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 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.