Web 2.0 and the Future of Pervasive Computing

Friday, October 28, 2005

Is AJAX-Powered, Rich Client technology an example of a Disruptive Technology?

I am always a bit suspect when people start using terms like "Disruptive Technology." It is one of those overloaded terms that seems to get abused far more than it should. As a personal aside to all those power-brokers out there who love buzz words, please read an author's book before you use his terms. It makes a difference.

Ok, so for those of you that are unfamiliar with the term, it was coined by Harvard professor Clayton Christensen in his book, Innovator's Dilemma. Unlike other authors that have attempted to venture into the innovation area, Christensen presents a cogent theory describing a particular type of innovation. In the article, "Will Disruptive Innovations Cure Health Care," appearing in Harvard Business Review, Christensen describes disruptive technologies as cheaper, more convenient products or services that start by meeting the needs of less demanding customers. These technologies do not initially perform as well as incumbent products with respect to current price/performance metrics. The catch is, however, that these technologies eventually match the price/performance of incumbent products and introduce a new metric for performance along the way. For example, the performance of 14 inch disk drives was initially measured by cost/megabyte. When 8 inch disk drives were introduced, they did not initially perform as well from a price/performance perspective. Eventually, however, they not only matched 14 inch disk drive performance, but introduced a new metric for performance--size.

That being said, is AJAX-Powered, Rich Client technology an example of a disruptive technology? It sure looks it might. Rich Client technology is being utilized to create a new breed of web-based application. The performance of applications built using this technology is definitely not up to par with current desktop applications with respect to the amount of relative functionality accessible via their programmatic frameworks. Over the past year, however, these technologies have transformed from a couple neat hacks into full development frameworks. Applications leveraging rich client technology have become increasingly sophisticated. Are these applications up to par with the best of the desktop apps? No--but, if they continue to improve at this rate they will. If and when they do get there, a new metric for performance will have been introduced--accessibility. Stay tuned for more fun. Later fanboys.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Sign of a Healthy Web 2.0 Startup

VC's sometimes talk about the concept of "sweat equity." For those of you out there that are unfamiliar with that sometimes annoying term, it means that you put in your time eating mac and cheese and staying up all night to forge an idea into a company. Then after you suffer enough, some benevolent VC swoops down and rewards all your hard work. Well, how do you validate the fact that you have put in a lot of time? Results right ? Well, here at Clearspring Technologies we have achieved those results.

We have consumed so much RedBull over the course of the past year that our distributor has given us a giant RedBull refrigerator as a gift. Our company is so hooked on RedBull that the newspaper mentioned our penchant for the elixir of power in a recent news article. To all those out there who doubt our commitment to excellence--behold. Clearspring is coming for you. Thanks Patrick!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Web 2.0 and Semantic Web

McManus wrote yet another great post today discussing Web 2.0 and Semantic Web. I cannot agree more with the sentiment he expresses in the article. Calm down people. Web 2.0 is not the devil. It is our friend. To all those Web 2.0 naysayers, if you do not like it do not use it. Do not talk about it. Do not invest in it. Please, however, leave those of us that are trying to build the next generation of the web in peace.

Now, let's move on to the topic at hand--Web 2.0 vs. Semantic Web. It is not a competition. These two memes are complementary. The vision of Web 2.0, the web as platform for services that is bound together by people, can be facilitated by using Semantic Web technologies. What? That can't be!!! Semantic Web people are a bunch of geeks at Carnegie Mellon, MIT, and Stanford that are trying to force us into using complicated ontologies and logic systems. Web 2.0 people are hippies that like tags, RSS, XML and free love.

Um...yea. For all those people that think that there is this vast difference between Web 2.0 and Semantic Web I have a message for you. The reason people are at battle over the two seemingly opposing philosophies is simple--semantics. Figure out what Web 2.0 really means. Figure out what Semantic Web technologies can accomplish. Forget the Scientific American article by TBL and think about the next steps that we need to take to accomplish the dream of Web 2.0. After that I think you will be excited that there are cool things on the way. Even the media darling Google has made moves towards this space, hiring one the premier pioneers in Semantic Web--Guha--this May. Guha spent the last several years of his life with Apple, Netscape, and Stanford working on RDF-related technologies. If you still don't believe me--just wait--it will all be coming around sooner than you think. Later fanboys.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Web 2.0 is still new--take it easy!

There has been an increasing amount of controversy surrounding the hype associated with Web 2.0. To all those folks that are already gearing to attack--take it easy--Web 2.0 is still new. Nothing has happened yet.

Ask your mom and dad if they use any of the popular Web 2.0 services. Ask folks at Fortune 500 companies what their strategy is to react to the evolution of Web 2.0. Ask your friends if they have invested in any Web 2.0 companies stock, or are excited about the exciting new direction that the web has taken. They will look at you like you are crazy. And, the first question they will undoubtedly ask is--what is Web 2.0?

I agree with Richard McManus, Web 2.0 is at the stage of the early web. The ideas are there. The timing is right. The culture is ready. The seeds have been planted. But, we still have a ways to go. Just because we understand that this is going to be huge as techno-geeks, it does not mean heaven and earth are going to shift tomorrow. The main difference that people seem to forget between now and when the web started to emerge, is that now we HAVE the web. Geeks can quickly see other geeks adopting technology. This makes us feel warm and fuzzy. We think that because there are other folks out there that we can see using this stuff, it is about to explode tomorrow. It is not. It will definitely come to market faster, but we are still the minority and adoption takes time.

In my humble opinion, I think we need to do less talking and more coding. There will always be naysayers and luddites. The best part of every wave is how those folks ultimately are the beneficiaries of the technology. Just cover your ears and hack towards the next big thing.

Monday, October 24, 2005

It's 2005 (Not 1999)

I read an interesting post today on Fred's blog regarding the current excitement in the valley. Many folks believe that we are in 1999. I disagree. When I last checked my calendar it was 2005.

In 2005 the web is not new. There are a billion people online. Kids do not explain what the differences between the desktop and browser to their parents. Parents "google" on their own. It no longer requires massive investment to create a web-based service, 3 guys and a dream can do it with a couple credit cards. There is no doubt that web-based companies can make money. Web-based service providers such as Google now have super-powers like Microsoft scrambling to keep pace.

In 2005, the web is no longer regarded as a mechanism for publication. The web is transforming into a platform for services. Traditional applications, once bound to the desktop, are being supplanted. People do not wonder if applications will move to the web, they wonder when. Services are no longer viewed in isolation, but as a single cohesive computing experience centered around people. Information sharing is no longer a feature--it is a
requirement. The bottom line is that, in 2005, we are experiencing a paradigm shift.

We also experienced a paradigm shift in 1999. Yes, the paradigm shift we experienced in 1999 also involved the Internet. And yes, many of the same business models that were supposed to change the world have resurfaced. Does that mean that the circumstances are the same? Most certainly not. Computing is cheap, broadband is ubiquitous and our culture has changed. Some ideas that did not make sense in 1999, make more sense now. Do people question the utility of laptops, despite the fact that Osbourne computer failed to release the first wave? Do people question the utility of hand-helds despite the fact that the Apple Newton tanked? No.

Although the dot-com boom undoubtedly was not meant to last, the results of this exciting time changed the world. Accordingly, the results of the Web 2.0 phenomenon will rock the very foundations of our notions of computing. To those in the investment community balking at this change just remember, "A big wave carries a lot of surfboards."

You can't avoid Web 2.0. It is coming. So have fun and try to make some money!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Flock Post!

I am posting from Flock! I don't know why, but it keeps giving me some damn error. Oh well. Hope this works.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Web 2.0 Utopia Reality Check

As you are all well-aware, different companies and projects falling under the banner Web 2.0 have been popping up like crazy. Everyone is in beta. Releases happen daily. It's all about getting users--fast. Although I am a proponent of agile software development, I also understand that this strategy is not effective for every company. In fact, I am a bit shocked at some of the posts that seem to imply that if you cannot release your product in atomistic chunks that you are violating one of the 10 commandments of Web 2.0 and clearly doomed to failure.

Although this approach may work for some companies and initiatives, it is not the path for everyone. Like the waves before this, we have to be careful not to get caught in the hype. Advocates of the whole build now, worry about the architecture later approach, seem to have forgotten some lessons from their freshman year programming courses. Hacking may get you through an assignment, but it definitely gets you in trouble on those big projects. You may get stuck in some local minima with respect to your platform because you did not consider the grander picture. Getting stuck at a local minima point requires you to throw away and start again. Unfortunately, the market may not be as forgiving as your professor.

From what I have gathered from blogs, it seems to me that the VCs have been favoring this rapid release, incremental model of late. Although I am glad to see the fun is back on the web, it has me a bit worried. Some folks are forgetting that sometimes it takes a bit more to get something significant going. Umair Haique seems to allude to this point in his most recently post stating, "What made the Valley cool was it's refusal to think small, and do truly disruptive things. But getting a small change acquisition to essentially extend a Yahoo/Google/etc product line sets incentives for incremental, not disruptive, innovations and models." Richard McManus backs him up and believes that “...the observation is a good one, because of all the current crop of start-ups I can't think of many that have the potential to become the next Google or Yahoo!”

The flood gates are open and Web 2.0 is out. A revolution is brewing and the web is truly becoming the de facto platform for computing. As we build our platform, however, let's not forget that, "Just as you can't build a house on sand, you can't build "a global operating system" based on a presentation layer and a few scripting kludges." To do things right sometimes just requires a bit more thought, capital, planning, and--that's right--risk.

Crazy idea, but something to think about. That is all.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Trying to Define Web 2.0

Web 2.0 has taken the Internet by storm. This year we set the record for the largest number of web sites generated in a single year--17.5M--and the year is not even out. This beats the previous record attained during the height of the "" boom of 16M sites. New companies and projects are springing up left and right with names like YubDub, Rollyo, and Zimbra. Yahoo acquired Flickr. Ebay acquired Skype. AOL acquired Weblogs. The Web 2.0 conference was sold out at $2800/head. Apparently there was not even standing room. In short ladies and gents--the web is back. Although these are undoubtedly exciting times the question still remains, what the heck is "Web 2.0?" Is it an adjective? Is it a noun? Can it even be described?

Some very smart people have dedicated entire blogs to this topic, publishing a litany of associated terms and accompanying philosophical treatises. Some folks define the term with respect to a certain set of technologies such as AJAX, XML, RSS, etc. Other parties attempt to define Web 2.0 with a more sociological bent. The web is characterized by a culture of participation that is evident from the "tag-mania." There are also those brave souls that try to describe the phenomenon at a higher level of abstraction, calling it the "read/write web," "web as a platform," and "social web." Finally, there is the ever popular "core-dump" approach where people simply try to say that Web 2.0 is all of these things and more. It is a holy force that is not subject to our primitive semantics. We should not try to capture the essence of Web 2.0, lest we incur the wrath of the Internet Gods.

I don't believe that to be the case. I think we can probably hack something out. Can't we? Let's give it a shot just for giggles.

Web 2.0: (1) A platform enabling the utilization of distributed services, (2) the phenomenon describing the transformation of the web from a publication medium to a platform for distributed services. (3) characterized as a technology, service, meme, or entity that leverages, contributes, or describes the transformation of the web into a platform for services.

Ex 1) Your program should to leverage the emerging Web 2.0.
Ex 2) Web 2.0 is generating a huge buzz!

Ex 3) Flickr is definitely Web 2.0.

A service can be an end-user facing service (Flickr), or a programmatic service (REST/SOAP/RSS).

Wait! You did not give us one definition. The dictionary doesn't always do it, why should I? I felt obligated to try both out. I am most definitely not the not the first to use the term "web as a platform." In fact, Tim O'Reily has this at the center of his ever-popular "meme-map." So, let's try to test my definitions with some popular terms. Let's try a couple fun test cases for (3). I think the first two are clear by inspection.

RSS - A technology that contributes to the transformation of the web into a platform. RSS is effectively an API for data.

AJAX - A technology that leverages existing services to create applications (user-facing services) inside of a web browser.


A meme that effectively describes a breed of niche web-based applications that leverage existing services. Long tail applications can be remixes (mash-ups), social applications, or extensions of existing services (Andale).

REMIX (Mash-up) - See LONG TAIL

GOOGLE - An entity that is leveraging web sites to create a search services and is contributing to the transformation of the web into a platform by creating additional services that have open APIs.

See Google

AMAZON - See Google

This meme is another way of saying that the web is a platform.

Web-based, end-user facing services, that contribute to transformation web as a platform for services by fueling the creation of syndicated content (RSS).

CULTURE OF PARTICIPATION - Meme that is fueling the creation of increased data services (RSS) and providing incentive for entities to create more services.

VOIP - A technology that provides an additional service on the web.

The web is clearly transforming from a publication mechanism into a platform for services. This is an eventuality that we could not avoid. We have supply chains in manufacturing. It only makes sense that as we transition to an information economy, we have supply chains for data as well. All of the major players ranging from Amazon to Google have made their APIs available to the public. Remixing has hit the web by storm and adventurous developers have given birth to a new breed of rich, internet application fueled by open web services. Even the Microsoft Empire is moving to unleash some of their treasure trove onto the web. It looks like it will be exciting year with lots to write about.

As always, I sincerely appreciate your comments and suggestions. Whew that was tough! I suppose this an exercise that I must undertake not only because I am building a Web 2.0 company, but also in order to maintain my own sanity.

That's all for me fan-boys. Back to weaving the web for your Friendly Neighborhood Hoo. Stay tuned for more exciting posts!