Saturday, June 14, 2008

Choosing Internet Platforms

I'm blogging from the CalTech Enterprise Forum. The topic is:

Betting Your Company On An Internet Platform?

A very interesting topic, especially for those of us involved in developing for start-ups. At the CTO Group that I organize in Santa Monica, we've had lots of discussions around this. The basic conclusion was that it was a bit premature if you were talking about a serious, funded start-up. Especially when there are things like: Amazon S3 / EC2 / AWS outage this morning...

However, these platforms could be interesting for prototype and pilot solutions. They also are VERY interesting for background processing tasks that take compute resources or from a storage cloud standpoint.

The other conclusion was that you need to have a migration path from the platform.

We'll see where my opinion goes after hearing the presentations.

Wow, long introductions - 25 minutes - get to the speakers already. Finally we get to:

Peter Coffee, Director of Platform Research,

His premise is that we should be beyond having to buy servers, software, or any other infrastructure. His picture of all of the different elements you have to deal with infrastructure (network, storage, os, db, etc.), application services (security, integration), etc. does make it seem like it's a lot of work. The promise of having all of that taken care of for you sounds great.

Mentions - Marc Andreessen's - The three kinds of platforms you meet on the Internet

  • A Level 1 platform's apps run elsewhere, and call into the platform via a web services API to draw on data and services -- this is how Flickr does it.
  • A Level 2 platform's apps run elsewhere, but inject functionality into the platform via a plug-in API -- this is how Facebook does it. Most likely, a Level 2 platform's apps also call into the platform via a web services API to draw on data and services.
  • A Level 3 platform's apps run inside the platform itself -- the platform provides the "runtime environment" within which the app's code runs.
Level 1 & 2

Burden is still on the developers, you still have infrastructure.

Level 3 - Run-time environment

Significantly different than either of the first two where you no longer have infrastructure.


Must design your application differently to live on top of the platform. In fact, his point is that the application is really meta-data.

User Interface platform - VisualForce that allows the application to have a very different kind of interface.

It's funny. We've looked pretty deeply at in a few applications. The promise is so great, but the reality is that if you aren't developing something that matches with the models they provide then it represents a challenge. The key ingredient when you provide abstraction layers is what that layer provides and:
  • how well it matches with your needs
  • how much work it takes to work around when it doesn't match
If it matches well and the exceptions can either be avoided or worked around, then it truly becomes something very interesting. Of course, there are still caveats - can they pass data security audits, what is your downtime risk and cost of downtime, what's the risk of the platform vendor.

Interesting term used in a ZD Net article - Platform as a Service (PaaS)

Unfortunately, Peter sells the promise and ignores the reality.

Next up:

Joe Andrieu
CEO/Founder, SwitchBook

Chair, Project VRM Standards Committee

Key questions -

Will it accomplish what you need?
Will it survive as long as you need?
Availability, stability, support

His definition of open...

  • No one owns it
  • Everyone can use it
  • Anyone can improve it

Introduces (adds to Levels above) idea of Level 4 Platform

In his mind, the key ingredient is that the there needs to be multiple platform service providers. He sees this as similar to what happened with SMTP, POP, HTTP, etc.

Only guarantee for longevity is if you have options. This is certainly one of the big concerns I expressed above.

VRM - his company - goal is to provide a Level 4 platform.

Now up:

Craig Ogg
Freshly Grated Software
former VP of R&D,

Have had to make choices about platforms many times. Difficult decision - driven by goals.

Some of his experiences:

Clipper - bet on OS2. Whoops. Went to a layer that insulated you from other platforms. Generally platforms that insulate you from several platforms don't work. Really? Not sure I buy that argument.

Start-up on top of pen computing - Go Corp - pen point. Died suddenly (within a 24 hour period).

Visual Basic add-ons. Controls - reverse engineered Quicken file format - sold to Microsoft for import into Microsoft Money.

PIM based on Java that would be up-to-date on all your devices. Server and client in Java. Java as a platform wasn't ready to deliver on client side. - two back-ends - mainline service vs. marketing site.

Some other points -

LAMP, .Net, Java - doesn't make much difference. I would tend to agree.

Benefit of a proprietary platform can be finding customers. Ex. AppExchange on Salesforce.

When OpenSocial makes it into LinkedIn - many opportunities there. Completely agree. Don't know what these social apps will look like.

Ruby on Rails as a platform? Twitter - probably not the best choice given the structure of the application. Many other types of applications where Ruby makes complete sense.

Amazon EC2 - uses it for natural language processing. Would never put a user request to an EC2 instance.

Google App Engine - take more than two seconds to process we are going to kill your request. All about end-user requests. Not for batch processing. Must be willing to work the way Google expects.

Salesforce, Ning - get platform + API leverage - must go down a particular path

Marc Canter
CEO, Broadband Mechanics - makers of
People Aggregator

VERY colorful speaker. By definition need redundancy.

Mentions standards that are emerging. From BBM's web site:
  • media RSS - extensions to RSS subscription format to support time based media, enclosures, copyrights and other meta-data needed for media.
  • FOAFnet, a subset of the FOAF rdf schema and a set of user interfaces guidelines, was an early attempt at interchanging digital identity profiles (including lists of friends) between and eCademy. The effort failed when we realized it required federated authentication.
  • ThreadsML, a data fomrat for persistent conversations. Whether they originate in IM, message board trheads, mail lists or blog posts - conversations can be brought together, made re-enrant and be enhanced with media.
  • OpenEvents and OpenReviews, were early attempts at standardizing schemas and shared servers for these forms of micro-content.
  • The Identity Gang is an effort around the notion of a ‘user-centric’ metasystem
  • is an open media storage system (acting as a front-end to the Internet Archive.)
  • is an initiative to create blogging tool plugins which support not only microformats, but other technologies that will provide a comprehensive set of standards for producing microcontent.
Everything else is closed.

Mark Suster
GRP Partners

He's an employee. First company built on top of EMC, Unix servers, field sales to large clients. Compared cost there vs. second company that raised $500K and used S3 and other platforms. Interestingly it was same developers in both companies. In second venture - compared vs. S3 - as platform. What kind of company do you represent?

Aspire to build a small business - okay to bet on a company like salesforce. If you are building a VC backed company with large growth, too much risk to bank on salesforce. Salesforce is good for distribution - can access their user base. Facebook is the same - okay for lifestyle business, but could be distribution platform. Building on top of Amazon or Google - cost base is so much lower.

Who is the client base - do you bet on these?

Pretty much lines up with where I'm at.

NEA and Level 4 vs. -

Answer is it depends.

Wow, after all of this (sometimes heated) discussion.

Large number of Players in Cloud Computing. A couple of the more interesting ones:

Amazon EC2

Google App Engine Force

IBM’s Blue Cloud

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Local Event Organizers Need to Adopt Social Media

A while ago I posted about Secret for Networking at Events - Prenetworking where I recommended that people should look at who's attending the event prior to going to the event in order to make their networking more effective. I've received a lot of positive feedback on the post.

Since I posted on this and since I've been using this approach for quite a while, it has become pretty obvious that part of the reason that old school organizations / event producers are not getting the value of providing this kind of list. And I think it hurts them in attendance.

If you are an event organizer, but you don't have a system for posting attendance, then at a minimum you should post your event on Facebook and Upcoming and link to those from your site.

The spark for this post is that I'm going to go to Caltech/MIT Enterprise Forum on Saturday. I've presented there before and it's a good group. But there's no attendee list in site. I can't find them listed on any kind of social site. I did a quick search and didn't find many blog posts mentioning that specific event. So, I've got no idea who's going.

This also happens for Technology Council of Southern California, AITP-LA, TechBizConnection
and others.

They really need to take a look at how Twiistup, Mixergy and others are doing to both promote and help make their events better for attendees.

I personally think the content provided at the old school event providers is often very high quality. So, I'm still hopeful they will find ways to include some of these capabilities and hopefully attract new audience.

For more discussions on networking and LinkedIn see Networking Events in Los Angeles and Southern California, Secret for Networking at Events – Prenetworking, Pre-network with LinkedIn, Local Event Organizers Need to Adopt Social Media.

Social Innovation

It's funny how things intersect in life. I just ran into Chris Gammil's post New Era of Social Innovation where he describes it as:
The model takes the best of the OPEN model and pushes right out into the open, further distributing idea sourcing, team forming, development, commercialization and economic distribution.

What are some of the drivers?

  • The social web is making it easier find people with similar passions for creation/innovation
  • The social web is making it easier to find people with complementary talents
  • Web 2.0 has driven modular, lower cost development models making experimentation easier
  • Talent is hungry for opportunities to test ideas and work with other talented folks
  • People are more open to contribution/gifting models of creation (understanding innovation is a numbers game
I recently posted about Social Media and Experimental Innovation : eLearning Technology. It's the same basic concept but from a different angle.

Malcolm Gladwell defines two types of innovators: innovators who come up with an idea quickly or those who need to iterate and experiment - the Experimental Innovator. Clark Quinn describes a helper to that kind of innovation - Innovating by Conversation. Clark tells us ...
Surowiecki’s Wisdom of the Crowds, Tapscott’s Wikinomics, and Libert & Spector’s We Are Smarter Than Me, are telling us to tap into the wisdom of crowds, and with lots of examples of how creating conversations with folks can spark new insights.
The thought this sparks is that experimental innovation can be accelerated through broader conversations. Thus, when it comes time to figure out a concept, iterate through it, having available networks greatly accelerates this process. Much of Gladwell's discussion of experimental innovation discussed innovation occurring over very long periods of time (10 years).

In many ways, this is exactly how I'm approaching my new venture Work Literacy. It's a big, hard problem. Get lot's of people together to foster discussion, innovation, experimentation.