MashupCamp

  • Posted by Mike Naberezny in PHP,Python,Ruby

    Earlier this week, I spent two days at MashupCamp. This great event was held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.

    Mashups are an interesting topic. “Mashup” is one of those terms like “Web 2.0” that’s trendy and really hard to define in any concrete terms. Basically, mashups are taking two or more web service APIs (or data somehow gleamed from the web) and then building a useful application by combining them.

    The caliber of developers that attended was top notch and this could easily be seen by the great apps that were demonstrated. These were the kind of folks that know XML inside and out, know everything annoying about SOAP headers, know XHTML strict better than HTML 4, and can tell you the method signatures of the services they use from memory. Every developer that I talked with had experience with at least two scripting languages, usually more. It was a great crowd with some very smart and talented people in attendance.

    Mashups themselves tend to get put together very quickly. Sometimes people get an idea and implement a mashup in a few hours or a few days. It was great to be around so many developers who really grok the newest web technologies and know the fastest ways to develop applications to take advantage of them. So, what were they using to get things done fast? Besides the mashups themselves, that’s what I was interested in learning about.

    It turns out these developers were really pragmatic. They use what works and gets their job done the fastest without getting in the way — even if that means Perl. I don’t mean Catalyst or any other kind of fancy frameworkish thing, I mean straight Perl CGI. If you read the blogs these days, you’d think Perl is almost dead for web applications. I counted four mashups using Perl in some way. The most common application was backend processing but I saw one using it on the frontend as well.

    Three mashups that I saw were using Python. One of them was built on the Twisted asynchronous framework. I’ve done some work with Medusa but haven’t worked on a project needing all the power of Twisted yet. It certainly looks impressive. Another Python mashup was the excellent chicagocrime.org website, built on the Django framework by its co-creator Adrian Holovaty. A lot of people I talked with at MashupCamp were interested in Python, especially at the Googleplex where I attended an afterparty (thanks, Adam!). Several Googlers told me Python is Google’s standard scripting language and were quick to mention that Google recently picked up Python creator Guido van Rossum. Of course, everyone reading his blog already knows that.

    Ruby has a nice buzz going these days and it wasn’t surprising that it made a showing as well. I counted one mashup using it, powered by Ruby-on-Rails, although it was sort of a joke by a PHP 5 developer (the author of TagCloud). I heard that there was another Ruby-based mashup there but to my knowledge it wasn’t demoed. Coming from more of a Python background, I spent quite a bit of time with a couple of the Ruby developers at the conference to see what they liked best about the language and why they’d picked it over Python. I’m not sure that they drew any significant conclusions but they were down-to-earth and really nice guys. One of the Ruby users was also telling me about Nitro and seemed particularly enthusiastic about Og. A company called Rubyred Labs brought some nice grapefruit.

    ASP.net had a presence with one mashup using it. As with the Zend PHP Conference, I did get some nice freebies from Microsoft and noticed all the coffee cups said “Microsoft” on them. The coffee wasn’t bad, either. Visual Studio was given out as one of the prizes. I’ve already got my copy and you can download Express online.

    Java didn’t make a showing as far as I saw, although Stephen O’Grady noted one that I apparently missed. However, there was an appearance by Johnathan Schwartz who gave away a T2000 server.

    PHP was unquestionably the language of choice for developers at MashupCamp. I counted thirteen mashups using it. I made a point to talk to as many PHP developers as I could and nearly everyone had moved to PHP 5, although some were still supporting customers with legacy PHP 4 code. I believe nine out of the thirteen mashups powered by PHP were on PHP 5, with at least one more in transition. Most of the mashups were built within the past few months, or in many cases, the past few weeks. Everyone seemed very excited about PHP 5 in general.

    Amongst all of the hi-tech showings at this event, I have to say that the highlight for me was definitely meeting Bob Frankston. Bob, together with Dan Bricklin, developed the world’s first spreadsheet for microcomputers: Visicalc. This might be showing my age but it was truly an honor to meet this tech luminary and chat with him about the first generation of microcomputers, the 6502 microprocessor, Commodore computers, and everything in between. Thanks, Bob. I won’t soon forget it.

    All in all, it was a great event and I’m looking forward to the next one.

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