Thursday, July 27, 2006

Off the Grid

I am in the Portland Airport, and this is my final blog post before heading off for the next 7 days. I will be spending the next week (July 28 – Aug 3) offline in rural Ohio visiting my family. This is the land of dial-up Internet, no television, and newspapers as the only link to the outside world. It is too remote for DSL or Cable, and the closest high-speed access is the Starbucks at a truck stop about 20 miles away.

I'll be spending the week on low-tech pursuits like hanging with my family, playing with my nephew who turns 8 on July 30, playing Scrabble, and drinking wine with my Mom.

I will have my CrackBerry ... just in case :-)

Open Source, Vegans, and Tomatoes (AKA Thursday at OSCON)

R0ml's presentation was the highlight of the keynotes today. I will try to capture the gist of it; however, for those of you who have seen him present, his presentation style is so dynamic that it can be difficult to really capture the essence in just a short paragraph. I will give it try. “Open source is like a tomato”, but how much is healthy? According to Stallman, everything should be open source, which R0ml compared to vegans in the world of food (just for full disclosure, I am a vegan). He believes that both the Stallman and vegan approaches are a little extreme and that fanaticism is not good on either side. We should be striving for a balanced approach with open source; some open source is great, but both can coexist. I agree with R0ml on this one; open source is great, but we do not need to exclude proprietary software from the mix.

Danese Cooper led a panel with Mitchell Baker, Tim O'Reilly, Geir Magnusson. David Recordon, and Susan Wu talking about what happens when money enters the picture in an open source project. OSS projects have a free agent model where the project contributors / leader positions are not held by the company. When Mitchell left AOL, AOL did not seem to grok that she would continue to lead the Mozilla projects and that they could not just usurp her title / responsibilities. Open source projects make it more difficult for management to make decisions that are not in the best interest of the project because of the transparency inherent in the open source model. They also discussed how the lack of money is not necessarily a nirvana. Lack of funds reduces monetary corruption, but it also prevents scale. Tim worried that the worse thing he ever did for open source was to hire Larry Wall to work full-time on Perl. Some people thought that Perl 6 was a piece of performance art. Perl was originally rooted in Larry's ability to resolve real world problems; however money may have removed Larry too far from the real problems and into more theoretical and academic concerns. Too much money can have as big an impact as too little. When developers are sponsored by a corporation do you lose the grassroots feel and the people coding for the joy of it rather than because they are being paid (Apache is seeing this now, especially since most of the incubator projects are being submitted by people being paid to do it). My key takeaway from this session is that money changes the dynamics of an open source community both to an advantage and disadvantage.

We also held our Art of Community Session today at OSCON. I thought that it went very well. The speakers were interesting, the session moved at a rapid pace, and we had a fairly large audience of engaged listeners. The notes from my portion of this session are posted on my Trends in Web 2.0 blog.

Wednesday at OSCON (a little late in posting)

The most interesting session (from a comedic standpoint) was Measuring Open Source Popularity by Luke Wellington from Hitwise. He started with the quote: “Hi, my name is Luke and I am a data addict”; however, it was quickly apparent that he was not able to effectively present his data. Michael Tiemann even suggested that he read some books by presentation guru Edward Tufte ... Ouch.

My favorite moment of the day was when Matt Asay referred to himself as a naive little waif (accompanied by an interesting waif-like little dance across the stage) to describe his early sales experiences thinking that if he set a fair price that big customers would not want big discounts. Matt had 9 lessons learned from doing business in open source. A few of my favorites included 2) Friends (downloads) are nice. Cash (customers) is critical. Make Both. 4) Think “user community,” not “developer community” and 9) Be permeable (open and acknowledge mistakes).

I always like to keep track of what is on Tim O'Reilly's Radar. This year, a few of these include Firefox as a platform, Voip / Asterisk, Ubunto, and O'Reilly Labs.

Scott Yara from Greenplum had an interesting open source and rock & roll comparison encouraging people to not to jump in because open source is popular, but to start a project to make something great (do you want to be as popular as The Backstreet Boys or as good as Jimi Hendrix?)

Anil Dash from Six apart talked about how the key to web 2.0 is connecting to people that you care about through blogs and about how people can find niche communities to connect with co-workers, peers to help anybody get connected.

R0ml gave Part III of his Semasiology of Open Source (semasiology = study of the change in the meaning of words over time). It was highly entertaining, which made it impossible to take notes on it!

Probably the best session of the day was How Open Source Projects Survive Poisonous People by Ben Collins-Sussman and Brian W. Fitzpatrick. They talked about how attention and focus are your scarcest resources – you must protect them (esp when dealing with poisonous people). These poisonous people can take the form of trolls that actively disrupt the community or perfectionists and process obsessed people who unintentionally derail forward progress (talk forever & never finish anything). The had a few suggestions: understand the threat, fortify against it by building a healthy community, identify poisonous people & look for warning signs, deal with infection / maintain calm & stand your ground.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Thoughts from the OSCON Executive Briefing

Unfortunately, I was only able to attend the first half of the executive briefing; however, the portion that I attended was immensely valuable.

Favorite Quotes*:

  • Michael Tiemann (Red Hat): “You can look at cost all day, but it is really about value.”

  • Matt Asay (Alfresco): “Tim is being too nice, I'm going to be Danese.”

Matt's quote about being Danese referred to a previous session where Danese Cooper had the honor of grilling, oops, I mean interviewing Bill Hilf from Microsoft. She asked some tough questions, including this gem: Danese asked about Microsoft's previous disinformation campaigns, and Hilf responded by saying that Microsoft did not have disinformation campaigns, but that in the future, they will do a better job of targeting these campaigns to the right people. Interesting ... they do not exist, but they will be more targeted in the future. Hmmm.

For those who regularly read my blog, you know that I have been interested in how we can use the lessons learned from open source software as web 2.0 evolves. There were several interesting points along these lines:

  • Brian Behlendorf from CollabNet talked about how the best model for open data is less about the open API and more about seeing the discussion. For example, when looking at a controversial Wikipedia page, it is good to be able to see the back and forth that happened. From my perspective this highlights the desire for more information and the desire to participate in the creation of information that users are coming to expect as web 2.0 becomes more prevalent. We are no longer content to read static web pages; we expect to be able to read and comment on the content or in some cases make corrections directly to the content in the Wiki model.

  • One of the panels talked about how the nature of software development is with a small group of people, which is why you see a small core of developers; extensions allow thousands of people to contribute in a modular manner. I think that this is part of why Firefox has been so successful. Developers can write an extension that they find useful without having to make it mainstream enough to be accepted into the main source tree, and users can customize their experience to install as many or as few extensions as they want. The extension model allows us to fill small niches way out in the long tail, while keeping the main Firefox code base lean and efficient for the masses.

  • Jim Buckmaster from Craigslist talked about how they have only 22 employees, and they rely on users to create content and to flag inappropriate content. He also said that they rely mostly on user feedback to make changes and add incremental features – new cities, etc., but they do not feel like they need to build the next big thing. This makes Craigslist is a great example of the user created content model at its finest. They make it easy for users to create their content, and they stay focused on doing one thing and doing it better than anyone else.

  • Ian Wilkes from Second Life talked about how more of our lives are moving online, how eventually everyone will have an avatar, and how real life and virtual interactions are merging. This is something that I have been noticing, but I will not rehash it here, since I blogged about this idea a few days ago.

OSCON is one of my favorite events. O'Reilly does a great job of taking a topic (open source) and expanding around it to get us thinking about new ideas. I am looking forward to what I will learn over the next couple of days.

Do not forget to check out our session on the Art of Community on Thursday at OSCON!

* Keep in mind that these quotes and the rest of the information in this post are approximate and are based on my imperfect note-taking abilities and my recollections from the day.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Changing Face of Online Culture

I have been observing a difference in the way that people use IM and email as younger people move into the workforce. I have young friends and co-workers (mid-20s) who I communicate with frequently on IM and never / rarely via email. Even some aspects of dating seem to have moved to IM with long, intimate IM chats replacing what used to be long phone calls for many couples. I also have a few techie friends my age and older who are IM addicts, but they tend to be the exception rather than the rule. From my perspective, IM is great when you want to have a discussion or need a quick answer to a question, while email is handy for business where you need to keep documentation or need complex information for reference (documents usually).

I just read an interesting piece on CNET summarizing this phenomenon:

Email is so last millennium.

Young people see it as a good way to reach an elder - a parent, teacher or a boss - or to receive an attached file. But increasingly, the former darling of high-tech communication is losing favour to instant and text messaging, and to the chatter generated on blogs and social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

The shift is starting to creep into workplace communication, too.


Beyond that, email has become most associated with school and work.

"It used to be just fun," says Danah Boyd, a doctoral candidate who studies social media at the University of California, Berkeley. "Now it's about parents and authority."


"Adults who learn to use IM later have major difficulty talking to more than two people at one time - whereas the teens who grew up on it have no problem talking to a bazillion people at once," Boyd says. "They understand how to negotiate the interruptions a lot better."

Kirah, at Microsoft, even thinks young people's brains work differently because they have grown up with IM, making them more adept at it.


"Nine to five has been replaced with 'Give me a deadline and I will meet your deadline'," Kirah says of young people's work habits. "They're saying 'I might work until 2 am that night. But I will do it all on my terms."' (CNET)

It will be fascinating to watch the changing dynamics of the workforce over the next couple of years as employees who have been raised with IM, MySpace, Facebook, and other social networking technologies enter the workforce in larger numbers. I am looking forward to the changes that this generation could bring with them: innovative approaches, quick and nimble decision-making, a focus on the results obtained instead of an 8-5 butts in chairs mentality, a resistance to bureaucracy, and more. With these changes, we may end up with a new set of problems; however, I think that the corporate world could stand a good wake up call.

The Blogging Job Offers Continue

I recently blogged about an interesting trend of making job offers via blogs. The two highest profile examples were Calacanis offering the Unboomed Amanda a job at AOL/Netscape and Scoble speculating about how he could go about hiring Calacanis.

Yesterday, Mark Cuban put a new twist on this trend by putting out a call on his blog offering a job to anyone who can solve the problem of getting people out of the house to watch a movie in the theater without spending more money on marketing than what the movie can earn.

This is an open challenge. You come up with a solution, you get a job. Seriously.


So if you want a job, and have a great idea on how to market movies in a completely different way. If your idea works for any and all kinds of movies. If it changes the dynamics and the economics of promoting movies, email it or post it. If its new and unique, i want to hear about it. If its a different way of doing the same thing you have seen before, it probably wont get you a job, but feel free to try.

So go for it. Come up with a great idea that i want to use and I will come up with a job for you to make that idea happen.

for real. (Mark Cuban)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Merging of Online and Offline Culture

This morning, TechCrunch posted a piece about online dating 2.0 that got me thinking about how our online and offline lives have merged. This is especially true of the 20-something MySpace crowd and the early adopter techie crowd. Both of these two groups, while having slightly different approaches, have moved to the point of doing almost everything online.

And yes, I have used online dating, and it was a great experience for me. Shortly after my divorce, I realized that all of my friends (and all of their friends) work at Intel, which is not surprising, since we are one of the largest employers in the area; however, by dating people at work you run the risk of eventually managing or working for an ex ... not a comfortable situation. Around this time last year, I met the current boyfriend on Yahoo! Personals. His take on online dating reflects the views in this post: “we have moved everything else online, why should dating be any different?”

Most of us get our news online, rarely picking up those stacks of paper filled with yesterday's news (my parents refer to them as “newspapers”). I immediately recycle the phone books that appear on my doorstep knowing that I will never use one when I can get the same information online without having to find a place to store these books that are now roughly the size of my couch. I rarely pick up the phone to talk to friends in favor of email and IM.

This does not mean that I have moved all of my interactions with the world into the online space, and I do not think that doing everything online would be a healthy approach. We need the offline interactions as well; however, the online interactions can facilitate the offline. Email and IM just seem to be more convenient ways to arrange an evening out. Many of us who blog “meet” people online as a result of comments back and forth in the blogosphere, but we take the opportunity to meet these bloggers in the offline space when we get an opportunity at a conference or other venue. After recently exchanging blog comments with Josh Bancroft, we realized that we both worked at the same Intel campus, and getting together offline resulted in him joining a session at OSCON next week that Danese Cooper and I are leading. Both online and offline interactions have their place, but it is interesting to see how the two are merging to the point where we do not even consciously think about how we use them both.

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Art of Community at OSCON

Danese Cooper and I are leading a series of lightning talks focused on the Art of Community at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON) in Portland next week. The session features some great speakers including Mitchell Baker, Karl Fogel, and many more. If you are attending OSCON, please stop by our session!

The Art of Community

Track: Emerging Topics
Date: Thursday, July 27
Time: 5:20pm - 6:05pm
Location: Portland 251

Online communities have been a fundamental element of open source culture for years, and they are now becoming an integral part of the daily lives of more people every day. New people are joining and participating in online communities in everything from open source projects like Firefox to social networking sites like MySpace and LinkedIn. This session will offer guidance on how to create a successful community in the form of 5 minute lightning talks from a group of experts on the following topics:

  • Introductory remarks: Danese Cooper, Intel and Open Source Initiative
  • Benefits of having a community: Zaheda Bhorat, Google
  • Corporate communities: Josh Bancroft, Intel
  • Using Collaboration tools: Karl Fogel, CollabNet
  • Leading a community and creating a community culture: Geir Magnusson, Intel and Apache
  • Concerns and challenges: Zak Greant
  • The Character of Intentional Communities: Mitchell Baker, Mozilla Corporation
  • Impact of web 2.0 on communities: Dawn Foster, Intel

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Blogging Community Profile

The Washington Post had an interesting summary of the Pew Internet & American Life Project blogging survey. In short, here is the typical profile of a blogger:

  • More than half are under 30

  • Only 15% blog to make money

  • They use blogs for creative expression

  • Motivation tends to be personal (keeping up with family / friends and meeting new people)

Here are a few choice quotes from the Washington Post article:

They consider themselves digital natives.

They're young. They're addicted to instant messaging and social networks. And they're more apt to dish about the drama at last night's party than the president's latest faux pas.


"The average blogger is a 14-year-old girl writing about her cat," said Alexander Halavais, an assistant professor of interactive communications at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.

Typical bloggers are not ranting about politics or trying to be hard-core journalists, he said. "The survey shows that blogging is really a community-based activity and a way of connecting with people."

Apparently, the TechMeme crowd (those of us over 14, not blogging about our pets) appear to be in a minority. The beauty of the long tail is that we can blog about a variety of topics and find an audience of like-minded people who share our passion for a topic. A 14 year-old blogging about her cat will have readers who care about her or her cat, while people who are passionate about open culture would be likely to read my blog.

Open culture is a fairly specialized topic, and I will never have millions of readers on this blog, nor do I necessarily want millions of readers. I would rather have a few dozen readers who are passionate and knowledgeable about the topic. The point is that within the long tail, we can each find our niche, regardless of what the research finds about the “typical” blogger.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Four Big Ideas about Open Source Related to Web 2.0

This morning, Tim O'Reilly published four big ideas about open source that will guide his discussion at OSCON next week:

  1. The architecture of participation beyond software. Software development was the canary in the coalmine, one of the first areas to show the power of self-organizing systems leveraging the power of the internet to transform markets. But it didn't stop there. What we're now calling Web 2.0 is a direct outgrowth of the core principles that made open source software successful, but in my opinion, many of the projects and companies that make up the Web 2.0 movement have gone far beyond open source in their understanding of how to build systems that leverage what I call the architecture of participation.

  2. Asymmetric Competition. One of the most powerful things about open source is its potential to reset the rules of the game, to compete in a way that undercuts all of the advantages of incumbent players. Yet what we see in open source is that the leading companies have in many ways abandoned this advantage, becoming increasingly like the companies with which they compete. I have no concerns about the ultimate health of the open source development model or the vibrant creativity of the open source community, but I do question whether open source companies really grasp the implications of the new model. I think that if they did, they'd be Web 2.0 companies.

  3. How Software As a Service Changes The Points of Business Leverage. Operations and scalability lead to powerful cost advantages; increasing returns from network effects lead to new kinds of lock-in. The net effect is that even when running open source software, vendors will have lock-in opportunities just as powerful as those from the previous generation of proprietary software.

  4. Open Data. One day soon, tomorrow's Richard Stallman will wake up and realize that all the software distributed in the world is free and open source, but that he still has no control to improve or change the computer tools that he relies on every day. They are services backed by collective databases too large (and controlled by their service providers) to be easily modified. Even data portability initiatives such as those starting today merely scratch the surface, because taking your own data out of the pool may let you move it somewhere else, but much of its value depends on its original context, now lost.

These are all important concepts for open source, but I am particularly drawn to the idea that open source has provided a foundation (technically and conceptually) for what we are now calling web 2.0. I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about this relationship recently because understanding how open source works (my background is in open source) can help us understand web 2.0. This is particularly true in discussions about what motivates people to freely contribute to communities.

Eric Raymond wrote that "Every good work of software starts by scratching a developer's personal itch." Within open source software communities, many projects are started to fill the developer's need, and as the user of the software, the developer has a personal stake in the product's quality. Linus started Linux to fulfill his personal need for a Unix-like operating system that would run on lower cost hardware. Other developers frequently contribute to open source projects to fill a need of their own to have a particular project ported to a favorite hardware platform or to add an additional feature that would make the product more closely meet their needs.

This idea can also be applied to other online communities outside of software. People join and participate in social networking communities, like the MySpace community, to fill a social need and have an online location to hang out with friends, coordinate social events, share new (or old) music, and blog about their ideas and experiences. Others join business-oriented networking sites, like LinkedIn, to make better connections with people in related industries and to network online with like-minded people. Some people join online news and information communities, like Digg and Newsvine, to share and discuss information with others.

These examples demonstrate how people can join online communities to fill a particular need, and how those needs can take many forms and motivate people in different ways. Keep in mind that motivation is incredibly complex. A single individual may be motivated to join and contribute to online communities for many different reasons, which when combined form a powerful set of motivators. The interesting thing is how the motivation is similar for open source communities and web 2.0 communities.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Social Software in the Enterprise

I just posted a new entry to my Trends in Web 2.0 blog focused on social software usage in the enterprise. This entry considers the changing workforce demographics with new employees raised on email, IM, MySpace, Facebook, and other social software just entering the workforce, and it discusses how we can use their expertise to help other people become more productive using collaborative, web 2.0 technologies.

You can get the complete entry from the Trends in Web 2.0 blog .

Sunday, July 16, 2006

World Firefox Day

Firefox has always been built on viral marketing, and the SpreadFirefox campaign has been nothing short of brilliant. The latest initiative lives up to the SpreadFirefox legacy. For World Firefox Day, they are asking each of us to bring one friend into the Firefox family by September 15, and in exchange, they will immortalize the names of both the giver and the receiver in Firefox 2.

Please take a minute to visit the World Firefox Day website and start the process.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

MySpace: Less Web 2.0 Than I Expected

MySpace is frequently used as a prime example of web 2.0; however, I am finding that it has fewer web 2.0 characteristics than I expected. I recently used this definition of web 2.0: “I think of web 2.0 as a convenient shorthand for the collaborative, community oriented web where collective intelligence is harnessed and content is created by the many rather than the few. Users participate in an open fashion using technology that facilitates participation for those who are not serious coders in contrast to the static web of a few years ago.” (Trends in Web 2.0)

MySpace excels at creating a community of people who generate huge amounts of content in the form of profile information (about me, who I'd like to meet, interests, personal information, schools attended, employers, friends, comments, blogs, group membership, and much more). The volume of content is nothing short of amazing, and this content is promoted virally when friends encourage other friends to join. When all of your friends are on MySpace, you miss out by not joining, which is a strong form of peer pressure. In order to join, you need to share at least some information, thus creating more content. Absolutely brilliant.

However, I have been frustrated with the MySpace experience. I recently blogged about how I do not fit within the age demographic, so I find it less useful than someone closer to 25 might. I will put this frustration aside, since I cannot really blame MySpace for my age, and no change that MySpace could make would roll time backwards to make me 25 again.

Age aside, I am increasingly frustrated by how MySpace uses (or does not use) web 2.0 technologies. They have a very simple interface where the user types content into text fields and the content is displayed on the profile. This is great for novice users, but I would like more. Today, I wanted to add a quick Javascript snippet to display the RSS feed for this blog on my MySpace profile. I can enter HTML to format the content within the text boxes; however, Javascript is not allowed. I also wanted to move a few things around on the page. MyYahoo and many other sites have Ajax interfaces that allow drag and drop of widgets to rearrange them on the page. With MySpace, I would need to write this code myself or download an annoying template that would rearrange it for me; I cannot just drag and drop the boxes to a more convenient location.

MySpace also fails to leverage the expertise of their user base. For example, the MySpace help files are minimal and fairly useless. Here is an example:

Q. How do I add color, graphics, & sound to my Profile page?

A. Adding color, graphics, and sound to your profile page is easy and requires only a basic knowledge of HTML (the programming language used to create web pages on the Internet). Simply go to "Edit Profile" and enter the desired HTML coding where appropriate. If you do not know HTML, you can reach out and make a new friend by asking someone who has color, graphics, and/or sound on their Profile page how they did it. People on MySpace are friendly and always willing to help, so just ask! This is a great way to meet new people! (MySpace)

I am not one to be excited about writing help files; however, MySpace has a robust user community that could be leveraged to provide this information easily via a wiki or other technology. EBay has successfully implemented something similar giving users the ability to easily help each other. MySpace could easily set up a wiki that people could use to share tips and tricks, helpful hints, and other information. In the above example, the users could create detailed instructions about changing profiles including the code required.

MySpace has a lot of strengths in social networking and content creation; however, by utilizing some of the newer technologies, MySpace could feel less like a static environment and more like a dynamic and vibrant web 2.0 site.

Firefox on Fire

Earlier this week, Kate Bevan from The Guardian said, “Firefox is wonderful. It's up there with chocolate and sex on the grand scale of great things about being alive.” I am a huge fan of Firefox, but right up there with chocolate and sex? Hmmmm, no comment.

Richard MacManus, a ZDNet blogger, suggests that Firefox's market share will continue to increase as enterprises begin to adopt it. I blogged on a similar topic earlier this week describing how “the tools that we use outside of work as consumers tend to creep into the enterprise.” MacManus describes this phenomenon and relates it back to Firefox with the following insights:

In a corporate blogging program that I'm involved in, a bunch of us were discussing the reasons why Firefox usage is growing. One person noted that in the XiTi survey of European patterns of use, Firefox is most often used at weekends. He inferred that this means personal and household adoption rates are higher than corporate ones.

This trend for Firefox adoption to be driven by the consumer market is a positive sign IMO, because we're currently seeing a larger trend of 'Web 2.0' consumer apps infiltrating the Enterprise. Just today I was speaking to some execs and one of them pointed out that its Skype mashup is proving very popular amongst its customers. I can point to many other instances of social Web tools becoming utilized a lot more in enterprises - IM, wikis, Web Office services, indeed the software-as-a-service tools that runs.

My point is that I think Firefox market share will continue its upward trend, particularly when Enterprises start using it more. (ZDNet)

MacManus is right. The applications that we use as consumers will gradually creep into the workplace, and when enough people across the enterprise begin demanding the use of any application, IT will usually relent and eventually begin supporting it to appease the masses. This is especially true for a secure, stable web browser, like Firefox, which would generate fewer IT objections than an application with questionable security or stability issues. It also helps when you can convince a few key people in senior management to request the application just to light a fire under the IT department!

The Beauty of Flickr (and Other Web 2.0 Apps)

Today on TechMeme, I ran across two new tools using Flickr:

FlickrInspector takes a Flick username, userid or email as input and returns more information than I would have thought possible. It displayed profile information, most recent photos, oldest photos, most interesting photos, tag cloud with some statistics, sets and searches for blogged photos.

Preloader allows you to edit your Flickr photos completely online with no additional software installed on your computer. It allows you to tweak brightness, contrast, hue, etc. along with rotation, flip, crop, and many others. I'm terrible with photo editing software, so here are a couple of screenshots from other blogs.

The beauty in this is not that there are two more tools that work with Flickr (even though these are two pretty cool ones!) The beauty is that web 2.0 applications, like Flickr and many, many others, are architected to make it easy for people to write new applications using the information and value in Flickr in a slightly different way. For example, FlickrInspector was written by Nils K. Windisch aka netomer from Germany in his spare time to improve the user experience of Flickr in a way that made sense to him, and after writing it, he shared it with the world to enhance the user experience of others. Flickr is a great example of the Architecture of Participation in use and harnessing the collective intelligence of your user base.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Nielsen Almost Getting It, But Not Quite

Nielsen//NetRatings is taking a step in the right direction by starting to look at trends in podcasting, and they just published some fairly interesting statistics on podcast usage. However, the first paragraph in the report comes from the not quite getting it category:

Nielsen//NetRatings, a global leader in Internet media and market research, announced today that 6.6 percent of the U.S. adult online population, or 9.2 million Web users, have recently downloaded an audio podcast; 4.0 percent, or 5.6 million Web users, have recently downloaded a video podcast (see Table 1). These figures put the podcasting population on a par with those who publish blogs, 4.8 percent, and online daters, 3.9 percent. However, podcasting is not yet nearly as popular as viewing and paying bills online, 51.6 percent, or online job hunting, 24.6 percent. (Nielsen//NetRatings)

Yes, they just compared those people downloading and listening to podcasts with those who publish blogs. This is sort of like comparing people who read magazines to the number of journalists who write newspapers to conclude that magazines are more popular than newspapers. This a classic case of comparing apples with watermelons. A better choice would have been to compare those publishing podcasts with those publishing blogs or comparing podcast listeners to blog readers.

Some podcasters are not happy with the strange comparison and want to see statistics on podcasts that they can really use. There were a few interesting tidbits from the report, but none are surprising. For example, podcast listeners tend to be younger and more tech-savvy based on the high usage of non-IE browsers and tech sites visited, and quite a few listeners also come from the Apple community. No surprises here. I agree with Scoble; we need more useful data on podcasting.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

MySpace and Yahoo Fight for the Right to be Number One!

The Beastie Boys said, “You gotta fight for your right to party”. In this case, Internet companies are duking it out to fight for their right to be called the number one Internet destination. MySpace had a big coup this week when Hitwise reported that MySpace had taken the number one spot from Yahoo as the most visited U.S. destination on the web. This was a big win, not just for MySpace, but for social networking and web 2.0 in general.

Now the controversy starts. According to Reuters:

Yahoo issued a statement saying that: "The Yahoo network is made up of many domains and it is not accurate to compare to just Yahoo's (e-mail site)."

In the United States, Yahoo said it attracts 129 million unique visitors per month, which represents 74 percent of the online population in the world's biggest Internet market. By contrast, MySpace reaches 30 percent of the online audience, with 52 million unique visitors, according to Yahoo.

Hitwise does not provide figures for the number of unique visitors to a site. (Reuters)

The big question: Who is right?

Mark Twain popularized the now-famous Benjamin Disraeli quote: lies, damned lies, and statistics. Hitwise measures based on a single site; therefore, MySpace has more visitors than any of Yahoo's single sites. On the flip side, if you combined all of Yahoo's web properties, they probably have more visitors than MySpace.

The answer: Both, and it depends on how you measure it.

Web 2.0 Moving into the Enterprise

When we think of web 2.0, many of us naturally associate it with consumers rather than corporations. With examples like MySpace, Digg, Flickr, Wikipedia / wikis, blogging, and others, the value to the consumer is clear; however, the value of web 2.0 can be extended to the enterprise. In another blog entry, I described web 2.0 as “the collaborative, community oriented web where collective intelligence is harnessed and content is created the many rather than the few.” Think about the power of this idea relative to harnessing the collective intelligence of the people within an enterprise and of those people outside of your company who use or care about your products.

More details on web 2.0 in the enterprise, including some quotes from Gartner, can be found on my Intel Trends in Web 2.0 blog.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Real Audience for Social Networking

Sid Yadav posted an interesting entry about the 33 Places to Hangout in the Social Networking Era. He categorizes each site by what type of person it is “best for”, and I was struck by how 14 of his general social networking sites were best for teens, young adults, or college / university students while only 2 were best for adults / middle-aged. My limited experience with MySpace is leading me to the same conclusion. I recently began actively playing with MySpace to better understand all of the buzz (feel free to add me as a friend if you happen to use it and want to help me learn more about using it!)

In one word, this experience is telling me that I am “old”. I typically do not think of 35 as over the hill; however, in MySpace terms, I am positively ancient. The power of MySpace (and I suspect this to be true for similar sites) is the ability to keep in constant touch with all of your friends, which are also all on MySpace. So far, I have managed to add as friends the only three people under 30 that I know along with two other people closer to my own age who also happen to be on MySpace. These three people in their mid-20s have between 54 and 76 friends each with lots of comments left by these friends talking about evenings out, parties, getting together, harassments about phone calls not returned, happy holiday wishes and pictures of nights on the town. I guess it is a little like a mini online party every day with all of your friends.

My fellow old folks, do not despair ... according to Yadav, we shine in the niche social networking site category (with “old” being defined as over 30 in this case). The readers of this blog, mostly business types, are probably more familiar with LinkedIn than with MySpace, myself included. However, there are niche social networking sites for everything from dog / cat / fuzzy pet owners to car / film / book / music lovers to shoppers to mommies. We just have to find our niche.

Monday, July 10, 2006

What is MySpace All About?

I have to admit that I tend to hang with the LinkedIn crowd more that the MySpace crowd; however, I am making an effort to better understand social networking from the MySpace perspective. Rather than reading yet another article or blog about MySpace, I have decided to just jump in with both feet and use it a bit. I created a profile ages ago, but have not actually used it for anything.

This is a learning experience for me, but if I have any regular readers using MySpace, please feel free to add me as a friend and help me better understand this more social form of online networking. You can find me here.

My New "Trends in Web 2.0" Blog

In addition to this blog, I have started a new blog devoted to Trends in Web 2.0. Here is the difference between the two:

  • Trends in Web 2.0: this blog falls under the scope of what I do for a living (a corporate blog) and will be focused only on web 2.0. I plan to blog 2-3 times a week.

  • Open Culture: my personal (non-work) blog with a broader focus on open communities where I will try to continue to blog 5-7 times a week. My plan is to not let the Trends in Web 2.0 blog interfere with my blogging activities here.

Please take a look at the new blog and use the comments to let me know what you think!

Will Oracle Take Over the World?

Historically, Oracle has a track record for figuring out what it wants to do and aggressively doing whatever it takes to make it happen. The PeopleSoft / Siebel acquisitions come to mind as a couple of recent examples. Most recently, Ellison told journalists that Oracle plans to go after Red Hat to provide support for Red Hat Linux, which seems to be Red Hat's primary source of revenue.

With the recent Red Hat acquisition of JBoss, Red Hat now competes more directly with Oracle. I would expect this acquisition to impact the relationship between the two companies with the relationship moving away from a synergistic relationship between operating system provider / application provider while moving toward a more competitive and adversarial relationship. Raven Zachary of The 451 Group believes that this could be an indicator of future open source announcements from Oracle in the future. Ellison is also a master at getting attention and a reaction from the press, and it remains to be seen how much of this is serious strategy vs. an attempt to gauge the reaction to a possible action for Oracle in the future.

Open source is not the only area that has Oracle's attention. The focus on the ERP market and specifically on SAP as a primary competitor is pushing Oracle toward an aggressive vertical strategy (banking, government, oil and gas, etc.) When “Asked if he is looking at more acquisitions to strengthen those vertical industry sectors and Ellison is emphatic: 'Absolutely. We’re not done by a long shot.'” (ITP).

It will be fascinating to watch where Oracle goes next.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Wikipedia: Active Deception or Proactive Community

Washington Post writer Frank Ahrens chronicles the evolution of the Wikipedia entry on Kenneth Lay as the details about his death became known. He claims that it uncovered the key weakness of Wikipedia, which prevents it from being a credible source of information.

A few gems from his article include:

Unlike, say, the Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia has no formal peer review for its articles. They may be written by experts or insane crazy people. Or worse, insane crazy people with an agenda.


But here's the dread fear with Wikipedia: It combines the global reach and authoritative bearing of an Internet encyclopedia with the worst elements of radicalized bloggers. You step into a blog, you know what you're getting. But if you search an encyclopedia, it's fair to expect something else. Actual facts, say. At its worst, Wikipedia is an active deception, a powerful piece of agitprop, not information.

Some Wikipedia articles contain warnings that concerns have been raised over accuracy. But that's not the same as offering fact-checked data.

I'm a fan of Wikipedia and Wiki notions, such as "citizen journalism." I just want them to be better. (Washington Post)

I think that Ahrens misses the point. He cites the fact that someone edited Kenneth Lay's Wikipedia entry to say that the cause of death was an apparent suicide, and it went through several iterations before being corrected to read that the cause of death was not yet determined. The time it took to correct the erroneous entry? Three minutes. Yes, three long minutes. To me, this shows that the Wikipedia community is doing its job, and it demonstrates the power of having an active community. The Kenneth Lay entry went through a few more iterations including some speculation that the Enron trial may have caused the heart attack; however, these were also corrected quickly.

The benefit of having an active and vibrant community comes through in times like what was described by Ahrens. There is a tremendous power that can be harnessed when you open something up to a community. Rather than hiring a few experts to write content, you can harness the power of many contributors around the world. The difference with Wikipedia is that instead of a formal peer review, you have many experts acting informally as peer reviewers. While mistakes like in the Kenneth Lay entry will creep into Wikipedia, the community acting as peer reviewers will see and correct the mistakes. As the content is evaluated and analyzed by the community, it improves in quality and self-corrects quickly. Eric Raymond referred to this concept as "Linus's Law" stating that "Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow." (Eric Raymond). This means that as more and more people look at the content, mistakes will be found and corrected resulting in an end product with high quality. This is the premise behind Wikipedia. The wiki technology used by Wikipedia makes it easy for anyone to contribute, and articles are written collaboratively while changes are recorded making it easy to correct inaccuracies and track the changes to any article over time. The idea is that as more and more people use Wikipedia, users will make corrections and contribute content to improve Wikipedia.

Like Ahrens, I am also a fan of citizen journalism and community content; however, these need to be evaluated on their own merits, not criticized just because they do not conform to today's rules of traditional journalism. We need to evolve our thinking to reflect the current reality rather than being stuck in the past.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Using Blogs as Recruiting Tools

I think that a trend is starting in the blogosphere (or this has been going on for years, and I just never noticed). Here's the recipe:

  • Take one high profile blogger

  • Add a blog entry about how cool someone is and say that you want to hire them

  • Wait to see if they bite on the offer

OK, so this is a bit tongue in cheek, but it is essentially what Jason Calacanis and Robert Scoble have done. Calacanis started by offering Amanda Congdon (formerly of Rocketboom) a job at AOL/Netscape with great pay, ownership rights to her videos, access to their new studio in LA for filming, and a travel budget to cover stories on the road. Scoble jumped into the fray by speculating on what it would take for him (at PodTech) to hire someone as amazing as Calacanis. I will be interested to see if others jump on this bandwagon.

I have a great job right now, but the next time I am looking for a new challenge, maybe I will just blog about it and wait for the offers to come rolling out of the blogosphere.

Microsoft, Open XML, and ODF

Looking at the headlines today on TechMeme, I was excited to see that Microsoft was embracing interoperability with ODF. This is a step in the right direction for Microsoft; however, I am becoming more skeptical as I look into the details. Rather than natively supporting ODF as just another of the many file formats already being supported by Microsoft Office, they have instead decided to support ODF using special ODF / Open XML translation tools being developed by a third party. On the plus side, they will be releasing the translation tools under an open source license.

Here is the snippet from the Microsoft press release that has me worried:

“By enabling this translator, we will make both choice and interoperability a more practical option for our customers,” said Jean Paoli, general manager of interoperability and XML architecture at Microsoft. “We believe that Open XML meets the needs of millions of organizations for a new approach to file formats, so we are sharing it with the industry by submitting it, with others, to become a worldwide standard. Yet it is very important that customers have the freedom to choose from a range of technologies to meet their diverse needs.”

Open XML and ODF were designed to meet very different customer requirements. By developing the bidirectional translation tools through an open source project, the technical decisions and tradeoffs necessary will be transparent to everyone — Open XML and ODF advocates alike. The Open XML formats are unique in their compatibility and fidelity to billions of Office documents, helping protect customers’ intellectual investments. Open XML formats are also distinguished by their approach to accessibility support for disabled workers, file performance and flexibility to empower organizations to access and integrate their own XML data with the documents they use every day. In contrast, ODF focuses on more limited requirements, is architected very differently and is now under review in OASIS subcommittees to fill key gaps such as spreadsheet formulas, macro support and support for accessibility options. As a result, certain compromises and customer disclosures will be a necessary part of translating between the two formats. (Microsoft)

Maybe I am a bit skeptical, but this seems to imply that the translation tools are designed to show us how the Open XML format is better than ODF. This does not give me warm fuzzy feelings about Microsoft's intent to support ODF. Others are also a bit skeptical.

If you are interested in trying it out, you can find the translator on SourceForge.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Does Location Matter?

In a world where nearly everything can be done electronically, does it really matter where you are located? Online communities have been the primary mechanism for doing business in open source software since the very beginning with contributors spread across the globe, but we have recently been seeing many open source companies relocating to Silicon Valley. One of the most recent examples is Compiere's move from the Portland area (where I live) to Menlo Park, CA. Matt Asay is particularly concerned with the relocation of so many European open source firms to Silicon Valley.

In a virtual, or flat world, we should not need to be co-located with other vendors, venture capital firms, or other partners. This is especially true for open source firms due to the virtual nature of doing business in open source. Dana Blankenhorn, who refers to Matt as “Mark” Asay in his ZDNet Blog, does not agree. I think this is a typical case of what I think of as “old fogy syndrome” where “old” refers to a style of thinking rather than chronological age. People who think this way tend to say things like ... “we tried that 15 years ago; it didn't work then, and it won't work now” or “we've been doing it this way for 10 years so why change it now”. One of Dana's primary arguments is that venture capital investments and mergers are more likely with close physical proximity adding that “if Silicon Valley were not home to so many well-funded VCs, how would America be doing in open source?” (ZDNet). Interesting. First, I do not think of open source as an American phenomenon. Second, the reality is that VCs are expanding into other geographies. Sequoia Capital, a leading investor in technology companies, has locations in California, China, Israel, and India. The business and information technology world is evolving at a rapid pace as the world continues to flatten. As location matters less and less, fewer companies will need to relocate to follow the investment dollars.

I agree with Matt. Open source companies should not be compelled to relocate. The diversity that comes with different locations, cultures, and ideas should not be replaced by a monolithic Silicon Valley environment where people all start to think and act alike.

UPDATE 7/7/06: Big OOPS. I accidentally attributed a link to Dana Gardner, instead of Dana Blankenhorn (after I made fun of Blankenhorn for getting Matt Asay's name wrong in his post). Apologies to Dana Gardner. How embarrassing! Vulnerabilities found three new security vulnerabilities. Although there are no known exploits, you should use this as a good reminder to upgrade to 2.0.3.

If you need more reasons to upgrade, how about this ...

  • performance improvements

  • better compatibility with Microsoft Office file formats

  • support for Mac OS X running on the new Intel architecture

  • and my favorite ... a built-in check for future updates!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Open Source is Less Evil

Open source software “gets” that users like choice. I was just walking the boyfriend through his first installation of, and when he got to the registration screen, he was pleasantly surprised by the I never want to register option. For most installs, you get a register now or I will bug you every x days for the rest of your life until you succumb to the pressure to finally register.

A few minutes later, I ran across David Weinberger's blog talking about the pain of most installation programs that automatically assume ownership of any file that they might want to associate with at some point in the future without giving you a clear option to not allow the program to take over. The point of Weinberger's blog entry was that is different:

Having just done a reinstall on my wife's computer, I've then had the annoying pleasure of extirpating the various ways arrogant programs try to take the machine over. Norton Antivirus takes up an inch of the task bar. Real thinks it owns everything that makes a sound. Everything installs an entry to the Explorer popup.

But not Open Office, bless its modest soul. During the installation process, when it asks if you'd like it to be the default program for opening Microsoft Office documents, it clearly says:

If you are just trying out 2.0, you probably don't want this to happen, so leave the boxes unchecked

The bigger the app, the more likely I'm going feel I'm at war with it. Except for Open Office. It's so clearly on our side. (Joho the Blog)

While I'm writing this and the boyfriend is using at the other end of the couch, he's clearly impressed with how easy and intuitive it is to use, and one point (slightly tongue in cheek) he actually said, “I can take the yoke of oppression off my back.” A little over the top, but it highlights the idea that open source is not difficult, it gives us choices, and it is clearly less evil than some of our other options.

Open Source Archeology

Collaboration within academic communities is an established and time honored tradition. The collaborative nature of open source communities also has its roots in academic collaboration, which is not surprising, since the free software movement began at MIT. In academic communities and open source communities, people collaborate and build on the ideas of others, ideas are evaluated based on their merits as assessed in peer reviews, and research or code is published in great detail allowing others to examine the study methodology or code.

With these similarities, it is not surprising to see sciences, like archeology, embracing open source software. Currently quite a bit of the push toward using open source in archeology is coming from Italy. The IOSA Project (Internet and Open Source Archeology Project) headquartered in Genoa, Italy has been working since 2004 toward the following goals:

  1. a greater and better use of computers in archaeological research, also through better knowledge and consciousness;

  2. the spreading of open source not just as software, but as a philosophy too, which is similar to the scientific research model, and therefore is suitable to it;

  3. the education to the use of open source software, both generic software and scientific software;

  4. to promote open standards that are thought for being exchanged on the web, which represents a good way for sharing and publication of research results, at lower cost than traditional methods;

  5. to give students the opportunity to compare between open source software and proprietary software they use everyday, on ready-to-use computers, with generic and scientific software installed;

  6. to start archaeological research projects in which open source software and philosophy are part of the original design and not afterwards applied to it;

  7. to collect archaeologists who are interested in the use of free/libre open source software, through a web site that should work as a portal and discussion forum. (

Open source software makes quite a bit of sense for the sciences and particularly for archeology. With archeology, the process of gathering data destroys the original site, so precise record keeping must be preserved along with the ability for a new generation of archaeologists to access the data many years later. For example, the data from a site being analyzed today in a remote location in South America might be invaluable for archaeologists studying a similar site 50 years from now. If the data is electronic and easily accessible with open formats using open source software, we know that the data can be retrieved and analyzed; however, with proprietary formats and software, the company who created the software may or may not be around in 50 years.

I suspect that academic communities will become more comfortable with open source software over time. It will be interesting to see how the archaeological community and other scientific communities embrace open source software over the next few years as open source software continues to be used in more and more critical solutions.

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