Bosworth’s KISS

Adam Bosworth has a transcript of the talk he gave at ICSOC 2004, wherein he discusses “the virtues of KISS which Ill conveniently describe as keeping it simple and sloppy and its effect on computing on the internet.” [KISS = Keep It Simple, Stupid]

That software which is flexible, simple, sloppy, tolerant, and altogether forgiving of human foibles and weaknesses turns out to be actually the most steel cored, able to survive and grow while that software which is demanding, abstract, rich but systematized, turns out to collapse in on itself in a slow and grim implosion.

Consider the spreadsheet. It is a protean, sloppy, plastic, flexible medium that is, ironically, the despair of all accountants and auditors because it is virtually impossible to reliably understand a truly complex and rich spreadsheet. Lotus corporation (now IBM), filled with Harvard MBAs and PhDs in CS from MIT, built Improv. Improv set out “to fix all this”. It was an auditors dream. It provided rarified heights of abstraction, formalisms for rows and columns, and in short was truly comprehensible. It failed utterly, not because it failed in its ambitions but because it succeeded.

Consider search. I remember the first clunky demos that Microsoft presented when Bill Gates first started to talk about Information at your fingertips with their complex screens for entering search criteria and their ability to handle Boolean logic. One of my own products, Access had the seemingly easier Query by Example. Yet, today half a billion people search every day and what do they use? Not Query by Example. Not Boolean logic. They use a solution of staggering simplicity and ambiguity, namely free text search. The engineering is hard, but the user model is simple and sloppy.

There is a lot of talk about Web 2.0. Many seem to assume that the second web will be about rich intelligent clients who share information across the web and deal with richer media (photos, sound, video). There is no doubt that this is happening. Whether it is Skype or our product Hello, or iTunes, people are increasingly plugging into the web as a way to collaborate and share media. But I posit that this isnt the important change. It is glitzy, fun, entertaining, useful, but at the end of the day, not profoundly new.

What has been new is information overload. Email long ago became a curse. Blogreaders only exacerbate the problem. I cant even imagine the video or audio equivalent because it will be so much harder to filter through. What will be new is people coming together to rate, to review, to discuss, to analyze, and to provide 100,000 Zagats, models of trust for information, for goods, and for services. Who gives the best buzz cut in Flushing? We see it already in eBay. We see it in the importance of the number of deals and the ratings for people selling used books on Amazon. As I said in my blog,
My mother never complains that she needs a better client for Amazon. Instead, her interest is in better community tools, better book lists, easier ways to see the book lists, more trust in the reviewers, librarian discussions since she is a librarian, and so on.

This is what will be new. In fact it already is. You want to see the future. Dont look at Longhorn. Look at Slashdot. 500,000 nerds coming together everyday just to manage information overload. Look at BlogLines. What will be the big enabler? Will it be Attention.XML as Steve Gillmor and Dave Sifry hope? Or something else less formal and more organic? It doesnt matter. The currency of reputation and judgment is the answer to the tragedy of the commons and it will find a way. This is where the action will be. Learning Avalon or Swing isnt going to matter. Machine learning and inference and data mining will. For the first time since computers came along, AI is the mainstream.

Sriram Krishnan has more.

New PubSub Site

Mary Hodder writes on the launch of the new PubSub website:

First of all, they are monitoring 6.5 million blogs and seeing 600,000 posts a day. That’s pretty amazing. However, many of the 6.5 million blogs have feeds that haven’t pinged them or updated in some time, so they prefer the more conservative 3,606,000 active blogs as the number they actually monitor day-to-day.

They’ve also changed the interface, making it far easier for users to see that PubSub is really about defining a search for subscribing in my aggregator (those searches can actually include several searches, for example: napsterization.org/stories — to get all instances of someone linking to me, combined with “mary hodder” and “napsterization” to get all instances of the keyword use in posts, and then being able to define interesting subsets of the blogosphere.. so that I only get posts say, in the 40% to 80% conversational middle of blogs as they are ranked by inbound links… and on and on…).

PubSub does something interesting that the other blog services don’t do… which is that they don’t collect the data and store it… instead they match the data to the subscription searches and other things they collect and monitor, and then toss it. So they don’t have to worry about structuring it in a database for later. It’s an interesting premise, this idea of not searching historically but rather searching just what comes through, which they call “prospective search.”

Bob Wyman of PubSub adds:

Mary Hodder points out on her blog that the PubSub matching engine doesn’t “collect the data and store it” like search engines do. This is, of course, because we focus on prospective search (“Searching the Future”) rather than the retrospective search that search engines provide. Since we’re searching the future, it doesn’t make sense to build up a collection of data that we’ve seen in the past. The only thing we care about is what’s new. We’re not just “yet-another-search-engine”… We’re working on the “other half of the search problem” that hasn’t gotten much attention in the past.

Since we don’t store data, we can’t let you know what has been said about any particular subject in the past. We can only promise to let you know if what you’re interested in is mentioned in the future. Thus, a prospective search service only handles half of your search needs. The other half must be provided by using a retrospective search engine like Google, Feedster or Snap. Prospective Search compliments Retrospective Search rather than replaces it. The two are best used together.

This distinction between prospective and retrospective search maps exactly to the different phases of “research” that people typically pass through when seeking information. For instance, imagine the you just came across a reference to PubSub.com and you decided that you wanted to find out more about us. First, you would probably do a retrospective search. You would use Google or Snap to find out “What is known?” about us — what has been written in the past. Then, if you decided we were interesting, you might think to yourself: “Let me know whenever there is something new about PubSub.” That second question would be a “prospective search” and it is what we do at PubSub.com.

Dow Jones’ Purchase of Marketwatch

Fred Wilson writes that Dow Jones’ decision to buy MarketWatch for $519 million signals a triumph of free, ad-supported model over subscription-based content.

The three debates that I recall causing the most heartache were:

* Paid vs Free – Should this business be totally ad supported or should it be subscription based?
* News vs Analysis – Should this business focus on just reporting the news or should it focus an investment analysis?
* Content vs Data – Should this business be mostly a journalistic endeavor or should it be a data aggregation business (like My Yahoo)?

Well it sure appears that Marketwatch got it right and TheStreet.com and Dow Jones got it wrong.

Red Herring Blog adds: “Whether its dating or news, selling stuff from your attic at auction or creating order out of chaos in a search engine (algorithms based on creative insight into data – Google is much more like Match.com than an operating system), the network is only a conduit for human activity. Why is VoIP taking off? Because people want to talk cheap. Why are travel sites popular? Because people travel and want a good deal, not because travel sites exist its the result of marketing to peoples desires for a great hotel room at a good price. Every once in a while, the glaring lesson of these realities hits me in the face, this week to the tune of at least $519 million.”

SAP’s Growing Dominance

Barron’s writes:

SAP, with annual sales of nearly $10 billion, now accounts for a stunning 54% of the worldwide revenues of the top five players in business software — and that figure looks headed to 70%. SAP has been grabbing market share hand over fist for the past year as two of its key rivals, Oracle and PeopleSoft, prolong their bitter takeover battle. And in dramatic defiance of critics, the company has positioned itself to thrive in a new era of Web-based computing, where corporate workers can exchange data across departmental, physical and geographical barriers.

SAP’s successes have lifted its stock nicely. The company’s New York-traded American depositary receipts have more than doubled in the past two years, to a recent 45. They now trade at about 30 times estimated earnings for 2005, a premium of more than 25% to Oracle, Microsoft and some other competitors. But SAP may well be worth it.

The fact is, Kagermann & Co. soon could hold sway over the corporate-software market to the same degree that Cisco Systems came to rule the Internet- router business in the 1990s. Cisco, after realizing it had become the preferred supplier of the most vital picks and shovels of the Internet gold rush, unleashed a sales and marketing blitz like few others, crushing the competition and becoming the predominant provider of networking gear.

SAP’s greatest opportunity lies beyond Microsoft — in a change taking place in the buying habits of corporate technology chiefs. Many of them no longer have the patience, or lavish budgets, for the costly wares of smaller, more specialized competitors. And they want “fewer necks to choke” when technology malfunctions. A report on tech spending released last week by Goldman Sachs noted that businesses are “still in the upswing part of the trend toward fewer, larger vendors.”

SAP has been able to gain market share by steadily increasing the breadth and depth of its offerings. That’s attracted new customers and given existing ones reasons to order more software. Some companies have shown their allegiance by ripping out their specialized “best of breed” applications and replacing them with comparable SAP offerings.

The other big new product is NetWeaver, which is a stack of software built on an application server-plus, as Kagermann describes it. Application servers allow different applications, or software flavors, to talk to each other via the Internet. While most of SAP’s products in the past were written in proprietary code, NetWeaver uses a more open code that works with software from other companies. For example, PeopleSoft human-resource applications can interact with SAP accounting software. NetWeaver also provides Internet portals for accessing information, and data-warehouse and “business-intelligence” capabilities for analyzing trends.

The stronger sales from transitions to mySAP and installments of NetWeaver should lead to greater application sales to big corporations. At the same time, SAP is making inroads into the wide-open middle tier by launching more affordable solutions for small and mid-sized companies. In all, Goldman’s Sherlund expects SAP to increase its global market share among the top five enterprise vendors to 64% by the end of this year. Other than Cisco in networking, the only tech outfit with that kind of market dominance is Microsoft.

Solaris Containers

Kshitij Chandan points to news articles (CNet and OSNews) discussion Solaris 10. One of the most interesting aspects: Solaris Containers.

Virtual Machine softwares like VMWare were started as just software allowing users to boot up different OSes (if they have the processors and RAMs to handle the additional load) for working with them simultaneously. However the use of virtual systems will be much more expansive in the future. And what more can you say, when the media treats it as the best feature of 10.

[CNET] Solaris Containers, a form of operating system virtualization technology that offers most of the advantages of multiple separate virtual operating system images while maintaining a single image to manage. Containers create a private, isolated execution space for each application within the context of a single master operating system instance, each with its own local variables and proxy copies of global variables, IP address, security permissions, file system view and so on. Sun claims that in addition to being lightweight in terms of resource overhead, containers are also extremely dynamic, capable of being created in under 10 seconds. Resource allocation is granular, in single-digit percentages of CPU, physical memory and I/O. Containers are managed by the Solaris Container Manager, which creates and deletes containers and defines container resource policies.

[OS News] Containers are an emerging technology of mammoth proportions. Sun did not promote the containers as much as they could have. This is an extremely important technology as it provides isolation, increased utilization of resources and speedy environment restart, cloning, and other cool features with very little overhead – unlike VMWare and other emulation environments.

TECH TALK: Tomorrow’s World: All-Round Change

Over the past few columns, we have covered two different aspects of the new world that I see emerging around us the network computer and massputers, and the commPuting grid. To see how this new world is getting created and understand its impact on the world around us, we need to take a deeper look at multiple converging trends from different industries.

We are seeing traditional wireline telcos impacted both by the emergence of mobile phones as well as the shift of voice to IP networks. In India, the installed base of mobile phones is now greater than the land lines. Cable companies are not only offering television channels but also voice and Internet connectivity. Telecom companies for their part are starting to offer IP-TV. The music industry has to consider new forms of distribution via online music stores like iTunes and the peer-to-peer file-sharing networks which obliterate differences between what’s legal and what isn’t.

Internet portals are having to face up to the emergence of search as the primary driver for traffic, and increasingly for ads. Online gaming is emerging rapidly as broadband networks proliferate, especially in the East Asian countries. Software is being delivered as a service by companies like Salesforce.com. Open-source software is making waves across domains and devices. RSS and the publish-subscribe phenomenon is transforming content delivery and access, even as bloggers complement (and perhaps, threaten) traditional media.

Amongst all this, the giants of today’s technology world like Intel, Microsoft, Cisco and Nokia face slowing growth and are bumping into each other as they expand into other markets. Another reality that they face is that the next big users of technology are coming from emerging markets where affordability and simplicity can be critical business drivers. Even as analysts consider technology as just another mature industry, there is still a lot of flux taking place as computing, communications and the content industries start overlapping with each other.

Starbucks offers music downloads along with coffee. Cellphones from companies like Motorola offer MP3 players and webcams, along with Internet access. Computers from the likes of Dell and HP integrated with Microsoft software are being repositioned as entertainment controllers. Broadband wireless networks like Verizon’s EV-DO blur the difference between home and office, and work and leisure. Skype undermines the traditional business model of telcos by offering free Internet calling from computers.

Even as the world considers the various converging, diverging and overlapping trends, many of our mental models get thrown into confusion. What worked in the past is not as likely to work in the future. Yesterday’s partner could be tomorrow’s competitor. Past success and dominance does not guarantee future triumph. Not only has the pace of change accelerated, technologies from different industries are pushing against each other in search of growth and new opportunities. It promises to be the best of times or the worst of times! How do we make sense of this new world?

Tomorrow: India’s Recent Revolutions

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