June 29, 2006

Open Services Developer's Conference

As I had mentioned was coming, we had our internal Open Services Developer's Conference here in Dulles, VA, over the last two days. We came together as technologists to discuss and share what has come, what was in the works, and what must be. We also had some third parties attend to pass along their observations and experiences in working with and consuming our services.

I thought it went fairly well, and recieved some positive feedback, but I'm always a little cautious about that - it usually takes a few days, or more, for any negative feedback to reach me. But still, major kudos to the teams involved in organizing the event.

I really stage events like these for 3 related reasons:
(1) To align everyone's thinking - developer's are a headstrong lot; that's part advantage/part challenge - so evangelizing a unified perspective is important

(2) Peer elevation - I think sometimes (*cough* all the time *cough*) the developers who work at AOL can forgot that we are solving some interesting problems with some very smart people - that can happen when your biggest success is an (unfortunately) increasingly irrelevant Dial-up business

(3) Morale - which really follows from (1) and (2); it may be a deep hole, but we've got good climbers, some solid equipment, and aren't starting at the bottom

In particular, I spent a bit of time covering what I consider the important pillars of the opportunity AOL has to alter and infuse the Internet landscape. I realize that (a) those are big words, and (b) those are only words - opportunity follows execution.

Jon Miller, our able CEO, was on hand talking tech standards, which I think surprised (pleasantly) more than a few.

Some posts from other AOL'ers:
http://journals.aol.com/williammorris/WillSpeaking/entries/312 (thoughtful blog from Will Morris of our Mt. View campus)

About the only real disappointment was that one of our keynote speakers, a personal friend (*ahem* former friend), completely flaked out on me at the last minute. You know who you are.

June 26, 2006

Microsoft WinFS
and the Platform Effect value of Vista

I've written on this general topic before, but this latest news puts things into a slightly clearer perspective for me. WinFS, Avalon, .NET, etc. are all now either dead or deeply decoupled from Microsoft's next operating system release. Their new major OS, Vista, is not for consumers, its maybe not even REALLY for developers (as I'd previously argued) - its for businesses; it'll help corporations with their TCO with regard to Windows.

I'll argue that's really what "
security" is code word for, in the context of Vista: "cheaper to support". If it helps anything else (like users :P), that's a side effect - a bonus, really.

And that might not be a bad strategy for Microsoft. The single biggest threat to their
platform effect is OSS - Open Source Software , along with the platform of the Web generally - which removes distribution as a significant barrier to entry, and comes replete with its own eco-system of tools and maintenance - the valuable Intellectual Property chain of TCO.

And the math there, as a very smart friend at Microsoft recently pointed out to me, is really simple:
MS License $ + MS TCO $ must be less than OSS TCO $

There's little doubt that Vista will be a giant cash cow for Microsoft - its been 6 years since they released a substantive upgrade to a core business product, and coupled with the 3 years since a new version of MS Office - well, I think people have forgotten/underestimated how much cash will be cycling next year in Microsoft's wake.

Unfortunately for all of us, as consumers, though, it feels like Microsoft has lost their way a little: they're now in the business of being in business. All things in business cycles degenerate to spirals, positive or negative - and reaching the Ouroboros phase of self-referential consumption is a dangerous place to be.

As we can attest to at AOL, getting snared by your own success is the most insidious trap of all.

June 25, 2006

My rightly right righteousness

A new study suggests that the Internet is partly to blame for thinning "deep" social networks. That is, the trend is that you're more likely to have a larger circle of virtual contacts, and less folks you're really close to - and it is the fault of the Internet.

I knew I was right. But I already knew that - just sharing what I already knew I knew, so that you now know about, you know, my rightliness.

Oh, and I'm *pretty* sure I can prove that violence only started getting serious in 1966. Before that it was just for giggles.

June 24, 2006

Open Services Buds

An interim developer.aol.com is live (first update in yeeeeears), and an updated Open AIM SDK was recently posted. Greenhouse is also public now, and should see some interesting activity in short order - it'll be less, uh, lame than you think :) (inside joke, sorry). And our first (internal) Open Services Developer's conference is in the coming week - the coming few months should see the release of some reference applications and services publicly.

So we're seeing the first few little buds...

Open Services at AOL is really about a methodology (and mindset) shift, as much if not much more than a technology and implementation change - though there's some of that, too. I thought I might outline in near-future posts some of the core principles of the Web eco-system this implies - from a developer's perspective, especially as it regards to AOL and the value (question: is there value in scale in Web 2.0 world?) of scale.

(hint: I think so, but probably not in the usual way)

The core idea, of course, is this: Be the soil, not the plant. Or perhaps, more directly, there's more aggregate value in the farm, than in any crop - though that's much less mellifluous.

But what does that really mean? Thus far, AOL hasn't embraced what it implies...

June 23, 2006

Deep Thoughts, by Sree Kotay

From my wit and witicisms collection, a few personal reflections from life at a big company:

[remember to read these with a Deep Thoughts, by Jack Handy voiceover in your head... though mine aren't quite nearly as funny, except in that horrific Dilbert-esque that's-only-funny-because-its-my-life kind of way :)]

- There's a big difference between "on time and on budget" and "good software as quickly as possible"
- Rewarding ability, attitude, and commitment leads to consistently better results than rewarding results
- If you're doing great work, then its a great place to work - everything else is noise
- Accountability and predictability are orthogonal - one does not presume the other; optimizing for predictability sacrifices innovation, creativity, and (ironically often) predictability
- Culture flows top down; Credit flows to whoever claims it

- Span of control is depressingly valuable
- Necessity is the mother of good software
- It takes commitment to succeed - its not a sprint, its not a marathon, its a relay race [marathon]; faint heart never won fair maiden

- Innovation does not mean "successfully copy", but with a lemon twist; you can't lead by following

And one from the real Jack Handy (which about sums it up):
- I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world, because they'd never expect it.

Some of these apply equally well to small companies, but not all of them. Some of my small(er) company observations I found to be surprisingly stronger in the context of a larger organization.

June 21, 2006

The "Porn Narrative" of Games

From a few days ago: games.slashdot - Indigo Prophecy Creator.

Interestingly astute condensation of the problem with "interactive fiction" (AKA games) as an artform. Read the source for the full scoop - Postmortem: Indigo Prophecy.

I feel like applications suffer from these type of modality artifices as well... the art of UI design has always been a challenge of modality management - making it seamless (i.e. the best UI is the one you don't notice) to move from one state to another.

June 20, 2006

See you in 2008!

Three big coming disruptive trends, I think, will converge by 2008: (1)Ubiquitous wireless connectivity (wi-max or some other), (2)ultra-portable computing, and (3)applications-as-content.

We see hints of this already - through wireless connections in our home (I'm writing this at the kitchen table while
my kids are scarfing their chocolate chip waffles), web applications, etc. - but I think we'll be reaching an inflection point as these converge.

I don't know what form it'll take exactly - I don't think it'll be
Wi-Max or Origami exactly. But I do think it'll be of that form - not smart fridges and talking wristwatches, but general computing devices over generic, omnipresent (though not ever-present) connectivity.

Two interesting contenders in the application-content space:
XULRunner and Macromedia Flash.

My prognistication is predicated primarily on lack rather than abundance. It feels like, in the last 10 years (last, oh ... 7 or 8, for sure) that we haven't seen a behavioural shift enabled by new technology in the computing sector.

I'll contend there's nothing you really do now, that you couldn't nearly as easily have done then. Sure, things have gotten faster, better, and there's more stuff - but it doesn't seem like we've approached the next plateau yet. How old are the websites you visit most frequently? Or really what I mean is: how different are the behaviours they imply? Search, browse, IM, mail, music (ok, MAYBE video - but
my TV still does that better) are all pretty old hat.

I'm not sure you'd say that for any 5 year period leading up to the last 10 (or so) since the
computing revolution really began, in the 1940's.

Hints are there of what's coming: more web apps, more broadband and wireless (how cool was it when you got untethered for the first time?), notebooks outpacing desktops - but I think the inflection point is waiting for these few enabling technologies to converge (there's one more I didn't mention that I think is also coming) - and the next killer app to make them come alive.

June 12, 2006

Pixar's Cars

Updated: My initial review may be have been a little harsh - it was better than most of the movies I saw this year, but, sorry, those Pixar jokers set the bar high; not my fault if they can't get over it.

I saw Cars this weekend. Surprised as I am to admit this, it was kind of dull. I liked it better the first time I saw it, when it was called Doc Hollywood (and even then, it wasn't that good :P).

kids loved it, so that's good - but usually, from Pixar at least, I expect some serious entertainment myself.

Not so much.

The characters were engaging (and engagingly performed), but the plot sort of ploddingly sauntered - ironic, given its a movie about speed - to its politically correct conclusion.

At a technical level, at least, it was stunning. Visually, it was as beyond "Toy Story" as "Toy Story" was beyond cel animation. The casual rightness of the road repair scenes, among others, was impressive - though I suspect that might not be evident to most until you watch your next "3D" film by way of comparison.

June 7, 2006


Wow. Been a while since I posted: Blog slog.

I haven't been in the most blog-tastic frame of mind of late - that should adjust shortly, one way or the other :)