Editor’s note: If you read here, you know we heart Twilio, especially Noel (@noelportugal). Remember the Rock ’em Sock ’em robot build?
This week, Twilio (@twilio) held its first Signal conference and Raymond and I were there to see what’s new in the world of web enabled communications and the likes.
For those of you not familiar with Twilio, here’s their spiel from their About page:
Twilio powers the future of business communications. Enabling phones, VoIP, and messaging to be embedded into web, desktop, and mobile software.
For example, they provide REST APIs that can send and receive phone calls and text messages (SMS), allowing you, as a user of their services, to implement these extremely complex features in your applications, whether they are mobile, web or desktop apps with very little effort. They provide many more features and announced a bunch of new ones at the conference, see their website for more details on those features.
I had no idea that Twilio is as big as it is: there were 2000 attendees at the conference and apparently, Twilio is the second largest provider of phone numbers in the us, right behind T-Mobile.
The conference started of with a pretty impressive magician’s act in which actual Twilio APIs were used, very original I thought. It the proceeded with a bunch of keynotes, lead by the CEO of Twilio, Jeff Lawson. He stressed the importance of services, comparing them to Lego blocks that, in the right hands, allow you to build anything by composing these services, just like you would do with Lego.
Among the lineup of key speakers was Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon who gave a history of how Amazon moved from a monolithic architecture to a more Service Oriented Architecture, then towards Micro Services and finally towards an architecture that now aggregates these Services into useful components. They had to build an infrastructure to support these changes which eventually led to what we now know as AWS, very interesting talk.
One other interesting topic I remember from the opening presentations was Jeff Lawson mentioning that the next big evolution in communication will be for them to become context-aware. i.e. rather than you having to enter your 17-digit account number on your phone and then having to identify yourself again and again to the agent that you get transferred to with some weird question about the street you grew up in, this information should be available when a call gets made, leading to much better quality of service and a much higher throughput of calls.
The rest consisted of product announcements and partners getting to explain how they use Twilio in their business. We then attended a bunch of sessions, some more interesting than others, I’ll limit myself here to the more interesting ones.
I’m a huge fan of ngrok so I was delighted to attend a session by the maker of this tool, Alan Shreve. Turns out that it was written in Go, and Alan gave a few examples of how this language made it easier to build these types of tools. He also mentioned that rewriting an existing tool into a new language is a great way to learn that new language as you limit the scope and can focus purely on the language itself. He also stressed not to be discouraged if you discover that a tool already exists, competition is a good thing and it validates the business case.
Also very informative was a talk from Guillermo Rauch, the creator of socket.io of which I also am a huge fan. The talk didn’t focus on socket.io itself, but on the challenges you will face when you start building realtime applications, something that socket.io allows you to do: conflict resolution, throughput, diffing etc.
Kate Heddleston gave a talk about One-click deploy for service-oriented architectures which is a project that she worked on that allows you to deploy (with 1 click), a fully operational environment, including load balancers, db servers etc. on Amazon EC2, using Docker. It seemed like an excellent alternative to the likes of Heroku and I definitely will check this out more in the near future and see if this could be leverage somewhere for our work in the AppsLab.
Probably the most interesting talk of the whole conference, for me at least, was by Neil Mansilla from Runscope about API testing & debugging. He didn’t just gave a sales pitch about Runscope but laid out a whole bunch of tools that you can use to test APIs, from Apache Benchmark to Charles and Wireshark. I am definitely going to check out Runscope!
What I took away most from this conference though is that APIs are the future: IT infrastructure is turning into APIs (AWS), electronics is turning into APIs (littleBits) and telecommunication is turning into APIs (Twilio, of course, but also switch). I am convinced that Enterprise apps will also evolve into this direction and Enterprise APIs will enable developers to compose and integrate easily with other, non-enterprise APIs, allowing them to build new and exciting applications, just as developers started doing with tele-communications when Twilio appeared.