What I learned on my cross platform development panel

Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of being a part of the Mobile + Web developer conference held at the Hilton Hotel in San Francisco. I spoke on a panel about where development was headed in a world where Web + Mobile are the two predominant platforms. There were four of us total, and we had a great time talking about how each of us lived in, and viewed the future of development in this two platform world. The panel was composed of (beyond myself) John Hammink, a QA engineer from Mozilla, Jonathan Smiley, a partner at Zurb building their own HTML5 framework, and Ted Drake, a senior accessibility engineer from Intuit.

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Saving the hackathon

It’s fashionable to be cynical towards hackathons. There’s too many of them. They exploit developers. They rarely have useful products come out of them.

Even if you’re not a cynic, at some point you have to wonder—why do the overwhelming majority of hackathon projects die succinctly and unquestionably following the event? It’s often a foregone conclusion for the hacker—go to the event, try to win the prize, and then go back to your job the next day.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. Most of the time people go for fun. It’s a good learning exercise. As a first timer, the sheer novelty of it all gives you enough energy to power through an entire weekend.

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What the CU-RTC-Web vs. WebRTC debate means for developers

About six months ago, Microsoft released an alternative proposal to the W3C WebRTC 1.0 Working Draft[2], dubbed CU-RTC-Web[1]. Like all W3C groups, the WebRTC Working Group enlists membership from a majority of the industry, including names like Nokia, Cisco, Google, and Mozilla. The most important question raised by the Microsoft proposal is how the Working Group would react to criticism of its draft proposal, and whether Microsoft would accept the published APIs of the Working Group, even if CU-RTC-Web is not adopted. So what exactly does this mean for the development community?

The Microsoft draft outlines a low-level API that allows developers more direct access to the underlying network and media delivery components. It exposes objects representing network sockets and gives explicit application control over the media transport[3]. In contrast, the WebRTC API abstracts these details with a text-based interface that passes encoded strings between the two participants in the call. With the WebRTC draft, developers are responsible for passing the strings between communicating browsers, but not explicitly configuring media transport for a video chat.

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The fundamentals behind a successful hackathon

 PennApps hackathon was the largest college hackathon in the world and it took place this past weekend. It produced some of the best/most entertaining hacks that I’ve seen at any hackathon: Remote controlled battle bots, Automatic Wifi Authentication for facebook friends, enlarging media seamlessly from one to multiple mobile screens, app that messages you if you forget to put required items in your backpack, exploring neighborhoods from the comfort of your couch with augmented reality, just to name a few.

Looking back, I would say that this hackathon was a smashing success, and I’m sure the other sponsors would say the same. From my perspective as a developer evangelist, here’s why PennApps turned out to be a legendary hackathon and what we can learn from it:

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A new kind of hackathon

 Last weekend we had the pleasure of sponsoring University Hacker Olympics. Unlike your typical hackathons, this one emphasized connecting University students with industry professionals.

Personally, I thought the event was innovative in the field of recruiting. In the traditional interview process, sometimes great candidates were dismissed because their shyness or nervousness inhibited them from performing. 1-1 interviews can be intimidating, we’ve all been there. From the interviewer’s perspective, asking candidates to solve problems does not provide any valuable insight into how pleasant it would be to work with them in a working environment.

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OpenTok User Diagnostic Tool and Library

A number of developers have asked for ways to help end users diagnose potential problems that disallow them from being able to successfully video chat using OpenTok. A while ago we introduced a troubleshooter page that test a user’s network, hardware, and software to check things like ports, camera, and Flash version to be sure that they have what they need in order to use OpenTok.

While this tool has been useful for diagnosing problems, one obvious pitfall is that you have to send your users to our website—away from your experience.

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Parse has OpenTok iOS SDK’s back(end), so you don’t have to

Developing an iOS App itself is a huge undertaking: you want your product to be beautiful, interactive, and functional. That’s why Parse makes so much sense, it helps you avoid writing a backend server to power your App by giving you a data store and providing the most basic web services. These days many web services are incredibly powerful and help developers do really amazing things, like OpenTok, but they are targeted at having a backend. That’s where Parse Cloud Code comes in: it gives developers the ability to leverage the best of a back-end server in the path of least resistance.

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Double Robotics presents at LeWeb

Yesterday, the talented folks at Double Robotics rocked the stage at LeWeb in Paris. David Cann, Co-founder and CEO, demoed their telepresence robot, Double. The sleek Double combines Segway-style movement with video presence delivered through an iPad.

Leveraging OpenTok’s iOS SDK on WebRTC, Double enables owners to broadcast their video stream on the robot’s iPad from any location. Not only that, but the operator can stream and control its movements from a smartphone.

Cann demoed the Double’s original inspiration, which was to connect remote workers with their home offices. Calling his CTO back in Sunnyvale, Cann took their Double for a three a.m. spin around the office from Paris. Customers are also finding uses for Double for remote tours of factories, museums, schools, and retail outlets.

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Generating Tokens without Server Side SDK

During AngelHack, Alexander Ramirez came up to me with a puzzle. “How do I generate sessions and tokens?” He asked. Normally, I would have told him to use one of our server side SDKs, but he was building a browser plugin with video chat and wanted to use our REST API instead. Getting the SessionId is easy, it’s a simple POST request. However, generating token is not so straightforward because it is generated algorithmically. This tutorial will show you how to generate a token, and examples used here will be written in JavaScript.

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AngelHack Los Angeles Winter 2012

Here at TokBox, we’ve been supporting AngelHack since its infancy. This year it’s no different, and this time we sponsored at a city bursting with startup energy, Los Angeles.

The event is hosted at a spacious and comfortable co-working space called Cross Campus, a place to inspire “creative collisions through space design, learning platforms, and extraordinary events.” If you are an entrepreneur you might want to check it out!

The event started off with sponsor pitches and API talks. Singly provides SDK for developers to get their app connected quickly and easily with services like Facebook, Twitter, Google, just to name a few. Gimbal provides a mobile context awareness platform that includes image recognition and geofencing. TokBox provides a video chat API (called OpenTok), and for demo I live coded a web and iOS app that video chatted with each other.

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