December 7, 2005
@ 07:48 PM

The folks at 37 Signals have an insightful blog post entitled Don’t scale: 99.999% uptime is for Wal-Mart which states

Jeremy Wright purports a common misconception about new companies doing business online: That you need 99.999% uptime or you’re toast. Not so. Basecamp doesn’t have that. I think our uptime is more like 98% or 99%. Guess what, we’re still here!

Wright correctly states that those final last percent are incredibly expensive. To go from 98% to 99% can cost thousands of dollars. To go from 99% to 99.9% tens of thousands more. Now contrast that with the value. What kind of service are you providing? Does the world end if you’re down for 30 minutes?

If you’re Wal-Mart and your credit card processing pipeline stops for 30 minutes during prime time, yes, the world does end. Someone might very well be fired. The business loses millions of dollars. Wal-Mart gets in the news and loses millions more on the goodwill account.

Now what if Delicious, Feedster, or Technorati goes down for 30 minutes? How big is the inconvenience of not being able to get to your tagged bookmarks or do yet another ego-search with Feedster or Technorati for 30 minutes? Not that high. The world does not come to an end. Nobody gets fired.

Scalability issues are probably the most difficult to anticipate and mitigate when building a web application. When we first shipped MSN Spaces last year, I assumed that we'd be lucky if we became as big as LiveJournal, I never expected that we'd grow to be three times as big and three times as active within a year. We've had our growing pains and it's definitely been surprising at times finding out which parts of the service are getting the most use and thus needed the most optimizations.

The fact is that everyone has scalability issues, no one can deal with their service going from zero to a few million users without revisiting almost every aspect of their design and architecture. Even the much vaunted Google has had these problems, just look at the reviews of Google Reader that called it excruciatingly slow or the complaints that Google Analytics was so slow as to be unusable.

If you are a startup, don't waste your time and money worrying about what happens when you have millions of users. Premature optimization is the root of all evil and in certain cases will lead you to being more conservative than you should be when designing features. Remember, even the big guys deal with scalability issues.


Categories: Web Development

Two interesting things have been confirmed in the blog post Next Version of Virtual Earth is indeed around the corner. The first is that MSN Virtual Earth is getting renamed to Windows Live Local. The second is that the version I've been using internally that has better driving directions and birds eye view imagery will be shipping shortly. The post states

We've been working to address a lot of feature requests from our users, and personally I'm really happy with how the application has shaped up. Here is a blurb in The Kelsey Group's Local Media Blog about the forthcoming release. Greg Sterling correctly reports that Virtual Earth has become part of the Windows Live Family and will be known as Windows Live Local (WLL). WLL was first shown at the press launch event for Windows Live last month. Greg's comments are based on a presentation MSN Local Search General Manager Erik Jorgensen gave at Kelsey's ILM Conference last week. As part of Erik's presentation he demoed the release build of Windows Live Local. Keep your eyes open - you should be able to start enjoying features like Birds Eye imagery and User pushpins in just a few days.

The screenshots show the bird's eye imagery and as you can see, it is quite sweet. I can't wait for this to ship.


Categories: Windows Live

December 6, 2005
@ 01:59 AM

Brady Forrest has a post entitled Two Weeks of MSN on MSDN where he lists a bunch of upcoming webcasts on about various APIs in the MSN Windows Live platform. Below is an excerpt of his blog post with the upcoming webcasts

MSDN Webcast: The MSN Search Toolbar: Building Windows Desktop Search into Your Applications (Level 200)
Monday, December 5, 2005
1:00 P.M.–2:00 P.M. Pacific Time

MSDN Webcast: Extending Using Startlets (Level 200)
Wednesday, December 7, 2005
1:00 P.M.–2:00 P.M. Pacific Time

MSDN Webcast: The MSN Search Toolbar: Tips, Tricks, and Hacks to the MSN Search and Windows Desktop Search Platforms (Level 200)
Friday, December 9, 2005
1:00 P.M.–2:00 P.M. Pacific Time

MSDN Webcast: The MSN Search APIs: Building Web Search into Your Applications (Level 200)
Monday, December 12, 2005
1:00 P.M.–2:00 P.M. Pacific Time

MSDN Webcast: Virtual Earth Tips, Tricks, and Hacks (Level 200)
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
1:00 P.M.–2:00 P.M. Pacific Time

MSDN Webcast: MSN Messenger: Extending MSN Messenger with Multi-Person Instant Messaging Applications (Level 200)
Friday, December 16, 2005
1:00 P.M.–2:00 P.M. Pacific Time

You can find more information on MSDN..

If you are interested in building applications that integrate with MSN Windows Live services and applications, you should definitely check out these webcasts. I'll most likely be participating in a webcast when we finally ship the MetaWeblog API implementation for MSN Spaces.


Categories: Windows Live

December 5, 2005
@ 08:06 PM

The time has come again for me to share the top five crunk tracks getting heavy rotation on my iPod. If you like Lil' Jon or the Ying Yang Twinz but don't know what else from the dirty south might tickle your fancy, try some of these tracks.

    1. Grillz - Nelly feat. Paul Wall & St. Lunatics
    2. What U Drankin' On - Jim Jones feat. P.Diddy, Paul Wall & Jha' Jha
    3. Stay Fly - Three Six Mafia feat. Young Buck, Eightball & MJG
    4. Stay Fly (Still Fly Remix) - Three Six Mafia feat. Slim Thug, Trick Daddy & Project Pat
    5. Turn It Up - Chamillionaire feat. Lil Flip

During the intro for Three Six Mafia's Most Known Unknown, they complain that they influenced a lot of what is popular in hip hop today but don't get the credit. These seems very true to me. I remember listening to tracks like Tear the Club Up and Hit a Muthafucka back in the late '90s in Atlanta before any of the ATL rappers really became hot down south. I'd definitely recommend the Most Known Unknown Hits to any fan of the genre.

PS: I don't like D4L's Laffy Taffy but it is the first song that I've seen have about a dozen people doing synchronized dance steps in a club. So it gets an honorary mention.


Categories: Music

December 5, 2005
@ 06:12 PM

Since the release of v. of RSS Bandit last week, I've read a number of posts like Scott Reynolds's complaint in his post I Love Jason Haley In A Totally Manly Non-Threatening Way. Serious. Totally Platonic where he wrote

Also, RSSBandit devs: What the F? I am using Nightcrawler Alpha, which I love, but ctrl+m no longer marks posts are read. It’s ctrl+q. Ghey. That’s a UI no-no if I ever saw one. Worse than going agains expected behavior, changing previously existant behavior arbitrarily just makes users mad. Still a great aggregator, but I’d like to hear a why on that decision.

A number of people have complained that we changed the keyboard shortcut for marking items as read from Ctrl+M to Ctrl+Q. The reason we made the change was because of a bug report we got which pointed out that (i) Outlook Express and Outlook use Ctrl+Q for marking items as read and (ii) Ctrl+Q is easier to hit than Ctrl+M on most keyboards.

Due to all the feedback we've gotten, we'll be including a keyboard shortcut editor [originally developed by Phil Haack] in the bug fix version of RSS Bandit scheduled to ship later this month.


Categories: RSS Bandit

December 2, 2005
@ 06:03 PM

James Robertson has a blog post entitled The $100 notebook where he writes

Here's another breathless story on the $100 (actually, looks like it will be $200) notebook. There's some cool things about this, including the fact that it can be powered by a hand crank. However, there are a number of simple problems too -

  • For the truly poor, access to laptops isn't a solution. Access to clean water is way, way higher on the scale
  • Tech support. Ok - you hand out a few hundred in some remote village. What the heck do the new users do when there are problems?

This is a pie in the sky solution, IMHO. It's like deciding to hand out cheap cars, and only later noticing that there are no gas stations for the recipients to use. I understand that the people behind this are well intentioned - but laptops are only useful when there's a hell of a lot of other infrastructure supporting them. The well intentioned folks behind this plan need to aim a lot lower.

Attitudes like this really, really irritate me. The same way that there are rich people and poor people in the United States, there are also parts of Africa that are less well off than others. It isn't all one freaking desert with bony kids surrounded by flies from South Africa to Algeria. For example, in Nigeria there are probably more cell phones per capita in the major cities than in most parts of the United States. The fact that some people get to use the latest iPods and iBooks in the U.S. doesn't mean there aren't homeless bums eating less than three square meals and sleeping on the streets in the same zip codes. Yet I don't see folks like James Robertson posting about how every homeless person has to be housed and every orphan found foster parents before we can enjoy iPods and laptop PCs.

If the plight of people in Africa bothers you so much instead of criticizing those who are making an honest attempt to help with your "armchair quarterbacking" why don't you contribute some of your time & dollars. Put your money where your mouth is.


Categories: Technology

There's been a lot of recent buzz about Windows Live Fremont in various blogs and news sites including TechCrunch, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and C|NET Fremont is the code name for a social market place in the same vein as classifieds sites such as Craigslist. It seems like just yesterday when it all began...

A few months ago, Kurt started a series of meetings to pitch various folks at work about this idea he had for an online marketplace which harnessed the power of one's social networks. At the time Kurt was a PM on MSN Windows Live Messenger and he had codenamed the project "Casbah". The value proposition of 'Casbah' was straightforward. Most people are more comfortable selling or buying stuff from people they know directly or indirectly. The typical classifieds site online does a poor job of supporting this scenario. On more than one occasion, I've wanted to sell stuff when I've moved apartments which I wouldn't have minded selling to a friend or coworker. However listing the items for sale on eBay and dealing with trying to offload my stuff to strangers didn't appeal to me. 'Casbah' was optimized around casual sales between people who knew each other directly or indirectly.

I was involved in the early design meetings and although I was enthusiastic about the idea I assumed that like several other meetings about good ideas I'd sat in on at Microsoft, it would go nowhere. To my surprise, Kurt kept at it and eventually a team was put together to ship 'Casbah' which has been re-christened 'Fremont' after a neighborhood in the Seattle area which has an open market every Sunday.

Enough history, let's talk about what makes Fremont so special. About a year ago, I had my Social Software is the Platform of the Future epiphany. One key aspect of this epiphany was the realization that a lot of interesting scenarios can be enabled if the software I used knew who I cared about and who I was interested in. Powerful social applications like Flickr and are successful partly because of this key functionality. Windows Live Fremont does this for classifieds sites. As a user, you can make Fremont a marketplace for just your social circle. This is enabled by harnessing two social circles; your IM buddies & your email tribe. You can specify that your listings are public, only visible to your IM buddies and/or only visible to people in your email tribe (i.e. are hosted on the same email domain such as '' or ''). Similarly, you can specify the same on listings that you view. Basically no matter how many millions of people use the service, my college friends and I can use it as an improved version of the bulletin boards in our dorm hallways without having to deal with awkward sales situations involving people we don't know. 

Of course, this is just scratches the surface. This is part of Windows Live which means you can expect a cohesive, integrated experience with other Windows Live properties and perhaps even an API in the future. It's going to be a fun ride.

I've enjoyed working with the Fremont team so far. It's been great helping them to bring their vision to fruition.


Categories: Windows Live

Charlene Li of Forrester Research has a post entitled Why Microsoft’s classifieds service will be better than Google Base where she writes

I spent some time a week ago with Microsoft discussing their new online classifieds service, code named "Fremont", which is in internal testing now. While the news is out there, I thought I’d provide my take on how this differs from - and in my opinion, is better than -- Google Base. I do this with one HUGE caveat - both of these services are brand new and beta, with Fremont not even available yet.

First, a quick description of Fremont. It looks and acts like a classic online classifieds site. A list of linked categories is on the front page and users can browse or search through the listings. A key difference though is that the listings are turbo-charged - as the poster, you can control who can see them, from everyone to just a select group of people on your MSN Messenger buddy list. If you choose the latter, the next time one of your privileged buddies signs into Messenger, they’ll see a little alert that says you have a set of golf clubs for sale. The categories include the usual suspects - jobs, homes, apartments, cars, and one thing that caught my eye, tickets.

That’s because one of my favorite uses of Craig’s List is to find last minute event tickets to hot shows. I also sometimes find myself in that seller situation - and I would highly prefer to sell or even give away tickets I can’t use to friends than to strangers from Craig’s List. The same goes with clothing - I don’t want to go through the hassle of selling some of used but still very nice clothes online, but I wouldn’t mind organizing an online clothing swap with my girlfriends.

The Microsoft approach reminds me of what Tribe.Net was (is?) trying to do in their effort to socialize classifieds but with one major difference - Microsoft leverages the social network that already exists in a user’s buddy list and address book.

So I look at Fremont and I see a really nice service shaping up. The classifieds interface is familiar - each category has the expected search fields (number of bedrooms in housing, make and year in autos, etc.) and the opening page lays out all of the options in a simple manner similar to Craig’s List’s austere list of links.

Now compare that to Google Base. Honestly, can you imagine your average user trying to make heads or tails out of it? Don’t get me wrong - I love Google Base because of the audacious potential it represents in terms of creating new content for the Web. But in terms of a classifieds service, it will take a lot of application development to get it to the point where the average Joe will be able to use it.

One last point about Fremont - it’s being built on top of the new Windows Live platform, which has as one of its core tenants giving developers the ability to build their own applications. Now this is one of the potential benefits of Google Base as well, but I’d put my chips down in favor of Microsoft actually pulling this one off. Microsoft has a well supported developer network and has come a long way in winning their trust through efforts like Channel 9. Granted, that trust is far from universal but it’s a start.

Unsurprisingly I agree with everything Charlene has to say about Windows Live Fremont. I've been involved with the project to some degree from concept to completion and will be posting some details about the project in my next post.


Categories: Windows Live

In the post Update to Windows Live Mail Beta Imran Qureshi of the Hotmail Windows Live Mail team discusses some of the new features that were just added to the beta. The list of improvements from Imran's post is excerpted below

1. Safety Improvements

We're laser focused in the area of spam and safety with Windows Live Mail and have already made major improvements over other webmail services. Never one to rest on our laurels, we simplified and consolidated the safety experience even more in M4. 

We automatically calculate a safety level for each mail using over eight checks.  The three safety levels are: "Known sender", "Unknown sender" or "Unsafe". You can always click on "Why?" to find out why a mail was marked as such and what you can do to change the safety level of this sender. How much simpler can it be…

(Screenshots: Known sender  |  Known sender (after clicking Why)  |  Unknown sender  |  Unsafe)

Kahuna has already been helping identify Phishing mails to help protect our customers -- now we make them more noticeable so you won’t be duped into clicking on them.

(Screenshots:  Real PayPal Mail  | Phishing Mail pretending to be PayPal)

Oh and if you were one of those people who didn’t like having message  text shown in mails in the Junk Mail Folder, now the default is that message content is not rendered in Junk Mail Folder until you say you want to see it.

(Screenshots: JMF Folder)

2. Fast Search

Vroom, vroom! The new indexed search is fast and it searches message bodies. The UI is the same as M3 but the engine underneath is brand spanking new. We’re rolling it out slowly - not every user will get it right away so be patient.

How you tell if you have the new search engine: If the infobar in your search results does NOT say the following then you have the new search engine:

"Note: At this time, the mail beta searches only the subject and addresses."

3. Spell Check as you Type

Ok this is one feature that turned out better than we thought.  Just start typing in Compose and we’ll check spelling in the background and put red squiggles under words that are misspelled. You can then right-click them and choose from our suggestions, tell us to ignore that word or add the word into the dictionary. 

I know what you’re saying. Big deal, Outlook already does that. Well, we’re the first webmail service I know that does this on the web without installing any software! 

(Screenshots: Spell Check As You Type)

4. Scrollable message and contact list. 

We know you want to see more than 14 messages at a time in the message list. Well now you can see 50 messages at a time.

Why should contacts be any different? In contacts now, you can see all your contacts in one list.

(Screenshots: Scrollable message list   | Scrollable contact list)

5. Configurable reading pane

Now you and I know that reading pane is the best thing to ever happen to webmail. But for some strange reason a few people don’t like it. Well, if you happen to be one of those people you can now turn off the reading pane.

(Screenshots: Configuration options  | reading pane turned off)

6. Resizable panes

Your folder names are long or you like the message list to be wider? Just grab the edges of the panes and resize them to how you like it. Your customization is maintained the next time you login (on the same machine).

(Screenshots: resized panes)

7. Improved Error Message Discoverability

We’ve also made our error message easier to notice by moving them closer to where your eye is, adding icons and changing their color to a more visible color.

(Screenshots: Error message in Contacts)

8. Easier to send mail when you don’t know email address

Admit it. This is how you send mail: You find a mail from that person. You reply to it and then delete the original content of the mail. 

Well if this is you, then Kahuna makes this easy. Find the mail and click on the From address. We start a new mail to that person.

(Screenshots: Clickable sender email address)

Or let’s say you were in contacts to find the email address of some friend. Well, normally you’d copy the email address, go back to mail, click New and then paste in the email address. Well, now you can just drag the contact to the Mail tab and voila, we start an email to that person.

9. Support for browsers other than IE6 & higher

Testers can access all Mail Beta functionality using Internet Explorer version 6.0.   But we know some of you like to use other browsers. With M4 we now also support additional browsers including Firefox, Netscape or Opera. We're still a bit of a work in progress here, so apologies if there are still some glitches (we are focused on making sure core email functionality is solid, but some of the bells and whistles work better with IE6+).

10. Empty Junk Mail Folder or Deleted Items Folder with one click

Lots of users asked for the ability to empty these folders easily. Now you can right-click on them and choose Empty.

(Screenshots: Right-click menu on Junk Mail Folder)

11. Print Messages

Ok, we had this in M3 also but it was hidden in the Actions menu. Now it’s on the main toolbar so you can easily find and click it.

(Screenshots: Print button)

All of these are great improvements especially the Firefox support. I'm trying it out right now and so far so good.


Categories: Windows Live

November 30, 2005
@ 06:19 PM

These Windows Live services keeping popping up. The general public can now sign up for the Windows OneCare Live beta. More information about the new beta can be gleaned from the blog post entitled Consumer Beta Goes Live! from the Windows OneCare team blog. For those who are wondering what the service is below, the following brief description may help

What it is:
An automatically self-updating PC health service that runs quietly in the background. It helps give you persistent protection against viruses, hackers, and other threats, and helps keep your PC tuned up and your important documents backed up.
What it does for you:
• Runs quietly in the background, providing anti-virus and firewall protection
• Updates itself to help you keep ahead of the latest threats
• Runs regular PC tune ups
• Provides one-click solutions to most problems
• Makes back-ups a breeze
• Lets you see the status of your system at a glance
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a beta?
Beta is geekspeak for “not finished yet.” A beta product is something we are still working on and invite regular users to test out. We’re asking you to check out Windows OneCare Live beta and let us know what you really think—good and bad. That way, we can make the final product the best it can be.
Does it cost anything?
Nope. The beta version of Windows OneCare Live is free, though the final service will be a paid subscription.
What if new viruses or other Internet threats come out?
Windows OneCare Live regularly updates itself based on emerging Internet threats. So you can have better peace of mind.

I've had some interaction with the OneCare folks as part of my day job and the definitely are working on building a compelling service. Give it a try.


Categories: Windows Live