Web 2.0 and the Future of Pervasive Computing

Friday, March 31, 2006

7 Problems with Hive 7

Behold the future of the web - Hive7. This is the latest core-dump from Silicon Valley. Hive7 is an AJAX-powered, 3D Virtual World. It is all live in the browser, requires no downloads, and - of course - is free. Oh and in case you were wondering, the development was outsourced so it was all done on the cheap. Sounds great right?

Has the whole world gone absolutely, stark-raving, mad?

Just because you can use AJAX to do some slick tricks in the browser it does NOT mean that it is a good idea to use it for everything. Would you want to live in a house built from Popsicle sticks? Apparently, the folks at Hive7 think so.

Not only is the implementation of the site a bit scary from a scalability perspective, but a visit to Hive7 feels like an old Tandy game gone terribly awry. The user interface is something out of one of those bad educational games they made us play back in the day.

Ok, so I could go on about this for some time. As I do not intend to spend the rest of my life on this, I will make my best attempt to boil down my 7 Problems with Hive7:

1. Physical World Constraints: Not always convenient to "travel."
2. Usability Issues: User interface physics unclear.
3. Lacks Aesthetic Appeal: Nuff said.
4. Scalability Issues: Super-Interactive w/Javascript?
5. Security and Privacy Lacking: No brainer.
6. Latency and Disconnects: Duh.
7. Random bears and flowers: WTF.

I am all for experimentation and trying fun new things (almost to a fault). But this is a company trying to create and deliver a value-added service. And trying to build a scalable, interactive, virtual social environment on a bunch of duct tape script and a less than slick UI is just too much - even for a mad tinkerer like me.

On the plus side, I will say that the "vision" behind Hive7 is admirable and future-thinking. And clearly, social networks and avatars are starting to really get some serious attention. In my humble opinion, if the folks at Hive7 want to be players in this emerging digital world they have some serious work ahead of them.

For more on this see Om's post. Later fan-boys.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Best Technorati Tag Ever!

Jammin' wit Marc Canter

Yesterday I had the unique pleasure of jamming out on a whiteboard with web-ninja Marc Canter. Thanks Miles and Phil.

It was a truly amazing experience to hash out ideas for the next net with one of the founding fathers of rich media software. As we have grown our company, I have had the opportunity to learn from a ton of really sharp folks. I have to say, however, it is always the most fun to chat with fellow web-slingers that not only are really passionate about making the web a better place, but are also actively working to make their dreams a reality.

In case you have been living in a hole for the last couple months, Marc is hard at work on a pretty nifty project - Structured Blogging. For those of you that missed it (shame on you), I blogged on this back in December. This project is yet another force driving the web away from the current unstructured mess that we have now (text + graphics = goo) and towards a more structured (machine understandable) representation of data (woo-hoo).

If you did not figure it out already, the more structured information that is available online, the easier it will be for developers to put together applications for users. The easier it is for developers to make applications, the more fun the web will become. Accordingly, one can logically conclude that Structured Blogging will undoubtedly contribute to an increased level of "fun-ness" on the web and - thus - must be supported. That is enough silliness for now. Back to serious issues…

Marc is also helping push some other stuff out that will contribute to the creation of a global SOA:

If you have not already, I encourage you to check these things out. In particular, to all you hackers out there, the last two links point to some fun web services that enable you to tie even more things together across the emerging "Structured Web."

Ok kids - family time is over. Hooman go work now. Viva la Structured Revolution.

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Web 2.0 and the Birth of the Semantic Web

In 2005, critics of Web 2.0 were confident that it was a fad, claiming that it was another bubble waiting to burst. Some folks assert that we are witnessing the Web 2.0 "fizzling" out right now. I disagree.

The Web 2.0 movement is now full steam ahead. The net is buzzing as new products and services are released almost everyday. It is now standard that web-based service providers make functionality available to enterprising developers via APIs. A new breed of applications leveraging web services are being created at astonishing rates by these developers. Mashups are such a big deal that the original bad-boy of venture capital, Kleiner Perkins, recently funded Platial - a mashup built using Google Maps. The web is changing so fast that a set of bloggers, such as Mike Arrington, Emily Chang, Pete Cashmore, and Brian Benzinger, have made a name for themselves simply by keeping the rest of us informed (thanks) of developments in the space. More importantly, perhaps, is that large organizations [cough...MSFT] with billions of dollars are rushing to "embrace and extend" [cough, cough...CASH IN ON] the change. It goes without saying that the current environment is - to say the least - dynamic.

Amid the mounting chaos, however, structure is emerging. Web services, structured blogging, tagging, deep web search, microformats, edge readers, syndication, and even Microsoft Clipboard are all harbingers of something much bigger. Unstructured data is quickly becoming a thing of the past as the old web gives way to something new. For those of you that have been working in the Semantic Web space, your spidey-sense is probably tingling like mad. Why? Because you see what is happening.

The Web 2.0 movement is setting the stage for a paradigm shift that will undoubtedly alter the course of human history - the birth of the Semantic Web.

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Saturday, March 25, 2006 NOT for Most Web 2.0 Apps

Sun Microsystems new grid computing offering,, was introduced this past week with much fanfare. Jonathan Schwartz boldly proclaimed the service as "the first, publicly accessible instantiation of the future of computing." Clearly, this is a good thing for network-centric computing and there has been a great deal of discussion online regarding the impact of the release. Although I applaud Sun for moving one step closer toward their vision of "The Network is the Computer", the solution really is not applicable to most companies that are developing web-based software applications.
Grid programming is not new. Frameworks like the Globus Toolkit have enabled the creation of massively parallel programs for some time now. The problem with grid computing is that it is not applicable to a large set of applications. Why? Well, first off, most existing applications are not written with a grid-infrastructure in mind. You cannot just dump these applications onto the grid and expect them to speed up. More importantly perhaps, is that for many applications computation is not the biggest bottleneck. Sure there are certain applications in bioinformatics and financials services that require some serious number-crunching, but I would argue that the majority of companies developing web-based software have a far greater demand for top-quality, managed hosting solutions, for their respective multi-threaded applications.

If I were Sun, I would create a "out of the box" hosting service using Niagara machines, their current open source stack, and offer utility computing as a premium add-on. That way, software companies can get the value-added service they need most - managed hosting - and as they scale will have unique the ability to easily add additional processing capability. I mean wouldn't it be great to go to, quickly configure an OS, database, and App Server in minutes and avoid nasty data center issues? Better yet, you wouldn't you love to have the ability to profile application performance and - as the demand increases for your applications - scale your processing with the touch of a button? I know that our company would love this kind of service.

I hope that the folks at Sun wake up and put together something like this. They already have all the parts and are really missing the boat on a pretty large market.

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Classic Web 2.0 Business Model

What are the business models? This is the million dollar question (literally) on everyone's mind - especially VCs - concerning many of the companies being generated as a result of the burgeoning Web 2.0 movement. Fred Wilson, a VC (in NYC) recently had a post on his site discussing his favorite web business model. He described this model as follows:
Give your service away for free, possibly ad supported but maybe not, acquire a lot of customers very efficiently through word of mouth, referral networks, organic search marketing, etc, then offer premium priced value added services or an enhanced version of your service to your customer base.
Fred did not have a name for this classic web business model and asked if anyone had a name for it. I have not heard of a particular name associated with this model as yet, but I view this model as classic example of the "foot-in-the-door" technique employed by the door-to-door salesmen of old. Wikipedia has an entry with a bit more info:

Foot-in-the-door technique is a persuasion method. In it, the persuader does something small in order to catch the target's interest, before moving on to what he really wants. This may be a small, insignificant offer which the receiving party cannot logically refuse. After the receiving party has accepted the offer, the offeror proposes another, but more significant offer. Because the receiving party has already accepted the smaller offer from the offeror in the past, he will be more inclined to accept the second offer than from someone he had just met. A related trick is the Bait and switch.

On the web, things are not so different. I find out about Skype through some viral marketing mechanism such as an email signature. Then I go to Skype's website and use their free calling service. After being wildly impressed with the free service, I will now feel comfortable with the company and, accordingly, will be more inclined to purchase a value-added, premium service - or so the story goes.

Given that the business model Fred discussed is simply an extension of this classic "foot in the door" sales technique, maybe you could call it a "Digital Foot-in-the-Door" model. Anyone have any thoughts?

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

How to Make Your Blog Web 2.0 Compliant

I have finally made it. The proof is the shiny new image on the right hand side of my blog. Convergence is now officially Web 2.0 compliant. Well, actually, I am only 44% compliant.

To get your official Web 2.0 certification, visit the folks at Certifyr. It is definitely a pretty nifty gimmick. You visit their site, provide some information about your website, and in return they give you back your compliance rating and a little HTML do-dad to put on your website.

This site was created by Adbrite, the self-styled "Internet's Ad Marketplace." My guess is that they created Certifyr so that bloggers (like me) would talk about it - potentially driving traffic to their main site and increasing their brand value. Well guys, if that was your goal then kudos to you. I had my fun. Ironically, Adbrite is only 38% Web 2.0 Compliant.

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Monday, March 13, 2006

Implicit Web Service Contracts

Mashups are all the rage these days. People are going gaga over the veritable explosion of possibilities associated with leveraging multiple online services in tandem to deliver a unique class of derivative services. Programmable Web, the popular Web 2.0 developer destination, has over 500 mash-ups listed that leverage 178+ listed web services. From what I can tell, there are roughly 1-3 new mashups being created everyday. Maybe more importantly to some enterprising developers is that some very large VCs are paying very close attention.

Although this new breed of application is undoubtedly exciting, there are still a couple of issues that require some serious thought from the community - especially surrounding the use and monetization of constituent web services. A number of folks, such as Peter Rip, have started to address issues surrounding the complex ecosystem associated with mashup development, but there is a long way to go as the Global SOA begins to emerge.

One set of issues that has consistently come up - aside from business models – surrounds the obligations of service providers to their developer communities. In other words, "What if Google decides to pull the plug on the service you are using to create your mashup?" It is an interesting question and, frankly, a fair one. The short answer is, "I dunno." If Google, or some other provider, decides to cut the proverbial cord then mashup developers will be forced respective application. As an aside, this actually does not affect things too much with our platform. More on this to come. That being said, however, that scenario is pretty unlikely to happen - especially the longer the service is actively supported and available online. Why, you ask?

Implicit Web Service Contract - when a service provider posts an API online for use by the developer community, that action results in the formation of an implicit agreement with developers, or "contract," that promises a certain level of platform availability. In other words, I as the developer will create some value-added mashup application using your platform, but you as the service provider have to ensure some level of availability with respect to the service, or else.

Google Local (Maps - back in the day) has maintained an open API for some time now. As a result, a number of developers have created applications that leverage this API to deliver services with unique value propositions, such as HousingMaps. If Google was to decide that – one day – they were better off releasing their own set of "Mashups" to replace incumbent maps mashups and shut down their API, there would probably be hell to pay. Hundreds of angry developers that invested their valuable time and energy to create services would be screaming bloody murder as they marched through the Valley with signs saying "Do No Evil My @$$"

Ok, so maybe that is a bit extreme. But seriously, once a community develops around an API it is pretty hard to take down the service, or even change the API, without serious repercussions. The networking affect is huge and developers are an unruly lot. If a service provider, like Google, were to even change an API in a way that impacted developers negatively, some developers might consider walking away. It goes without saying that they would definitely think twice before using any other service(s) that the Goog made available. Not only would the move disenfranchise developers, but it would also damage the brand reputation of the service provider on the open web with early adopters. For anyone who knows the web, alienating those two communities represents a serious transaction cost with a very real bottom line impact.

So service providers beware - publishing an API is a great idea if you want to transform your service into a true platform, but walk carefully as making changes to your Implicit Web Service Contract can result in some rather expensive waves.

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Monday, March 06, 2006

AOL Changing Dynamics of Social Networks

AOL recently announced that they are officially opening up their immensely popular instant messaging platform to the developer community and enabling a new generation of AIM-powered IM clients/services. According to Kevin Conroy, executive vice president of AOL Media Networks:
The next wave of opportunities will come as a result of allowing developers to innovate. AIM is the original social network. We're looking for ways for consumers to be able to extend their social networks via an already popular platform.
This is an absolutely brilliant position and pretty damn significant. AOL Instant Messenger boasts a community of 63M users. That is more users than the wildly popular - and closed - social network, mySpace, which currently has 56M users. By integrating IM functionality with other online services (blogging, photo sharing, mapping, etc) developers can create a host of powerful, cross-functional, services that leverage and extend the power of their existing social networks. More significantly, perhaps, is that if AOL can manage to become the de facto instant messaging/social network on the emerging service-oriented web, they will have scored a big win.

There are a couple catches however, that will have to be addressed over time. Most notably, the AIM Developer FAQ states:
Developers are not permitted to build Custom Clients that are multi-headed (I think they meant threaded) or interoperable with any other IM network.
That requirement is no footnote and means that - for now - we still not at the point where we can easily exchange instant messages across the major networks. Suffice to say, that is a huge impediment to developing a truly pervasive and ubiquitous computing environment. Also, I wonder how this will affect folks like Meebo and their competition.

Although there is still a ways to go, this move will undoubtedly herald the beginning of a more open social software space. Incumbent social network services such as Friendster and LinkedIn will be forced to reconsider their current "closed" positions and maybe even gradually open up as a result of increased competitive pressures. Those services that desperately hang on to the Web 1.0 "do-it-yourself" mentality, however, will probably go the way of their dot-com predecessors - buhbyes.

Regardless, I am impressed that the folks at AOL are moving in this direction and am truly excited to watch the dynamics of the social software space change in response to the announcement.

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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Where, oh where, did my Nivi go?

Nivi is definitely one of the more interesting characters in the blogosphere. Once upon a time, you could find him on his blog, aptly titled Nivi, ranting about random topics ranging from technology to venture capital. Recently, however, our friend has vanished into the ether without a trace. The question that is on all of our minds is - where, oh where did our Nivi go? Here are 3 theories that I have come up with:

1. He has transformed into pure energy
2. He is on a covert mission to save the planet
3. Bessemer has got his hands full

If anyone has any theories/knowledge concerning his whereabouts, please let me know. In real life though, Nivi-jan, please come back - the blogosphere is not quite as fun without you. That is all fan-boys. Back to work for this web-slinger.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

WTF - Technorati is Sorry?

Technorati is out for the count (again). This is the second time that this has happened to me in the past couple weeks. When I tried to look up some tag goodness to place in my most recent blog post, this was the message I got:

They are sorry? What the heck is that about? Look, I am all for the rapid release, trial and error, Web 2.0, we are all friends, blah blah blah. But a mature service going down for a couple minutes two times in one month? Sheesh - fix it! I am one unhappy Hoo. That is all.

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New Google Adsense Competitor

Miva is introducing an online service to compete with Google Adsense and the Yahoo Publisher Network, claiming that current solutions lead to the erosion of public brands. According to
Miva said it gives publishers more control, letting them generate revenue while protecting their brands' integrity. Google and Yahoo erode publishers' brands with their pay-per-call programs, for example, by extracting information for their own purposes, while Miva can offer publishers "no strings attached."
Peter Corrao, Miva's Chief Operating Officer had this to say:
We believe our contextual solution will provide publishers with significantly improved flexibility and control, enabling them to attract and retain advertisers and to more substantially monetize their own brands on the Web
Should be interesting to see how the advertising game plays out. I wish them the best of luck, as they are definitely in for a fight.

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