May 19, 2006

The Platform Effect and Google Web Toolkit

Google released their AJAX UI framework, GWT, two days ago, following a similar move from Yahoo some months ago.

I haven't really looked at it in depth, yet, as I did with Yahoo's
YUI, but I find myself asking the same question: Why?

It's nice and all, but who benefits? I mean, sure there's some goodwill effect - but is that the reason? Maybe - but that's likely only the tip.

Dave Besbris suggests its because of an anticipated "Platform Effect" - that developers will consume the tools, visit their forums, go to their developer website, participate in their eco-systems, and that will be good. But additionally, having used YUI or GWT, it'll be really trivial for them to embed the Yahoo Chat tool, or the Google message board system: they'll be emotionally and technically commited already, having written/included most of the code to consume more advanced services.

Its a tactic that, in the past, Microsoft has used to devastating effect. Lately, we've even seen the value of it from endeavors like YouTube. They'll give you the HTML code to play their hosted video on your own site - and that drives more video ON their site, as well as traffic and eyeballs back.

May 18, 2006

The Dawning Shrinking Relevance of Search Portals

Hypothesis: The rise (and utility) of sites like IMDB and technorati is the beginning of crumbling of search portals as navigation - a(nother) chink in the coming Web consumption shift (I'll write about thoughts on that another time).

For a while, it really looked like generic search was going to be the answer to any manner of navigational problems - heck, I still use Google to search
MSDN, because the built-in search on MSDN blows chunks. And obviously, Google, Yahoo, AOL, MSN search have all hoped that you'd type in addresses, phone numbers, ticker symbols, etc. into their one generic search box.

And in some measure, that has helped them all capture incremental traffic, but it hasn't really changed the game. As nice as Google Maps might be, Mapquest as a destination hasn't been impacted at all - its been a non-event.

My argument is really a "specialization beats generalization" along two axies:

(1) "Clean" validated metadata is more important to relevancy than purely data inferred relevancy. Google's desktop search initial launch didn't even let you specifiy file types - you don't need it, was the claim. Yet (as a very small, minor example), that type of metadata is very important to relevancy: finding what you want. Similarly, tagging and related phenomenen allow users to impute metadata, and the "wisdom of crowds" assigned it validity.

(2) Specialized presentations (i.e. task oriented) will beat generic ones for all but the most trivial interactions. That is, to put in Web two-dot-oh speak: The head of "attention" engagments will increasingly be task specific. IMDB works because the UI is well organized for cross-referencing (hyperlinking, if you will :P) amongst movie cast specific criteria.

In combination, this means that crawling alone will be an insufficient input to data and application relevancy over time. Where do you go to get stock quotes?

May 8, 2006

TopCoder: Meritocracy in Action

Updated: Justin Uberti was also there, and posted some thoughts (w/pictures!)

I was at (part of) the TopCoder Open in Las Vegas last week. You probably haven't heard of it, but it was really amazingly fascinating. When I first ran into TopCoder, I thought it was a company/website that was trying to be a professional competition league for programming - which seemed really silly. Even the computer gaming ones are struggling for real legitmacy; programming-as-sport seems like fun to do (for some small few), but reeeeeallllly boring to watch, for just about everybody.

Turns out I was double wrong.

Whereas I thought their prime business was about sponsorships and advertisers and the like, as with traditional competitive sports, its not. Although they do do sponsorships and the like with partners like
Versign, UBS, AMD, and others, it is not just about advertising: its an ideal recruiting vehicle for these folks.

But that's not even the interesting part.

The interesting part is that they actually do professionaly services development this way. You submit them work - they have excellent folks on staff to help with design, documentation, and crisp specification - and they then decode and decompose this work into a series of "competitions". They reassemble and deliver to you a finished product.

Its no different (engagement-wise) than working with any number of professional development shops, but the core premise is this: first class programming talent ("top coders" if you will :)) are worth 10X normal devlopers in terms of speed and quality, but they're not paid 10X as much.

Interesting, hunh?

Of course, given the nature of specification rigor, I'd imagine front-end and/or iterative development projects would not be the best suited for their services, but still.

And, having watched the competition, I can attest to the value and strength of their talent pool at least. Its very Darwinian and challenges over 76,000 developers from literally all over the world in a very virtualized fashion. Watching it unfold in realtime for the "Algorithm Championship" was pretty amazing to behold, and hinted at the strength of the whole system: the challenges themselves, and even the competition scoreboard (!), were designed by their development community using the same principles.

And these competitors were good. There's
talent all over the world that global companies need to better leverage to compete; the real capital in the software business is brains. Finding and leveraging it is the hard part - and TopCoder poses an interesting solution to watch.

May 4, 2006

Microsoft's online advertising play

Microsoft announced some big news today - they're entering the advertising game. Not surprising, given that controlling the monetization infrastructure for advertising is going to be a key choke point in the online media economy. There were already mostly there with their own sales force, etc. - this just cuts out the middle men (*cough* Yahoo *cough*) and illuminates the strategy behind some other moves on their part.

As an aside, talking with some friends today, this news hilighted a funny brand halo effect: when Microsoft grossly modifies the economics of a technology sector, everyone frowns and yells "Monopoly!" (even when they're following), and yet when Google does it, folks stumble over themselves to fawn with "Disruption!"

I'm not sure I see the difference... ah, well, I guess its just good to be the king.

May 1, 2006

Off topic: Serious Comedy and
the Internet is the root of all evil

Thank you for Smoking(the movie) and Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondent's Dinner are pretty bitingly funny bits of recent satire. There's definitely a "liberal bias" (if you're a conservative), so you may not find them funny depending on your political bent. But interestingly, the protaganists of both pieces (who are both fictional) are particurlarly amusing (and scary) because of the earnestness of their convictions. To me, they reflect (in jest) an increasing trend in the real world, particularly among public figures on all sides: more and more, there are lots of lots of people talking, and not so many listening.

I blame the Internet.


In the U.S., we saw a massive polarization during the last two elections (red states vs. blue states) that reflected a heightening contrast in ideology.

Its easy to dismiss this breakdown as
religious politics or as an IQ gap. And maybe there's some truth to that, though I find those arguments facile.

While there are numerous good things that the broader communications palette afforded by the Internet enables, I tend to think there's one big capability that cuts both ways: like-minded people can trivially find each other.

There's really no longer any compelling reason that you can't live a functionally complete life being connected to only the things with which you agree. Unfortunately, the diluting effects of community homogenization (the great melting pot) are only effective if there's meaningful interaction of thought.

I guess the question is: does that make a society stronger or weaker?

And why do people get so upset? Yes, often its because the issues are serious. More and more, though, I think its because one-sided houses are easy to knock over, and nobody likes getting conked in the head with a bad assumption two-by-four...

More on this in a future post - there are a few other important contributors to consider, including the sorcery that modern technology has become, the cognitive information overload of modern life, and the implications of truly global living.