Amazon’s Amazing Platform

[via Sadagopan] ACM Queue has an interview with Werner Vogels, the Amazon CTO:

If you hit the Amazon.com gateway page, the application calls more than 100 services to collect data and construct the page for you…It depends a bit on what kind of page you visitwhether it is a product page, a checkout page, etc. It also depends on how effective caching is for the objects on that page, as well as some other factors.

The big architectural change that Amazon went through in the past five years was to move from a two-tier monolith to a fully-distributed, decentralized, services platform serving many different applications. A lot of innovation was necessary to make this happen, as we were one of the first to take this approach. Operating such a diverse set of services at this scale is not something that many people have done before, especially not with the kind of isolation that we wanted to achieve.

It has been a major learning experience, but we have now reached a point where it has become one of our main strategic advantages. We can now build very complex applications out of primitive services that are by themselves relatively simple. We can scale our operation independently, maintain unparalleled system availability, and introduce new services quickly without the need for massive reconfiguration.

Ask.com’s Features

David Kirkpatrick recommends trying out the search engine.

Unlike Google, Ask gives you content before ads, includes previews, and offers related links, including those like “Ozone Layer” that you might not have thought of. Of the three other major search sites – Google, MSN, and Yahoo – only Yahoo comes close to delivering value comparable to Ask.com, but even then with a much less well-designed screen.

The other explanation for why Ask.com is good is its underlying technology, which used to be called Teoma. That service grew out of Pentagon-funded work at Rutgers University.

Teoma’s search works differently than others. It clusters sites according to topic communities, using unique technology which Ask now calls ExpertRank. That’s why it can find “ozone layer” sites when you search for “global warming.”

Screencasting

Jeremy Wagstaff writes: “Screencasts are little movies you create on your computer. In most cases, they are movies of your computer. You use special software to capture the keystrokes and mouse clicks you make on your screen, demonstrating, say, how to use Google (the screen bit of screencasting). Then, once you’ve edited and added a voiceover, you upload it to your Web site and let everyone else watch it (the casting bit).”

Google’s Media Disruption

The Boston Globe writes:

“Google is causing disruption in a variety of areas,” said Anthea Stratigos , co founder and chief executive of Outsell Inc., a Burlingame, Calif., research firm. “It’s pushing advertising revenue online. It’s creating a model where software can be hosted by ad funding. Because of Google, things that have long been fee-based now have the potential to be free to consumers and supported by ads.”

The effect can be seen in falling profits, staff cutbacks, and programming changes in the media industry, but the changes brought about by the Google model may be only beginning. “As they go forward, you’re going to see the corporate jets disappear for the executives of NBC and the Internet service providers,” predicted John Katsaros , principal at the Internet Research Group in Los Altos, Calif. “You’re going to see slow, agonizing deaths or reevaluation of businesses.”

Mobile TV

Ajit Jaokar writes:

I think ‘portable’ broadcast TV for has been underrated for a long time. Maybe this is because the early portable tvs ( casio anyone? )did not offer the user experience people expected. Maybe it is now because people don’t realise how much the TV services have changed over the past 5 years and will continue to change over the next few (IPTV/HDTV). Or maybe they think of DAB, digital radio as an indicator of the success of DMB/DVB-T, hence..

I for one think mobile TV broadcasts will be a great addition to the mobile services. Imagine not just commuters, but families, you won’t need multiple TV sets in the household for each familymember, you won’t need to ‘flick the channel’ to see if the commercials have ended.. You could be watching the latest news broadcast on your lunchbreak, you could be sitting in the hairsalon watching something actually interesting in the background. Mobile TV is not just mobile, it’s portable too. It’s not just a replacement or competitive service, it could add to any odd user experience, It could make your mobile the ultimate remote.

TECH TALK: Education and Reservation: My Views (Part 2)

Education is one of Indias greatest challenges. It is something Atanu Dey has encouraged me to think about for quite some time. He is himself working on ideas for setting things right. We read last week about his thinking.

One Friday afternoon a couple weeks ago, we were brainstorming on this very topic. One thought emerged in my head based on Atanus point that we need to solve Indias education problem at the primary school level. Tens of millions of students do not get a proper education for a variety of reasons. How many Ramanujans and Einsteins have lived and died in obscurity, never having had the opportunity of getting an education?

As I heard what Atanu had to say, I reflected upon it as a father. The previous week, a friend had come over for lunch. His five-year-old daughter had just gotten into one of the best schools in Mumbai after a lengthy process of interviews of not just the parents, but also the child. My friend mentioned that I may need to put in the application shortly. I was struck by the craziness of the thought and the process. I would need to start grooming my year-old son Abhishek soon enough so he could pass the interview at a future point of time to get into one of a handful of good schools within a reasonable distance from home. I know parents who get paranoid about the process.

I know that Abhishek will get educated in a good school and college. But what of the other Abhisheks out there who will be denied that opportunity because their schools dont have good teachers or their parents have other compulsions. What is it that we can do since the government in India isnt likely to do anything about it? How do we ensure that another generation of Indians does not lose out on opportunities?

I had a crazy idea. What if we could use an earlier idea that Atanu had (the School-in-a-Box) and combine it with the concept of distributed home schooling for the less fortunate? There are millions of computers in homes in India which are not used for more than a few hours a day. There are millions of educated people (housewives, retired people) who have time. Can we combine these ideas together? The kids who are not fortunate to get into a good school and get the benefit of good teachers could learn via the School-in-a-box content running on a computer in our homes during the day. The home-based educated people could become facilitators in this process. The schools can become information exchange points between a much smarter bunch of children. To do this all, we do not need the government. We just need our own initiative with a bit of external help.

India stands at the threshold. The economic engine that I saw in the malls in Mumbai is in danger of sputtering soon if we cannot get the education core running. Not for the first time, we can see a bright future. Will we once again snatch defeat from the jaws from the victory?

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