Thursday, December 4, 2008

Following the Heard Off the Precipice

I was fortunate enough to attend the 11th Annual Lynford Lecture at the Polytechnic Institute of NYU where GMO co-founder Jeremy Grantham gave an inspirational and thought provoking talk called Career Risks and Breaking Bubbles.

The net of his talk is this. The true value of most markets (stock, real estate, you name it) is pretty flat. Every now and then, the market experiences a bubble where perceived value sky-rockets way above then plummets down below and eventually settles back on its real value again. On the ascending slope of these mountains of market inefficiency, you always find analysts who claim that we have finally figured out how to run the marketplace so the value is just going to keep going up and up forever. Even with the market wildly over-rated, people stay in it because of the truly irrational aversion to making less money than your peers. That is why the heard of stampeding buffaloes plummets right off the cliff.

He had plenty of charts from past bubbles to back up his claims. This was a most charming and lucid speaker on a fairly abstract topic to a room full of academicians and budding finance engineers.

He made some interesting points in the Q&A session afterwards. This four decade veteran of finance has a complete lack of confidence in the Bush Administration and is hopeful for the Obama Administration. With regards to the bailout of the automobile industry, he said something to the affect that those jobs were lost when the demand for cars plummeted and no fiscal stimulus would bring those jobs back.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Lively No More

I have blogged earlier about the coming of massive, multi-player, virtual on-line worlds before. Permit me to recap here.

  • Think of it as a 3D version of the web where you can see and interact with other viewers on any page/room.

  • Think of it as a cartoonish version of telepresence on a budget.

  • It's a natural fit for an artificial economy or other operant conditioning systems for rewarding desirable behavior.

  • It might have entertainment possibilities like a more interactive form of television.

  • Obviously, the role based, game playing versions of this have been very successful.

Part of the excitement in this space was the fact that other, fairly big, players were starting to join it. Well, today, one of those players announced that they were leaving the space. Google announced that they were pulling the plug on their version of this space now ironically called Lively.

I never participated in Lively so I can't speak to what the experience was like. Some say that the place was a ghost town. Others say that the performance of the client software was terrible. If you have used the service, then please leave a comment here as to your thoughts about it and any possible reasons why Google made this decision.

Feb 2009 Update:The NY Times mentioned this in piece entitled How Google Decides to Pull the Plug. It was not very in depth. Basically, Google pulled the plug because it wasn't popular. It didn't try to attempt to answer the question as to why it wasn't popular.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Innovation During a Global Recession

I read in the previous Sunday edition of the NY Times an opinion piece called It's No Time To Forget About Innovation.

Author Janet Rae-Dupree uses material from the following two books to further her advice not to completely stifle innovation during these economic hard times; Closing the Innovation Gap by Judy Estrin and Strategic Entrepreneurism by Jon Fisher.

According to Janet, Judy posits that the following core values need to be in equal balance in order to foster innovation; questioning, risk taking, openness, patience, and trust. You may have heard of this as failing fast, From the Outside In, and the long tail. She also advocates "green thumb leadership" where gardens of new ideas are permitted amidst the factory farms.

Contrast this with Jon's position that innovation must be embedded in the daily operation of the rank and file. Entrepreneurs should plan their start in a highly creative and innovative environment then sell the business to a larger, more established company in order to scale up.

I think that what most of these people are trying to say is that innovation, by and of itself, is not optimized for making money; however, innovation can open the door to profitable markets in the future. It would seem to me that the best time to focus on not making money is when there is not that much money available to be made. So, the best time to innovate is during a global recession. It's not like your competitors are going to raise their market capitalization by improving their profitability while you fritter away in the lab.

Of course, I'm not saying that you should throw huge amounts of money at it. Innovators work best when they are hungry. That's another reason why this is a good time to innovate. Think Guy Kawasaki's boot strapping.

To that end, I invite all innovators to join a newly formed and emerging community devoted to innovation on a budget. Code Roller is a place where entrepreneurs and engineers get together to produce the next generation of great applications for the web. Code Roller is a collaborative software development project life cycle management solution that combines time honored, best-of-breed deliverables and work flow with state-of-the-art techniques in social networking and crowd sourcing to deliver custom software faster, cheaper, and better by accelerating discovery. The use of Code Roller is free.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Where Angels Fear to Tread

The stock market continues its downward spiral as fears grow that the U.S. recession is taking on a more global scope. Companies of all sizes hold on to their cash, batten down the hatches, and prepare to ride the storm out as they curtail new growth opportunities and slash costs.

That's too bad, really, as this is the best time for opportunity. Ask anyone in finance when is the best time to buy stock and they'll most likely tell you to buy when everyone else is selling. Why? Because stocks are under valued in a bear market. The key to profitability is to buy low and sell high. It's pretty simple, really. However, that time honored strategy takes nerves of steel as you are most likely not going to buy in at the bottom. So, you get to watch your investment lose money and hope that it turns around before it's too late. No one said that the market is for the weak or the timid.

The same is true for any venture into a market and not just for the stock market. The time for any company to enter into a new market is when everyone else is leaving. Why? Same reason as for the stock market. The market is undervalued when everyone else is leaving. Now is the time to get good deals. Also, you will have a lot less competition as you gobble up market share.

Easier said than done, of course. You see, there's this little thing called cash flow. It's no good to dump a lot of cash to enter in to a market if you end up not being able to make payroll before you get your ROI. You still have to be prudent. You still have to make every dollar count. The best time to enter into a new market is the worst time for you to spend money which is precisely what you have to do in order to make your entrance. So do it but do it tight fisted.

That is why it behooves good company officers to reconsider out-sourcing to local startups.

This may seem counter-intuitive but start ups are in the best position for growth during a recession. Their costs are already low and, with fewer commitments, they are in a better position to cut costs even more so their pricing is more flexible downwards than their more established brethren.

It's not prudent to use any startup, of course. Some will not be able to weather the storm. Before out-sourcing to a start up, you've got to evaluate them to see just how recession proof it is. Some startups even thrive in a bad economy.

So, look for opportunity in crisis times. It may not be easy but the rewards can be great to those who are quick on their feet and willing to change the way they do business in order to adapt to the times. Remember to leverage the little guy who is hungry and more willing to make a deal happen.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

jQuery and Microsoft

Technology is to software architects what stock is to traders. You are constantly on the lookout for changes in the marketplace to take advantage of an under valued but rising offering. What's that old cliché? Buy on rumor and sell on news.

You would had to have been in a coma for the past decade to have missed AJAX which is an approach to writing web applications that mitigates the disorienting page refresh of the server round-trip by having the page get the new data through a Java script call instead of reloading. To a coder, the heart of AJAX is the XmlHttpRequest object. There are lots of Java script libraries out there that abstract away the web browser differences in using this object, thus simplifying your Java script.

jQuery is one of those libraries. It competes with lots of different offerings such as Prototype, YUI, MooTools, and Dogo. Yesterday, jQuery got mentioned in a rumor that is sure to boost perception of its value over its competitors. On a promotional blog site owned by Microsoft, it was announced that Microsoft is adopting and supporting jQuery in its ASP.NET AJAX components and integrating support of jQuery in its flagship IDE VS.NET

Why does it really matter which technology to choose? After all, each and every technology mentioned here does a great job of doing AJAX. From a technology perspective, you can't go wrong; however, there are more aspects to choosing a software architecture than technology.

A smoother developer experience should accelerate the implementation phase of any project. So, with this announcement, jQuery becomes a more compelling choice for Microsoft development shops. In any work environment, you have to think about turn-around. How long does it take to replace an employee who is leaving? That means being competitive with other shops on a lot of things including pay, benefits, and how desirable your technology is. Using popular technology makes it just a little bit easier to attract and hire good candidates. Popular technology can also be a compelling sell to your customers whose I.T. departments might want to evaluate what technology you use.

Monday, September 29, 2008

For the Love of Water

I got to see a very interesting film this past weekend at the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival. Entitled FLOW: For the Love of Water, this documentary is all about the abuses of drinkable water and the resulting impact on humanity.

The film documents how industrialization has increased the amount of pollution in our drinking water. There is a growing trend to privatize the cleaning, storage, and delivery of drinkable water. In theory, governments are supposed to be beholding to the public good whereas private companies are only beholding to their share holders. What ends up happening is that the poor gradually lose access to safe drinking water. They also advocate a more decentralized approach to cleaning water, especially in under-developed countries.

Another disturbing trend that this documentary covers is bottled water. Companies take regular tap water, bottle it, and sell it at a very large profit. This profitability compels companies to grow the business of bottled water. This growth is happening so quickly that it is starting to eclipse civil sources of drinkable water.

What can you do about it? As a consumer, stop buying bottled water. It is no safer than tap water. Buying bottled water raises the cost of tap water. Not only will you pay more at the grocery store or vending machine for that bottle of water but also you will pay more in your monthly bill.

For those who want a more active role, petition your local government against outsourcing water management to corporations.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Bane of Every Coder

I am an advocate of developer documentation. I understand why smaller, less mature ISVs and IT shops would take the quick and dirty shortcut of forgoing developer documentation. No one wants to do it. It costs money keeping that documentation up to date. Programmers should get paid to write code. Blah, blah, blah.

Larger, more mature, shops should know better. They should realize that the total cost of maintaining large systems, over time, is much less when new developers can accelerate their time to productivity by reading some well written, accurate developer documentation. Also, it's nice to throw the developer documentation at the powers that be (i.e. government, acquiring company, BOD) when they want to know what's really going on. I'll bet that Microsoft wished that they had spent some more resources on writing good developer documentation.

You don't like to do it. I don't like to do it. Nobody likes to do it. But writing quality developer documentation is like filing your taxes. Doing it is better than suffering the long term consequences of not doing it.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Ambient Intimacy is the New Collective Intelligence

I ran across this puff piece in the Sunday, September 7 edition of the NY Times promoting Facebook and Twitter. It really helped me improve my understanding of the micro-blogging, social networking revolution.

Like many people born before the age of the personal computer, I was having a hard time understanding why the new prosumer generation have no problem uploading every single intimate detail of their lives into these social networking sites. Apparently, mankind had evolved past whatever needs that the first, third, forth, fifth, ninth, and fourteenth amendments to the Constitution were trying to protect.

Well, I was wrong again. It was while attending the Start Conference that I learned that Twitter's main audience was closer to my age than my children's.

The NY Times article called it ambient intimacy and featured quotes, both expert and anecdotal, linking this phenomena to another upwardly trending phenomena known as collective intelligence.

Having lots of low commitment, casual acquaintances is important for your social development. But there is an upper limit on just how many of these relationships you can have by shear virtue of the fact that there are only so many hours in a day and you have to spend time traveling to each of these contacts and arranging a common time for both parties to meet. That was before the web which reduced the personal costs of time and distance to near nothing. Now, with social networking web applications such as Facebook and Twitter, you can maintain a much larger number of casual acquaintances than before. I have seen the future of human evolution and it is virtual.

Prosumers do use facebook in lieu of personal contact, especially if there is conflict to avoid. Gone forever is the "Dear John" letter. You are much more likely to know that you have been ditched by your girl/boyfriend by seeing pictures of them dating their new paramour in their facebook photo album.

That NY Times article also brought up the notion that these web apps solved a basic human need that was not getting met in urban environments. "This is the ultimate effect of the new awareness: It brings back the dynamics of small-town life, where everybody knows your business."

Friday, August 22, 2008

iPhone Design Bad for Jet Setters

I learned something new today. I really thought that the iPhone was a smashing success from both a business and a design perspective. I ran across this blog entry that demonstrates how poor the design of the iPhone really is. Yes, it's sleek. Yes, it's beautiful. But it turns out that the design of the service is pitiful, especially if you travel a lot between countries.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Next Crop of Web Startups

I recently attended Start - A Conference for Entrepreneurs held at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco.

The conference was sold out and no wonder. Luminaries from Twitter and WordPress were there. Founders from 43 Folders, 500 Hats, and Wesabe had some great advice for young, budding entrepreneurs. You can read more about my take on the speakers here. It's the attendees that I want to point your attention to now. I met an Information Architect, a .NET consultant (rare amongst this tribe as Microsoft doesn't have a good hold on the web startup world), a marketing VP for the next killer in box app, an engineer for a social networking site devoted to reading books, and the CEO for a web site devoted to young children.

It's all about finding a niche and filling it. For a phenomena as highly democratic as the web, that means finding a market with an unfulfilled need and filling it. These people are passionate about what they want to do but it's a kind of passion that is all about sensitivity and listening to the market.

If what you are doing isn't working, then throw it away and start over. I don't mean give up. Be persistent but be persistent about what counts which is not the script you're currently working on. One of the attendees called it failing fast. Don't clutch on to your current attempt. If you do and if it's not right, then you'll burn out trying to make it work. Instead, keep looking for new ways until you find the one that works. Everything changes over time so, eventually, what works will stop working.

Flexibility, sensitivity, and agility are the keys to sustainable success. That was the message of this conference and that is my message when it comes to developing software which is my passion.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Second (Life) Coming

Some recent announcements show movement on the part of Linden Labs to open up their protocols for Second Life such that others can host servers to participate in a federated, 3D version of the world wide web.

This is not Linden Labs first journey into open source when they released an open source version of their HUD. What's different this time is that they are taking steps toward releasing server code and protocols such that others can host virtual worlds on their networks which you could teleport to using the Second Life HUD. It still has a long way to go but it is a step in that direction.

Linden Labs isn't the only one using open source as a way to leverage themselves into a larger market where they have to share. This larger trend of moving from content provider to content platform provider means that Linden Labs has to give up a share of the revenue pie in order to be a founding participant in the vision of a World Wide Web where web pages are replaced with 3D virtual spaces and surfers who happen to be visiting that place at the same time get to text message each other.

Considering the impact of Web 2.0 and social networking on the web, I believe this to be a very natural and obvious evolution of the web. There are plenty of competitors who would love to beat Linden Labs to this punch so perhaps that is their "bottom line" motivation to move in this direction.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Rewrite Game

While drinking my morning cappuccino, I ran across this opinion piece on page 4 of the business section in the Sunday edition of the New York Times. Basically, the author is asking Microsoft to rewrite their operating system completely from scratch instead of continuing to enhance it as they have done for decades. He uses Apple as an example of this. They did a complete rewrite of their operating system when they moved from version 9.8 to 10. This is not the first time that an Apple advocate has publicly called on Microsoft to rewrite their operating system.

Why is this noteworthy? Anyone who has written software for public consumption will eventually be faced with the very hard question of whether or not it is time to rewrite. As you enhance or fix software, every change makes the software a little bit more brittle. Over time, this raises the cost of maintaining software. This is really not that much different from the car buying decision. You buy a new car and for years it just runs and all you have to do is normal maintenance stuff like oil and tire changes. As the car gets older, it starts to break down more and more. Eventually, you realize that you are paying more in repair bills than what a car note would be.

Why hasn't Microsoft rewritten their operating system? Because it is too expensive. It has been theorized that Vista has over fifty million lines of code. Think about that number for a minute. You would have to have already celebrated your 95th birthday in order to have lived that many minutes. It takes a lot more than a minute to write a line of code, especially when you are talking about operating system code. Time, mind, and money spent to rewrite what they already have is time, mind, and money not spent on entering all these markets that Microsoft so ambitiously wants to enter in. Google would like nothing more than for Microsoft to rewrite their operating system.

How did Apple do it? They didn't worry about backwards compatibility. If you bought a software product for Macintosh version 9.8, then it would not work on OS X. You would have to make another software purchase just to get the same functionality on the new operating system. Apparently, IPod hugging kids with strange facial hair are more willing to part with their hard earned cash than those pudgy business suit types who just might take their unhappiness to a more litigious level.

Why does backwards compatibility make the rewrite so much more expensive? Well, for one thing, Apple didn't really rewrite OS X from scratch. They took their work on Next Gen and BSD and started from that. Microsoft doesn't have that luxury.

Will Microsoft ever rewrite their operating system? Who can ever say? They do rewrite parts of it from time to time. Also, they really have two operating systems now, one for servers and the other for workstations. Nobody, that I know of, ever really complains about the server OS which I believe to be more strategic for the company over the long haul. It's probably easier and more in line with their long term objectives to relinquish the workstation market to the Apples and the Linuxes of the world than to rewrite Vista.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Bucky Fuller Revisited

I ran across an article in last Sunday's New York Times about everyones favorite cold war era stalwart visionary inventor, engineer, author, and architect Richard Buckminster Fuller.

I remember being quite impressed with this man's writings. While I was in college, I read his Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth and Critical Path books. He introduced the concepts of synergetics and tensegrity to me through these writings. A prolific inventor and thinker, he held 28 patents and was great at reframing complex concepts in new and intriguing ways. People are verbs more than they are nouns. The universe is that "omni-interaccommodative, nonsimultaneous, and only partially overlapping, omni-intertransforming, self-regenerating scenario." To that affect, he was also prolific at coining new terms such as "livingry" and "dymaxion." I was so influenced by this man's work that I even named my startup company Dynamical Software, Inc. as a sort of reverent nod to this man.

Like almost any modern example of good journalism, the New York Times article references a recent event and presents a mild expose. The recent event is an upcoming exhibit (June 26, 2008 through September 21, 2008) of his work at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The expose is a debunking of his "suicide story" in which he claims that, after dropping out of college, failing at business, and becoming a heavy drinker, he seriously considered suicide. Just as he is on the precipice of that dark commitment, he receives an epiphany which causes him to devote his life to the betterment of mankind as a sort of cosmic experiment. Based on research at Stanford University and an upcoming book called "Reassessing R. Buckminster Fuller," the New York Times counter-claims this famous suicide story to be a myth created by Bucky himself. This research does assert that he did have a nervous breakdown after an extra-marital affair, with a women half his age, fell apart.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Gaming and Video Convergence Reloaded

I keep my eyes open for examples of technology convergence such as the convergence between the movie and the video gaming industries. That's why this announcement caught my attention.

The details are a bit sketchy at the time of this writing and the announced deadline is way out but it looks like the Sci Fi Channel is going to simultaneously co-produce both a TV show and an MMORPG.

How is this is different from other movie/MMORPG combinations such as Star Wars and The Matrix? In those two Sony franchises, the movies were made first then the MMORPG followed. The story arc of the game always follows what has already been revealed in the movies.

It appears that what might be different this time is that both the television producers and the game designers will have equal creative say in the franchise. The writers of the series will study what the gamers have done online to work plot elements into the show. They may also schedule events online that dovetail with what is going on in individual episodes. This new innovation kicks media demographic research up a notch from other convergence ties such as CSI:NY on SL.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Facebook Joining the Open Source Bandwagon

It is expected that predominant social networking web site Facebook will soon announce the re-release of its platform as open source. Competitive pressure is credited as the reason behind this move as competing web sites are already positioning to get behind another open source platform for exchanging social information. This is driven by a larger trend in which content providers leverage Metcalfe's law by transforming themselves into content platform providers.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Microsoft Boosts Support for Rival Formats in Office

In a recent news article, Microsoft has announced plans to provide native support for the Open Office file formats in its own office productivity suite.

Open Office is an open source office productivity suite whose development is mostly under the guidance of Sun Microsystems.

Microsoft has made a lot of money off of their own office productivity suite. Over the years, this profit has been used to underwrite Microsoft's attempts to acquire increased share in the markets that Sun traditionally occupies.

I find Open Office to be an excellent office productivity suite. Because of this, I have neither personally used nor purchased a copy of Microsoft Office since 1995. I have used later versions of MS-Office while working for various corporations where that productivity suite is part of the standard, corporate desktop image.

Although MS-Office still enjoys predominance in the marketplace, the list of companies that have switched to Open Office continues to grow. I believe that more and more companies will re-examine their position on MS-Office and its premium pricing as the market of office productivity suites becomes more and more of a commodity.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Media Economy 2.0

I just recently ran across this blog entry by Dennis Haarsager who has become CEO of NPR. He has been promoting the quest for the Long Tail in broadcast media for years. I have no access to the political internals of public broadcasting so let me simply hope that this move is indicative of a healthy change in the industry.

Broadcast media and retail music has always acted in fear of the Web 2.0 movement. They appear to see it as a threat, mostly in terms of intellectual property theft and loss of revenue. My hope is that they can begin to see it as a great opportunity for expansion in new markets. It looks to me like public broadcasting is about to lead the way.

May 15 update: The public sector isn't the only sector finally getting it. CBS announced today that they are purchasing CNet. Though not exactly considered the darling of the Web 2.0 world, CNet's extensive technology and gaming reviews and news shows that it does have an understanding of the long tail.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Why Johnny Coder Doesn't Read

I ran across a blog post today about how most software developers don't read. This is noteworthy because the technology for writing software innovates at a very high rate. How can today's coders keep up if they don't read about new technology? The article conflicts itself about whether or not developers learn about new technology online instead of through books. The major reason given as to why coders don't read books is the lack of quality in the content of the books being published. The author then gives some recommendations for books that he believes coders should read.

I totally agree on the quality issue. Most books on writing software simply stink. They are all about screen shots and "click here, type this" descriptions from the lowest paid geek that the publishing house can find. There are some good books out there written by quality writers but they are in the minority.

Quality isn't the only reason why coders don't read books. Economics is another. The fast pace of innovation dramatically reduces the shelf life of most books on programming that are specific to a particular technology. Microsoft produces a major release of .NET about once every year. Sun Microsystems releases a major release of Java about every two years. The corresponding after market books go for $50 to $75 (USD) a pop. Add to that the fact that the project you are working on most probably won't be able to upgrade to the new version and you quickly find yourself coming to the conclusion that purchasing these books don't have a good ROI.

Another reason why programming books aren't being read by coders is learning modality. Everyone has different experiences which affect how they learn. So, everyone learns differently. What order that facts are presented in a teaching environment affects learning efficacy on a per student basis. Books can't change the order that facts are presented but web sites can because the reader interacts with the content in his or her navigation choices. Obviously, the traditional classroom setting is also sufficiently interactive enough such that a good teacher can get the message across to his motivated students effectively.

I totally agree with the author's book recommendations. Those are some great books to read. You will be a better coder for reading them. In addition to these, permit me to recommend a few more. You may not be a C coder but do read Kernighan and Pike's The Practice of Programming which gives you a great taste for the craft of writing quality code. Most business level development these days is object oriented. If you do anything even similar to object oriented programming, then you owe it to yourself and your employer to read Design Patterns by Gamma, Helm, Johnson, and Vlissides (a.k.a GoF). These two books have a very long shelf life.

Why don't I recommend more books than these? Because, like I said before, people are different. Different strokes for different folks. The book that really does it for me may not work for you. So, get thee to the bookstore (physical or virtual) and leaf through what is available. Look at the writer's style. Pick a topic of interest from the table of contents and read the introductory paragraph. Rinse and repeat until you find the book that you feel is the most lucid and educational for you.

You may be unclear as to what topics that you should be reading about. Well, most modern business application developers should be interested in data access. It is very likely that you will be coding web applications so you should be quite hip to the following standards; HTTP, HTML, SOAP, and CSS. Another interesting platform neutral topic is AOP.

As far as platform specific reading, again, find the right book for you. Looking over my own bookshelf, I can't help but notice the following publishers keep appearing over and over again; O'Reilly, Addison Wesley, Apress, and Prentice Hall Professional. Not a lot here from Wrox or SAMS to be honest. I'm on the fence with IDG, Manning and McGraw Hill. I only have two books from New Riders but they are both good.

Software architects need to go the extra distance to read about competing platforms. Why? How can you make the right choice if you aren't aware of the alternatives? If you don't like to read, then don't become a software architect. Go here for a good list of buzzwords to start your reading list with.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

By Any Other Name

I ran across an opinion piece on CNet calling for the dropping of the term Web 2.0 in favor of something else. The "2.0" thing is really a clever way of saying "the next generation" or "a new way of doing something" and implies innovation. The piece is actually about how small companies re-invent and innovate in the first wave of a new thing while the big companies secretly sit back and learn from these efforts. Then, the big companies come in with deep pockets and take over.

Perhaps it is time to look for something a little more accurate than "web 2.0" but "user generated content" is a little too awkward for marketing buzz. In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that I also succumbed to this cliché when I named the open source Web 2.0 News Portal project.

What would be a better name? Perhaps we should incorporate the term wiki in it since that term was used to describe one of the first online, collaborative web applications. However, that application really was a precursor to what we now know as "web 2.0" and doesn't really focus on any of the social media aspects of web 2.0

What do you think? What would be a better categorical term for web 2.0?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Human Hive Mind

No, this isn't a blog about the borg. Recently, I ran across an article or two on how products such as delver and twine use social networking APIs and semantic web standards to make search results more intelligent. The idea here is that you pick friends based on what you have in common with them. In which case, it stands to reason that what they think as relevant is a reasonable determinant for what you think is relevant.

This is an offshoot on what is more commonly known as collective intelligence. I first ran across this on the web with the google search engine which capitalizes on the science of predictive markets to provide those miraculously relevant search results at the top of the screen. Books such as the Cluetrain Manifesto and Wikinomics predict and expound on the power and inevitability of collective intelligence and the web, where physical proximity has no affect on cost, as a most excellent way of catalyzing collective intelligence.

April 28 Update: I ran across an article recently called Gin, Television, and Social Surplus that presented a different and interesting take on collective intelligence. The author based this on a speech that he gave at a recent conference on Web 2.0 technology and cultural impact. His upshot it this. One place to go looking for collective intelligence is to siphon off a little bit of the enormous amount of time that people spend watching television.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Blogging Considered Harmful

As a blogger, I feel compelled to blog about this NY Times front page article on the health perils of blogging. Apparently, some high profile bloggers have recently suffered heart attacks. Without benefit of any kind of scientific or statistical research, the piece attempts to paint a world where bloggers and smokers share the same fate.

I blog as a hobby and not for pay so I am not exactly an expert on this subject. One of the reasons why I do not attempt to blog for pay is precisely what the article addresses. There is little to no money in it. To make a living off of it does require long hours.

It's not unlike the economics of food production. The person who picks the crop and the person who rings up the purchase makes the least amount of money. It's the people in between who stand to earn (or lose) the most for their bottom line. The blogger is like that person working in the fields. It's the content aggregator or publisher who stands to make (or lose) the most amount of cash in that world.

There is a book entitled Wikinomics that I consider as the sequel to The Cluetrain Manifesto. I'm sure that you have heard the phrase "content is king." These books make the case that the new content that is king is user supplied. This world is not about the cult of personality which is why blogging alone is a very hard way to get rich.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Yet Another Culture War Rant on the Internet

I normally don't comment on the rants of Robert Cringely because I find his rhetoric to be too "over the top" manipulative for my tastes.

However, a recent piece of his, entitled War of the Worlds: The Human Side of Moore's Law motivated me to blog about it here.

Not that I actually agree with his main premise which is that the Internet is going to replace primary education. It's not going to replace schools anymore than it replaced any of the other institutions that pundits have predicted it would replace including newspapers, television, or the family unit. It has and will, however, supplement, augment, and transform all of those institutions.

My experience working with offshore software development houses and in discussions with my peers in academia regarding distance learning lead me to the conclusion that the Internet cannot replace the psychological need to relate to humans in close physical proximity no matter how much money is saved by not having to have everyone together in the same room.

The Internet can, however, reduce these location driven costs because you can have a very effective group even when everyone isn't in the same room all of the time. They need to get together to meet periodically. They need to hang out a little bit. Then they can go back home and continue to work together over the Internet. Productivity can be higher than when they never physically meet at all.

What is your opinion? Are we "under attack" in some kind of culture war or is this just the next phase in human development?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Cell Phones and the World Wide Wireless Web

I recently ran across an article on the Ten Most Disruptive Technology Combinations which included the combination of cell phones and wireless internet access as the number one combination. The article mentions how this convergence blurs the lines between work and play and that is forcing telecom monopolies to open up their networks.

Within the past year, I upgraded my cell phone which included an Internet package. I thought that I would cancel the package pretty soon but I am still willing to pay $20 per month per phone for the privilege of unlimited web and email. I must admit that this is a compelling technology.

So, compelling that I added a mobile edition to my online publication about what affects that technology and the media have on culture.

Authoring web pages for mobile devices is sort of a Back to the Future experience for me. It's all about a small download to a device with limited interactive capabilities. The version of HTML is hyper modern but there are a lot of elements that you cannot or should not use including script, tables, and images. You should also limit links to the navigation within your site.

Summer Update: I have started a new technology company which also includes a mobile edition.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Return of the Semantic Web

About a month ago, I blogged on how the semantic web was having a hard time getting any traction. I mentioned then that the Reuters News Agency was starting to endorse it. Now it appears that Yahoo is also starting to embrace the semantic web through the announcement that they will begin to parse certain microformats with their search engine. Perhaps it is premature to count the semantic web as DOA. I hope so.

Some of you may have noticed that, technically speaking, microformats are not really a part of the semantic web specifications. To me, the semantic web is all about marking up content in a machine understandable way such that the semantic context of searchable content is also specified and searchable.

As the project leader for an open source content publishing system, this is great news for me. I would love to add RDF Site Summary and microformat support to improve the SEO features of this project. There is no reason to add these features unless the popular search engines start using them. I wish that Google would make a definitive announcement of what microformats and/or RSS modules that their search engine would support. Right now, it appears that they are supporting hCard, hAtom, XFN and FOAF.

What is your opinion on this? If you are a content publisher, then what SEO enhancement features and formats would you like to see in your software? The most viable contenders seem to me at this time to be hCard, hCalendar, FOAF, and DC.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Metcalfe's Law

A friend of mine recently emailed me this announcement with the comment "use this with idea and get rich." Although the announcement of an iPhone SDK is new, this is not a new trend. Companies such as Facebook, Google, and Yahoo have all signed up to a degree to the following model.
  • Technology company reinvents itself as a technology platform company.
  • Productizes its application tier with a public facing API.
  • Markets to developers encouraging them to consume their API and "get rich."
  • Takes advantage of subsequent buzz to build brand.
It's Metcalfe's Law all over again which is actually just a variation on the simple market forces of supply and demand. Leveraging developers to increase demand of the data that you supply is a straightforward way to increase the value of your services.

Friday, February 29, 2008

The Art of Project Design

I recently ran across this blog entry on the art of project design. As a longtime director of software development, I believe it to have some very sound advice.

This blogger discourages the use of MS-Project. I am not a big fan of MS-Project either. The biggest reason why I avoid MS-Project is the differentiation of planned versus actual and the fact that an event that is completely out of the control of the end user, namely the passing of time, is what triggers the change in status from planned to actual. Once a task begins, your options of editing it become severely limited.

This blogger uses MS-Excel instead to create his project plans. I prefer GanttProject. I tried Open Workbench recently but was not a fan, primarily because it lacked support for a task hierarchy.

But that wasn't the most important advice from this blogger. Much more important is his admonitions to focus on features and not phases, to build the best features first, to deliver every two months, and to collaborate with your business partner. I gave some very similar advice recently in one of my own posts.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Say a Little Prayer for the Semantic Web

Earlier, I had blogged about SPARQL. The feedback I got was along the lines of asking why I was bothering about that since RDF never really took off. Well, it is true that adoption of RDF is pretty weak. I guess that means the semantic web is not really ready for the main stream yet.

Too bad, really, because the problem that RDF was invented to solve is both interesting and compelling. It is the problem of context sensitive search. Wouldn't it be nice if you could write a search query that differentiates between Huckabee the politician, the store chain, or the movie? Maybe this problem isn't serious enough to bother with the trouble of authoring anything as onerous as an RDF document because google is already doing some special parsing tricks to provide some pre-canned context sensitivity. For example, if you google movie: Huckabee, then you see only movie reviews with the word Huckabee in them. That's not exactly what was wanted but it is closer. You can do similar stuff with define: and stocks: but this is not a complete solution to the problem of context sensitive search. In the world of google these are called search operators.

But perhaps it is still premature to declare RDF as dead. The CEO for the Reuters news agency has talked up RDF in a recent interview. They have even introduced a cool tool for generating RDF from textual content. There's nothing like a cool tool to generate traction in the world of protocol adoption. However, this tool still has a little ways to go before it is going to be of much use. I pointed the tool at another blog entry of mine (Data Access Strategies), just to see what it would do.

What it generated could do little more than identify the following from the article as industry terms; web application server, web application development framework, ruby utilities, django utilities, rapid web application development, business application software development, operational systems, and web application developer frameworks. Not very intelligent, eh? It did correctly identify Martin Fowler as a person but incorrectly identified VB.NET as a company. To give you a basis for comparison, I went to the bother of authoring an RDF of that article myself. That document won't do you much good unless you are comfortable with RDF or have an RDF editor. As I hinted at before, RDF is kind of complicated. Here is a picture of what that RDF looks like when viewed as a resource graph.

Here is a PDF of the graphical version generated by RDF Gravity.

Here's hoping that Reuters continues to work on making this tool better. There is also a recently published extension to the very popular RSS format that allows you to add more context sensitive tags to your site maps. Here's hoping that takes off too.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Top 20 Proprietary Tools That Drive You Poor and Their Open Source Alternatives

Occasionally, I write here to advocate the use of OSS. I ran across a blog entry recently that recommends open source alternatives to popular proprietary tools. I made some open source recommendations for developers but never spelled out the proprietary tools that these were intended to replace. I thought that I would do that here.

OSS Alternatives To Proprietary Tools
ProprietaryOpen Source
VSS, SOSSubversion
SQL ServerMySql, PostGreSql
Internet ExplorerFirefox
Microsoft OutlookThunderbird
Microsoft OfficeOpen Office
Microsoft VisioDia
Magic DrawUmlet

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Agile For Dummies

I just ran across this blog post on Agile Software Development called Don't Know What I Want But I Know How to Get It. One of Agile's main tenets is that software development should be iterative and incremental. The author of this article does a great job of educating just precisely what those two words mean.

This is a great introduction to Agile methodology. The author does a good job at bridging the gap between customer expectations and software engineering reality in a light hearted and humorous way.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Second Look at Second Life

Jon Coffelt is an artist who originally came from the Southeast but now lives and works in Manhattan. I have seen his impressive flat-work (particularly his Cosmos and his Circuit series) featured in galleries in Atlanta, Birmingham, and Miami. His latest show is hanging in a gallery no where in this world. Rather, he is now showing in a gallery called Ten Cubed which is located only in Second Life.

Second Life is an online, virtual, three dimensional, MMORPG without the G (for game) but with an E (for economy). MMORPGs have a long history that predates the Internet. These early precursors where called MUDs and MOOs and were primitive, text based worlds. Today's MMORPGs are sophisticated, graphically and interactively rich environments. The more popular ones include Ultima Online, World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, EverQuest, EVE Online, and RuneScape.

Are these games the competition for this creation of Linden Labs? Well, they are in terms of online mind-share. If you are playing RuneScape, then you are most probably not in Second Life. But Second Life is most certainly not a game in the traditional sense and the kind of people that hang out in RuneScape are not likely to enjoy Second Life. My guess is that the closest competitor to Second Life would be Entropia Universe.

Second Life has many detractors, including a story on the American Public Media radio series called Marketplace that aired very recently. They also have some proponents too. People like Jon would like to know the answer to this question. Just how much value does Second Life hold for them? Is Second Life a novelty which will soon run its course or is it the next wave of wealth creation that is going to be on the same level as Google AdWords?

The answer is both and neither. There is the now famous story of a Chinese born language teacher living near Frankfurt, Germany who has done quite well with her Second Life avatar Anshe Chung. The way it works today, there are two levels of wealth creation within Second Life. There are real estate agents (who rent you a place to stay in Second Life) and there are content creators (who help you decorate it). But you don't have to buy or own anything to be in Second Life. I am a homeless person there (i.e. no property) and we are the majority.

I believe that Linden Labs needs to upgrade their business model in order to scale Second Life up to household word status. Currently, they base their business on a real estate market model. Companies, like Ten Cubed, go in to rent a place for a monthly fee in order to attract customers. Artists, like Jon, hope to sell their art in places like Ten Cubed. I believe that Linden Labs should transition their business to an online advertising model and make Second Life more like a 3D virtual reality version of the Internet. Revenue should be based on impressions and not on floorspace.

For most of us functional, enfranchised folks, Second Life is not a much needed place to escape from first life. Rather, it is just another way to surf the web but a three dimensional web that has support for collaboration and communication built in.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Accessing Data with Some SPARQL

It looks like the W3C has promoted SPARQL to that of a standard. The SPARQL Protocol and RDF Query Language is another "SQL on steroids" that allows you to query RDF documents.

This news is the latest in what seems to be a growing trend to extend or enhance SQL to work against non-relational databases. There is a long history of success in embedding or calling SQL from business software applications as an effective means of accessing data. Using the same pattern with an enhanced SQL for non-relational data seems to be very promising. There are competing patterns that are also emerging where the SQL is generated under the covers and not by the application developer at all. I have blogged on this in a larger article documenting trends in data access strategies for software developers.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Sun Acquires MySQL

In an earlier blog about Open Source Software, I had posited that MySql was perhaps a more relevant open source relational database than PostGreSql by sheer virtue of the fact that Oracle keeps trying to kill it by acquiring the vendors who provide MySql's transactionally aware back ends.

A recent announcement on the MySql site names SUN Microsystems as successfully acquiring the MySql AB corporation. This is a surprise because they usually promote competing open source relational database vendor PostGreSql. Here's hoping that SUN isn't buying MySql in order to kill it so that PostGreSql can grow into MySql's market.

February 2009 Update: MySql founder Michael Widenius has resigned from Sun.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

What Should Students of Software Engineering Learn?

A recent defense department article lamented the decline in quality of computer science graduates. They laid the blame on today's institutions of higher education. The big troll in the article that has generated the most buzz is the claim that students who first learn Java are somehow mentally hamstrung to those who first learn C++. This was based on some private communication with Bjarne Stroustrup who is the inventor of C++.

The reason why the group of students, who first learned C++, outperformed the group of students, who first learned Java, is because C++ is harder to learn than Java. The C++ group is smarter because the ones who couldn't learn C++ dropped out. This skewed the average intelligence of the C++ group higher than that of the Java group.

I do agree with the article that, in order to be a good programmer, you should learn multiple programming languages. I learned a lot from studying the following languages; assembler, C++, C#, Java, Lisp, Python, and Ruby.

The other point about the article that I agree with is the need to teach more than programming languages. In fact, I would go one step further. Teach the computer science concepts in class and the programming languages only in the labs. It's the concepts that hold the most value and should be the center of attention.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Years Resolutions

What better subject for the first blog of 2008 than to revisit the value of the new years resolution? This ritual is a common one that spans many cultures and geographies but how important is it really? Many of us have made these little promises only to break them before the month is out. Is there any value to the new years resolution or is it a waste of time?

The new years resolution asks us to revisit the past year. This reflection helps us recap and summarize our successes and failures. It is here that we are invited to analyze the mistakes that we made and to celebrate our good choices. It is a very up close and personal way to learn about the nature of consequences.

The new years resolution invites us to plan our future. It helps us formulate goals and to come up with an action plan for taking steps toward those goals. It is here that we are allowed to dream about what we want to be in a way that can be obtainable. It is here that we can learn how to take charge of our life.

The new years resolution helps us understand and value the nature of time. Over the years, these resolutions help us to see each life as a voyage. We look back at where we have been and call that the past, that which is known but cannot be changed. We look ahead to where we are going and call that the future, that which cannot be known but can be changed. Time is the ever present now which is the unfolding and transformation of the future into the past. The ritual of the new years resolution says that you are a ship. Grab the rudder and steer your life to where you want to go.

Learning about time and consequences is an important aspect of human development. Every religion has talked about the importance of consequences. Without the lesson of time, the lesson of consequences is simply this. Do good things and get rewarded. Do bad things and get punished. With the lesson of time, the lesson of consequences deepens significantly. We are defined by the choices we make. Religion isn't the only organized institution that codifies this lesson. The media reiterates this teaching through a long list of movies. The short list, of which, that comes to my mind is It's a Wonderful Life, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Harry Potter, even Spiderman 3.