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It's hard to say these days

Now this "Open" thing is just getting Ridiculous

clock September 28, 2008 13:56 by author Tom

From The Register's article entitled "Adobe cites bad blood for closed Flash"

Adobe Systems' Flash has long dominated PCs and the web, but the company has been under slowly mounting pressure to open source the player's source code.

This came to a head recently when Dion Almaer, co-founder of Ajaxian.com and Google's open web advocate, delivered a talk on the state of AJAX at Google Developer Day in London. I asked Almaer why Google makes little use of Adobe Systems' Flash, YouTube aside, and he gave a forthright answer.

Flash is not "open enough," he said, explaining that the Flash player is not open source and its development is not driven by the community. Google likes the technology, he added, and its closed-source status is a matter of ongoing discussion.

I am as pro-Open Source as a person can be but this type of thing bothers me. 

When Mr. Almer says Flash "isn't open enough" I wish someone had countered with "as opposed to what?"  Certainly not AJAX (Google's tool of choice).  It's not like you can make changes to what's going on in Javascript or change the way an XMLHttpRequest is executed. 

CSS 2 was feature complete in 1998 and browsers still don't implement it right.  CSS 3 has been in development for just about ever and doesn't appear close to being done much less implemented.  I guarantee, GUARANTEE Adobe would implement features requested by Google faster than the standards group behind CSS could get it approved and implemented into all the major browsers.

So how exactly is AJAX preferable to FLASH on the "Open Scale"?

I mean, the whole benefit of open source is the ability to add things when you need them.  If Flash, closed source as it is, can implement features faster than wouldn't it be the better solution?

The problem with this, and a lot of the openness talk, is that the solution has become separated from the problem being solved.  If you focus on the actual problem (getting new features implemented in a timely manner) Adobe's Flash wins hands down.  But people have become so obsessed with the word "Open" that they've forgotten why they wanted openness in the first place.



What Jaiku Says about Google

clock August 24, 2008 20:04 by author Tom

Jaiku Invites, a Jaiku fan site, posts on what appears to be Jaiku's move from their own infrastructure to that of Google.  Here's the quote...

For those of you not familiar with trace routes the last few lines there show that the domain Jaiku.com is now on the google network. The IP address that it finishes at is also one belonging to several blocks used by GAE [Google App Engine]. Up until this, Jaiku.com had remained on the same Finnish server it was on when google bought it, trying to survive on just 1GB of RAM.

For those who aren't familiar with the name Jaiku was a microblogging service that competed with Twitter, Pownce, etc...  In October of 2007 they were acquired by Google and essentially shut down (existing users could still use it but they stopped taking any new signups). 

That was all we heard from Jaiku for a long, long time. 

I'll be honest, this post is less about Jaiku and more about Google's business strategy in general.  You see there are a few factors that are unique to Jaiku that make a very important point about how Google is being run internally.  Those are...

1.  Microblogging was an emerging business with a lot of attention when Google bought Jaiku. 

2.  Microblogging is not that hard a programming task.  Any modifications Google would have needed to make to Jaiku should have been fairly easy to do.

3.  Jaiku was already written in Python (the native language of Google App Engine).  The framework it was written in was not Google's preferred one (GAE uses Django, Jaiku uses Twisted) but the fact that it was already written in Python should have sped the process along a little.

4.  Jaiku had an urgent need for more resources.  As Jaiku invites puts it...

Jaiku.com had remained on the same Finnish server it was on when google bought it, trying to survive on just 1GB of RAM.

So all in all it was in Google's best interest to get Jaiku up and running as quickly as possible and the task couldn't have been much easier.  Yet it still took Google 11 months just to move it over to their servers. 

I think this proves that Google's propensity for burying the companies they acquire is not a technical problem (though I'm sure that contributes) but one of poor management.  Because this was about as easy a technical task as they could have gotten and they still fumbled the ball. 

Google is backing itself into a very uncomfortable corner right now.  They can't seem to grow organically yet they also can't seem capitalize on companies they acquire.  The problem is being hidden right now by their massive search revenues but once that stops impressing Wall Street people are going to start looking real hard at Google's (apparently flawed) business practices.  I'd hope for their sake that these problems are fixed by then.



Google Giving Knol Weight (and Being Absolutely Right In Doing So)

clock July 28, 2008 03:16 by author Tom

The "scandal of the moment" on Sunday was that Google's new Wikipedia competitor Knol is ranking very high in the Google search results even though its only been around for a couple weeks. 

Dare Obasanjo posts on it and runs his own test by searching for a Knol term and finding Knol comes up as the 4th result on the 1st page of Google results.  Upon getting that result he says...

Not bad for a page that has existed on the Web for less than two weeks.

Google is clearly favoring Knol content over content from older, more highly linked sites on the Web. I won't bother with the question of whether Google is doing this on purpose or whether this is some innocent mistake. The important question is "What are they going to do about it now that we've found out?

I repeated Mr. Obasanjo's experiment with another term and got just about the same results.  The Knol page came up 4th after Wikipedia, the MayoClinic and MedlinePlus.  See below...

image

But there's a flaw in these experiments which is that Mr. Obasanjo and I both used "Featured Knols".    These are topics featured prominently on Knol's front page and which have obviously been viewed, rated and commented on by several Knol users at this point. 

Fea

So I tried one of the terms that wasn't "Featured" and guess what?   The Knol article didn't make the first page of listings at all. This is consistent with an unscientific survey Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land did which found that 10 out of 30 Knols he looked at made the front page of Google listings at some level.

But again, look a little closer and you find that all the Knols that did make the top of the listings had several comments and/or positive ratings and how high they were on the search results seemed to be in direct relation to the rating/comment level. 

So clearly Google isn't giving Knol an all encompassing boost.  What seems more likely is that Google has designed several rating mechanisms (Article rating, comments, probably even page views) and is using those to determine which Knols are of high quality and then reflecting that in their search results.

What's wrong with that?

Google's job is not to be fair to web content creators it is to deliver the best results to the people using their search engine.  If they've created a site designed to provide accurate content what is wrong with them pushing more traffic to it?  Again, they aren't doing it blindly.  They've simply built hooks into Knol that allow the Google Search Engine to determine which Knols are of the most use. 

It isn't really fair to other web sites but it isn't really abusive either.  Google isn't doing anything that's contrary to their stated goal of delivering the most accurate information to Google searchers.  I know that, If given the choice between delivering more accurate results to searchers or being fair to webmasters, I'd pick more accurate results any day. 

That's exactly the choice Google's making and I for one don't have a problem with it.

Side Note: I have to say one of the absolutely shocking things about this whole affair is that the three blog posts I consider authoritative on this topic (the two quoted above plus seobook.com's article) don't even mention the rating system as a possibility.  In fact, they don't mention it at all.  Do a word search for the word "rating" on each page and you'll come up completely empty.  That's a little ridiculous. 



Why doesn't Google Care About You?

clock July 1, 2008 05:05 by author Tom

Michael Krigsman writes a post for ZDNet about Feedburner's recent 3 day outage.  For those who aren't bloggers Feedburner is a service operated by Google that allows you to track information about your RSS/Atom Feeds such as how many subscribers they have, what those subscribers are clicking on, etc...

In his post Mr. Krigsman says...

FeedBurner blog site statistics have been down for over two days with no word from Google despite numerous complaints from users. Does Google’s lack of response suggest something we don’t know?

...

In my view, Google’s cavalier attitude toward FeedBurner suggests that perhaps the service has been demoted to second-tier status despite the fact some FeedBurner services remain working. If so, that’s bad news for users. Google, any comment on this?

To be honest, I was surprised this issue didn't get more coverage in the blogosphere.  Such blatant mistreatment of customers, particularly vocal customers like bloggers, usually creates more of a storm than this. 

I don't know for a fact what is behind Google's lack of response.  But it reminds me of an issue that I don't think gets near enough attention and that's the fact that Web 2.0 companies, with their ad based revenue models, have no incentive to listen to their customers. 

Because unlike businesses in the past their money comes from a third party giving the consumer no pull.

Our lives are becoming more and more dependent on companies that don't answer to us in any way.  I actually posted on this a few months back.  At the time I said...

This is one of the biggest problems and least discussed consequences of Web 2.0's new "Advertisement Based Economy".  By being an intermediary between you and the service you are using the advertising company is preventing you from having any hold over the company that is actually providing you with a service.  Because of that you lose the ability to hold them accountable for providing that service poorly. 

It actually adds a lot of credence to the idea that nothing comes for free.

So the question is, what can be done?  People certainly don't want to start paying for something that is currently free and web sites have no reason to listen to users while the people with the ads are providing all the funding.  What needs to happen is the middle man (a.k.a. the advertiser) needs to start advocating for the user.

I still wish a system like this could be established but I'm less and less optimistic as time goes on.  Google's complete lack of not only contrition but response of any kind shows just how complacent people have become in regards to this. 

It makes me wonder though, with people relying more and more on these services and starting to put important data into them (Google Health for example) how long can this type of behavior be tolerated?  I have to think the consumer will stand up and complain at some point.



What a bunch of idiots...

clock May 23, 2008 16:23 by author Tom

I'm a little annoyed... 

You see, a couple years back Microsoft announced that they, like Google, would start indexing books and professional journals which were only available in print and then integrate those results into a specialized search engine.  I'm a big supporter of this movement because I believe its very important to index those printed documents so they don't get lost in the new digital age. 

Back to Microsoft, To do this they joined with the Open Content Alliance, a non-profit group dedicating to archiving this sort of thing.  At the time it was a coup because Google had chosen to go it alone with their book search making Microsoft look like the good guy. 

Good PR all around, Until Today...

This also means that we are winding down our digitization initiatives, including our library scanning and our in-copyright book programs. We recognize that this decision comes as disappointing news to our partners, the publishing and academic communities, and Live Search users.

Given the evolution of the Web and our strategy, we believe the next generation of search is about the development of an underlying, sustainable business model for the search engine, consumer, and content partner. For example, this past Wednesday we announced our strategy to focus on verticals with high commercial intent, such as travel, and offer users cash back on their purchases from our advertisers.

I have to say it...what a bunch of dopes.

Look, I'm for a sustainable business model as much as the next guy but when you have nearly 80,000 employees and make $51 BILLION per year it pays to look at the big picture.  The big picture where the cost of a few $35,000 a year employees is worth 10 times that amount in good will. 

I mean, this doesn't require highly paid programmers.  The technology behind the book scanning is long since worked out.  Its simply an issue of caring enough to keep some low level clerical employees on the job.  I'd think Microsoft would do that just to keep their search index growing. 

As Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land put it...

Gosh, Google somehow seems to be able to run a sustainable business model and devote some energy and resources into indexing books and scholarly information, even if those generate little to no revenue. They do it in part because they think it's good business to provide all types of searches, not just those that will earn them money.

In the middle of a search war, I can understand that a "distraction" like book and academic search might seem like something to Microsoft that has to go. However, Microsoft's not hurting for cash to keep it up, if it wanted.

I mean what could Microsoft Execs possibly be thinking here?  I've been to Microsoft, I've seen parts of their org. chart, you can not tell me that cutting book search belonged at the very top of the cost cutting list.  This program could be funded for the cost of a couple useless Program Managers and Microsoft would probably be better off for having fired the Program Managers

(not that all Program Managers are useless but there are plenty working there who are)

Honestly, what a bunch of idiots.  If anyone with any power at Microsoft is reading this, follow my advice: Fire whoever made this decision and use their salary to keep the program going.  THAT would be a good business move. 



Why Live Search Cashback might be Brilliant

clock May 22, 2008 16:59 by author Tom

For anyone who hasn't heard, Microsoft has a new plan to gain search market share which is to share the wealth.  Basically they will pay you "cash back" every time you use Windows Live Search to find a product and then buy that product.  Here's a quote from Techcrunch that pretty much sums up the situation...

Google’s search dominance is growing, and everything Microsoft has historically thrown at them has done nothing to slow them down. This new approach is both desperate and brilliant. Desperate because Microsoft is giving away most of the search revenue to get market share gains. Brilliant because they have such a small share of search revenue today that they have little to lose, and they are hitting Google hard in their core business.

I also think this is brilliant but for a completely different reason. 

Though I'm not personally a fan of Live Search I know many people who seem to think its as good as Google.  It certainly isn't dramatically worse.  So the question really isn't a technical one at this point.  Google essentially has two things keeping them as the market leader right now. 

1.  Marketing: This is the obvious one, Google's name is synonymous with web search at this point. 

2.  Familiarity: This is the less obvious point.  My theory here is that even if Microsoft produced dramatically better results people would still think Google is better because they are so familiar with that experience.  Think of the people who still insist the sound quality on Vinyl is better than a CD and you'll start to see what I mean.  Except in this case, unlike Vinyl vs. the CD, Microsoft can never scientifically prove to people that their search is more effective.

These two things are a powerful one/two punch for Google.  They basically mean that people will always go to Google first and will always think Google results are better even if they aren't. 

What Microsoft needs right now is a way to lure Searchers to them and get them to use Microsoft search long enough to grow accustomed to it.  Paying people is as good a way as any to accomplish that. 



Microsoft and Yahoo Part 7: The End (for now...)

clock May 5, 2008 05:23 by author Tom

It's hard for me to put a lot into this post given the extensive coverage the topic has already gotten.  I, like most, think Microsoft dodged a bullet whether they realize it or not.  Yahoo on the other hand was in a bad place before Microsoft made the offer and has now lost a lot of time, money and valuable employees as a result of the offer.  They're obviously in some trouble.

A lot points to this not being over.  AOL might ride in and try the merger talks again, Google might cut Yahoo a sweet heart deal and Jerry Yang might get fired encouraging Microsoft to take another shot.  For now, no one knows.

But all that has been said to death on just about every other blog so I'll digress.  There are two unique things I think I can add to this.  Two items I haven't seen addressed elsewhere.  Those are...

 

1. Microsoft needs to target Yahoo now:  I don't think Yahoo was worth much to Microsoft but it does have value.  In particular, its valuable to any company that wants to beat Microsoft over the head with it.  A permanent Ad deal with Google or a merger with AOL could both cut into Microsoft's already miniscule bottom lines in both search and ad sales. 

This is strategy 101: first try to get the weapon.  If you can't get the weapon next try to deprive your enemy of it. 

Microsoft now has $44 billions burning a hole in its pocket and I think they should consider using a lot of it to tear Yahoo apart.  Stealing as many great employees and valuable customers as possible gives Microsoft part of what they wanted at a fraction of the cost. 

2.  Google might not be a Winner here: Many have pegged Google as a winner but I'm not so sure.  We in the United States have one of the most "Open Market" oriented Presidents in recent history right now.  That is a fact that is going to change in a few short months (no matter who wins the next election). 

Google is already skating really close to the anti-trust line and having MicroHoo to refute that accusation might have worked in their advantage when the time comes.  An ad deal with Yahoo on the other hand has the opposite effect.

 

That's it for me on this.  I'm posting this at 11:15pm so Black Monday is just around the corner.  I suspect things will be a lot clearer once we see how that pans out. 



What is Cloud Computing?

clock April 16, 2008 17:43 by author Tom

I really wasn't planning to post any more on this topic but one of the comments on waxy.org's Google App Engine post caught my eye.  Here's the quote from Gordon of getlucky.net...

First of all, I don't believe that anyone creating applications that live in the cloud expects perfect portability from platform to platform. Whether you're living on Ning, Amazon, AppEngine, or something else, you're working in a sandboxed API that might just happen to look like an existing language runtime. If you're not willing to bind to a provider's cloud abstraction API, then that begs the question of what is acceptable and has semantics that magically port to the universe at large?

So, to me, this is all kind of a silly argument. Promoting the idea that all cloud platforms should speak some form of scripting and data Esperanto is probably just about as effective as filing a bug against the MySQL developers asking them to "work like Oracle."

To me, this post demonstrates a fundamental difference between the Amazon concept of "cloud computing" and what Google is doing with App Engine which is vastly different.  More to the point, it shows that many people aren't seeing the difference between the two. 

The "Cloud" is not a functional thing in the Amazon model.  It is simply a virtual space where an application can reside and store data.  There are APIs related to environmental functions such as what you use to write files or query databases but beyond that the "Cloud" isn't providing additional functionality.  Any additional functionality is provided from outside the cloud by open (SOAP or REST based) web services and/or programming environments.

This is how Amazon is doing cloud computing and this gives the developer, as Gordon put it, "perfect portability from platform to platform" 

What Google App Engine is doing is what I would call "Proprietary Cloud Computing".  They're providing a cloud just like Amazon but then they're offering additional functionality which is limited to their cloud.  Beyond that they are restricting you from using other open APIs that provide that same functionality *

In doing this they are locking your data into their data store.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing if all you want to do is write applications for Google but its important to be aware of the box you are putting yourself in to.  Google App Engine is not free.  When you use it your simply paying in data instead of money.  Google doesn't need your money but as a company they're in a mad dash to organize all the world's data so they do need your data.  Data is worth more than money to Google. 

Now clearly the above are generalizations and there are components of each service that slightly contradict them such as SimpleDb being a directory service or Google App Engine's APIs being ported.  But the overall the above lays out the philosophy of each company and even the exceptions tend to reflect that (e.g. SimpleDb is proprietary but it can be used from non-Amazon hosts and the Google App Engine port is not sponsored by or officially approved of by Google). 

Understanding the difference between these two philosophies should be the first step when deciding which service to use.

 

* Just to be clear, Google can still use open web services and I wanted to make sure I didn't give the impression that it couldn't.  But you can't run your own environment which is the point I was making.



Google's Arrogance

clock March 2, 2008 11:44 by author Tom

Very few online relationships have provided me with as much entertainment as the one between CNet reporter Elinor Mills and Google CEO Eric Schmidt. 

It all began a couple years ago when Ms. Mills wrote an article detailing how Google can be used to call up a bunch of private information about individuals.  She used Schmidt as her example pulling up several facts that he evidently didn't' want public.

Schmidt in turn issued an edict to all Google employees forbidding them from talking to any CNet reporters for one year as retribution for the article.  Schmidt, facing public outcry, was rightly forced to back down.

Fast forward to present day where Ms. Mills was offered a 1-on-1 interview with Schmidt if she would be willing to fly across country to get it.  She complied only to find Schmidt wasn't willing to answer any questions that were not about Google Health (which Schmidt had just announced).  You can read Ms. Mill's account of the encounter here and her Boss Dan Farber's commentary here

Normally I don't comment on this sort of thing but it was such a great follow up to my previous post on Microsoft vs. Google that I had to post.  Does blacklisting reporters and dodging questions seem like a company that's "doing no evil"?  Do you think Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer would ever dream of doing the same thing?  Maybe a decade ago but not now. 

Google is, more and more, looking like Microsoft of old and while Mr. Schmidt's interactions with CNet might be amusing they also show a disturbing pattern.



Mix '08: Like it's 1997 all over again

clock February 28, 2008 17:29 by author Tom

Microsoft's David Treadwell put up a preview of the new Windows Live Platform that will be introduced at the Mix '08 conference.  There's too much to quote but you can read the post here.  I'm planning to withhold judgement until I see the actual release but I did want to put a quick post up to describe my overall feeling about Microsoft's these days.

Back in 1997 the browser war was in full swing.  Version 3.0 of each browser had just come out the year before and both Microsoft and Netscape were readying massive upgrades in their 4.0 products.  At the time people were so fixated on the grudge match between the two companies that I think something got lost in the shuffle. 

Microsoft was actually the good guy. 

One of the long forgotten ironies of the 90s browser war was that Internet Explorer was by far the more standards compliant browser.  Netscape was throwing in proprietary technology everywhere while Microsoft was submitting everything to standards bodies.  I don't mean this as a shot at Netscape or even praise for Microsoft, they were both acting according to their position in the market.  But it is interesting that Microsoft got little credit for doing all the right things.

Now we have another grudge match between Microsoft and Google and while its not exactly the same (Google's a lot more open than Netscape was) I can't help but feel Microsoft is the more open of the two. 

Sure they want to control the plumbing but who doesn't?  Beyond that, someone's going to have to do it.  Why shouldn't Microsoft have my contact information if they're willing to give it back to me anytime I ask?  Why shouldn't I also give them my photos if they're willing to standardize all their API's around AtomPub?

There are people who simply won't accept that Microsoft can do any good.  But anyone else has to admit that Microsoft is moving in the right direction and deserves a little credit for it.  Maybe even a little trust...



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For the record if you've tried to e-mail me over the last 4 to 6 months I didn't mean to ignore you. The e-mail forwarding isn't working and I didn't realize that until months worth of e-mails had been deleted on forward. The tom@tomstechblog.com address still won't forward to the postmaster account and I don't know why because it's provided by the webhost. But if you're one of my old blog pen pals I would always welcome an e-mail from you at the postmaster@tomstechblog.com address

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