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Nerd On The Street: Q&A with James Falkner

As a thought-leadership blog, NOTS is striving to disseminate knowledge and spread out to the masses like a wicked disease. Here we sat down with Liferay Community Manager James Falkner to shoot the breeze about what's going on in the world of tech and business.
 
James, we're very glad to have you on this afternoon. How is the Liferay Community doing so far in 2014?
 
JF: Since the opening of the Marketplace, we’ve seen a pretty big resurgence in our developer community. To date we have almost 200 apps developed by our community, and over 800 registered developers. Compare that to the 100 or so contributors to Liferay itself, and you can see what our community has been up to this year! Of course we like to see any kind of contribution, whether it’s an app, bug fix, new feature, translation, or any of the other community contribution that helps make Liferay great. So we are ramping up our efforts to improve the developer experience in the community.
 
Since you’ve got your fingers on the pulse of the community and tech industry, what’s got everyone talking these days?
 
JF: One of the big ones in our industry is the Internet of Things (IoT). You're talking about all these objects and devices now being inter-connected and huge streams of data, and so the question is how to make sense of it all?
 
Sounds exciting, but what does the IoT have to do with portals?
 
JF:  Since IoT results in a lot more information being available and accessible, the question now is who can present that information in a way that would be easily digestible? Who can take it the next level and visualize and provide access to the right things? Basically, the IoT is a land grab, and portals are uniquely positioned to integrate with powerful backend data processing systems and layer on a great user experience on top of the incoming deluge of data.
 
What does this mean for open source technologies?
 
JF: IoT is even more of a land grab for the underlying tools that collect, process, and store IoT data, and unfortunately, interoperability is not top-of-mind for early adopters of technology, so we often end up with walled gardens, places you can experience a new technology, but only by getting locked into one vendor’s vision. As an open source industry, we want to try and minimize the walling of these gardens, so to speak, and heavily favor standards for IoT infrastructure and software services. The existence of new technology provides new opportunities for everyone. Being open source, and employing open standards, really means allowing greater accessibility for developers to innovate. 
 
I'm intrigued by this topic because everything is about the comprehensive digital experience. We can no longer stay within these traditional silos we've set up for ourselves. How should we expect people to consume information going forward?
 
JF: I think of our very own CEO Bryan Cheung's keynote when you speak of that. He mentioned the example of tailored suits. You go in, get measured, fabrics perfect to your liking, and if the guy's cool he'll probably ask you about your wife and kids. It's awesome because you know that suit will fit you perfectly once it's done, and that's top personalized service. Mass marketing with the Internet is now presenting that same opportunity. It's a huge opportunity but hard to capitalize on because of the large scale. You're talking about built-in context, associated with each user. What pages you've lingered on, what sorts of interactions you're having on them, and so forth.
 
Portals are great places for that. Liferay is headed in that direction. Obviously, as a portal we are top of the stack, the storefront if you will, so we have access to the back-end systems that portals are designed to talk to. We're in a unique position in that experience because we know everything in a sense. We're just trying to put everything in a cohesive way to delight our customers.
 
A recent Forrester report said an evolving pattern is the seemingly downward trend of IT in terms of ownership and decision making. Where do you stand on that?
 
JF: Well, it's like the whole thing with TV repair shops. Back in the day, it used to cost tons of money to buy a TV, so if it broke, you took it to this shop to fix it. Now it's cheaper to just buy a new one, so TV repair shops are no longer there. The analogy here is if your project needs a website, do you call IT or do you go grab some open source software and deploy it to the cloud, and download an app to your own device and use it to sync files? So, you might say IT is getting cut out of some loops, but I don't think it's a mass departure from IT or that we don't need IT. I think the marketplace is just providing apps and processes which are easier to implement, things like cloud connectivity. But like I said, it's not going to go away. There are enough issues around privacy, network security, and software support costs that absolutely keeps IT relevant.
 
You’ve been hard at work promoting the Liferay Marketplace App Contest. Do you see a shift in the type of apps contributed in Liferay Marketplace or types of contributions we see in the community in general?
 
JF: With the recently releases e-commerce capability, we're starting to see more feature-rich apps and more longer-term developers and companies contributing some really great things — I can't wait to see how the Marketplace contest turns out this year! As for community contributions to Liferay, the platform itself continues to become more modular, like with the ongoing OSGi work for example, and more approachable to Open Source developers. Different parts of the platform are starting to be isolated, with many more to follow, which is attracting a new generation of OSS developers and allowing them to contribute without fear of breaking other parts. This will also make it possible to test these modules exhaustively, or make sure a certain bug is fixed for sure. We are bringing developers back to the platform, baby!
 
Well, there you have it. Thanks James for dropping by and spending some time with the little folks!
 
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L iferay: Nerd On The Street  is a blog devoted to sharing new ideas about business and technology. To continue the discussion, post your thoughtful insights below.
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