November 07, 2012

The "Service Wave"

One from the vaults (2005).

Perceptive, if I say so myself : The "Service Wave"

October 29, 2012

Fiverr

This is getting kind of ridiculous.

Desktop manufacturing and the micro-payment market Fiverr bring you custom laser-cut trophies for $5 (of which, I believe Fiverr themselves take $1)


How low is the price of "stuff" going to go?

I'm getting increasingly fascinated by Fiverr. Start scrolling through the gigs on offer and you see teenagers and amateurs offering to do jobs that would cost orders of magnitude elsewhere. Even 99Designs charges around $300-$500 for a logo. And on fiverr there are people doing it for $4. Of course it's likely to be inferior. But for some people, the price/performance trade-off will work. And the kids there are discovering new ways to slice and micro-chunk work into tinier, simpler, more predictable units.

It feels much more significant than say, oDesk or similar outsourcing sites where you still have to enter into a heavyish commitment with your supplier. And, at the same time, the slightly larger granularity, and the fact that people invent their own gigs, rather than wait for the customer to invent HITS, gives it a different character to Amazon's mechanical turk.

September 17, 2012

Google vs. Alibaba

Wow! I hadn't even heard of the Alibaba operating system for handsets.

I wonder when this will start affecting the West. How close are we to seeing a Chinese Android variant the way we have an Amazon one?

Could Apple's Patents Destroy Android?

Jason Perlow is pessimistic.

Frankly I consider this "platform warring by law" to be the lowest kind of competition. I never buy Apple products and this is a good reminder of why I will strive to avoid doing so in the future.

August 03, 2012

Nooooo!

Just logged in to LinkedIn and I see it's trying to turn itself into a Facebook clone.

This is so wrong. LinkedIn's strength is in NOT being Facebook or another casual social network. It's in being "serious", "businessy". It should (IMHO) be about expanding and managing your professional life. Not trying to beat Facebook on its own territory.

July 31, 2012

Another Bureaucratic Failure

We can all enjoy a bit schadenfreude at Microsoft's expense. But it's sad to see a more noble organisation, the W3C, brought down too.

Still, the rule is simple : workings programs trump abstract "standards" any day. And the realpolitik is that if you have programs to execute something, you (may) have the (makings of) a de facto standard. If you don't, you don't have any kind of standard at all.

Ultimately the blog post gets it right. We're better off with a W3C that retrospectively "officialises" existing de facto standards that the browser makers are innovating, rather than tries to think up standards itself. 

July 23, 2012

New Yahoo?

I suppose I should have an opinion on Yahoo bringing in Marissa Mayer to rescue it from (popular and profitable) non-entity.

Frankly I have no real insight. But here's the golden rule. You can't be a great technology company and a great media / content company at the same time. (Unless you are Nintendo, and then you're really just a great media company that understands technology well enough not to let it get the upper hand.)

Yahoo has, for as long as it's worth anyone remembering, been a media company. In fact it's been an OK media company, with lots of traffic and a respectable profit. It's been run as a media company, by media people. And its only real problem is that it's been judged and found wanting against the tech. giants of our age.


So, it's never cared about its geeks. It dabbles with technology in only a lacklustre way. And it's squandered some really great tech. acquisitions.

But suddenly, it wants to be a tech. company after all???


How is that going to work? Can Mayer do a 180 degree turn? Re-inspire the geeks who already work there? Bring in more talent? What will happen to all the media people? How will Mayer manage to keep them happy if she explicitly tries to turn Yahoo into a tech. culture? Or, will she fire them (as Marc Andreesen advises)? Done badly, this could be a disaster, with Yahoo ripping itself to pieces as it tries to slam into reverse.

Alternatively, if Mayer is really clever, she may figure out how to keep running Yahoo as a media company while doing something exciting with it. Like Nintendo, Yahoo *could* become a media company that understands technology well enough to use it properly.

Here are a few random ideas :

1) Yahoo is nowhere in mobile. It's never going to own a platform, a crucial service or make extraordinary hardware. Give it up. Yahoo mobile apps are simply a necessary cost of keeping its media channels in play.

BUT Yahoo, as a brand, *does* have a chance with TV. None of the tech. giants have successfully colonised TV yet. It's still an open field. Yahoo's brand, content, sales-force and in-house media know-how give it a shot at the smart TV market. It's not clear what plans Yahoo have for smart TV. Do they have an OS for it? Well, if not, here's a thought : partner with Ubuntu who do have a slick and robust operating system and interface for TV but are unlikely to make much headway with it by themselves.  A combination of Ubuntu's technological maturity with Yahoo's brand and audience (including its sports channel, partnerships with gaming companies etc.) could make up a compelling package for third-party TV manufacturers.

Seriously. No-one in the world really wants a "Google TV" or a "Microsoft TV". These brands have no connection with what anyone thinks of when they think of TV. The Yahoo brand has a great advantage here because people do recognise it as a *content* brand. A news, sport, entertainment portal. Which is what smart TV is aspiring to become.

2)  AOL made a play to be a great web media company in its acquisitions of Weblogs Inc., TechCrunch and The Huffington Post. Much has gone wrong, and some of the biggest and smartest personalities have left. Did that signal the idea was fundamentally flawed or just that the chemistry didn't work out that time? Might it be worth, for example, Yahoo buying Mahalo to bring Jason Calacanis into the fold?

3) More than that, online education is an area which is continuing to grow. Yahoo Answers is a massively popular site. But compared to Stack Overflow or Quora is looking decidedly old and unloved. What could Answers become if paired with Mahalo and put under Calacanis's influence and ambition?

(Aside : I would have suggested Yahoo go for Instructables too, but I just discovered that they were bought by Autodesk : a move I consider very sensible. That leaves another cute Squid-Labs offshoot : HowToons that could work in a Yahoo context.)

4) Perhaps what Yahoo! needs is a big statement. Something cool. Hardware, because hardware is what makes big statements. Apple had the iPhone. Microsoft had Kinect. Google is going with the glasses. Yahoo have the money to buy themselves into this game. So what about Parrot? Drones are coming, and Parrot have the leading consumer drone platform. AR Drones would get Yahoo into robotics. Into augmented reality. Would give it a noteworthy gaming / entertainment platform. Would inspire geek lust. Etc. And Parrot + a successful push into TV would open up an interesting home automation front.

5) Many people have commented on the sad decline of Flickr under Yahoo. Not sure there's much more to say, except, I'm very surprised that Flickr is not better represented on the Yahoo home-page. The Flickr blog has some wonderful pictures. I'm not sure why Yahoo don't promote Flickr and Flickr photographers on its front page.

6) OK. Showing my prejudice here. The only Yahoo service I actually use is Pipes. It's good, but again, its potential feels underdeveloped.

So let's be bold for a second. Pipes is the great, philosophical, something-or-other of our age. The shift we think of from web 1.0 to web 2.0. The move to social. To apps. The coming of Netocracy. These are all, fundamentally, about the shift from managing stocks to managing flows. Most people are now drowning in the deluge that floods through Twitter, G+ and the Facebook Wall. Even Email has never really been conquered. We are *desperate* for tools to manage our flows. And Pipes, one of Yahoo's nerdiest, most out-of-place, quirks of a service is potentially the solution. If it can, paradoxically, be both professionalised and made usable by the wider base of Yahoo members.

How could Pipes be professionalised?

a) The UI is cute. But programmers are never going to work in that kind of environment. Pipes should offer a plain text alternative. A simple, "little language" to define and edit piping networks. Have an editor in the browser. Allow the scripts to be accessed via Git (and so shared on GitHub). Provide syntax colourers for popular offline editors like Eclipse and Emacs. Make sure programmers can think of Pipes as quick to write and convenient to work with.

b) Pipes should be fast, and a cloud service. By which I mean, it should be possible to host a Piping network on a fast server and pay for it. Like Amazon AWS and Google App. Engine.

c) Pipes should talk to Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Status.net, Yammer, RSSCloud. Maybe even AMQP.


d) Most important though, Pipes should be integrated with Yahoo mail. You should be able to use it, inside Yahoo mail to filter your incoming messages, send auto-replies, create alerts and summaries etc.


e) You should be able to embed a Pipes network within an external site. In fact, it should be possible for a third-party to build a product such as RSSGraffiti on top of Pipes. And build it in an afternoon.


At the same time, how can Pipes be made more accessible?

a) The most popular rival to Pipes is probably http://ifttt.com/wtf . If I was running the Yahoo Pipes strategy I'd look seriously at whether we could buy it or hire its people. At the very least we'd be pitching Pipes as a rival to it and offering similar functionality on the same engine.

b) Remember the push into education I suggested? Pipes could gain a more child-friendly UI putting it in competition with MIT Scratch and Google Blockly. Promoted in a "learn to program" course, via Yahoo's own kids / study zone it could gain some traction in schools.


Does the data-flow model of Pipes lend itself to more general programming tasks? Sure if you look at the use of Max/MSP and PD for music or VVVV for graphics. And, I'd argue that, building piping networks is likely to be an increasingly important metaphor for programming in the worlds of the cloud and device swarm.


Imagine, for a second, Yahoo teaching kids to create their own VVVV-style eye-candy on large-screen Yahoo branded TVs through a Pipes-like UI as taught by a series of lessons on the study zone. Imagine those skills then being useful for mashing up websites, business process modelling, etc.

c) An iPad app. Multi-touch is a great interface to compose piping networks.

7) Here is an outstanding question I'm trying to make up my mind about. Does Yahoo need its own browser? A long time ago I thought it absurd that Microsoft wasted its money and energy on a browser, when the future belonged to web-standards. More recently we've seen how important it is for would-be giants to have their own browsers. They give you the chance to push web-standards the way you'd like them to go. Or at least vote for the tentative standards you'd really like to see. Of course, a Yahoo browser would be most likely built on WebKit, just as Apple's and Google's are. But it might still be worth having. 


Update : Bill Seitz comments : http://webseitz.fluxent.com/wiki/z2012-07-16-MayerNewYahooCeo

July 16, 2012

July 08, 2012

Mozilla Deprecates ThunderBird

Mozilla is cutting development on ThunderBird.

And where's Chandler when you need it?

Seriously though, it's probably an inevitable move from Mozilla. Desktop email clients that look like Outlook are a legacy product. And Mozilla has to husband its scarce resources very carefully these days.

Though, actually, there are two bold and exciting moves that someone *could* make with email clients.

1) Scrap the desktop GUI and write your new UI in the browser with the standards of  HTML / CSS / Javascript (or CoffeeScript). I'm not saying that TB should move to being "webmail". Keep TB as an installed client on your local computer. But use the browser as its front-end.

Going forward, that would be cheaper to maintain, more fun, and make it easier to follow the slickness of things like GMail.

2)  Upgrade TB to be a more general communication client talking Twitter, Jabber and FB too.  Start to do what GMail is doing : integrate emails into the general stream of other media. Everyone wants a way to post things via multiple channels. If email clients don't evolve to talk these other protocols, some other messaging client will expand to swallow email. (As FB are threatening to at the moment.)

June 14, 2012

Fascinating, An IE 7 Tax

A major online retailer goes up against Microsoft's Internet Explorer. By charging a "tax" on users of IE7 for the extra cost of making their sites work with it.

Will be fascinating to see whether this either a) stimulates IE users to switch, b) convinces M$ to focus more on web-standards in future releases of IE. (Something they've been at the forefront of before.)

June 07, 2012

Why People Hate Java

It's an old obsession, that does no good to anyone. But here's my answer on Quora.

June 05, 2012

PC Makers After Windows 8

The unspoken question that this Gillmor Gang should have raised is this : how long will PC hardware manufacturers tether themselves to Microsoft's sinking ship?

The gang give compelling reasons why Windows 8 has little to recommend it, but still assume that it will sell tens of millions of copies because of enterprise inertia. But enterprise inertia isn't the only reason for Windows's success. PC makers resolutely refuse to sell their machines with any other OS pre-installed. None of the big names offer, say, Ubuntu as a direct alternative OS on their web-sites. And while Asus has flirted with Android netbooks, this is restricted to specific hardware models.

If you're HP, Dell, Lenovo or Asus you must be wondering what Plan B is, should Windows 8 fail to wow the critics or kick-start a surge in Windows upgrading.

Unless Windows 8 is pretty spectacularly popular with consumer early adopters you're likely to see a bit of a rout in the Windows world, as enterprises decide to stick to XP / Windows 7 (keeping up the demand for 7) while continuing to encourage their staff to bring their own iPads to work. Internal iOS app. development will accelerate and Windows 8 will essentially have failed to win M$ a place in the tablet market.

And what will the major PC makers do then? They'd love to be able to sell iOS devices. But that's not the Apple way. So they are stuck. Are they so adapted to being Microsoft partners that they are literally incapable of making any independent move? Who will be the first to jump out of bed with Microsoft and offer, say, Android or ChromeOS on an equal footing to Windows 8?

April 10, 2012

Facebook Buys Instagram

How to think about this : 

1) Facebook is in the face recognition business. (They run algorithms on all the photos posted to them)

2) Facebook (as all the big social network are) is in the "find where people are" business. ("locative services")

You don't even have to go conspiracy theorist (Facebook part owned by the CIA) to see that Instagram gives Facebook another massive injection of photo data about who is where with who and when. And that this can be mined for all sorts of valuable information and patterns.

FB can discover relationships between people and places that no-one has explicitly told them about. They can tell advertisers where you like to hang-out socially. And who with. You think they aren't trying "sentiment analysis" to try to figure out whether people in photos are happy or sad? What's it worth to FB to know which bars in London have the happiest customers? Or which companies have the most drunken
employees? Or that you like motorcycles?

Google are after this data too. That's why they just brought out  wearable "glasses" that can tell Google what you're looking at. Instagram might very well be Facebook's response in the "grab" for rich visual data streams.

Some people are noting the potential threat to FB from Pinterest too and saying this is a defensive move. Today is a great day for Pinterest. Someone will be trying to snap that up soon.

April 04, 2012

Groupon's Troubles

Problematic business model :
“Groupon’s problem is similar to the subprime lending problem,” he said. “Groupon is saying we will give a restaurant cash now, but it doesn’t have to deliver a product. The businesses that sign up for Groupon are desperate, and when they go out of business, Groupon has to pay a refund.”

April 03, 2012

A Post-App World

Mobile apps. "must die" and be replaced by ... something more like web-pages?

It's an interesting idea. The problem with apps. is the "download, install and manage" part of things. As the number of apps. proliferates it becomes unmanageable.

What you want is the functionality of the app. popping up where it's appropriate (and wanted). In a sense, I guess the apps will have to be attached to things in your locality rather than a traditional web-address. Places like "in front of me" or "belonging to the institution I just entered", "by my left hand" etc. 

March 19, 2012

Amazon Buys Kiva Systems


Here's something fascinating. Amazon buys Kiva Systems. As far as I can tell, Amazon are the first of the internet giants to take robotics seriously. (I know Microsoft has a robotics platform and Android did that hook up with Willow Garage last year, but those are minor experiments trying to figure out a market.)

What's significant :

- Amazon have a real use-case for this. They're a customer and will undoubtedly be improving the technology to suit themselves.

- Amazon have a history of transferring the technologies they perfect for in-house use to products aimed at third parties. (Z-shops, AWS, Mechanical Turk).

How soon before Amazon start offering integrated supply-chain management with completely automated warehouses to third parties as a turnkey solution?

March 16, 2012

The Empire Of Paper

Venkatesh Rao is good on the end of the empire of paper.

March 15, 2012

DropBox

It's a major disruption.
Once you begin using Dropbox, you become more and more indifferent to the hardware you are using, as well as the operating system on that device. Dropbox commoditizes your devices and their OS, by being your “state” system in the sky. Storing credentials and configurations of devices, and even applications are natural next steps for this company. And the further they take it, the less dependent any user becomes of the physical machine (HW and SW) that is accessing that data (and state). Imagine the number of companies, as well as the previous paradigms, this threatens.

But can it be swallowed by its platform host?

March 12, 2012

All Platforms Are Potential Markets

People still don't get it.

Every site / platform you own is a potential market.

Why doesn't Blogger have a template market built into the dashboard? Where I can click a button and fire-off a 99 Designs style competition for a unique template. Why can't I hire writers for my commercial blog venture? Or get matched with potential co-authors of a group blog?

Or find a PR agency? When blogs are essential for PR / marketing, why isn't a blogging platform also helping with that stuff?

Update :

Or, hey, Google knows how much money you make on AdSense? Can't they calculate your taxes for that and sell that number to your accountant?

(BTW : this thought triggered by Venkatesh Rao's post here)

January 07, 2012

The Amazon Playbook

Venkatesh Rao has a very good overview of Amazon's strategy focussing on the coherence and long-term thinking of Jeff Bezos.

Interestingly he discounts Apple as a similarly strategic player, which I think undersells Jobs somewhat. (Though I also suspect this may be a rhetorical trick of Rao's to get a rise out of his readers.) Meanwhile Robert Cringely highlights the parallels, casting Bezos as the natural heir to Saint Steve.

January 05, 2012

What Is Google+ Really About?

Vincent Wong's presentation is entertaining and plausibly right.

tl;dr : Applications socialised