I attended the session where Tim O'Reilly interviewed Terry Semel, who is the chairman and CEO of Yahoo! Inc. I was very impressed with Terry Semel's talk and it very much cemented for me that Yahoo! will be a company to watch over the next few years. I hope my notes do his words justice.

Terry joined Yahoo! after spending years in Hollywood because he wanted a change and saw the immense opportunity for advertising on the Web. Tim O'Reilly pointed out that some members of the mainstream media have been worried about some of Yahoo!'s media moves such as the recent hiring of Lloyd Braun, former Chairman of ABC Entertainment Television Group, to run Yahoo!'s Media Group. Tim asked if Terry was trying to turn Yahoo! into the interactive studio of the future.

Terry said he isn't sure what exactly Tim meant by an "interactive studio". Terry pointed out that when he was in Hollywood, they cared about two things; content and distribution. Technology wasn't a big deal, it was something that changed every decade or so that the studios could take advantage of. In the 21st century, Terry believes there are now three pillars of media; content, distribution and technology. Yahoo! is in distribution since it reaches over 400 million people. Yahoo! delivers content. Yahoo! is a technology company. Yahoo! is a 21st century technology company that drives great media.

Tim then asked whether the fact that Yahoo! hires reporters to doesn't put them in conflict with traditional news organizations like CNN or the LA Times. Terry responded that Yahoo! is all about content. Sometimes it is user generated content. Sometimes it is licensed content from a media company. And finally sometimes it is content created by Yahoo! as they experiment with discovering the future of content generation. Yahoo! wants to take a leadership role in redefining the nature of content generation. Terry gave the example of travel reviews and how often it is more authentic to obtain user generated content and photos about a trip than a professional travel reporters opinion. Yahoo! is trying to enable all those scenarios with their various offerings.

Tim then asked how Yahoo! can reconcile the difference between their role as a service provider with being a news organization. Tim brought up the recent incident where Yahoo! turned over information about a Chinese dissident which led to him being jailed. Tim argued that traditional news organizations would not have given up the information. Terry began by clarifying that 99% or more of Yahoo!'s news content is syndicated from other sources and they aren't a news organization. Secondly, any organization that operates in China has to observe the riles and regulations of the land. This doesn't just apply to China but for any country a company does business in from the EU to the United States. Although some of these laws may be unsettling to him, the fact is that there are the laws in those lands and everyone who lives in and/or operates a business in these countries knows the law. Terry also does not agree with the opinion that Western companies shouldn't do business with China. Exposing Chinese audiences to Western cultures is much better than a policy of isolation. After all, who would have thought that the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain would fall?  

Tim asked what Terry thought about Google. Terry gave Google credit for doing great work in search. Yahoo! just got into it 18 months ago, and other companies such as Microsoft are coming along as well. If he were Google he would worry about the fact that only 5% of page views on the Web are from search yet the account for about 40% of the revenue generated on the Web. Google realizes that they have to diversify and become a portal which is why they now have offerings like maps, shopping, email, customizable homepages, etc. However since they are becoming a portal one should rate them as a portal and not just as a search engine. And as a portal, they would probably rank fourth behind portals such as Yahoo! and MSN. Yahoo! has a number of superior offerings from shopping to mail. Yahoo!'s revamped email offering was rated as superior to GMail by the Wall Street Journal and Yahoo! Mail has 10 times the user base of GMail.  

The fact is that people spend 40% of their time online consuming content and another 40% in communications programs. There seems to be a great opportunity to monetize this time Web user's spend online that hasn't been seized yet. Yahoo! plans to seize this opportunity

Tim asked what Terry thought about the fact that the stock market is rating Google higher than Yahoo! when it comes to market capitalization. Terry stated that the market is currently focused on search and the revenue from search but there are avenues for deeper engagement with end users with richer opportunities when it comes to communications and content.

Tim then asked if Terry would consider giving Google access to the information in HotJobs if they launched jobs.google.com? Terry responded that Yahoo! is more of an open platform company than Google and has deeply embraced syndication technologies like RSS.

There was a brief Q & A after the interview.

I asked Terry what he felt was Yahoo's biggest strength and Google's biggest weakness. I also pointed out that I agreed with his statement that as portals go Google is #4 which prompted him to ask if I worked at Yahoo!, when I responded that I worked at MSN, this seemed to make the audience laugh. Terry responded that he doesn't talk about the weaknesses of his competitors in public BUT he would say that Yahoo's strength is that they have assets that encourage deep consumer engagement but with regards to communication and content.

Another audience member asked whether Yahoo! considered user generated content to be important. Terry stated that they did which is why they have offerings that enable people to share their experiences with others such as Flickr and Yahoo! 360o.  Terry stated that people tend to polarise discussions such as when they ask whether to bet on branded advertising or sponsored ads in search? It isn't an either-or situation. It's like asking a parent to pick which of their genius kids is the favorite. Can't they love both? If sponsored search ads are huge then Yahoo! benefits. If branded advertising becomes huge then Yahoo! benefits as well.


Categories: Trip Report

I attended the Web 2.0 dinner hosted by Ray Ozzie , Gary Flake, and Yusuf Mehdi.

During the dinner there was a Q & A session with the Microsoft folks with John Battelle and Tim O'Reilly asking the questions. My notes below are heavily paraphrased since I took the notes on my phone.

Q: Over the past year the sentiment is slowly becoming stronger that Microsoft isn't the dominant player it once was. How does it feel not to be the big dog?

A: Yusuf -  It's great to be the underdog.

Q: How do you feel about some the new contenders in today's market?

A: Ray - The software industry is changing and Microsoft will have to adapt. Old business models are giving way to new ones and we will have to pay attention to them.

Q: MSN used to be a discarded group within Microsoft but now it is getting a lot of focus. How will MSN make a difference?

A: Gary - Web 2.0 is about software ecosystems and developer platforms. Microsoft and hence MSN, has a lot of experience when it comes to fostering developer platforms and software ecosystems.

Q: What do you think of the fact that big money makers like Office & Windows are imperilled by Web-based offerings and the new markets may not be as profitable as existing ones?

A: At Microsoft we are big believers in the value of Web-based services and the new business models they present. However we are also investing in our existing products like Office and Windows.

Q: When will we see office on the web? 

A: Ray - It is a process. It makes sense to move some stuff to the Web such as email but other applications such as graphics editing will likely be on the desktop for a while. We are still figuring things out how to strike the right balance.

Q: Will we see rapid development from microsoft?

A: Ray/Yusuf/Gary - It depends on the product. MSN ships software in timeframes measured in months. Other parts of Microsoft are in years. However how long something takes to ship really is a function of the complexity and maturity of the application. The more complex it is, the longer it takes to ship. After all, Netscape used to ship a new browser every couple of months back in the early days of the Web. Now things are a bit different. 

Q: Is groove technology going to show up in Microsoft products?

A: Ray - It's part of office and will go through all the things needed to make it part of the suite including consistent UI with other office apps and localization in dozens of languages. However the model of a smart client that harnesses the power of the network will permeate across the company.

Q: What about new revenue models such as ad-supported offerings?

A: Ray - The new paid search model was pioneered by overture and perfected by google. However ee as an industry still haven't fully figured exactly how much software can be ad-supported vs. paid.

Q: Are you guys buying AOL?

A: No comment.

Q: You recently launched MSN AdCenter, how do you plan to get new advertisers? Will it be due to access to high traffic MSN sites or by undercuting prices?

A: Yusuf - It'll be a little of both. There definitely will be something of a bonanza when it comes to purchasing keywords when we launch the system but in the long term the value of our ad network will be the high traffic from our sites.

Q: What assets does microsoft have that give it an edge?

A: Ray - We work better together across devices from mobile, PC, etc. we also have the experience of having both consumer offerings and business offerings.    

Q: Will there be a free ad-supported version of Office? Perhaps this is the answer to piracy in emerging markets?

A: Gary -  Show off hands, how many people want an ad-based office suite? How many people don't? [ed note -- a seemingly even number of people raised their hands both times]. See our problem? Ray - Ads aren't always the answer. It is one thing to show a user ads when they are looking for a product in a search engine and quite another to shove ads in their face when they are creating a document.

Q: In the past, Microsoft has locked user's in with proprietary Office formats such as .doc and .xls. Will the next versions of Office support open formats?

A: Ray - There have been two big changes in the next version of Office. The first is that the user interface has been totally revamped while the other is that the file formats are now open XML formats with a liberal license.

Q: Ray, are you having fun at Microsoft?

A: Ray - Yes!!! I thrive in startups and building ideas from scratch but sometimes my ideas are bigger than I can implement and now with Microsoft I have access to lots of resources. I am particularly impressed with the mobile platform, if you haven't checked out Windows Mobile 5.0, you should give it a look.


Categories: Trip Report

I attended the panel on business models for mash-ups hosted by Dave McClure,
Jeffrey McManusPaul Rademacher, and Adam Trachtenberg.

A mash up used to mean remixing two songs into something new and cool but now the term has been hijacked by geeks to means mixing two or more web-based data sources and/or services.

Paul Rademacher is the author of the Housing Maps mash-up which he used as a way to find a house using Craig'sList + Google Maps. The data obtained from Craig's List is fetched via screen scraping. Although Craig's List has RSS feeds, they didn't meet his needs. Paul also talked about some of the issues he had with building the site such as the fact that since most browsers block cross-site scripting using XMLHttpRequest then a server needs to be set up to aggregate the data instead of all the code running in the browser. The site has been very popular and has garnered over 900,000 unique visitors based solely on word-of-mouth.

The question was asked as to why he didn't make this a business but instead took a job at Google. He listed a number of very good reasons

  1. He did not own the data that was powering the application.
  2. The barrier to entry for such an application was low since there was no unique intellectual property or user interface design to his application

I asked whether he'd gotten any angry letters from the legal department at Craig's List and he said they seem to be tolerating him because he drives traffic to their site and caches a bunch of data on his servers so as not to hit their servers with a lot of traffic. 

A related mash-up site which scrapes real estate websites called Trulia was then demoed. A member of the audience asked whether Paul thought the complexity of mash-ups using more than two data sources and/or services increased in a linear or exponential fashion. Paul said he felt it increased in a linear fashion. This segued into a demo of SimplyHired with integrates with a number of sites including PayScale, LinkedIn, Job databases, etc.

At this point I asked whether they would have service providers giving their perspective on making money from mash-ups since they are the gating factor because they own the data and/or services mash-ups are built on. The reply was that the eBay & Yahoo folks would give their perspective later.

Then we get a demo of a Google Maps & eBay Motors mash-up. Unlike the Housing Maps mash-up, all the data is queried live instead of cached on the server. eBay has dozens of APis that encourage people to build against their platform and they have an affiliates program so people can make money from building on their API. We also got showed Unwired Buyer which is a site that enables you to bid on eBay using your cell phone and even calls you just before an auction is about to close. Adam Trachtenberg pointed out that since there is a Skype API perhaps some enterprising soul could mash-up eBay & Skype.

Jeffrey McManus of Yahoo! pointed out that you don't even need coding skills to build a Yahoo! Maps mash-up since all it takes is specifying your RSS feed with longitude and latitude elements on each item to have it embedded in the map. I asked why unlike Google Maps and MSN Virtual Earth, Yahoo! Maps doesn't allow users to host the maps on their page nor does there seem to be an avenue for revenue sharing with mash-up authors via syndicated advertising. The response I got was that they polled various developers and there wasn't significant interest in embedding the maps on developer's sites especially when this would require paying for hosting.

We then got showed a number mapping mashups including a mashup of the London bombings which used Google Maps, Flickr & RSS feeds of news (the presenter had the poor taste to point out opportunities to place ads on the site), a mashup from alkemis which mashes Google Maps, A9.com street level photos and traffic cams, and a mash-up from Analygis which integrates census data with Google Maps data.

The following items were then listed as the critical components of mash-ups
 - AJAX (Jeffrey McManus said it isn't key but a few of the guys on the panel felt that at least dynamic UIs are better)
 - APIs
 - Advertising
 - Payment
 - Identity/Acct mgmt
 - Mapping Services
 - Content Hosting
 - Other?

On the topic of identity and account management, the problem of how mash-ups handle user passwords came up as a problem. If a website is password protected then user's often have to enter their usernames and passwords into third party sites. An example of this was the fact that PayPal used to store lots of username/password information of eBay users which caused the company some consternation since eBay went through a lot of trouble to protect their sensitive data only to have a lot of it being stored on Paypal servers.

eBay's current solution is similar to that used by Microsoft Passport in that applications are expected to have user's login via the eBay website then the user is redirected to the originating website with a ticket indicating they have been authenticated. I pointed out that although this works fine for websites, it offers no solution for people trying to build desktop applications that are not browser based. The response I got indicated that eBay hasn't solved this problem.

My main comment about this panel is that it didn't meet expectations. I'd expected to hear a discussion about turning mashups [and maybe the web platforms they are built on] into money making businesses. What I got was a show-and-tell of various mapping mashups. Disappointing.


Categories: Trip Report

I attended the first board meeting of the AttentionTrust which was open to all and hosted by Steve GillmorHank Barry and Seth Goldstein.

Steve Gillmor began by talking about the history of the organization and why it got started. As has been stated previously the core goal of the organization is that attention data - that is, data that describes what you're paying attention to - has value, and because it has value, when you give someone your attention you should expect to be given something in return. And just because you give someone your attention, it doesn't mean that they own it. You should expect to get it back.

Seth Goldstein mentioned that they are now officially a non-profit. Seth also mentioned that there is now a post on their group blog that goes into some detail to clarify their intentions. They have worked with the developer of the Outfoxed Firefox extension (Stan James) to build an Attention Recorder plugin for Firefox. This plugin records a user's attention data to their hard drive with the assumption being that eventually there will be AttentionTrust certified companies that users can trade this information with.

Stan James gave a demo of the Attention Recorder plugin and stated that it has two main features

  1. The toolbar button which lights up if you are on an AttentionTrust certified site.
  2. The Attention Recorder logs all a user's web traffic to a particular website. Sites can be excluded from being logged so one doesn't accidentally log access to sensitive websites. One can also configure the sites to which the clickstream logs should be sent.

After Stan's demo, the rest of the session turned into a Q & A session. Below are paraphrased questions and answers.

Q: Why would users share their attention data without getting paid? Is the promise of killer apps that can harness the user's attention data enough for users?

A: The value/price of a user's attention data is up to agreements between the users and companies.

Q: What about legacy attention data?

A: The AttentionTrust has partnered with companies that have some attention data today such as Rojo to see if they can expose it in AttentionTrust compliant ways.

There was a brief interlude at this point where Stan James went over some of the implemention details of the Attention Recorder as well as showed examples of the XML format it uses for logging a user's clickstream. On seeing the XML format, Dave Sifry who was in the audience brought up also brought up the point of ensuring that sensitive data such as usernames and passwords aren't being sent to services. 

Greg Yardley is a part of a lead-generation company building a service to match up users to businesses using attention clickstream data. He's been making sure to follow the principles of AttentionTrust while building their application. For example, users can delete their attention data if needed. Steve Gillmor asked Greg what kinds of apps people could build if they had more access to user's attention data. Greg responded with a lot of examples such as more accurate personalized search engines, searching only over websites the user has seen recently, more accurate data for dating sites to use in matching people up, RSS readers that know to mark items as read if you read them from your browser and a number of other interesting ideas.

A member of the audience asked how AttentionTrust compliant lead-generation companies  could be marketed as being better than their traditional alternatives that used slimy methods. The response from Seth Goldstein was that leads generated from attention data would be of higher quality (e.g. leads for mortgage customers generated from people searching for "refinance" are better than leads from people signing up to receive free iPods). Another member of the audience disagreed with Seth and pointed out that it isn't so cut and dried. She pointed out that an unemployed college student could spend their days surfing shopping sites for luxury goods but that doesn't make them a good lead for companies trying to sell luxury goods.

Another user asked what ways exist to convince users to choose AttentionTrust companies. Seth said people will build cool apps about themselves based on local data is probably the key. I jumped into the discussion and used Amazon as an example of end users giving a company their attention data on music and books they like either implicitly (by buying them) or explicitly (by rating them). My question was how could AttentionTrust convince Amazon to open up all their attention data. Steve Gillmor replied that it isn't likely that they'd be able to convince the incumbents to follow the principles of AttentionTrust but if enough small players got together and started building some of these cool apps then great things could happen.

I believe there was also a positive comparison to Richard Stallman and the Free Software Movement but I've forgotten the exact details.


Categories: Trip Report

I attended the panel on Open Source Infrastructure hosted by Marc CanterTantek Çelik,
Brian DearMatt Mullenweg and Toni Schneider.

Marc Canter coined the term "Open Source infrastructure" while pitching OurMedia to big companies while seeking funding. He pointed out that in the Web 2.0 world we are in danger of swapping the lock-in of desktop platforms controlled by big companies like Apple and Microsoft for lock-in of Web platforms controlled by big companies like eBay and Amazon. The same way we have open source platforms to prevent desktop lock-in, we need open source Web infrastructure to prevent platform lock-in.

Brian Dear of EVDB is working on making event publishing on the Web easier. Eventful is a website that aggregates events. The website is built on the EVDB API which is itself built on an the EVDB index over the EVDB Database. This same API is available for third parties to build applications against. Brian divides events into high definition and low definition events. Low definition events are easy to create and have simple metadata usually just a title and start/end time for the event. However simple events are hard to discover due to the lack of structured metadata. On the other hand, high definition events have lots of fields (title, start/end time, description, price, recurrence, etc) which makes them harder to create but easier to discover by applications.  They have created SES (simple event sharing) which is a mechanism for web sites to ping an event server with changes similar to how weblogs currently ping places like Weblogs.com and blo.gs when they are updated.  

At this point Marc Canter interjects and asks where the events are located. Will they be able to suck up events from sites like Craig's List or will they have to be on Eventful? Brian Dear states that he prefers the model where aggregators of events such as Eventful points to existing sites such as Craig's List especially since they are not metadata rich (i.e. low definition events). Marc then points to someone in the audience who has a similar site and asks whether they have a ping server model and he mentions that they crawl the Web instead.  

This segued into Matt Mullenweg talking about ping servers. Matt talked about ping-o-matic which aggregates ping servers so blogs can just ping it and it pings the dozens of ping servers out there instead. However they have significant scaling issues with some days where they get up to 4,000,000 pings a day. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the pings turn out to be spam. Matt has asked help from various sources and has gotten servers from Technorati. . Marc asks whether pings can grow beyond blogs to events, group creation and other types of pings. Although Matt seemed hesitant, Brian points out that they have extended the ping format already from what sites like Weblogs.com uses to accomodate their needs for events.

Yahoo! just bought upcoming which is an event site and Tony Schneider [who used to be at Oddpost] was representing Yahoo! on the panel. Tony believes that big companies shouldn't own the core services on the Web which is one of the motivations for Yahoo! opening up their APIs. The biggest develop communities around Yahoo!'s offerings come from the entities they have purchased such as Flickr & Konfabulator. Turning their services into developer platforms is now big at Yahoo!. Another thing that is really big at Yahoo! is using RSS. Yahoo! doesn't care that it isn't an official standard produced by a standard's body. It gets the job done. They are also acquiring core online services like blo.gs and keeping them open to benefit the developer world.  Marc asks when they decide when working with others (e.g. MediaRSS) versus buying companies (blo.gs and upcoming). Todd replies that with formats they first look at whether anything exists before creating something new (e.g. GeoRSS used in Yahoo! Maps API vs. MediaRSS which they created).

Tantek talked about Web 2.0 themes ('you control your own data', 'mix and match data', 'open, interoperable and web friendly data formats & protocols'). Marc points out that the Web is not the end all and be all so 'Web friendly' is cool but not overriding. Tantek also discussed Talked about microformat design principles and the various themes within the microformats community (open source tools, open communications and focus on concrete scenarios). He then briefly talked about two microformats. The first was hReview which is a format for reviews which got input from folks at Yahoo!, SixApart and MSN among others.  there are a lot of websites for reviews (Amazon, Yahoo! Local) but no real standard. The second was hReview which is now being used by http://www.avon.com to mark up the contact information for over 40,000 Avon representatives.  Tantek also shows that you can mark up the Web 2.0 speakers list and then he wrote a bookmarklet that can suck up all the speakers into his address book.

During the Q & A session I asked three questions 

  1. Isn't the focus on centralized services for pinging worrying for services with lots of users because it is quite possible for us to overwhelm the services with our user base? Matt responded that this is why he was seeking donations from large companies. 
  2. Currently microformats seem to be going fine since Tantek is the main guy creating them but what happens when others start creating them and unlike XML which has namespaces there is no way to disambiguate them? Tantek responded that there were already many people creating microformats. He also stated that the issue of duplicate or redundant microformats would be dealt with via the community process.
  3. Isn't the big problem with the lack of adoption of standards for creating events, the lack of a killer app for consuming events? Tantek responded that the killer apps may be here already by showing how he wrote an app to consume hCalendar events and place them in his iCal calendar. Brian mentioned that Eventful uses hCalendar and hCard. 

In general, I'd have preferred if the panel was more of a discussion as opposed to an hour or more of sales pitches from the panelists with 10 minutes of Q & A at the end. I have a feeling that a lot more knowledge would have been gained by having members of the audience riff along with the panelists instead of the traditional "wisdom from above" model used in thuis panel.

An additional meta-comment about the conference is that so far I've been unable to get into 2 out of the 3 sessions I wanted to attend this morning because they were filled to overflowing. Given how much folks are paying for the conference and how much experience the O'Reilly folks have with holding conferences, one wouldn't see such problems occur.


Categories: Trip Report

Brent Simmons has confirmed that Newsgator has purchased NetNewsWire. One of the reasons Brent gave for the purchase is excerpted below

The first is that we get requests constantly about syncing—not just better syncing, not just between copies of NetNewsWire, but with Windows RSS readers, PDAs, Outlook, and so on. People even ask us to create a website version for when they’re away from their normal computers.

We couldn’t do all this on our own—but we agree completely with NetNewsWire users who tell us that RSS is hugely important, too important to have to read the same news items twice on different computers and different devices.

NewsGator was already working on this—but they didn’t have a Mac client. It was almost like putting together a jigsaw puzzle: NetNewsWire fit right in!

Users of RSS Bandit already have access to a robust syncing mechanism that allows users to use the application on multiple computers without having to mark the same item as read twice. However there are several limitations to the mechanisms used by RSS Bandit today.

  • The user has to set up a server (FTP or WebDAV)
  • The user cannot synchronize with an online reader for the times they aren't at a PC with RSS Bandit installed
  • The user cannot synchronize with a Mac-based reader for the times they are using a Mac and not a PC

I have been hit by all three of these limitations at one time or the other this year. All three of these problems will be a thing of the past with the Nightcrawler release of RSS Bandit which will support synchronization with Newsgator Online via the Newsgator API.

Congratulations to Brent and Greg on their union. And congratulations to RSS Bandit users who will now be able to sync between NetNewsWire on the Mac and RSS Bandit on the PC.


Categories: RSS Bandit

October 5, 2005
@ 03:11 AM

I took a look at Ning today and I find it interesting from a number of perspectives. On the one hand, it's simply a toolkit for building websites. The same kind of toolkit you see hawked on infomercials while channel surfing at midnight because you have insomnia. The main difference is that instead of a CD that contains software for building eCommerce websites it's an online website for building 'social software' websites. On the other hand, it shows an interesting direction for web platforms to move in.

Let's say you are Yahoo! or MSN and you now have an extensive array of web services at http://developer.yahoo.com or http://msdn.microsoft.com/msn. So now developers can build desktop applications or their own websites that interact with your APIs. These are akin to the low level APIs for interacting with your web platform. The next step is to build the equivalent of rich, high-level components for interacting with your services so people don't have to mess with the low level details. What I find interesting about Ning isn't "Here's another place where I can build yet another social network different from my IM buddy list/Orkut/Yahoo! 360/Friendster/etc clique" but instead "Here's a place where I can build new apps that harness my existing social network from my IM buddy list/Orkut/Yahoo! 360/Friendster/etc". That would be pretty revolutionary if the various parties involved would be interested in opening their social networks to such mashups.

I suspect I'll be trying to track down some folks from Ning while at the Web 2.0 conference this week.

Anyway, gotta go catch my flight.


I've been reading the Mini-Microsoft blog for a couple of months now and recently considered unsubscribing. The main reason I haven't is that the recent story in Business Week about the blog has attracted a lot of readers which makes the comment threads interesting in a Slashdot kinda way. Since I couldn't locate an email address for the blog's author on the front page of the blog, I'll just post my comments here on why the blog jumped the shark for me.

  1. Complaints about Symptoms instead of the Root Problems: A lot of the things complained about by the author of the Mini-Microsoft blog are symptoms of a single problem. About six years ago, Motley Fool ran an article entitled The 12 Simple Secrets of Microsoft Management which listed a number of characteristics of the company which made it successfull. The fourth item on the list is Require Failure and it states

    In contrast, at Microsoft, failure is expected, and even required because risking failure is the only way to push the envelope. As a result, Microsofties relentlessly pursue success without fear of failure. And if they fail, they understand that the key is to fail quickly and not waste time.

    One of the unfortunate things about a culture that turns a blind eye to failure is that this eventually there is no difference between requiring failure and a lack of accountability. A lot of the things Mini complains about point to an environment where  a lack of accountability runs rampant. I'd rather see him ring the bell about these issues [which he does every once in a while] as opposed to meaningless distractions like complaining about vague ship dates or asking for mass firings because the company is "too large".

  2. Microsoft is Lots of Little Companies: One thing that isn't clear from Mini's posts is that a number of the complaints he raises are organization specific. The culture in the Office group is different from that at MSN, the issues facing the people working in the Windows group are different from those facing the folks working on XBox. Mini's blog not only isn't representative but it doesn't seem like he pays much detail to what is happening outside of his group. For example, it is quite telling that he didn't know that the ship date for Visual Studio 2005 was announced a while ago. Given how many people within the company work on and are impacted by the shipping of Whidbey & Yukon, it seems clear that Mini doesn't pay much attention to what is going on outside of his group.

  3. Stack Ranking: This point is a probably a repeat of my first one. First of all when it comes to performance reviews, I tend to agree with Joel Spolsky that Incentive Pay Considered Harmful. Joel wrote

    And herein lies the rub. Most people think that they do pretty good work (even if they don't). It's just a little trick our minds play on us to keep life bearable. So if everybody thinks they do good work, and the reviews are merely correct (which is not very easy to achieve), then most people will be disappointed by their reviews. The cost of this in morale is hard to understate. On teams where performance reviews are done honestly, they tend to result in a week or so of depressed morale, moping, and some resignations. They tend to drive wedges between team members, often because the poorly-rated are jealous of the highly-rated, in a process that DeMarco and Lister call teamicide: the inadvertent destruction of jelled teams.

    In general, systems where you try to competitively rank people and reward them based on their rankings suck. A lot. When you combine this with the current rewards associated with positive rankings at Microsoft, then you have a system that doubly sucks. I think Mini gets this but he keeps talking about alternative performance review systems even though there is lots of evidence that incentive pay systems simply do not work.

Those are the top three reasons that I find myself losing interest in keeping up with the Mini-Microsoft blog. However I'll probably keep reading because the comments now have me gawking at them regularly, sometimes even more than I do at Slashdot.


Categories: Life in the B0rg Cube

October 2, 2005
@ 02:02 AM

Tim O'Reilly has posted What Is Web 2.0? : Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software which further convinced me that the definition of Web 2.0 used by Tim O'Reilly and his ilk may be too wide to be useful. In the conclusion of his article he writes

Core Competencies of Web 2.0 Companies

In exploring the seven principles above, we've highlighted some of the principal features of Web 2.0. Each of the examples we've explored demonstrates one or more of those key principles, but may miss others. Let's close, therefore, by summarizing what we believe to be the core competencies of Web 2.0 companies:

  • Services, not packaged software, with cost-effective scalability
  • Control over unique, hard-to-recreate data sources that get richer as more people use them
  • Trusting users as co-developers
  • Harnessing collective intelligence
  • Leveraging the long tail through customer self-service
  • Software above the level of a single device
  • Lightweight user interfaces, development models, AND business models

The next time a company claims that it's "Web 2.0," test their features against the list above.

The list seems redundant in some places and could probably be reduced to 3 points. Half the bullet points all seem to say that the company should expose Web services [in this context I mean services over the Web whether they be SOAP, REST, POX/HTTP, RSS, etc]. So that's point number one. The second key idea seems to be that of harnessing collective intelligence such as with Amazon's recommendation engine, Wikipedia entries and folksonomies/tagging systems. The final key concept is that Web 2.0 companies leverage the long tail. One example of the difference between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 when it comes to harnessing the long tail is the difference between http://www.msn.com which is a portal that has news and information of general interest that aims at appealing to broad audiences (one size fits all) and http://www.start.com which encourages people to build their own portal that fits their needs (every niche is king).

So let's review. Tim O'Reilly's essay can be reduced to the following litmus test for whether an offering is Web 2.0 or not

  • Exposes Web services that can be accessed on any device or platform by any developer or user. RSS feeds, RESTful APIs and SOAP APIs are all examples of Web services.
  • Harnesses the collective intelligence knowledge of its user base to benefit users
  • Leverages the long tail through customer self-service

So using either Tim O'Reilly's list or mine, I'd be curious to see how many people think http://www.myspace.com is a Web 2.0 offerings or not. If not, why not? If so, please tell me why you think all the folks who've called MySpace a Web 2.0 offering are wrong in my comments. For the record, I think it isn't but would like to compare my reasons with those of other people out there.


Categories: Web Development

October 2, 2005
@ 12:47 AM

Brian Jones has a post entitled Native PDF support in Office "12" where he writes

Today's another exciting day as we move closer to Beta 1. We are just wrapping up the MVP summit here in Redmond and we've finally announced another piece of functionality I've wanted to talk about for a long time now. This afternoon Steven Sinofsky announced to our MVPs that we will build in native support for the PDF format in Office "12".  I constantly get asked by customers if we can build in this support for publishing documents as PDF files, and now I can thankfully say "yes!" It's something we've been hearing about for years, and earlier in this project we decided that while there were already existing third party tools for doing this, we should do the work to build the functionality natively into the product.

The PDF support will be built into Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Publisher, OneNote, Visio, and InfoPath! I love how well this new functionality will work in combination with the new Open XML formats in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. We've really heard the feedback that sharing documents across multiple platforms and long term archiving are really important. People now have a couple options here, with the existing support for HTML and RTF, and now the new support for Open XML formats and PDF!

This is a very welcome surprise. The Office team is one of the few groups on main campus who seem to consistently get it. Of course, the first thought that crossed my mind was the one asked in the second comment in response to Brian's post.