What went down at the Google South Africa Conference

The Google South Africa conference, was recently held on 8 and 9 November 2010 at The Bay Hotel in Camps Bay, Cape Town. Francois Campbell, our resident Support and Maintenance guru reflects on what went down at the conference

The conference was very informative and was delivered by a powerhouse lineup of Google’s finest. They presented a host of products and services delivered by Google, and also demonstrated the newly launched Voice Search functionality available on Android and iPhone – a stunning piece of technology.

What stood out for me is Google’s commitment and drive into Africa. A few points as stated by Nelson Mattos in the keynote:

  • Africa – the last frontier of the online world.
  • For every 1% increase in internet users a country experiences 4.3% increase in growth.
  • Challenges – Languages 50+ in Africa.
  • Africa is a mobile continent – 80% of internet users are mobile based.

Google is trying to grow locally relevant content using its product offerings such as GoogleSites, Blogger, Baraza and AppEngine. As part of this drive for content, they are trying to ensure sustainability of content growth by providing developer outreach programs, ‘code clinics’ as well as helping with mobile programming for locally relevant products.

I’m going to highlight a few presentations that stood out:

  1. Google Maps: MyMaps, Mobile, API – Chewy Trewhella
  2. Google AppEngine & Google Web Toolkit – Thiago Robert
  3. Tips for Mobile Development – Luisella Mazza
  4. YouTube for Business – Matt Wiseman

1. Google Maps: MyMaps, Mobile, API – Chewy Trewhella

We’ve been using the Google Maps javascript API for quite a while here at White Wall Web and know our way around the API quite well. Even so, this presentation was very informative and valuable in the depth it conveyed. Some salient points:

  • Improved access to tiles
  • Styles – The ability to manipulate the different elements on the maps. See here for a Great Style example.
  • Ads – Location specific adverts based on search criteria and location

2. Google AppEngine & Google Web Toolkit – Thiago Robert

AppEngine

I have often read about AppEngine as an alternative to Amazon’s EC2 Cloud hosting, but the difference is quite dramatic. These are two totally different beasts.

The best way to describe AppEngine would be to use an excerpt from the Google AppEngine page:

“Google App Engine lets you run your web applications on Google’s infrastructure. App Engine applications are easy to build, easy to maintain, and easy to scale as your traffic and data storage needs grow. With App Engine, there are no servers to maintain: You just upload your application, and it’s ready to serve your users.

You can serve your app from your own domain name (such as http://www.example.com/) using Google Apps. Or, you can serve your app using a free name on the appspot.com domain. You can share your application with the world, or limit access to members of your organization.

Google App Engine supports apps written in several programming languages. With App Engine’s Java runtime environment, you can build your app using standard Java technologies, including the JVM, Java servlets, and the Java programming language—or any other language using a JVM-based interpreter or compiler, such as JavaScript or Ruby. App Engine also features a dedicated Python runtime environment, which includes a fast Python interpreter and the Python standard library. The Java and Python runtime environments are built to ensure that your application runs quickly, securely, and without interference from other apps on the system.”

The presentation and demonstration yielded quite a few pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Scalable, reliable and secure – Your apps are hosted on the Google Cloud
  • BigTable access – You are hosted on the Google Cloud with Google’s proprietary database technology

Cons:

  • The number of supported languages is quite limited. One thing this fact exposed is that at least in Cape Town there is still a great love for PHP. When it became known that there is no support for PHP at this stage, there was a collective sigh of regret from the audience!
  • AppEngine at this point only uses Google BigTable , meaning your data is locked in. There are tools for exporting your data out of BigTable, but anyone who has needed to go from a document based database back to a relational database will tell you that it is not a trivial decision to make and involves a great deal of risk. However, in the not too distant future Google states that they will support hosted SQL databases.

“BigTable is a compressed, high performance, and proprietary database system built on Google File System (GFS), Chubby Lock Service, and a few other Google programs; it is currently not distributed or used outside of Google, although Google offers access to it as part of their Google App Engine.” Wikipedia – BigTable

All things said, it is still quite an exciting platform for hosting, and we will be investigating this technology in the near future to see what it can do for us.

GWT – Google Web Toolkit

  • “GWT’s mission is to radically improve the web experience for users by enabling developers to use existing Java tools to build no-compromise AJAX for any modern browser.”
  • The SDK contains the Java API libraries, the compiler, and development server.
  • Also integration into Eclipse IDE means cost to entry is quite low.

3. Tips for Mobile Development – Luisella Mazza

This was a very hands-on discussion, and we were presented with useful ways to optimise our websites and identifying obscure situations which may negatively impact a website’s overall relevance and page ranking on Google. This was only a 30 minute presentation and discussion but I found it to be packed with relevant and helpful information.

The main highlights of this talk are given below.

Crawling – Google bot

This discussion was focused on making attendees aware of what the Google Bot actually processes on their sites. How it processes various elements on the pages. How to add value and additional information to the elements of your page for the bot to consume.

We were also provided with some tips to make crawling of your websites more rewarding and rich in data for the Bot to process.

Indexing – Google actually stores a copy of your sites html

Here we were shown how to determine the amount of pages indexed by google , the last time they were indexed, and the what exactly was indexed by Google. This gives you a very good idea of whether your platform is search friendly. If your platform is not you will get quite a few duplicate pages and none human friendly friendly information eg. Search results will return duplicate titles and page snippets. The URL are usually short and none descriptive. How many of your pages were actually indexed.

Search results – Over 200 attributes to determine your pages rank

The question posed here is , are the results returned useful to your end user? Is there enough information in the title , page snippet and URL to guide the end users moment onto your listing?

This part of the discussion was focussed on what the final result of a Google search yields, and how to improve on those two key factors : Relevance to the search phrase and localization relative to the end user.

This really drove the previous points (Crawling and indexing ) home, if your site presented poor data for the bot to process and your site was not indexed fully then the chances are you won’t find your site on the first 10 pages of results.

At this point it all seems like so much common sense, but a quick look at your sites cache , index and results will give you a clear path to improving the data you make available to Googles Bot.

4. YouTube for Business – Matt Wiseman

This presentation was done by playing clips from YouTube, and included a great deal of impressive and record setting stats, such as:

  1. 2 billion+ video streams
  2. 24 hours worth of video uploaded every minute

Major points I took away from this presentation is that YouTube is an extremely flexible platform for integration with existing products and domains. Matt emphasised its relevance in direct advertising and promotion. He also touched on the YouTube API and YouTube EDU, which is a site where various colleges and universities have placed videos. The videos are not only limited to lectures, but cover a wide variety of topics and activities. This is definitely one of the best freely available education resources, as Standford, M.I.T. and various other major institutions are contributors.

Conclusion

It was great to attend this conference and get a glimpse of the strategy and technology focus of this internet giant. South Africa, as well as Africa in general can look forward to some exciting times ahead!

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Category: Developers Interest, South Africa, Technologies, WWW Site

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