The Missing Future

Eric Kidd writes about the future that awaits software programmers:

I’m a 27-year-old programmer. When I’m 55–in 2031–I want to still be a programmer. And in 2031, I want to love my job as much as I do today. What will 2031 look like? Right now, two groups are offering their visions for the future: Microsoft and the open source movement. A third group is conspicuously silent: small, independent developers. What do the Microsoft and open source futures look like? Will the independent developers speak up? Which future should I fight for? My choices, and the choices of hundreds of thousands of people like me, will help determine which future we get.

The Microsoft future can only end in two ways: The grey death of total platform monopoly, or the sucking pit of government regulation. I don’t want either choice when I’m 55.

The open source future is lacking in entrepreneurial zest and multi-million dollar fortunes. But it’s a lot more appealing than the Microsoft vision. I think I could live with the open source future when I’m 55.

The small companies offer me no visions. They can’t build platforms; they can’t challenge Microsoft, and if they keep squabbling with each other, they can’t even create simple standards. The press and the business world won’t even look at their technology until after it has been co-opted by the big players…If you want my support, and the support of others like me, propose a vision. Show me you can co-operate, show me you can build platforms, and show me you can drive back Microsoft without becoming the next Microsoft. Tell me a tale of 2031, and what I’ll be doing when I’m 55.

A very well-written article which had as one of its premise a simple question: “What if I’ve got a great new idea, and I want to change the world?” Here’s my take on it: I think the small software developers (and I run one such outfit in Mumbai) can indeed make a difference. We are trying to do just that with our work on Emergic, BlogStreet and Info Aggregator. It isn’t easy, but if one is determined and willing to look at markets outside the US (the emerging markets like India), then there is plenty of opportunity.

Bill Gates and Email

Information Week has Bill Gates talking about the applications he uses in his daily work ((via Jim McGee):

I’d say that of my time sitting in my office, that is, time outside of meetings, which is a couple of hours, two-thirds of that is sitting in E-mail. E-mail is really my primary application, because that’s where I’m getting notifications of new things, that’s where I’m stirring up trouble by sending mail out to lots of different groups. So it’s a fundamental application. And I think that’s probably true for most knowledge workers, that the E-mail is the one they sit in the most. Inside those E-mails they get spreadsheets, they get Word documents, they get PowerPoints, so they navigate out to those things, but the center is E-mail.

All the more reason to get the RSS feeds in an email client – the way we do it in our Info Aggregator.

GreyListing to fight Spam

Evan Harris makes a proposal:

It only looks at three pieces of information (which we will refer to as a “triplet” from now on) about any particular mail delivery attempt:

1. The IP address of the host attempting the delivery
2. The envelope sender address
3. The envelope recipient address

From this, we now have a unique triplet for identifying a mail “relationship”. With this data, we simply follow a basic rule, which is:

If we have never seen this triplet before, then refuse this delivery and any others that may come within a certain period of time with a temporary failure.

Since SMTP is considered an unreliable transport, the possibility of temporary failures is built into the core spec (see RFC 821). As such, any well behaved message transfer agent (MTA) should attempt retries if given an appropriate temporary failure code for a delivery attempt (see below for discussion of issues concerning non-conforming MTA’s).

During the initial testing of Greylisting, it was observed that the vast majority of spam appears to be sent from applications designed specifically for spamming. These applications appear to adopt the “fire-and-forget” methodology. That is, they attempt to send the spam to one or several MX hosts for a domain, but then never attempt a true retry as a real MTA would. From our testing, this means that currently, based on a fairly conservative interpretation of testing data, we see effectiveness of over 95%, and that is with no legitimate mail ever being permanently blocked.

This blocking comes with a minimal price from the terms of local resources. Assuming the use of a local datastore for the triplet and other metadata, there is no required network traffic caused by Greylisting other than that associated with the connection itself. Since we are not checking the contents of the message at all there is very little processing overhead, unlike many other spam blocking methods.

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Reboot Talks

Two good talks at Reboot, which have been documented by Cory Doctorow.

Tim O’Reilly’s talk was on “The Open Source Paradigm Shift”. He says the real value of Linux and open-source software (OSS) is the new platforms it is enabling (Amazon, Google), and not just in the shrinkwrapped apps. This is coming about due to commoditisation, customisability and collaboration.

Paradigm shift: Introduced in 1962. Used to describe the change
from Ptolemaic to Copernican astronomy. At certain points in
intellectual history, everything you know turns out to have been

The last paradigm shift in IT: Mainframe to minis to PCs. They
were Computer Companies: hardware and software. Apple is the last
of these.

IBM built “open source” hardware with the PC. Commodity hardware
kicked Apple’s ass. Increased commodification went on: Dell beat
IBM and Compaq (because Compaq added bells and whistles, made a
premium product).

We’re in the middle of another paradigm shift:

Linux critic: Linux isn’t user-friendly

Linux geek: Linux will be better in the next rev

They’re both wrong: the apps that run on Linux are Google,
Amazon, etc. Not shrinkwrapped apps, but new platforms.

Amazon, Google aren’t OSS, but they’re built on OSS. Getting the
source to Amazon would be pretty useless, in fact.

Meg Hourihan’s talk discusses blogs and more interestingly, the Project Lafayette she is working in. Here’s more:

The Lafayette Project: Make it easier to read weblogs.

When you find a blog you like, you also like the blogger. You
have shared interests. You don’t ask your friends for restaurant
reviews, but your friends will tell you about the restaurants you

Lafayette builds on the social network that underlies blogs. If
you like reading, you might like, and if
you like, you might like

I co-founded this with Nick Denton, and we hired our engineer in
April. Hoping to have a beta in July.

We’re building an RSS reader that will tell you about the sites
that have updated recently. Then we’re building the
recommendation engine.

We’re going to add more predictions — we’d be able to tell you
about Reboot, posts about Reboot, even if there’s no direct

Over 50% of blogs are non-English. Polish blogs may link to
English blogs, but the English blogs don’t link back. We want to
make a tool available to anglo bloggers to help them read
non-English blogs.

More people are coming online and creating blogs. The tools are

As the readers improve, we’ll see a whole new way to read and
access the content.

Grameen’s Cellphones

BoingBoing has a reference to a Reuters on GrameenPhone’s foray into mobile phones and the cnages it is bringing into the lives of people in the rural areas of Bangladesh.

Under a special low-priced package, it has been offering phones to village women, now popularly known as phone ladies, and changing lifestyles into the bargain. The phones are registered only in the name of women but they are also operated by their husbands and sons and shared out in the village at a few taka per call. With just one phone, the service has now become a family business in many villages, with monthly earnings averaging $170, a lot of money in poverty-ridden Bangladesh which has an annual per capita income of $368.
“This has improved our living standards and made us feel proud in every sense,” said operator Masuda Begum. The phone ladies also enjoyed a bigger say in family decisions, including marriage of children, Masuda said. Many have renovated their homes with their new income and in villages with electricity they have bought color televisions and refrigerators. Some are even sending their children to the cities for school where they also have access to qualified doctors.


Companies like Quova have software that are able to map IP addresses to geographical locations. Writes NYTimes: “The most common application of geotargeting software may involve Internet advertising.” An interesting idea for SME marketing.

TECH TALK: The PubSubWeb: The Second Web

Bit by bit, component by component, day by day, there is a transformation under way. It is not easily visible for most, the changes are incremental or barely noticeable. But seen over an extended period of time, this transformation is going to be as important as the emergence of the web a decade ago.

The first web made publishing possible. By giving each document published a unique identifier and making available a standardised application in the form of the browser for display, the first web made mass-reading possible. This web is about a few publishing and many reading.

The second web will make mass-publishing and narrowband reading many will publish and each will be read by a few. The building blocks of this web are slowly falling in place. Some call it the two-way web, others think of it as the writeable web. A more appropriate description is the publish-subscribe web, or PubSubWeb.

The early adopters of the PubSubWeb are already out there in the form of bloggers and their readers who get the content via RSS aggregators (also called news readers). But this is just the beginning. By focusing on weblogs and trying to make writing to a blog easier, we are missing the real opportunity. The goal should be to make RSS publishing and reading easier. Blogs are an incidental by-product, not the primary produce.

A few months ago, I would visit a handful of bloggers daily. I had a blogroll on my weblog which made it easier for me to remember the URLs. Of course, I could have bookmarked these blogs also it is just that going to my own blog and clicking on the blogroll made it easier for me to clickthrough from any computer.

Now, I subscribe to the RSS feeds of 70+ blogs via our own Info Aggregator. I get the incremental updates from all of these blogs delivered in my mailbox. I am processing 10x the information in lesser time now. I now only view new blogs in the browser, or click through to blog posts with a abbreviated RSS feed. I have never managed such diversity in terms of information access in so short a time ever in my life.

Information available and needed by us has grown over the past decade thanks to the first web. The number of transactions we are expected to handle in a day has also increased dramatically. Yet, the base set of tools that we have available to interact with this information has barely changed email, IM and the browser continue to work the same way as they did a few years ago. This is why we feel overloaded with information. This is where the PubSubWeb will make a dramatic difference.

Tomorrow: The Information Ecosystem