributed content can, to some extent, "self-correct" itself, resulting in much-higher quality information than what you might find on a typical "stock message board" such as Yahoo Finance. They also run "Free the Market" blog, with insightful posts covering the Wiki and Business Worlds. Their PayPerPost.com interview with Dan Rua even got slashdotted yesterday!

Belkin, a fellow sponsor, showed-off a preview of their very cool "Networked USB Hub", to be priced around $120 if I remember correctly. I would have bought one right-away had it been 1) available for sale, 2) had a Mac OS X driver ready. It turns out they're a couple of months away from releasing it, and they do have a Mac OS X driver ready, they just need to get it out of the "beta" stage.

Crystal Williams demoed practical applications of Microformats to a packed audience.

Karl Roth gave us a presentation on his Solar Illumination system, to cost-effectively bring sunlight into just about any building, to complement existing electric lighting with dramatic energy savings during daylight hours. This cost-effective solution would pay for itself in under 2 years in energy savings alone, not taking into account extra revenue resulting from increased productivity from dramatically improved working conditions.

1 comment:

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