Software as a Service

Barry Briggs has two [1 2] posts:

Whenever I’ve talked to SaaS (ASP we used to call them) customers invariably I find that as they grow increasingly dependent on the service they want to more tightly integrate it with their inhouse business applications. That’s a problem, of course: if the ASP and not you dictates data formats, service levels, and so forth, then you don’t control your software. Most now have XML/SOAP interfaces and while this helps in rationalizing syntax, if the semantics are different, then the problem can be intractable. And certainly there are performance issues: it’s difficult to bulk load a customer database via SOAP over the Internet, for example.

To me this is the great challenge of the SaaS/ASP: how do you appear local, an integral part of the customer’s computing ecosystem, and still generalize enough to have a global value proposition.

While the ASP model will survive, its utility must be questioned: if you accept that compliance, rapidly growing competition (some of which is on a global scale), and agility are key new drivers, then how your software addresses those needs represents the essence of your competitive differentiation. Ideally, YOU control moment by moment how your information infrastructure responds to rapidly changing market conditions.

Computing is not a utility: it’s your crown jewels.

Relevance Rank for News and Weblogs

Greg Linden writes:

If you use a feed reader like Bloglines, there must have been at least a few times you’ve looked at the overwhelming pile of unread articles with a sigh. So much to read.

All feed readers organize the articles in the same way. They group the articles by feed and sort the articles by date. So, you go through, click on each feed, skim the articles, and slog on through.

“Wouldn’t it be nice,” you’ve probably thought, “if these articles were sorted by relevance? Maybe the most important articles at the top and least important at the bottom? Then I could just read the articles from top to bottom, stopping when I get bored or run out of time.”

This would be good to have as part of the Information Dashboards.

Web Distribution

Wired writes:

If you wanted to stream a compressed hi-def movie from the Internet to your TV with these codecs, you’d still need pipes fatter than today’s broadband. But in January, Comcast cable announced that it will double the speed of its Internet service, depending on how much you’re willing to pay. Video compression will further increase home Net speed. As broadcasters upgrade to the streamlined MPEG-4 codec, each channel will need less pipe to offer a better picture. That in turn frees up bandwidth in existing coaxial cable lines.

This isn’t the only improvement on the horizon. Over the next year, Intel plans to roll out WiMax – a wide-area wireless technology that can theoretically handle 70 Mbps. At this year’s Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, filmmaker David LaChapelle screened his new hi-def movie, Rize, by streaming it from Oregon and then transmitting it through a WiMax station in Salt Lake City. It worked flawlessly – soon even theaters won’t have to rely on physical media anymore.

Imagine what all this means for someone who wants to find, rent, or buy a hi-def flick from home. A 2-Gbyte hi-def movie is small enough to download with less delay than using Netflix or TiVo. This has already started – iFilm, the go-to service for video clips, boasts 6 million unique visitors a month. Microsoft has partnered with companies like CinemaNow for on-demand movie downloading direct to Media Center PCs. Yahoo! is also getting into the download game, offering streamed versions of Fat Actress. And how about an iTunes for movies? Apple spokespeople say they “have the opportunity, but haven’t announced anything yet.” These are tectonic rumblings.

Eventually, someone will build the sophisticated business plan and technology that will make getting hi-def movies online even easier.

RSS for Data Integration

Jon Udell writes:

OpenSearch is interesting in lots of ways, but here I want to focus on its use of RSS. A9 doesnt subscribe to my search-results feed in the way Bloglines or FeedDemon or NetNewsWire would. It doesnt poll for changes. Instead it sends a request to my site when an A9 user with an active InfoWorld column performs a search. The response packet I send back just happens to be formatted as RSS 2.0, but from A9s perspective, it could be any XML format.

Why RSS 2.0, then? Because it creates network effects that go way beyond the point-to-point relationships between A9 and its search partners. The work I did to export RSS 2.0 search results served double duty. It accomplished the integration with A9, but it also dramatically expanded InfoWorlds RSS surface area. Now, for the first time, you can subscribe to any InfoWorld search in a feed reader. Want to be notified when the next review of a VoIP product shows up at InfoWorld.com? Run the query, and subscribe to its results.

Most people nowadays use RSS for person-to-person communication. You know the pattern: When a publisher posts a blog item, subscribers are alerted. A growing number of folks are also using RSS for process-to-person communication. Subscribing to searches is the best example of this pattern.

A9s use of RSS for process-to-process communication represents a third pattern. Well be seeing a lot more of it. Not because RSS enables process integration in special ways — it doesnt — but rather because RSS helps us blur the boundaries between human network and process networks.

the fact remains that we have yet to kick off a virtuous cycle that rewards microcontent creators, directly and immediately. That will require:

1. A way of producing microcontent that’s easy and natural for average folks.

2. A way of harvesting microcontent that’s easy and natural for average folks.

Buzzwords: Long Tail and Ecosystem

Dan Farber writes about a couple buzzwords that he heard discussed at PC Forum:

[Chris Anderson]…had a great insight into how to represent supply and demand and the effect of low cost storage and distribution in the Internet age. The longtail captures a key phenomenon enabled by the Internet that is the equivalent to the impact of the transportation system in the mid-20th century. The ability to expose and access all forms of data in a friction-free, low-cost manner via the Internet permanently alters hierarchies that ruled over the last millennium.

If you have a business plan, you will need to consider the implications of the longtail. If you don’t know how to surf the longtail, in a world in which exabytes of data (content, opportunity, chaos) are forming each month, you won’t get to first base.

In a lesser fashion, ecosystem pervaded the PC Forum vocabulary. Wikipedia defines an ecosystem as “a naturally occuring assemblage of organisms (plant, animal and other living organisms – also referred as biocenose) living together with their environment (or biotope), functioning as a unit of sorts.”

It’s a high-value concept as applied to cyberspace–having an ecosystem means leveraging a community of users, partners, suppliers, developers or whatever to create a network effect (another buzzword). The best examples of technology-focused ecosystems are the services that establish strong bonds between themselves and users and foster strong bonds among the user community itself. Think eBay, Linux (open source), Yahoo/Google/MSN, and Window with its developers and OEMs. Business and technology ecosystems, like their biological counterparts, can be fragile. Changing the climate, introducing new elements, pissing off the community can lead to a rapid decay–and to new ecosystems that respond better the multiple inputs and nuance of the community, which is social and organic, built on values like trust and transparency.

TECH TALK: When Things Go Wrong: Why Failure Happens

So, why do things go wrong? What can entrepreneurs do to avoid such mistakes which can go potentially fatal for businesses? Or are such failures the rocket fuel that take businesses to the next level? Lets start by taking a closer look at why failure happens. According to me, there are multiple areas where entrepreneurs err:

Too much Vision: This is where the long-term thinking gains precedence over the short-term. In the entrepreneurs world, crafting the perfect future means starting to live in that imaginary world and disconnecting with the reality of today. Vision is necessary but it also needs to be complemented with a clear path to getting there.

Wrong Idea: The assumptions behind the business may not wrong. The entrepreneur may be blind-sided: passion for one area could lead to ignoring another area. So, the idea for the venture itself may be questionable because the entrepreneur may not have applied multi-model thinking to it.

Wrong Product: This is related to the previous point but in this case, even though the problem may have been identified correctly, the solution to address the problem may be wrong. It is very important to be able to distinguish where the error was made in identify the need for the market, or in creating the solution.

Inability to Sell: This is something that technology entrepreneurs can be afflicted by. The belief is: build it, and they will come. Because the entrepreneur believes that the product is a terrific idea, little attention is paid until it is too late on how the selling will be done. Marketing can cost money and is often ignored. In fact, the distinction between marketing and selling isnt even clear to many entrepreneurs.

People Mistakes: People are critical to every venture, and an entrepreneur can make mistakes in hiring or in allocating responsibilities. At times, there is a position to be filled and so the first person who seems to fit the bill is hired. This may not always work well. People mistakes are hard to undo because after a time every person carves a niche for themselves in the company and even though they may not be doing the right thing, an entrepreneur finds it hard to accept that a mistake was made and that an alternative can be found quickly.

Flawed Execution: This essentially boils down to bad management. Most entrepreneurs tend to be passion-led, rather than process-driven. So, many decisions are made intuitive and ad-hoc rather than backed up with up a lot of deep thinking. At times, this works but at other times, it can fail. Businesses do need processes and a framework to execute well and it is not easy for the entrepreneur to build that discipline of execution across the board. So, when things are going well, the flaws are hidden, but at the first hint of trouble, the cracks can get magnified.

Tomorrow: Why Failure Happens (continued)

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