Digital Blinders – Are We an Inch Wide and a Mile Deep?

Posted by Jeffrey on May 30, 2007

Rob Hyndman talks with Nora Young, Mark Schneider and Mark Federman at Mesh07.

I often find myself flipping back and forth between my real work and a bunch of webpages to get my information hit, and realize that I seem to have a shorter attention span these days. When I mention this to others I get a lot of comments that blame the internet. “Of course it’s the internet.” But really, have we lost the ability to go deep in conversations because of our constant need for information bites? Has the internet in particular hastened the decline of our ability to think about complex issues?

With the advent of television, early commentaries bemoaned even back then, there was a tendency to a shorter attention span. But perhaps more problematic are the negative aspects that surface during online conversations and comments that lead people to think of the internet a huge amplifier for some less desirable parts of the human psyche.

But didn’t the printing press change things back in the 15th century? Now we are all literate, but back then it turned things upside down for those citizens. Bloggers of the time were called ‘pamphleteers’, they were subversives back then. Effects people predict are linearly extrapolated from what we at the time know. So it is difficult to see what some of the effects will be from the current explosion based on our current knowledge, so in my view it is important to try things, and see if they work by asking users.

Bill Joy wrote a article called “Why the future doesn’t need us anymore.” Is there a way that we can step back and evaluate what is happening in this new medium? This would be a nice luxury, but we are part of history and hard to stop the clock.

There is a place for long-form perspective journalism, but we are changing what it means to construct an argument. What we think of as an argument is more open ended and more multi-perspective. Life becomes more like a Venn diagram. We need to take multiple contexts and put them together. The concept that there is more than one right answer needs to stem from a multi-dimensional way to understand the world.

But this often is not really viable or evident (see flame wars).

Where is the value in NowPublic? If something newsworthy happens because of ubiquitous proximity, there is a chance one of the members can record it. “This matters to me and there is value in sharing it with others.”

TV in its early days was bringing reality into the living rooms (eg the Vietnam war). It has become a hypnotic medium; you sit down and zone out. People’s engagement with the Net is similar to TV; it initially felt the same way. But as a new generation comes about, it creates an effect that TV never could when editors and cameras that faced in one direction only. The internet can bring together all these bits of information and allows user to create a picture. Every little bit of info by itself is not significant but together provides a more complete transparency into issues and concepts.

Does meaning evolve over time? We used to have a newspaper or story, but now we understand that media is emergent, and we will come to understand that nothing is ever completely finished.

We don’t consume media, (this was an old concept), we produce media (we contribute to YouTube or contribute to a blog).

“Information doesn’t want to be free- it wants to be valuable.”

There is a great divide between those socialized with TV and the idea of separate channels and those that have less division (see the TV show Heroes and the combination of the show and the website and the graphical novel to have more engagement with the story and concept.)


Michael Arrington discusses TechCrunch and Start-ups at Mesh2007

Posted by Jeffrey on May 30, 2007

Techcrunch was started in 2005 because Arrington was interested in the internet and particularly start-ups. At the time, there were a few sites like technorati and bloglines but not many others. It was started because there was no single blog that covered new start-ups. At the beginning it wasn’t thought of as a business, but just something to do for fun.

He realized the site was taking off about the time he was getting more reads to stories than 4-500 per day he was reading using Bloglines. It was a full 6 months after that before ads ran on the site.

From an overseas perspective, TechCrunch France is largest blog in France and TechCrunch Japan is a sizable blog in that market. It wasn’t too hard to find foreign correspondence. Most get in contact online and express an interest in reporting on start-ups for TechCrunch. In fact the reporter who covers France is a guy living in TelAviv.

Each story is primarily a discussion and although Arrington gets the first say, he feels the best comments are in the feedback and that is something he can also participate in.

Arguably the impulse to be first to post a story is a fundamental journalistic imperative. The advantage to being first is that you don’t have to be intelligent, insightful or witty. That responsibility is for the later writers as you must contribute to the conversation.

In fact, he often prefaces the post title with the term “breaking” and only fills in the first sentence and fills in the rest of the post later. Does traditional publishing have a problem with this? Perhaps and he freely acknowledges that there are some problems in New Media reporting, but they correct themselves as more people contribute to the conversation.

The SF Chronicle has been on death row for years cutting staff etc in relation to the evolution of ‘New Media’ but do you want to hear only their viewpoint on newspapers vs. the new technology? What about others viewpoints and this is where bloggers really add value; broadening the conversation rather than restricting it to a few journalists’ viewpoints.

A simple response to this is to blame online news aggregators, but is it really Google’s fault? It is a fundamental misunderstanding of what Google is doing for news, and failure to evolve in the traditional media space. Google news has no assets and it is generating no revenue off of these stories. It is however sending traffic back to other sites. The content is actually the start of the conversation and to seed these conversations TechCrunch does is give away content as RSS feed because it establishes very loyal users who feel passionate about the stories they read.

In fact, blogs are eating traditional media’s lunch. The traditional argument is that blogs are fast and not very good at reporting, but readers don’t just return to sites with crappy content. There is the same imperative to do quality reporting to get return visitors and build credibility.

Perhaps one of the things that traditional papers can do is to allow all its writers to start their own blogs. Arrington commented that the best journalist can make more money on their own by starting to write on the side and building their own brand.

Given what happened to Engadget around their reporting of the hoax around Apple’s delay of the iPhone, would TechCrunch have reported this story? They would have reported it as the email appeared to come from Apple’s own email service and seemed credible. He would have posted it as fast as he could, based on the logic above. The credibility of Engadget suffered but perhaps shouldn’t have. Apple’s PR should have responded to him and denied the story. Does someone writing too fast have consequences? Yes, but having many more bloggers writing and contributing is more beneficial.

What would Arrington do if he was running traditional newspaper? Maybe stop printing a paper version, and make all stories available free online. These newspapers’ archives must be available free and able to be searched by consumers. NYT doesn’t get the traffic because they don’t make their stuff available to crawlers.

In the Social networking space Arrington believes that the next generation is Virtual reality… like WoW. Once the hardware catches up to what we think we should do, it will be the equivalent of SecondLife versus.

As far as traditional web-based social networking, Facebook looks like it is here to stay, because they understand Web2.0 principles like sharing, openness. MySpace probably will survive but they are doing something wrong; they don’t understand really understand the principles and are trying to close access to applications and the eco-system.


Overview of Widgets and Badges – Dion Hinchcliffe

Posted by Jeffrey on Apr 20, 2007

This was based on a talk by Dion Hinchcliffe at the Web2.0 Expo, Tuesday April 17, 2007

Important trends-

  • Web sites with portable content and functionality
  • Putting modular web parts on the blogs and profiles to host the pieces of the web that they want to share
  • Realization the there is limited value being on one site
  • Atomization of content – smaller pieces are easier to reuse
  • Microformats are the smallest pieces
  • Do it yourself trend is combining with the rise of web portable content and functionality- people help themselves

Web as a parts “Superstore”
Little question that the web is turning into a sort of online Home Depot with its shelves line with thousand of useful off the shelf parts of every description and utility- a lot of problems users can solve themselves w/o programmers

Jakob’s law

  • Users spend most of their time somewhere else
  • Design your products and service to leverage the fact

Widgetbox

  • Everyone has a channel on the web, end users remixing the web out of parts.
  • Javascript, flash, WPF/E

How to think about it?

  • Build open platforms instead of stand alone apps- self distributing ecosystems
  • Spread you product beyond your site- APIs, badges, syndication
  • Standing on the shoulders of giants- leverage Yahoo, Amazon etc.
  • Automated mass servicing of markets with low demand content and functionality (Long tail) – bulk of the demand

What are they?

  • Widgets- small apps that can be embedded on the web – can be AJAX or flash- usually pulled live from the site.
  • Badges – displays of content pulled under the covers from other sites (more of content display)
  • Gadgets – more formal widget models from Google and Microsoft

Key aspects

  • Supreme ease of consumption and distribution – copy and paste is best; single line Javascript includes (Google maps); Object embed tags for flash
  • Connect to the underlying sites to provide value and control as well
  • Have a business model backed deeply into it – driving site traffic content consumption, advertising.

Power of widgets

  • Makes your web apps functionality and content portable
  • Works anywhere not just on your site
  • Network effects via viral propagation
  • Supply both mashups as well as hosting on blogs wikis

Users

  • Consumers – moving content and functionality they want to where they need it
  • o Building simple dashboard and applications
  • Developers and Prosumers
  • o Easy to integrate with high value functionality
  • Business
  • o External sourcing of functionality and content
  • o Web apps built on top of the shoulders…

Widget stories

  • Youtube video badge
  • o Highly viral excellent end user motivation
  • Uses web as a content billboard
  • Consistently drives user growth, video views and traffic back to the site
  • Didn’t take the users intelligence for granted
  • Showed the raw code for hosting right next to every video

Google adwords widget

  • o Most successful widget in history
  • Drives enormous revenue to Google
  • Turns entire web into Google ad platform
  • Key aspects
  • o Good user incentive
  • o Extreme ease of use
  • o Strong viral feedback loop

Business Case

  • Content on millions of other pages
  • Let users broaden you distribute globally at virtually not cost
  • Turn your apps into open platforms and foundation of dozen of other products (or leave majority of value of online product and services untapped)
  • o AMZN has 50k businesses build on top

Key design considerations

  • Scalability
  • Cost effectiveness
  • Reliability
  • Exploitation of others
  • Global reach
  • Security
  • o Think through all the cross domain issue, sharing of personal data (eg pictures and video)
  • IP issues
  • o Do you have a license to redistribute the content?
  • o Con other violate the IP protection of others
  • o Do you widget make it hard to other to take content out of the widget
  • Not losing control
  • Ease of Consumption
  • o Must be really simple copy and paste
  • Leverage network effects
  • o Encourage every view to share
  • End user motivation
  • o Only if it does something useful for them
  • o Sharing interesting content, shared access to person data or even paying them (as Google does)
  • Enabling mashusp
  • o Widgets are key ingredient to the mashup phenomenon
  • Many believe this is new app dev model
  • o Widgets provide raw ingredients to this
  • Build in weeks vs months

Examples

  • Flashearth
  • Zillow.com

Business mashups

  • Mckinsey- 10% of companies are looking at mashups inside the firewall

Recommendations

  • Small pieces loosely joined
  • Simplicity and extreme loose coupling
  • Reuse the web palette first
  • SLAs will get more interesting
  • Get experience now- begin trials to offer your capabilities or services
  • Make sure it legal to build business from profitable for others and extremely easy to do
  • Provide minimum of restrictive structure and make it possible for users to do it themselves

Joost is interesting and it is like some other things you may have seen.

Posted by Jeffrey on Apr 18, 2007

In the Wednesday Keynote Joost CTO Dirk-Willem van Gulik explained a bit about their service. Joost mostly behaves like normal TV. You can “channel up, channel down; volume up, volume down” (as described by a well known Cable Exec.)

We can look at the screen to get an overall view of the service.

The EPG on the left shows a fairly standard line-up which includes My Channels. However you can watch shows like a TV as well scrub back and forth like a PVR. Also since there are content objects you can tune into at any time it also behaves like VOD.

The area at the top displays the content owner’s information and what’s really interesting is that after you click and an overlay comes up the resulting overlay is writable by anyone. Anyone can write, can interact with content or just display it as an overly to sit on top of the content. What this means to content owners I think is still up for debate.

One of the issues they have been struggling with is one which is familiar to all of us-How do you find content? The list just keeps gets longer and longer as more content is added to the network. This is something which they will be spending significant resources on over the next few months as they gear up for a major release in the summer timeframe.

The bottom has a search box anyone can expose on their own site. Every piece of content has own URL and users can comment on parts of the video.
You can save a list as a channel (“Smart Channel”), which you can share with friends.

On the right there is displayed MyJoost where when you click, you see an overlay of widgets on top of video. Once again there are APIs for this and you can pin the widgets to the screen. There are almost limitless applications that can interact with viewers and content.


Interview with Amazon’s Jeff Bezon

Posted by Jeffrey on Apr 17, 2007

Jeff Bezos was one of the keynote speakers at the Web2.0 conference and in his eagerly anticipated talk he took the opportunity to highlight some of their initiatives to grow to the next level by providing outside businesses access to their world-class systems and technology. This approach would have seemed completely backwards about 5 years ago. Why provide potential competitors access to key technological assets and speed their time to market? Jeff tried to outline some of their thinking by kicking off his talk using their Amazon S3 internet-enabled file storage system; the same system they use internally for their e-commerce site Amazon.com.

Amazon S3 has grown from about 800m objects stored in the system in July 2006 to over 5 Billion objects today. To illustrate some of the benefits of using the service, Bezos put the site Blueorigin (his effort to build a space vehicle) and all the video for the site on S3 so that they didn’t have to worry about scaling. This ended up being a prescient move as the traffic spiked when someone posted the site on Digg.

In fact on that day in January after getting Dugg, the website and media objects on S3 responded to 3 million requests. There were countless downloads of the video leading to transfer of 758Gb of data in one day. They did this without a contract or any sales contact; it was all done self serve by filling out some forms on the site. And the best part of it was that for all of January it cost $304 dollars, with most of the charges coming for that one day!

On S3s busiest day they were serving 1 billion requests per day and almost 16k requests/ second. Interestingly enough users include a company we may be familiar with; Microsoft. Secondlife and Powerset are also among the users.

Another example of what Amazon is working on with their services involves a service called EC2 (EC2 stands for Elastic Cloud.) If for instance your business needed to process many media files from avi to mp4, you could use their EC2 service to process all these files, which traditionally has been a very processor intensive task.

What would happen is that the raw media files stored in S3 pass messages to a queue service in EC2. EC2 finds a pointer in S3 to that avi file and starts the processing into an mp4.

To maintain quality control when the queue grows long, the EC2 can spawn new EC2s to clone itself to increase throughput of the service. So in effect you have an on-demand virtual server environment, which you only have to pay for when used. After processing the objects the virtual servers are redeployed to other tasks so your business does not have to pay for all those processors 24/7. You can use what they call “pay-per-drink” pricing in order to only use what you need at that time.

But a key question is how did Amazon get from a bookstore to an infrastructure provider? They took learnings from how to scale and deliver Amazon.com to other applications. Once they had this knowledge, they realized that they could then leverage this and open up this on a pay-per use basis so that companies didn’t have to reinvent the wheel every time they wanted to create an application or business.

The question then comes to mind whether Amazon is ‘traditional’ Web2.0 business? They have grown up alongside other trailblazing Web 1.0 companies but in contrast to the newer Web2.0 companies, they also have many hard offline assets including huge warehouses. But even thought they have 10 million ft2 of fulfillment space they are trying to again leverage their processes and infrastructure to outside players to create an ecosystem.

They reason that physical movement of goods won’t go away in next few years. So they will take the high cost services that businesses up to now have been forced to build or partner to get and allow businesses to exploit Amazon’s fulfillment network. You could think of this as the ‘programmable warehouse.’

You would simply hook into Amazon’s system and send a message that they should expect to receive items you will send over for storage in their warehouse. And the cost? Only 45 cents per cubic foot of storage per month. Then you can send a message to pick those things and Amazon would send them to an address you specify.

So they look at the future of Web2.0 a bit differently; they don’t just look at what will be the big disruptors, but they also put dollars into what they think won’t change. Interestingly, they feel they can build a strategy around what won’t change rather than what might.


How the web (2.0) is influencing us.

Posted by Jeffrey on Mar 2, 2007

This is a brilliant video, under 5 minutes, on how blogs, wikis, web feeds, social networking sites, and folksonomies are revolutionizing our culture .

Both for the technical person who understands it and also for the digital neophyte / newbie who needs to get a taste for how the web is transforming itself and impacting the way we click to learn and share knowledge. Fast paced, great soundtrack and super thoughts!