Realtime Conference 2012 was held in Portland last week. Formerly known as “Keeping it Realtime” in 2011, this was the conference’s second iteration of what is poised to become a regular annual event. Over the course of two days, speakers from around the world came to talk about web development, browser hacks, scaling, optimizations, standards, and anything else of interest to those furthering (or merely observing) the evolution of the realtime Internet. While last year’s talks were focused primarily on realtime web tech and had two tracks, this year was a single track and boasted a broadened scope. Sure, there were still plenty of talks about Node, but we also got a taste of computer history, power grid greenery, wearable devices, and deejay hackery.


Additionally, this year included a number of unusual activities and interludes that are sure to become the lasting memories of the conference. Imagine taking the relaxed, casual mentality of most start-up environments and applying it to the craft of event planning. Realtime Conf is the complete opposite of your typical stuffy conference. Here, anything goes. For example, each attendee was assigned to a mock country, with names like “The People’s Republic of HTTP”, “United Async Emirates”, or “Long Poland”, and given little country flags, mock passports and stampers as a way of encouraging people to be social and stamp each others’ passports. The Tuesday morning shuttle from the hotel to the event grounds was done using yellow school buses. As we awkwardly crammed into the vehicles, one person noted that “they clearly didn’t design these for adults”. The buses dropped us off a few blocks away from the event, so that a middle school marching band could lead us there by foot. Other eccentricities of note were a banjo folk song, an elementary school choir singing The Arcade Fire, and a concluding talk about being courageous in life accompanied by violin. It was enough to make you forget at times that the main reason we were all there was to discuss various means of network packet transmission.

I generally enjoyed this year’s quirkiness and the seemingly off-topic subjects (Jack Moffitt’s presentation of early digital computing was fascinating), but it was really the talks about current Internet tech that I had come there for. Along those lines, my favorites were:

  • Dave Cridland - XMPP as a native protocol of browsers for identity and push. Dave explains how these are already solved problems in non-HTTP land, and we could save ourselves a lot of trouble if browsers just implemented this stuff directly. Imagine a little dropdown box in the browser that lets you choose which user@host identity you want to present yourself as to a given website.
  • Arnout Kazemier - The realities of deploying WebSockets. It turns out things are pretty broken out there, and even attempting to auto-detect features can crash browsers. Moral of the story: it’s too early to depend solely on WebSockets for wide browser coverage, and browser-specific hacks are still necessary.
  • Henrik Joreteg - How APIs transcend protocols. Henrik shows us how he auto-generates handler code for multiple protocols using a single interface definition. No more writing raw REST protocols directly. It’s your internal API that’s most important, he says, and not the various ways in which it is exposed.
  • Jose De Castro / Ben Langfeld - Call control with the open Rayo protocol. The open alternative to Twilio.
  • Eran Hammer - OAuth spec maintainer blasting OAuth. Vague text, corporate influence, and lengthy standardization processes has the author saying we should scrap it all and start over. This one brought down the house.

Honorable mention goes to Peter Saint-Andre for reminding us of course to “federate or die”.

The 12th XMPP Summit was held in Portland last week as well, immediately following Realtime Conference. This two-day event was spent mostly focusing on issues surrounding BOSH and considerations about how to make XMPP more web friendly (hint: the notion of a JSON version of XMPP may no longer be confined to April Fools’ joke territory).

All in all, a good week. Looking forward to the directions OAuth and XMPP take.