December 18, 2006

Meanwhile Adobe's Apollo makes a lot of sense.

One thing I'm always curious about. Where is Javasript as a scripting language for desktop apps?
Sorry, this really isn't meant to be a Dave Winer fan-site, but this is worth watching.

December 04, 2006

Not sure I get this.

Why does a telephone company want to be a broadcaster?

October 26, 2006

Go Dave!

I think maybe I should write a book about how you invent and promote standards for fun and profit, because what I'm doing here is exactly what I did when I started blogging, or publishing in XML and then RSS, or started pushing audio blog posts as enclosures in my RSS feeds. You start by putting two things next to each other that you think should work together. Then you shorten the distance, and shorten it again, and keep optimizing until you have something that other people could use. Then you tell them about it, and tell them again, and again and so on until you have a standard.

October 04, 2006

Accelerated suicide
Great Steve Yegge post on the importance of Javascript.

This OTM :

This phenomenon will happen in the browser space. I can assure you it will. It's an economic certainty. There's money at play here, lots and LOTS of money; every company in the world wants a cool website. Not just a cool website; they want cool apps. Companies are realizing — glacially, yes, belatedly, yes, but inexorably — that most people with computer access in the world today live inside their browser, and they'd prefer not to leave it.

"Everyone in the world" — that's an awful lot of money at stake.

So as soon as "Scheme on Skis" or "JavaScript on Jets" or whatever comes along, that Rails-like radical simplification of the huge ugly Browser Swamp, the game will change almost overnight.

Kind of makes up for the dumb things he said about Agile a couple of posts ago. ;-)

September 28, 2006

Hendy commented that Ning isn't open source.

Agreed. I'd like to see an Open Source online web-app development / code-generation / code-management / code-sharing platform. Possibly Trac could evolve in this direction (from a very different starting point.)

I notice that I missed something from the list of improvents (in that previous post I linked) in web development. I said templating-oriented development (eg. PHP), and object publishing systems (eg. Zope) were the only real changes from trying to program web-apps as though they were any other kind of app.

Perhaps I need to add continuations based servers like Seaside. I finally watched these videos and got how cool this is.

Essentially you're allowing the language to hide all the session / interaction management.
Who owns the on-demand customer?

September 14, 2006

Joel trolling the Ruby community (yes you are, you know it)

Meanwhile, wouldn't the practical thing to do be to write the little bits that need to be fast in C?

September 13, 2006

The moral of the story is simple. You should see Heavy and YouTube as opposites in strategic error. Heavy doesn't create enough value consistently enough to be able to exert enough pressure to capture a significant share. YouTube, on the other hand, is creating a great deal of value - but also can't exert enough pressure to capture a significant share.

Bubblegeneration Strategy Lab

September 09, 2006

Trac Hacks is the free-for-all wiki-market where you can find Trac plug-ins and extension macros.

September 05, 2006

What's one of the most amazing, cool, web-based apps that no-one talks about?


It's not flashy, or Ajaxy. But this packs so much useful functionality. Every time I show this to a developer, they drool.

Right now, if I was building a wiki-like application product for use in enterprises, or something to compete with Basecamp, I'd seriously consider starting here rather than with the usual Rails or Turbogears etc. It feels so well thought out that I bet the code is nice. And it's extensible.

August 28, 2006

Steve Gillmor on Offices

Actually, Google Apps for your Domain is sort of the opposite of what I'm predicting, that SaaS will also be available for local caching. Here the opposite seems to be taking place. Google keep hosting it their end, but let you brand it your way.

Unless, of course, it ends up in a sealed box.

August 27, 2006

August 26, 2006

John Robb compares US rule-set globalization with the real thing.

If the US rule-set is Windows, the new, minimal rule-set is free-software. A lot more open and dynamic (but less user-friendly?)

River of News

Of course, talking about Winer gets links from Dave and more discussion in the comments than most postings. But I don't just do it for the flow. There's something really interesting going on here.

But thanks for all comments, here're my responses (including further development of ideas) :

gardenstate :

of course the money comes from selling But Winer has no reason to try to mislead people and pretend he has other types of income. He's trying to expand your way of thinking about the economic model of blogs to *include* things like that deal.

danny :

Don't we all take ideas from elsewhere and mix and match them together? I've seen Winer sometimes more, and sometimes less, meticulous about setting the record straight about his influences. He credits them often enough that I think he's not deliberately trying to mislead, although, agreed, I've seen him lazily allow an interviewer call him things like the "inventor of RSS" without correcting that too. (My take is that Dave didn't invent RSS the way Ray Kroc didn't start McDonalds.)

Seems to me, one of the issues is that Dave's been around since the 70s and is copying ideas that were already current then. Today people say "why doesn't Winer credit TBL for the idea of a readable / writable web?" But Dave claims to have been working on outliner-shaped public discussions on buletin-boards in the 80s. If anything he should probably be crediting Plato. Or maybe Engelbart.

In terms of platform building, Winer's modus operandi has always been *incremental*. River of News for NYT and BBC is infinitessimal as a technological invention; it just makes the lives of one group of people (Blackberry users) a tiny bit easier.

But behind the scenes, lots of interesting things are going on : people are getting used to Dave's server becoming an intermediary to their news-reading lives. Pretty soon (I'm betting) there'll be OPML in there. For editing subscriptions, or filters or something else.

So Winer's made strategic links, wiring up various components and actors : big media, himself, mobile devices, an existing user base, OPML Editor, OPML, RSS.

Compare this to Apple's strategy for music. That worked because Apple had all the pieces : iPod as the mobile player, iTunes as the software for buying and recommending, their DRM format, *plus* big music companies willing to go with them. All the parts were there. A music player or service disconnected from this network may have been technically "better" in many ways, but the overall ecosystem from Apple was compelling.

Winer has nothing like the resources of Apple, but look, he's created the same shape of platform : he's got the content, he's got the nice reader, he's got the flow going through his middleware. And now he can start innovating on top of that. Like I say, I'm betting it will start with "edit your subscriptions in an OPML Editor" although Winer's hinting that it might also be "Edit your blog on the Blackberry" too.

Danny has lots of frustrations with Dave, but I think the real issue is that Dave's strategy of minimal incremental improvements plus link-making work with the grain of the web. Whereas the better, comprehensive standards that Danny works with, continuously fail because they are actually against this grain.

What is the shape of the web? Individualistic, opportunistic, one-way links. Anyone on the web can choose, by themselves, to make a link to anyone else. The only required standard is the URL. You don't need two-way co-ordination to make something happen. Yet links are hugely valuable (as Google discovered)

So, what is with the grain of this web? Individualistic link making; the quicker and dirtier the better. Or rather, the more links, the better. And quality is secondary.

Danny wants to make good quality links. He wants a group of smart people to come together to thrash out the right model for a type of data, one which eliminates ugly, funky problems, and is as flexible and generic as possible. Once the model is defined then it should be published and adhered to. How do I find out how to represent my data? I go and find the description of the model, try to read, digest and understand it, and then adhere to it.

Dave is continuously undermining Danny's way of doing things. He won't adhere to the codes for good link quality. Instead he makes valuable links as quickly as possible. (Where valuable means one that has a genuine application or usefulness to someone) Obviously this looks like sabotage from Danny's perspective. It invalidates the hard-work of the people who design the good links, and their attempts to get consensus. And, yes, leads to poorer quality links. (Although not so poor that the culture can't adapt to and live with their deficiencies.)

Winer doesn't do this to be evil. It is a matter of intuition. To me he looks like someone genuinely at home on the web. He lives there. He "washes" there. Of course what he does is with the grain.

dave : I think you're too ad hominem about Danny. I'd like to talk about ideas here.

others : yes (gotta rush)

August 25, 2006

Guess I'm one of Winer's explainers.

It's only worth getting involved because I think there's actually some ideas here that are worth spelling out and talking about.

Winer has a nice take of his own :

The way technology works, for those who care about such things: Start with a vision you believe in, and keep trying to find ways to show others how powerful it is. Over and over, often for years.

Sounds right to me.

The silliest thing, ever, is people getting all uptight because Dave is "arrogant".

So what?

August 24, 2006

ZDNet has a good round-up of opinion on why Open source won't doom traditional enterprise software

I'll continue to stick my neck out. Free software + Software-as-a-Service are going to drive today's commercial enterprise models extinct. The only question is how long it will take.

(BTW : yes, free software isn't the same as SaaS, but the two are a good fit, along with eXtreme development.)

Proprietory software is ultimately doomed, because "proprietoriness" is not a feature that customers value or want. At best, it's an inconvenience they're willing to put up with in return for other benefits.

But those benefits will diminish relative to the free / SaaS model.

They'll diminish because :

a) however slow burning, free software is cumulative. If one company providing it dies, the source-code won't go away. It will get resuscitated when the next eager entrepreneur sees a new opportunity to apply it. Free-software is the undead, you can't kill it.

Every generation of competitors based on free-software starts one step closer to the proprietory incumbents.

b) as mentioned earlier software-as-a-service is a better fit, as a business model, for agile, iterative development. And agile development is more effective than giant, product-shaped packages.

The two trends will combine : providers of SaaS won't try to differentiate themselves on the whole software stack. Instead they'll focus on their core application functionality and use free components like LAMP for the rest.

It's the SaaS providers who are already, and will continue to be, at the forefront of free software use. They'll continue to have both the expertise and motivation to engage with the free communities and to contribute back to them. In fact, we'll see most serious free-software worked on in service software companies rather than by total amateurs or product companies.

By succesfully re-using free-software, and through having the freedom to work in a more agile way, SaaS vendors will simply outperform the product makers.

How long will it take the big customers to notice? Hard to tell, but the Free-SaaS combination is classic "disruptive technology". At the moment it still lacks features which satisfy the biggest customers, but it satisfies some, and so is eating its way up through the small and medium sized customers, adapting, evolving and improving itself all the while.

Currently, the main argument against free-SaaS is that software providers don't want to offer it (there's less economic rent to be collected in services than in owning Intellectual Property). That's as may be. But as long as someone can make a profit providing free-SaaS, and is willing to do so, competition and customers will drag the market in this direction.

BTW : it's plausible that the free-SaaS world itself will unbundle into the three types of companies : infrastructure, customer relations and developers. Hence small (dynamically assembled?) clusters of programmers will be paid by a more customer-focused SaaS provider to add a small piece of functionality to an existing free system for existing customers.

BTW 2 : OReilly thinks that mating with SaaS (where the GPL doesn't force people to actually share their changes) will weaken free-software culture. That's possible, but I don't think it's a big deal. In the competition between various ecosystems, the more free will tend to flourish and drive out the less. I may think I can lock-up the veneer of business-logic that I put on top of a LAMP-stack, and charge an economic rent for it.

But my slightly less popular competitors will immedietely scent competitive advantage by opening their developments to each other and the wider community. In fact, as a customer-relations company, I'm probably far more interested in holding on to my customers through good service than locking them in by nefarious tricks.

August 23, 2006

I'm taking issue with Liam Breck over here.

Breck is smart, and pushing the incredibly cool idea of a wiki-server on a pen-drive. But nevertheless, I'm gonna disagree with his scepticism about web-as-a-platform.

Here's my comment :

Right now, I agree, that web-based simulcra of existing desktop apps are very unlikely to take off.

Why, really, would I want a web-version of Word? If I want something free, then Open Office is as good.

However, apps which are inherently social. and those which deal with online databases, are already native to the web-as-platform.

After GMail, I can't imagine a compelling reason to switch back to non-web-based email client. Nor an offline blog editor etc.

So I think we *will* see a sudden and dramatic shift to web-based applications, particularly in the enterprise, but it's going to be accompanied by a sudden shift to a whole new way of working with new tools. Not a web way to handle Word and Excel files, but a realization that in the age of blogs and WikiCalc we don't actually *need* Word files and Excel spread-sheets 99.99% of the time.

Unlike you, I think this will happen, and I think it's going to switch very fast. It's not something you'll really see coming in long-term rising trends of adoption.

Word benefits from a network effect. When whatever replaces it, replaces it, a sizable chunk of the whole network will have to go almost at the same time. Before this, very little will show up on the radar.

I buy the web 2.5 concept, of course, but my betting is that it's going to be coming via the web-as-a-platform, rather than from desktop / machine-centric software.

So, at some point in the near future, someone will come up with a derivative of Firefox which

a) has its own local database to store as much user data as needed without creating a security holes on your computer,


b) can *cache* large javascript applications.

At which point what's the difference between your web 2.5 concept and the mainstream web-as-a-platform service model?

Users will go to a site, implicitly grabbing the application, which will be cached locally, along with the user's data, for offline work. The data will be synced back with the central or cloud servers whenever reconnected. Similarly, the application software will be written as if served centrally, and kept continuously updated, but will be cached locally to minimise network traffic and for offline use.

My feeling is that software-as-a-service is inevitable *as a business model* given two truths about software development :

a) large-scale software development sucks

b) free-software

Trying to specify and build and deploy a large-scale piece of software in one lump (two to three year project) is an incredibly difficult and inefficient way to do it.

It makes far more sense to develop according to iterative Agile / eXtreme methodologies, releasing small new incements of functionality on a regular basis.

The problem with eXtreme or agile development is that it's very difficult to *sell*. Customers want fixed time, cost and functionality negotiated in advance; they don't want an open-ended commitment to funnel money to developers.

How do you reconcile the contradiction : monolithic development sells, monolithic development sucks?

Microsoft used to have an answer, before free-software destroyed it.

SaaS offers another : rent the software, which can be either hosted by the provider or, for convenience and confidentiality, brought inside the organizational firewall.

In practice, installing it in-house is another form of local caching, and is a mere implementational detail for something which at the business level is treated as a service.

In short, this is gonna happen because companies producing SaaS will be more agile and get better quality software written, faster, than those sticking to large scale product development.

In practice, you may have local copies of both the software and your data, but that will be "mere" optimization (and certainly not to be planned "prematurely" :-)
Viral Funpacks!

August 22, 2006

I've just had an epiphany!

May I present the humble dhtmlxTreeGrid.

Go play with it. It's cute.

I've never seen a TreeGrid before. Or, if I have, I've never really noticed one before. But recently I've been thinking about one of the great challenges of software geometry : "squaring the triangle" (the CS equivalent of the age-old problem of "squaring the circle".)

In other words, managing a world where rectangles (and combinations of rectangles such as tables in a relational database) meet triangles (object hierarchies, outlines and other trees).

When you look at the treegrid, you are looking at the solution of a problem. "Our data has rectangular structure and hierarchical structure. How should we present it to the user?"

Well, in HTML you can have hierarchies :

  • a

  • b

    • c

      • d

      • e

      • f

  • g

And you can have tables :


And you can even nest one inside the other :


  • a

  • b

    • c

      • d

    • AC

But no combination of nesting triangles inside rectangles (or vice versa) will actually give you a treegrid. (In fact, it's quite a puzzle to figure out how it works in HTML.)

In the TreeGrid, who is master? At first glance, it looks as though rectangles are. After all, at any level down the hierarchy, the columns are the same. Same width, same type, same format etc. The tree is imprisoned in the grid. Surely, the "hierarchy" is a fake. They're simply keeping some kind of indentation information with each row. A visual trick.

On the other hand, close them all up. You're left with just one node. Are the others really all inside that? Perhaps it's a hierarchy after all, and the columns within each element are simply measured to seem like they line up? Triangle is master and rectangle is illusion?

But what about sorting, and filtering and summ(aris)ing. Surely columns rule there. Or do they? In the example, open them all up and sort by price. Results are constrained within their parent node. But what if you wanted to sum across all subnodes? or filter across all subnodes?

No-one is to be master. Instead triangle and rectangle must subtly interact. They cross-cut, one or the other taking the lead when it comes to particular operations.

The question of how to balance hierarchy with relations goes way beyond interface widgets. Almost certainly the data in your company is both triangular and rectangular. But how does your software treat it? Does it manage to get the right intersections? Or does it force it into one shape, losing the benefits of the other?

What can we learn about beautifully combining rectangles and triangles from looking at the treegrid?

Bonus : Here's another one.

August 21, 2006

Dare Obasanjo is right : Kiko was a feature, not a full-fledged online destination let alone a viable business.

Paul Graham gives them an encouraging pat on the back. In a sense he says plan to throw one away, you will anyway.

Update : Umair Haque :
PS - No, despite what Paul Graham tells you, the moral of this story isn't about Google economies of scoping Kiko to death. It's that Kiko's innovation wasn't revolutionary or challenging enough.

August 18, 2006

If you build software to solve a particular business problem, though, isn't it likely to taste bad when you go and install it somewhere else?

Oldish, slightly rambly piece by James Governor of RedMonk, but cool ideas and bisociations.

Includes Thingamy.

Update : and this is nice.
Yep, it's big news. Apple go social.

August 16, 2006

Over at Stowe Boyd's, I left a comment on interpreting Publishing 2.0 (and Jason Calacanis / Mike Arrington) in light of John Hagel.

Seems to me that, from [a Hagelian] perspective, what the media 2.0 people have done is succesfully unbundled their infrastructure management by delegating it to blogging software, but they still have to decide if they're primarily in product innovation or customer relationships.

If they're in product innovation, they have to find someone else to bring customers to them.

Or, are they really in the customer management business ie. owners of a fanatical audience, looking for any way to serve that audience? In this case, they probably don't need to be bought; finding, servicing and growing their own audience is core to them.

So I'd interpret Calacanis as basically a product innovation guy, going to AOL is his way to get his hands on a bigger audience and getting paid for his innovation. Once in AOL he keeps trying to develop new products, trusting he can sell them to AOL's existing users.

Arrington is a customer relations guy, adding things like a job-board allows him to serve his existing audience in more ways. In essense he's a taste-maker, and could be reselling products from anywhere. What matters is his understanding of what his readers want.

Getting bought by a large media 1.0 company wouldn't make much sense for TechCrunch. Its future is probably closer to Chris Pirillo's LockerGnome or even O'Reilly (the OG of media 2.0 customer relations plays)

AOL themselves, of course, are trying to do it all. If they eventually decide they're customer relations people I guess Calacanis will get bored and leave.

August 03, 2006

Great news for people who care about such things. Microsoft are on the verge of committing suicide.

There are millions of people around the world who would be using Linux if it wasn't so easy to score pirate copies of Windows. It will be hilarious if MS really pull the plug and drive them into the flippers of the penguin.

OTOH, maybe this is a secret plot by the "Live" faction in MS to smash the power of the Windows die-hards. Might even make sense in a weird kind of way. There's a momentum because companies and PC sellers probably keep buying (extremely discounted) copies of Windows for a while. Shedloads of people are inconvenienced and switch to Linux but these weren't your customers. And Live services and XBox gaming and handheld devices hold up. MS innovate in these areas, but essentially become another Apple : a niche seller of desktop operating systems to those who can't get by on free.

That way, MS never have to go through the hell of creating another Vista (ie. trying to create one gigantic mega-product to satisfy a third of the world's population.) They can leave that to the bazaar while concentrating on levying a laziness tax on corporate buyers.

August 02, 2006

Nicholas Carr has one of the best posts on Jason Calacanis's offer to pay news-voters.

Partly because he lays out the sceptical argument against Benkler's "Wealth of Networks" (which I'm calling TCP/IP vs. the dollar) and treats Calacanis as evidence for an eventual recolonization of the attention or peerospheric economy by capital.

And partly because Benkler has a great come-back in the comments.

July 31, 2006

Technologically, I wonder how Microsoft Live Labs: Photosynth compares with QuickTime VR?

But socially this could be a very big deal.

I've always found QTVR really worked in web-pages, but I've never seen Apple push it. I guess MS are going to produce something that mixes Flickr's socialization of online photo-collections with online tools for making interactive panoramas and letting you hyperlink between them.

Are panoramas going to be the first media that MS will lead the socialization of?

Update : it is technologically an advance on QTVR. But I'm not sure how important that is. It's the social linking of photos to make a space that's important. Whether you use clever algorithms or human tagging for that is probably less important.

Update 2 : I guess if they took some tips from Croquet it could be the new Windows :-)

July 30, 2006

Actually, I now seem to be up 365 virtual dollars on the Buzz Research prediction market (Suddenly I'm wishing this was real money :-)

Mainly, it's thanks to JotSpot, which has climbed phenomenally after the release of JotSpot 2 and their accompanying media binge. OTOH I've invested a lot of my virtual money in SocialText, and despite the Open Sourcing announcement, they've fallen. I suspect people on the market think they should be in the wiki sector but don't know where. So they work on the principle of having the succesful wiki company. Because Jotspot is going up, they're trading in their SocialText, TWiki and MediaWiki shares to buy it.

Me? I'm investing in them all.

When I started, I lost money on Laszlo, RSS and OPML but these have, slowly, climbed back and are now higher than when I bought them. Two reliable investments are "microformats" and "WordPress". I was surprised by the latter. I thought it was worthwhile, but didn't expect much. But it's creeping up and up.

The disappointment is Eclipse which has fallen. Not sure what's going wrong here. Maybe it's billed as a Java Development Environment and Java is falling? (Actually why no programming language market?)

Right now, I can't think of any rival to Eclipse. Unless something surprising happens, what other comprehensive free IDEs are there which can be adapted for things like Python and Ruby?

Against my heart, I haven't invested in Emacs, as I'm not sure I see a future for it. Even Vim seems more dynamic. But I could be wrong about this. I'd like to be.

July 28, 2006

Here's something a bit jaw-dropping.

A 6 minute screencast from WebFaction showing how to set-up popular web-application frameworks using their control panel.

WebFaction are a hosting company who specialize in providing the cool frameworks and tools like Rails, Django, Turbogears, Trac, WordPress etc. Looks like for 15 dollars a month you can run several different applications based on these frameworks.

I am sorely tempted. This is way beyond what I'm getting from my current hosting company for roughly the same price. No wonder all the kids are creating cool web 2.0 startups when it's this easy to get and manage server space.

I wonder how typical WebFaction are. A lot of people in the comments want the cool control panel, which suggests it's a bit out of the ordinary. But I imagine that other hosting sites will have to catch up.

Clearly this is a hosting platform that WebFaction have built. They don't want to see it commoditized. In all the discussion about web-apps, and software as a service, and the browser essentially commoditizing the client, I haven't seen much about hosting companies like WebFaction. But might the conservation of modularity be bringing decommoditization to this area?

PS : and, yeah, I am digging the new JotSpot. Update : although it's slooooow

July 25, 2006

Techcrunch on BillMonk - Social Money

The place to make money in the coming web 2.0 / peerospheric / netocratic / attention economy is to set-up a toll-bridge at the border of money and attention.

Google do it with AdSense. Calacanis is doing it by paying people to submit news items to New Netscape. BillMonk is doing it by remembering money debts in social situations and selling financial services to social networks.

Meanwhile, in wikiwars : SocialText go open source and JotSpot integrate with more Office-like formats.

July 22, 2006

Buzz Prediction Market

I'm now very interested by prediction markets as a way of tracking my ability to understand and predict the tech. future. So I've started playing the Yahoo / O'Reilly mashup Buzz Game

Let's actually see how my predictions shape up. I'm going to be a "fundamentals" rather than "noise" trader. I'll buy things that seem to me to be either good ideas. Or likely to succeed for platform wars strategy reasons. I won't buy things that I think are going to be hot in the near future because of hype. (Although, even I will be misled sometimes.)

There are, of course, some obvious missing categories / products from the current game.

  • Ning (and similar)

  • Thingamy (and similar)

  • Voted news (Digg / new Netscape)

  • Prediction markets :-)

But it's generally pretty comprehensive.

Update : two days later I seem to have lost around 28 virtual dollars. Mainly on OPML and Eclipse. SocialText's up though.

July 19, 2006

How To Build a Website with Office 2.0
Read Dion Hinchcliffe (part 3) : Consumers as producers: Disintermediation without a net
Read Dion Hinchcliffe (part 2) : Blogs, wikis, and Web 2.0 as the next application platform
Read Dion Hinchcliffe (part 1) : Software as a Service / Enterprise 2.0

Attention Trust on social shopping

The Attention Trust have a couple of good posts on the intertwingling of markets and social networks.

Stowe Boyd on Social Shopping

Stowe Boyd on Me-commerce: Attention-Driven Shopping

O'Reilly Radar on Ning

O'Reilly Radar : A Week in the Valley: Ning

Interesting overview that gets at what I like about Ning.

There's a huge philosophical and mental gulf between the Ning conception of apps and the traditional programmer sense. We think there should be one perfect app, with lots of users. Flickr, for example. If we want a new feature, we whine at Flickr to add it. Ning isn't about software perfection and collective brilliance, it's about individual empowerment. If you want a photo site, you go to someone's photo site and hit the "ah gotta git me wunna thayem!" button. Boom, you have a photo site. If you want a new feature, you hit "edit my app" and add it. It's so very American, and is so against the grain of programmers who are taught that duplication is bad and must be avoided.

Now here's something I wrote on ThoughtStorms a couple of years ago :

Today I got the very first version of SpittingCobra [A simple web-based Python code-generator] working. And I had a vision. That thousands might install little code generating scripts on their computers and sites. All minor variants, customized for their own particular languages and situations and purposes. That cranking the handle of these thousands of little code generators will spit out thousands more scripts. That the cell learns to reproduce. That, just as the blogosphere is a rich, dense, weave of discussion and opinion and knowledge. So we'll create a rich, dense weave of software customization and authoring. That "programming" will be swamped by spitting scripts. That "design" will be an argument, flowing across weblogs and wikis. That we'll bang the rocks together harder. And split the atoms into smallers pieces.

OK. I got a bit carried away :-) But this idea of evolving software by reproduction and "natural" selection; an ecosystem of continuously adapting small-apps on the network is something that's intrigued me for (OMFG) nearly 20 years. (Since I first read Dawkins's "Blind Watchmaker" around the same time I learned Smalltalk in college.)

Ning is the nearest I've ever seen anyone come to that.

A reader asks : But Phil, have you actually used Ning to write any applications?

Erm ... well right now, strictly speaking, um, no. I'm holding out until they get the Ruby bindings ...

July 18, 2006

Dave bought

Of course, was snapped up long ago. Not by me. :-(

July 16, 2006


BubbleGen links the Wired story on Rupert Murdoch.

Hmm. OK, so we all know that Murdoch isn't stupid. But I'm not entirely convinced of his visionary status either.

As the article points out, Viacom were after MySpace too. All Murdoch seems to have done is been a bit more decisive about having it. And Murdoch has always had a populist instinct : this is the guy who brought you The (UK) Sun, remember.

Then the article gets into the usual debate about the money to be made from MySpace. I'm sure there is a lot by my standards. But not as much as some people expect, given the number of visitors.

How will MySpace make a tonne of money? Comically, it seems that Murdoch himself either doesn't have an opinion or isn't letting on; so the journalist, Spencer Reiss, is reduced to reporting his own speculation as to how MySpace might become mega-profitable.

Umair's quote is interesting :

MySpace’s challenge is to do for branding what Google did for ads – to create a hyperefficient form of interaction.

It would be nice to know more, but Umair is now selling his more in-depth analysis, so I'll just have to make do with my own interpretation. Google, of course, have positioned themselves at the mutual border of the attention and money economies and get to charge a toll on people crossing in both directions. Ads are at that interface.

Branding is a little different. It's intention is to get inside the mind of potential buyers and create a strong but unspecific bias in favour of the company and its products.

The problem (for Murdoch) is that turning amateur ideas and community-spirit into feelings and biases can be done completely within the attention / IP (internet protocol) economy, not the dollar one. MySpace isn't at the border with the money economy. It's deep within the attention economy, where content creators pay illusory attention to their community when creating good stuff, and, in return, receive real attention and acclaim.

Murdoch doesn't need to flow much money through the system to make that happen, but when there's no great flow of money, there's little that can be skimmed off of it.

Update : It's a Wired tradition to laude big media when they (finally) "get" the internet and start trying to buy their way in. Anyone remember this? (From Bubble 1.0)

July 15, 2006

TCP/IP vs. the Dollar (continued)

Kaunda on my last post (on the internet vs. money) :

I'm not so sure the metaphor of Platform War is really the right way to see it. On one hand the "war" does highlight the differences in communications networks (money vs. social networks). But on the other hand obscures the interdependencies of the two.

I agree with him (and Amarty Sen who he quotes).

Markets are "embedded in" and "parameterized by" civil society and its explicit rule-sets. And these are political decisions.

I agree, too, that the relationship between economy and society isn't a "platform war", although it can be antagonistic. Political power isn't a direct rival platform to the market. (Where it's set-up to be, it's a disaster.)

OTOH, the zone of public discourse on the internet seems to me to be a much more direct rival to the market. Behind all the familiar phrases like "peer production" and "attention economy" and "amateur journalism" is the basic fact : people are being motivated to produce stuff by something other than money. Attention is attracted by PageRank and votes on Digg and social networks carrying viral memes etc; not by paid advertising carried by profit-making publishers who pay professional content-makers to lure them into their pages and onto their channels.

If you look at the amount of work that people put into, say, MySpace. And you count the number of viewers. You might be tempted to try to extrapolate a "monetary value" based on an analogy with how much money would be involved in organizing all this via the dollar economy; but you'll get a completely bogus figure. Questions like "where's the money?" seen to me to be assuming that something like MySpace is "failing" to live up to its potential as a money maker. (Which really means, a high-bandwidth "money router", able to skim a little bit off the top.)

But I'd suggest that this potential doesn't exist. MySpace is an "attenion router". And, unless they can think of something very clever which I can't, they'll never be a high-traffic money router. So there's nothing to skim. (Except attention, which will be increasingly recognised as valuable, of course.)

OTOH Google are very clever and very succesful because they've become the most efficient place to turn attention into money and back again. No one makes it so easy to try to sell your attention for money (by putting AdSense on your blog) or spend money to buy (relevantish) attention (by buying AdSense ads)

Oh, and Ross Mayfield has a great post on Markets as Social.

July 12, 2006

TCP/IP vs. the Dollar

Donna Bogatin : � Social Web or Business Web: where is the money?

Naturally, people are fascinated by this question of "where's the money?"

But it's the wrong question. The more interesting one is "why the money"? And it's still gonna take us a long time to get our heads around that. But that's what we're all gonna be asking at some point.

The more effective the internet and the web are at helping us communicate and co-ordinate, the less money will be involved. Because ultimately the economy is a communication network and money is its protocol

The network is not the means to the end of money.

Instead, money and IP are rival protocols in rival networks which are means to the same end : that of articulating human labour to create more wealth for humanity. Money isn't wealth, it's just a kind of signal which can be used to help identify good ideas and channel more resources to them. On the internet we are increasingly finding alternative ways of identifying and signalling what things are worthwhile.

And the better the network does this, the less need there is for money to be involved at all.

This is gonna be the ultimate platform war. All the stuff about Windows vs. Apple, or RSS vs. Atom or Google vs. Yahoo are minor skirmishes. This is the biggie : TCP/IP vs. the dollar.

Which will pull your strings in future? Which will motivate you?

Question of the Day

Why doesn't Google invest anything in Blogger?

Blogger accounts are not integrated with other Google properties. There's no note of GoogleBase or Orkut or Gmail integration. There's a simple AdSense connection but nothing else has changed in years. There's certainly no sniff of cool Ajaxy makeover for the UI.

Is this simply extreme "federalism" in Google? Do they want to let each part explore for itself? Have they decided that, strategically, blog-hosting isn't something important to them? (Blogs elsewhere host AdSense.) Have they essentially decided to allow Blogger to atrophy and die? Are there no, actual, people at Google who really get (or have ideas for) blogging?

Buzz.blogger is OK at telling you what other people are doing, but no news of Blogger themselves.

Perhaps none of this matters. We can move to or TypePad or some other new blogging tool. Or stick around as long as the hosting holds up.

But it's kind of weird too, no?
Donna Bogatin : � Google Base integrates Google Checkout for 'monster' sales

July 09, 2006

Something else to think about when it comes to application development platforms. Mobile phones. And, of course, Eclipse :

RedMonk Blog: Briefing: Nokia, Carbide, Eclipse

June 30, 2006

Manageability says :

Truth is, although we collectively see the train wreck coming, we don't collectively witness the failure as a single unequivocal event.

Why is it, that although we can intuitively grasp that a standardization effort is wrong, we don't seem to be able to stop it?

Why are Standardization Train Wrecks always in Slow Motion?

Maybe there's some simple game theoretical model for this. It's some kind of interesting question about individuals and the commons. You win if you jump on the standard early and it "does" become a standard. You also win if you avoid the standard and it fails. However you lose if you jump on the standard and it fails, or you avoid the standard and it wins. This is basically the "majority game". You want to join the majority.

On the other hand, there's a timing issue. The later you join a standard, the less value you get from it. (Because early movers have an advantage in designing it to suit themselves, plus they get early expertise and recognition.) On the other hand, the earlier you are in a standard's life, the less knowledge you have about whether it will be succesful, so the more risky the investment.

Also, maybe the stakes for being involved in a standard varies with the size of the agent involved. It's worse to be seen as a multi-national who missed out on the next big thing, than a small-business who pragmatically waited until the signposts were clearly visible.

Could be an interesting model for someone to build.
ThoughtStorms: BloggersAsEndoSymbionts

June 27, 2006

Dave Winer :

I bet there's a law here, or a life lesson. Either you're going to be a platform vendor or not. If you choose to push a platform, don't go half way. Platforms that are picky usually don't gain traction. If you got a platform you must be open to all comers, enthusiastically, without reservation.

June 26, 2006

OpenLaszlo Project Blog

Here's something else I'm keeping an eye on.

Yesterday we announced a strategic partnership with the Dojo Foundation: OpenLaszlo will not only be licensing the Dojo Toolkit for use within our next major release, we will also make substantial code contributions back to Dojo for use by the entire Ajax/DHTML community.

OpenLaszlo getting into Ajax.

Here's a prediction : the two most important GUI standards in the next two years will be the Flash virtual machine and DHTML + Javascript + SVG.

OpenLaszlo is probably set to become the first major tool to develop for them both.

Macromedia have "owned" this area for a while, with Dreamweaver and the Flash tools. The question is how their expensive proprietory software model will compete against OpenLaszlo. Their advantage : good connections with the existing, mainstream web-development community. Their disadvantage, not so good connections with the rest of the developer community. Flash is still weird for programmers.

Microsoft are where? They've turned VB from a decent GUI scripting language into C# with a different syntax, and both are essentially following Java on the road to statically typed oblivion. (With the added disadvantage that these languages are being used to try to drive people onto .NET 2 and Vista)

Java Applets themselves are out of the running. Scripting languages like Python, Perl and Ruby have no real story for GUI development. Tk is from two generations ago. wxWindows is still an awkward amalgum of two third-party libraries. The Java community themselves are deserting Swing for the Eclipse library. So why would, say, a Python programmer choose Jython + Swing? (Although she might, I suppose, choose Jython + Eclipse.)

Mozilla's XUL is intriguing but has no significant support from a development environment.

Everyone as Co-Creators

I have to say, I agree with everything Dion Hinchcliffe says here.

Spreadsheets, Hypercard, Wiki ... three of the applications that have most succesfully created a gradient between "user" and "developer". New innovation will come from the "edge" experts in these, and other software which takes its lead from them.

When I wrote that innovation came from developers and couldn't come from users, what I was really thinking of was "passive users", who couldn't or wouldn't understand what the deep model of what was going on in their software. Those that can understand what it's really doing, and can use this knowledge to help pioneer new ways of use, may very well be innovators.

June 24, 2006

Users vs. Developers

Trolling Chris Pirillo wants some.

He he! Well someone’s got to stand up and school the boy!

I admire people like Winer (who’s link I followed over there). I like the notion of “users and developers partying together”. I think developers have a responsibility to give the users good things. And that developers can’t know what these good things are without paying attention to users.

But the idea that development is a commodity - which is essentially what he's saying here -, that it’s like the water supply which can be turned on or off or piped-around at the will of the user, is wrong, wrong, wrong.

The reason is, that good software creation, like any other creative activity, requires a deep knowledge of the nature and constraints of the medium. You can’t invent the transistor without a profound understanding of physics. Nor write a great novel without being a master of your own language. Nor a great painter without knowing paint. Nor invent radio or television or the computer without a background in the relevant science.

Without knowing your material you’ll never see the statue in the block of marble. Never have intuitions about the possibilities that the medium holds. Users can, at best, offer advice for incremental improvements : “I want something like X but with these annoyances fixed.”

But that’s never going to give you radical new things. There are no great innovations in software that have been driven by user demand. (Name one!) They all come from geeks who knew what software looks like from the inside, who saw something in the computer and said “hey! I could make it do that, too. Kewl!”

Users and developers have common enemies : dinosaur software companies, companies who like to specify and buy software which they hope will impose particular work-practices on their employees, market-forces which require cutting-corners to get the product out of the door today rather than get it right.

Let’s work (and party) together to fight that.

But the other … don’t fool yourself. Users have been dreaming of getting rid of developers, like, forever. They never succeed.

Every time the users abandon us, we go away and create yet more cool stuff, on our own, for ourselves.

And eventually the users come crawling back, because they want more of our pure, raw innovation, rather than more of the stale old fluff which is all that they and the marketing people (who "understand real users better than those disfunctional geeks") are able to come up with by themselves.

Update : MP3 of Pirillo's presentation at BloggerCon. Yawn! ;-)

June 22, 2006

Robot Wars

Microsoft release their first Robotics Product : Robotics Studio.

Will this be more than a niche? It seems that here's the place where hardware is currently far from commoditized. It will need to be, before the software layer becomes a serious platform.

I wonder how it plays with White Box.

Meanwhile iRobot is a platform, too

June 21, 2006

Ning Screencasts

Aha! Ning have started putting up screencasts like Create an App from Scratch
Seb’s Random Thoughts � Is It Finally Happening? Will Skype Soon Become What We feared?

Are we about to experience a wave of audio-spam on Skype?

This is particularly obnoxious because Skype is using our machines to route calls. We, reasonably happily, give up "spare" processor cycles in return for free phone-calls. But what happens if Skype is deluged in spam? The spammers will be consuming our resources.

Hwo will Skype handle this? Maybe an official blacklist of spammer accounts? But what else?

June 17, 2006

Some discussion over on ReadWrite Web on the new Netscape front-page.

My thoughts. Clearly it's not as bottom-up as Digg. But it's sure as hell more interesting than the previous incarnation of Netscape. Calacanis seems to be a smart guy who's pushing AOL in the right direction. Let's face it, when was the last time anyone talked about Netscape?

It's also worth comparing with something like, which has a fanatical community but is editor driven.

In fact, there seems to be a lot of cross-over between the Slashdot and Digg crowds, which suggest that the editorial-driven approach and the mob-driven are complementing each other rather than mutually exclusive rivals. If that's so, it's not hard to imagine that such a complementary mix might work within a particular site too. It's going to be worth experimenting with, at the very least.
Interesting Gillmor Gang.

Steve Gillmor is arguing with Mike Arrington about Google's Spreadsheet vs. the SocialText / WikiCalc deal. Arrington thinks WikiCalc, hosted inside enterprises, is going to be the bigger threat to Excel and a Microsoft Office oriented workflow than Google's Spreadsheet which business can't trust with its private data.

Gillmor thinks that Google are wiring their applications together to lure the user into their suite of applications. For example, an email received in Gmail that talks about a dinner-date, offers the user the chance to make an appointment via Google calander. This is turn leads to the option of looking up the venue on Google maps. Gillmor's assumption is that this will suck people into the Google-suite. Essentially each application recruits users for the next via a simple hyperlink.

Could Google eat Excel the same way? Automatically offer to import (and show via Google Spreadsheet) any Excel spreadsheet that passes through Gmail?

Finally there's an interesting discussion over the fact that these online spreadsheets can't really import the formulas from Excel. The Gang seem surprised by this, but given that Excel packs the whole of Visual Basic for Applications as scripting language, it's obvious that the more sophisticated applications built with it will be hard to port without reproducing the whole Excel / VBA engine.

June 16, 2006

If I ran Microsoft ...

We can all fantasize, right?

Here's what I'd do if I ran Microsoft.

  • My brand is "Hot"

    "Hot" not "Live" (which doesn't exist), not "Windows" (which is in trouble), not "MSN" (yeuch!).

    • Skin Hotmail.
      I'd tidy up Hotmail to make it CSS compliant. Then get a bunch of designers to churn out multiple Hotmail "themes" (ie. templates + CSS sheets). Get some input everywhere from the ZenGardeners to Design Outpost. Let users choose from a fifty different looks for their Hotmail page.

      The result would be cheap, cheerful and generally get Hotmail talked about for a while.

    • De-advertise
      Take most of the advertising off Hotmail. And talk about it very publicly. Maybe put some very discrete text-ads like Google's but nothing more. Tell people I'm willing to lose money on this in order to make Hotmail a more comfortable place for my users.

    • Spelling and grammar-checking in Hotmail
      'nuff said.

    • HotPage
      Whatever it is that MS do with Spaces, blogs, homepages, social networking etc. etc. It should be blended in and standard with your Hotmail account.

  • Open Source Security

    I'd admit, right now, that security is not a question of private advantage but of public good. It should be treated as such.

    Vista and IE 7 must have an architecture with fairly loosely coupled modules. (If not, MS are fucked anyway.) Take all the security related modules, and release them under a BSD-style license, without patent restrictions. This includes malware detectors, live-updating code and things that check for pirate copies of Windows etc.

    Ownership of all these modules should be given to a new, independent, non-profit institution, spun out of Microsoft with some reasonable financing and some good staff. (Think of the Mozilla Foundation.)

    This foundation should have a general remit to be responsible for protecting the Windows ecosystem from all threats. As some of its products will be folded back into the main (proprietory) Windows codebase, employees should have the right to see the rest of the Windows source-code.

  • Channel 9 and MSDN are the same thing

    Developer mindshare has always been a key part of Microsoft's success. Ever since MS were a company that made Basic, the whole edifice is balanced on their ownership of the development tools and leadership of a developer community. And, largely, MS have understood that and served that community pretty well. MS development tools are pretty good and not allowed to get rusty. Compared to Sun or Apple or IBM, MS have been relatively forward in opening up and allowing their geeks to take part in the global geek conversation. Channel 9 was a statement of intent and a recognition of the way things are going.

    Compared to the free-for-all of MS blogs and Channel 9 and the expectation of smart developers around the world, MSDN looks corporate and restricted and simply ugly. It's time for Channel 9 to take over. Time for MSDN 2.0.

    • Lose the subscription charge. Everyone who wants an account can get it for free.

    • Copy all the documentation into wikis and let people get in there and edit it. There'll need to be some policing by staff. But generally let the wiki stay up-to-date and reflect real problems people have.

    • Ultimately - and there's a question of "sequencing" here but, nevertheless, ultimately - the conversation with developers is more important to MS than the revenue from the tools. VisualStudio, the various compilers and .NET libraries should eventualy be released as free (open source) software.

    • MS should really embrace Python. (It could be another scripting language, but Python seems to be most likely.) VS for Python should be given equal billing with C#, ASP and VB.

  • We don't need a browser. We need Flash

    Seriously. What value is there in Internet Explorer? MS will never make a penny selling it. The browser is one of the most commoditized components of the web. There's no "rent" to be captured there. Pitifully little incentive for anyone to violate standards like HTML, XML or SVG.

    The idea that MS should try to "own" the browser is based on a flawed analogy with the early 90s competition between Windows, OS2 and Mac; an analogy which Netscape originally encouraged (as in "the browser will commoditize the OS") to their own destruction. In fact, while browser standards are commoditizing the OS, the specific flavour is not an issue. Almost unanimously web-service developers are highly wary of getting locked in to IE or Firefox specific code and are targetting all browser standards. Treating the browser as an "ownable" platform is absurd.

    There isn't even a public service value in competition between Firefox and IE. Because Firefox is free software, there are dozens of micro-projects pushing it in different innovative directions and building new things on top of it.

    IE is a waste of time and money and attention for Microsoft. I'd simply forget it. We can channel some of the team and resources into supporting Mozilla. (And maybe folding some of the good bits into the Mozilla code-base.)

    At the same time, there is a remarkably successful proprietory platform on the web. One which has the kind of domination that MS can only dream of. And which seems to have its status almost by accident : Flash.

    Seeking advantage for MS, and if I hadn't completely cured myself of the habit of wanting to own platforms, I'd put some serious thought into how I could get hold of, and embrace and extend Flash.

    I wouldn't want to buy Adobe / Macromedia. But I might want to buy Laszlo Systems and push Flash authoring into Visual Studio.

    I'd make Flash a first-class citizen of the XBox and of XBox Live Market.

    I'd put a player as standard into Windows (probably as part of Media Player).

    Like I say, if I was still not cured of the whole "embrace and extend" tactic, this is where I'd probably try it. To allow some of the Windows media file formats to be embedded in Flash.

    Oh, and as we're in the realms of pure fantasy here, why not buy Broadband Mechanics and put Marc Canter in charge of the MS assault on the home.

Update 2007 : I wrote some stuff about the opportunities of Excel.


Sorry I haven't been writing much here recently. A lot going on. Here's a quick resume of some things I've noticed.

Several of the usual suspects being insightful :

Umair Haque has a couple of great posts on Google, linkfarms and the effect that Google has on the media.

Robert X Cringely has had some really interesting thoughts on the different types of IT giant, with particular emphasis on IBM's woes. Not to mention some criticism of Google.

I'm naturally very excited by the news of strategic alliance between SocialText and Dan Bricklin's WikiCalc.

That's a very clever and sensible move. Bricklin has a lot of brand recognition as the inventor of the spreadsheet; and WikiCalc is a pretty good synthesis of spreadsheet and wiki : two genres which I've long thought have a lot in common. SocialText are already deeply wise about social software and seem to have mastered the art of selling wikis into companies. They complement each other beautifully.

(At this point, I guess I should disclose that I've recently applied for a job with SocialText, and I haven't (yet) had any sort of official rejection. So read this in that light. Nevertheless, even if they turn me down, I'm gonna have a hard time not cheering them on.)

Finally, Robert Scoble leaves Microsoft and Bill Gates says he'll stand-down in favour of Ray Ozzie. Nothing much to add here. Obviously MS will suffer from losing Scoble in the short-term, but I believe them to have been on the Cluetrain for a while, and I don't think they'll get off. Ozzie will continue to blog, and understand the internet. Others will blog from their corners with continued MS blessing.

Scoble has a big brand, but I'm not sure how it will survive away from MS. Scoble and MS were a great double act. The incongruousness was part of the allure. Scoble as good blogger in what's essentially a straight journalistic organization may have less creative friction to work with.

Meanwhile, as Cringely points out, MS's business model is still disappearing. Proprietory software, ultimately, doesn't scale. MS can't hire or co-ordinate enough coders to keep churning out 95% of the world's users' software every three years. And as the market fragments, the benefits MS get from network effects decline catastrophically.

The whole thing (ie. the Windows product line / world domination strategy) is a huge soggy mess, and it's not surprising Gates is bored with it. MS have got the talent and money to change direction. But they may be suffering the classic "Innovators Dilemma". The alternative business models available just aren't as profitable as they're accustomed to. They can't easily take Google's advertising market. And even if they could get in there they'd end up dividing it. My betting is that even Ozzie and a clued-up workforce won't be able to escape this problem.

May 18, 2006

May 15, 2006

TechCrunch has exploded from no-where as a major resource in web 2.0 startup space.

But I notice Guy Kawasaki uses a reader poll to get an opinion about the companies he reviews.

That seems like a smart attempt to be 2.0 and leverage the edge etc. (I'm very interested in polls and compasses.)

May 13, 2006

May 12, 2006

Must remember to keep an eye on Web 2.5.

Today Liam has a scoop on Croquet.

May 05, 2006

Protest movements as platforms

Ben Hyde commenting on John Robb's Weblog

The goal of all political activism is to activation of the political muscle of the movement. The outward facing goals are always secondary. To put it in high tech terms - the highly cohesive and activated political base is like a platform; it has no goal beyond creating a rich option space for actions and a sense of urgency to take action to execute those options.

When you create a platform you select some options and highlight them to make it easier for developers to visualize what is possible. That increases their awareness of the rich option space and it acts as an accelerant on their taking action. When you create a political movement you select issues to focus on for just those reasons; but the you have different names for the actors. Activists and voters substitute for developers and users. In both cases a modicum of fear to drive people to action can be useful; with luck you can get your competing platform/movement to do things that frighten users/voters developer/voters. Microsoft did that for open source. The current immigration crack down talk has done that for the immigrate movement.

May 04, 2006

Markets vs. the Peerosphere

Zbigniew Lukasiak has been reading the (naturally) excellent Wealth of Networks, and wondering about the relation between the Peerosphere and the market.

Anyway, here was my comment, which I think is worth repeating.

I think the really interesting thing is that for a long time paid, exchange economies have driven out gifting ones. And suddenly, on the internet, that's being reversed.

Suddenly, gift-economies are able to compete with, and out-perform, exchange economies. My guess is that this is something to do with scale : there comes a time when you cross a threshold of number of people, and the cheaper, asynchronous co-ordination of gifting is more effective than the more expensive synchronous co-ordination of payment.

Obviously, as Benkler says, the wider distribution of productive capital is a necessary precondition.

I think I have a three-part answer to the "how to make money" question.

1) In the short term, you sell services around the peer-produced information products. That can be anything from customized modification of free-code, renting server-space, through to some higher-level reviewing, indexing, derivitive services.

The problem is, these become commoditised really quickly. That's why everyone from SourceForge to MySpace to Google is offering you gallons of free hosting for your content in return for an infinitessimal advertising revenue.

I recently got a bit annoyed when I discovered that I couldn't create any more "sets" on my free Flickr account. But I see the point. Flickr give away commodity hosting, but require me to pay for access to a higher value, highly abstract categorisation resource. Ironically I can have free disk-space but not free name-space.

I don't think this will last. Competition will commodify "sets" just as it commodified disk sectors. But I think it's an experiment that shows Flickr are looking in the right direction.

2) To avoid getting commoditised, you have to look more closely into two strategies : what Umair Haque is calling "edge competencies", and what OReilly is calling "data inside". How do you become a non-commodity, essential hub / partner in an ecosystem of peer-production, in such a way that people have to pay you?

EBay, Amazon and Google can all take a cut of transactions you do through them, because the peer-production is inalienable from their service. The challenge is how to get yourself into this position.

3) Ultimately though, we're moving towards full Netocracy, where links (or live attentional connections) start to be valued and "imploitable" in themselves. I'll give away content because the connection with the audience is more valuable to me than any money I can make. At first we'll asssume that this is simply a kind of investment, because, ultimately, downstream we will be cashing out those links into real money. But money itself is is something we might pursue without worrying about how we actually spend it - sure, ultimately it will buy us food, but we may hold on to it and invest it for decades before we end up eating it.

In the same way, we may hold on to, and invest in, and trade links for decades before we finally expect them to be "exploited" (converted back into money).

So as our recognition of netocracy grows, we'll worry less about the ultimate payment and more about how our peer-production is helping with our link portfolio.

April 28, 2006


ZDNet on Hotmail revamp

I say dumping the Hotmail brand would be a big mistake. People who use Hotmail don't think of it as Microsoft or Windows, it's just their mail. The Windows brand isn't an asset to Hotmail, quite the opposite, they're trying to leverage the Hotmail brand to promote the new "Windows Live" which is a desperate attempt to keep Windows fresh.

April 23, 2006

Apple to implement the XP API?

I haven't been following Apple (or anything) closely recently. (I've been travelling.)

Fortunately Cringely has :

PBS | I, Cringely . April 20, 2006 - Native Speaker

March 30, 2006

Web 2.0 By Paul Boutin

More questions about what "web 2.0" means.

I think "web 2.0" is a pretty easy concept to understand.

Back in the 90s I found a few people who really "got" the web; who really understood what was important, what wasn't, how it worked, how it didn't, what you could expect, what you couldn't. I'm not saying these were the only people who were smart about the web. Or that they were the originators of all the ideas. But they were the ones that I discovered, and who I knew instinctively were right, and who I shamelessly stole my ideas from.

For me, "web 2.0" means one thing : vindication of those people and those ideas. Pretty much everything (good) in web 2.0 is really a playing out, in one form or another, of things those people were saying around 8-10 years ago.

So who are they? I'm sure you're not likely to very surprised by the list. Maybe you'll be more surprised by some people I missed out on.

Anyway, in no particular order :

Jakob Nielsen : intensely at war with all the bad UI design of the web, particularly from designers who mistook it for print or TV. Ajax and other web 2.0 design fashions may not be Nielsen in letter, but they are in spirit. Web 2.0 is more with the grain of the media. (Of course, that's partly because the media has become closer to what they want with CSS and standards pushed by Firefox.)

Philip Greenspun : his book on database backed web-sites pretty much covers most of what you need to understand about the synthesis of technology and community at the core of web 2.0 thinking. There's a reason I call mash-ups "Greenspun 4 models".

Chris Locke : Those Cluetrainers knew how this was going to affect business and the market. Is there a blogging-for-business book now which really has much more insight than "Gonzo Marketing"?

Eric Raymond : developing all the ideas about what we now call "peer production" in the context of thinking about hacker culture and open source.

Dave Winer : Starting from an insistence that the web was a place for everyone to be a speaker, journalist, publisher rather than a consumer of content, Winer simply put the theory into action, promoting a world where everyone can (and often does) aspire to be a speaker, journalist and publisher. Web 2.0 is a step-change in public participation, and we learned that mainly from Dave.

And someone I missed at the time, but who was developing some of the profound ideas. Ward Cunningham, invented wiki and contributed important ideas to xtreme / agile software development philosophy. The "lite" development strategies behind quick and cheap web 2.0 services are due to Cunningham and friends.

If you understood and accepted what these people believed, sometime around about 1999, then nothing in web 2.0 is likely to have been a surprise or confusion to you.

Finding New Sources of Strategic Advantage : HBS Working Knowledge

Finding New Sources of Strategic Advantage : HBS Working Knowledge

March 26, 2006

UML for SemWeb?

In a comment I wrote

I wonder whether anyone considers adapting Poseidon etc. for SemWeb modelling.

March 25, 2006

Aggregators and BitTorrent

Dave Winer:
It's time for all aggregators to learn how to do BT. Permanent link to this item in the archive.

March 22, 2006

Embrace and extend Wikipedia?

I thought Winer wanting to get OPML Editor talking to wikis was a smart-move, in the sense that it showed how fast he moved when he became aware of potential rivals to his world-outline project, and was planning to make an alliance.

Nevertheless, I didn't think that the result would be all that exciting. But some people seem to find the idea compelling.

However what got me thinking is this. Wikipedia pages are trees. They have a TOC, sections and subsections. What would it mean if I could edit wikipedia in my OPML Editor.

Well, first, that I'd likely have my own local copy of my ideal version of a page.

And, second, that updating the central server (Wikipedia), would be a matter of hitting a "sync" button.

Now imagine fighting an edit-war on a Wikipedia page, armed with this tool, against someone who's going via the browser. I think the guy with the OPML Editor is going to have a big advantage. It's going to be trivially easy to simply keep my version of the "truth" locally and keep hitting "sync" every time someone tries to change it.

In fact, if the editor allows batch updating of dozens of pages, people going through the browser won't have a chance. OPML Editor based users will own Wikipedia. In essence, Wikipedia will just become one hosting node in the world-outline.

I think I was wrong when I said that Wikipedia wouldn't be affected by the OPML campaign. How much does the successful ecological balance on wikipedia depend on a slow network; a roughly egalitarian speed of access for editing the pages?

Might the OPML Editor actually have the capacity to destroy this fragile ecology as we know it?

March 21, 2006

OPML to Wiki

Phil (yesterday) :
Aside : I don't think Winer really "gets" wiki. If you want to take him on, that's the front to do it.

Dave (today) :
How long will it be before there's a wiki that supports the MetaWeblog API? ...

Anyway, send me a pointer to such a wiki, and I'll try to get the OPML Editor working with it. If there are problems, I'll document them, and when they're fixed, I'll try again.

Dave may not be trying to "win", but he's sure as hell determined to "succeed". And connections are the secret of that.

Strategic! :-)

Dave on war

Dave responds to the last piece.

Phil why are all your analogies about wars and fighting? I’m actually a creative person, always have been. Does someone who writes a book try to defeat anyone? I don’t think so. I think they want to express something. I want new tools to exist for people with knowledge to be able to share it with others and to build on other people’s knowledge.

Good point. I accentuate the conflict here on this blog, not because I'm interested in stirring up trouble, but as one analytic technique. I probably spent too much of my life studying evolutionary game theory. And I tend to see history as formed by the clash of competing ideas, strategies, classes and technologies.

But that's not the only perspective. I think conflict can be useful to help understand what happened, and what will happen, but there are other filters too. No question that Dave works as hard as anyone to build bridges, increase interoperability and allow people to communicate.

And making connections is pretty much the meaning of life in the rapidly arriving network society.

There should be analyses of platforms in terms of construtive, non-zero-sum deal-making and creative expression, rather than merely in terms of competition as though it was all some kind of sports event.

Well, let's see if I can find a way to do that.

Dave Bonaparte

He he! I get some link-love from Dave Winer. There goes my credibility ;-)

Actually, I am a trifle embarrassed, because I've just finished writing a response to something Danny said, where I've been, generally, complimentary of Dave. So now this is gonna look like reciprocation. It isn't. It was mainly written before I saw that link, and it hasn't been substantially changed since. (Y'all believe me, right?)

Actually, who knows what Dave will think of this? ;-)

For the record, I'm not a friend of Dave's, I only know the virtual Winer through reading DaveNet and Scripting News, and nothing of the real one. In the past I've admitted to being a "fan". And intellectually I'm an admirer. I think he's consistently smart and right about a lot of things to do with the internet and software industry; although there's plenty of stuff I disagree with too.

But most of all, I'd claim to be a "student" of Winer. I watch him carefully. Like everyone else, I have an interpretation of what he thinks and does - which is obviously open to criticism, comments are welcome - and I have an interest in trying to keep the story as accurate as I can, for my own benefit. In many ways, he's a role-model I want to learn from. In some ways, he's a model of what to avoid.

Anyway, here's what Danny said.

If I interpret Phil's this line correctly in the context of the rest of his comment ... he's placing Winer on the side of pragmatic tool builders.

Which is odd given Winer's history of extremely idealistic format building.

Not exactly. What I'd suggest is that Winer understands, maybe better than anyone, how these things work as an "ecosystem". Primarily he's a "platform" builder. It's not that any particular piece of his platform is necessarily all that great, but he knows that he has to produce all the bits and he knows how put them together.

Look carefully. Whatever Winer is promoting, he always has a tool and a format and some kind of hosting or central server and he's "dog-fooding" it and talking it up on his blog and he's finding new, quick-win, applications to extend the platform and he's making new connections into a user community and he's on the offensive, smacking down any potential rivals or threats to his authority.

(That last bit isn't particularly pretty, but who's to say it isn't part of the success of the things he's promoting?)

The point is that other people don't have this perspective. They just make a format or a tool and hope the other bits fall into place. Or they dream of an entire ecosystem that's way beyond their capacity to build. Or they are corporations pouring money into a bloated, late and unwanted attempt to enclose this new platform for their own profit.

Dave is fascinating, and probably unique, as an individual who's smart (and rich) enough to put together an entire platform pretty much by himself. (OK, by definition an ecosystem needs other people; but Dave puts it together : he co-ordinates, leads, bullies, entices, flatters, does deals etc. He makes it happen.)

And his hubris is spectacular. From a standing start last year, he's co-ordinated all his resources to launch an assault on the "permanent, trusted, hierarchical data-repository" market. He has a simple little editor which people are using and already seem to love. He has partners creating various OPML viewers. He has people talking about OPML for reading lists, OPML for attention data (in the "year of attention"), an OPML network of world outlines, OPML as a replacement for traditional CMS, live outlining for intra-corporate communications etc. He knows who his enemies are (DMOZ, Wikipedia, and to a lesser extend Google) and he's already spinning against them. He knows who his friends are (librarians, a significant alliance with WordPress which essentially turns it into a generic hierarchical database server). You can even see Edgio as a cheeky attempt to steal Paul Ford's vision from under Google and the SemWeb's nose. How long before Edgio is accepting "stores" written in OPML?

Compare this with what the SemWeb community has achieved over the last (what?) 7-8 years? This is a project / community invented and led by THE guy who created the web. (How much better publicity can you get than that?) It's full of super-smart, super-enthusiastic people. They've written gallons of code. Libraries for every language I can think of. Dozens of programs that let you enter, query and manipulate RDF data. There've been several attempts to build real popular applications for RDF (eg. FOAF).

And they're still promising that the tools, applications and users are coming "real soon now". At some point you have to suspect it's not lack of effort or tactical ability which is holding them back, but lack of a plausible strategic objective.

[Ed - that's as far as I got before seeing Dave's link. The rest was written later. So you can start assuming some sycophancy creeping into the mix.]

I'll stick my neck out and make a few predictions. (And you have permission to quote them and laugh if they all turn out to be wrong in 5 years ;-)

I think the SemWeb has got very little time left before it finds itself side-lined. Of course, it's got a lot of momentum so it's not going to disappear over-night, it will even continue to grow and gather new users, but as the amount of machine-treatable metadata in "web 2.0" explodes over the next couple of years, the proportion that's part of the SemWeb (ie. in RDF, marked-up with URIs who's "meaning" is defined in OWL ontologies) is going to be infinitesimal.

That's why smart pragmatists like Danny are, quite sensibly, trying to make bridges between their technology and the users who actually have the data. But these attempts are being sabotaged (eg. by Shelley who is missing one of the golden rules of establishing a platform), and it looks like Danny's too polite to fight his corner. ("Fair enough" indeed!)

Instead, this is Winer's game (again). Publicly hosted OPML hierarchies are going to roll right over DMOZ this year, by which I mean they'll exceed DMOZ in popularity. They'll give other silos of expertise (, Squidoo) a serious fright. OTOH, they won't make a dent on Wikipedia. (Aside : I don't think Winer really "gets" wiki. If you want to take him on, that's the front to do it.)

Within two years, most major blogging clients will be exchanging reading-lists, blogrolls and attention data with each other and online aggregators, memetrackers etc. in OPML; scutters will be crawling raw OPML for "who-likes-who" data; and FOAF will be gone. And FOAF was the greatest hope for a genuine popular RDF application.

It's not that I think everything is all going Winer's way. My guess is that the most popular OPML Editor by then probably won't be Dave's. He doesn't seem interested in cultivating a community of developers for the editor itself, which strikes me as a strategic error. Someone will take his code (or write their own) and pretty-it-up for the mass-market. [Note that Dave hasn't made a connection with the whole Getting Things Done cult. (Unless you count moving to the Mac.) There's no great OPML-love on 43 Folders (I can't even find the Editor in its wiki). And these guys are obsessive about outliners. But they're much more driven by aesthetics.]

On second thoughts, maybe Dave doesn't really care about the Editor. In practice, Dave's business model seems to be "create platforms, sell ping-servers". (Which casts some light on the whole Winer / Cadenhead fallout, doesn't it?)

But that's another story. The point I want to make here is that Winer is Napoleon, and the poor SemWeb people don't even know they're at war.

Or rather, they know something is up. They know they're hurting, and that people seem to keep getting inexplicably excited by stuff they consider obviously inferior to their grand project. They complain about the crappiness of Winer's format, or the obnoxiousness of his personality, or that it's "only" because of the free publicity he gets on his blog, or his infantile fan-club, or that he's rich. What they don't see is the master strategist playing the game.

Let's be clear. Winer isn't mainly attacking the SemWeb - it's incidental to him. He's likely to be far more perturbed by more practical rival formats like Atom, defending himself against losing the server business (like he lost the podcast-server business), and fighting off the big companies.

The damage he's doing to the SemWeb is a side-effect of him being a smart SynWeb operator in the inevitable conflict between SemWeb and SynWeb. But there are plenty of others willing to play a SynWeb strategy if Winer were to retire.