Recently I was reading an email and realized that I'd dismissed the content of the email before I'd finished reading it. I wondered why I had done that and after performing some self analysis I realized that the email contained several instances of certain phrases which caused me to flip the bozo bit on the content of the email. Below are my top 5 'bozo bit' phrases which automatically make my eyes glaze over and my mind shut off once I see them in an email I'm reading

  1. synergy: This is usually a synonym for "we've run out of ideas but think integrating our products will give us a shot in the arm". Classic example of synergy at work is the AOL/TimeWarner merger which turned out to be such a bad idea that Steve Case apologized for it last week.

  2. make(s) us more agile: I usually have no problem with this word if it is used by people who write code or at best are one level removed from those who write code. On the other hand, whenever I see a VP or middle management wonk use "make(s) us more agile" they not only show an ignorance of the principles of the agile manifesto but often propose things that make developers less agile not more.

  3. innovative: This one bothers me on multiple levels. The first is that many people fail to realize that new features aren't innovation, every idea you've had has already been had by someone else. You are at best just executing the idea a little differently. Just this weekend, I looked at Digg for the first time and realized that all the hubbub was about a knock-off of Kuro5hin with a more charismatic project leader and accompanying podcast. Another thing that bothers me about 'innovative' is that it is often about using technology for technology's sake instead of providing actual value to one's customers. A classic example of this comes from my first internship at Radiant Systems, when the company announced a partnership with AOL to provide email access at gas pumps. The stock actually jumped for a day or two until people realized what a dumb idea it was. Who's going to spend time logging into a terminal at a gas pump to check their email? People hate spending time at the gas pump. Can you imagine waiting behind a car at a gas station while the person in front of you was spending time deletiong the spam from their inbox at the gas pump? I think not.

  4. web 2.0: I realize this is flogging a dead horse but since this is the phrase that inspired this post I decided to include it. What I hate about this phrase is that it is so imprecise. I have no idea what the fuck people are talking about when they say Web 2.0. Even Tim O'Reilly who coined the term had to use a five page essay just to explain What is Web 2.0 which boiled down to Web 2.0 was a grab-bag of the key features of websites popular among the geek set regardless of whether they'd existed since 'Web 1.0' or were just new fads trends. It gets even better, earlier this month Tim O'Reilly published Levels of the Game: The Hierarchy of Web 2.0 Applications which establishes levels of Web 2.0 compliance. MapQuest is at Compliance Level 0 of Web 2.0 while Flickr is at Compliance Level 2 of Web 2.0 and Wikipedia is at Compliance Level 3. If this all makes sense to you, then I guess I'll see you at the invitation-only-yet-still-costs-thousands-of-dollars-to-attend Web 2.0 conference this year.

  5. super excited: This one may just be a Microsoft thing. The reason I can't stand this phrase is that it is an obvious overexaggeration of how the person feels about what they are talking about since it often is associated with information that is barely interesting let alone super exciting. Do you know what would be super exciting? Getting a phone call from Carmen Electra telling you that she was using StumbleUpon, found your blog and thought you sounded cute and would like to meet you. That's super exciting. Your product just shipped? Your division just had another reorg? You just added a new feature to your product? Those aren't even interesting let alone super exciting.

What are yours?


Categories: Ramblings | Technology

I've been reading some of the links to my previous post on the topic of Jason Calacanis's offer to pay top users of sites like Digg & Reddit to switch to using Netscape's news site. In posts like Anil Dash's Digga Please and Ian McAllister's Do Contributors Want To Turn Their Hobbies Into Jobs? I see an agreement that users should get value for their contributions to the online community. However there also seems to be an undercurrent of disdain towards the idea of financially rewarding users who create popular content. This ignores the reality of how media and content generation works in the world today, both online and offline.

First of all, I think both Anil and Ian are muddying the discussion my making it seem that the argument is that all people generating content on the Web should be motivated by money. I think this is a straw man argument and has little to do with the point that Calacanis is trying to raise. The fact is that the popularity of media/content and creators of content tends to follow a power law or exhibit a long tail effect (depending on which buzzword tickles your fancy). The top tier of musicians, artists, bloggers, authors, etc capture a significant amount of the audience for that market. This is usually described as the 80/20 rule or Pareto Principle. These popular content creators are often professionals even though their fields are full of millions of amateurs and semi-professionals who write, play music, take photos, etc either for their own personal edification or just to share with friends and family.

Take blogging as an example, even though most blogs are focused on describing their personal experiences to a relatively small audience of readers the list of most popular blogs is dominated by professionals who make money from their efforts. Below is the current list of top 10 blogs based on incoming links taken from the Technorati Top 100 Blogs List.

  1. 老徐 徐静蕾 新浪BLOG
  2. Boing Boing: A Directory of Wonderful Things
  3. Engadget
  4. Daily Kos: State of the Nation
  5. PostSecret
  6. Thought Mechanics
  7. Gizmodo, The Gadget Guide
  8. The Huffington Post
  9. Techcrunch
  10. Lifehacker, the Productivity and Software Guide

Almost every blog on that list is run by professional bloggers who are either directly paid to blog or make a lot of money from the ads running on their blog. So even though, bloggers are primarily individuals who blog to share thier experiences with friends and family without expectation of financial reward, the most popular bloggers are those who are actually in it for the money. And on the Web, since popularity (i.e. page views) directly correlates to how much money one's online service makes via advertising, it makes sense to court and cultivate the kind of professionals that generate popular content. 

The problem I had with Ian & Anil's posts is that they seem to imply that there is something wrong with getting paid for doing what you love. But the fact is that if you got paid to pursue your hobby then you could do it all the time and would get really good at it. A lot better than those who only find time to do it in between their nine to five jobs. That's the the primary difference between a professional and an amateur; the amount of time and focus one can afford to devote to the task at hand.

The interesting question for me is whether sites like Digg are immune to the 1% rule or not. When I used to participate on Kuro5hin it was clear to me that a small set of users determined the focus of the site even though there were thousands of users who could vote on stories and rate comments. It was also easy to see how the direction and the topics covered by the site would change as certain cliques of users left the site. Digg looks to me to be just like Kuro5hin with a slightly better UI and a different community. I would be surprised if both sites don't face the same kind of issues when it comes to small sets of users dominating the content and focus of the site despite Kevin Rose's protestations that this isn't the case


Categories: Social Software

I just noticed that there is now Project Hosting on Google Code via Slashdot. The Slashdot article has the following rich quote

Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier sat down for a talk with Greg Stein and Chris DiBona, who say that the product is very similar to sites like SourceForge but is not intended to compete with them. From the article: "Instead, Stein says that the goal is to see what Google can do with the Google infrastructure, to provide an alternative for open source projects. DiBona says that it's a 'direct result of Greg concentrating on what open source projects need. Most bugtrackers are informed by what corporations' and large projects need, whereas Google's offering is just about what open source developers need. Stein says that Google's hosting has a 'brand new look' at issue tracking that may be of interest to open source projects, and says 'nobody else out there is doing anything close to it.'"

Last year, when I saw Chris DiBona announce Google Code at the O'Reilly ETech conference, he said that that they woild work with SourceForge to improve the service. I wonder what happened. The site seems pretty sparse right now, I doubt I'll be moving RSS Bandit from SourceForge anytime soon.


A few weeks ago, Matt Griffiths wrote a response to my blog post Yahoo! Working on Open Source GFS Clone? entitled Why would Yahoo support an open source version of the Google File System? where he wrote

So why would Yahoo! do this? Why would they create open source versions of tools that could give them a short-term competitive advantage? I think Joel Spolsky said it best:
Smart companies try to commoditize their products' complements. [Joel Spolsky]
Yahoo! is not in the business of selling software. They sell advertising. Software is one of their biggest complements. The best way to commoditize software is to open source it.
I disagree that software is a complement to what Yahoo! sells which is advertising real estate on their online services such as search, email and news sites. Software is more of an input into the production process (i.e. a means to the end) than a complement of the finished product.

A complement is something that is purchased along with your product to make it useful. If you are a vendor of consumer operating systems, then desktop PCs are your product's complement and you want PCs to be as cheap as possible. If you are a manufacturer of gas guzzling SUVs vendor, then gasoline is your product's complement and you want gas prices to be as low as possible. If you are a software consultant, then shrink-wrap software is your product's complement and you want software licenses to be as cheap as possible. None of these examples is analogous to Yahoo! open sourcing a tool that makes it easier and cheaper for them to build online services and thus have more & better real estate to sell to advertisers.

I can see a couple of explanations for Yahoo! making this move. On the one hand, they could believe that distributed software development isn't their core competency and would like to outsource some of the harder bits by Open Sourcing it. The problem with that approach is that as the Mozilla project has shown, it may take years to get a critical mass of external developers working on the project and it would still need significant contributions from Yahoo! to stay afloat. Another justification, could be that Yahoo! realizes that even with technologies like GFS/Hadoop there is still a lot of hardware expenditure, operations expertise and infrastructure software needed to run a megascale service. These are often beyond the resources of most competitors and for the ones that do have those resources (e.g. Google) they already have similar technologies. Thus there is little to fear of a competitor using Hadoop against them. A third option could be that Hadoop may not be considered to be strategic by Yahoo! management which is why it has been allowed to be open sourced. In that case, management may either be underestimating the importance of technologies like Hadoop or may just truly think that their competitive advantage lies elsewhere.

Bah, I should probably get to work instead of engaging in idle speculation on a Thursday morning. :) 


The blog post entitled Our Beta is public! from the Windows Live Mail Desktop team announces that everyone can now get access to the Windows Live Mail Desktop beta. Think of it as the Windows Live version of Outlook Express. Some of the key features are described in the blog post and excerpted below

  • Junk and phishing protection
  • Support for RSS feeds
  • Photo email (share & publish your photos as slideshows to the internet!)
  • Blog it!
  • 3 pane view of email
  • Integration with Windows Live Messenger
  • Active Search
  • Multiple account aggregation
  • Instant Search
  • Free client access to your hotmail account
  • Lots more and with even more to come! 

More details on the various features can be found in blog posts such as Better Together with Active Search, A picture is worth a thousand words and Where did we come from? Where are we going?. I've worked with this team on a a few of their features and it's great to see that folks can now check try out the fruits of our labor.  

Sign up for the beta and let the team know what you think.



July 26, 2006
@ 07:55 PM

Every couple of months, I see a blog post from someone wondering whether websites that traffick in user-generated content should be rewarding their most valuable users financially. A few months ago it was Anil Dash blogging about this in his post The Interesting Economy which wondered whether Flickr users whose photos are determined to be 'interesting' should be financially rewarded. Anil's post elicited a passionate response from Flickr's Caterina Fake entitled Economies of Interest which basically boiled down to "There's more to life than money". Her response rang hollow to me but I didn't really comment on the topic at the time. 

Robert Scoble also wrote about this last month in his blog post The screwing of the Long Tail where he complains that sites that traffick in user generated content such as Digg, photo sharing sites, Craig's List and social bookmarking sites "are gonna take all your content AND take all the money that the advertising generates".

Earlier this month, Jason Calacanis wrote a blog post entitled Paying the top DIGG/REDDIT/Flickr/Newsvine users (or "$1,000 a month for doing what you're already doing where he wrote

Before launching the new Netscape I realized that Reddit, NewsVine, Delicious, and DIGG were all driven by a small number of highly-active users. I wrote a blog post about what drives these folks to do an hour to three hours a day of work for these sites which are not paying them for their time. In other words, they are volunteering their services. The response most of these folks gave back to me were that they enjoyed sharing the links they found and that they got satisfaction out of being an "expert" or "leader" in their communities.

Excellent... excellent (say that in a Darth Vadar/Darth Calacanis voice for extra impact).

That is exactly what bloggers told Brian and I three years ago when we started. Given that, I have an offer to the top 50 users on any of the major social news/bookmarking sites:

We will pay you $1,000 a month for your "social bookmarking" rights. Put in at least 150 stories a month and we'll give you $12,000 a year. (note: most of these folks put in 250-400 stories a month, so that 150 baseline is just that--a baseline).

Kevin Rose of Digg responded today with a blog post entitled Calacanis where he writes

Ya see users like Digg,, Reddit and Flickr because they are contributing to true, free, democratic social platforms devoid of monetary motivations.  All users on these sites are treated equally, there aren't anchors, navigators, explorers, opera-ers, or editors.  Jason, I know AOL has given you access to their war-chest, but honestly, take that money and invest it into site development.  Listen to your existing community. Think of what your loyal Netscape users must think - you're essentially telling them that they aren't good enough and that you have to buy better users. You can have the best submitters in the world, but if your community doesn't support you it will never work.

Jason Calacanis responds quite nicely in his post entitled Kevin Rose cracks (or "how to know when you've won the debate") where he writes

The top ~50 members on these services are responsible for over 50% of the top stories--that's a straight up fact and Kevin knows it. That seems to scare the heck out of him, and it shouldn't. I've created a market for these users, and others are about to jump in and do that same (I know this for a fact). So, if there is gonna be a market for community leaders, why not just join the party Kevin? You raised a ton of money and you can raise more. You're making money from advertising and you can easily afford to pay the top 12 users $1,000 a month each--share the wealth dude! Why not carve out 10-20% of your revenue for users?

I agree with the spirit of what Jason Calacanis is trying to do, revenue sharing is the way to go. I don't buy arguments from Kevin Rose and Caterina Fake that it's all about charity and generosity especially when there is money to be made [by them but not their users]. After all, the only thing better than doing something you love is doing something you love and getting paid for it. ;)


Categories: Social Software

Sean Alexander, who works on Windows digital media team at Microsoft, has a blog post entitled Thoughts on PlaysforSure and Zune Announcement which provides his perspective on some of the speculation about Microsoft's Zune announcement and it's impact on Microsoft's PlaysForSure program. He writes

From what I've learned, Zune is a new brand for Microsoft - Zune is about community, music and entertainment discovery.  You'll experience Zune with a family of devices and software that bring it all together. Yes, we all want more details, but we’ll have to be a little patient for more details. Check out and sign up if you want more details.


One question that gets asked here is the relationship to our existing PlaysforSure program. The Windows digital media team (of which I've been a member) has been focused on raising the tide for all boats, raising the experience for many partners through programs like PlaysforSure, giving sessions on 360 degree product design at partner events, offering frank feedback on product designs when requested and more.  We want Windows to be the best place to experience digital music and entertainment.  The Windows team will continues to work closely with service and device partners to make Windows a great platform for any digital media.


And one need only look as far as the MP3 player/portable media player market to find other examples of taking multiple approaches.  At least two of the largest consumer electronics manufacturers compete on not one, not two, but three levels:

  • They supply memory for their own, and competitive MP3 players
  • They design and sell MP3 "engines" (systems on a chip) for their own, and competitive MP3 device manufacturers
  • They design, build and compete for retail space for their own, branded MP3 players
There are many other examples that can be drawn within Microsoft as well – for example, Microsoft Game Studios competes with independent game publishers for consumer dollars on the same platform (Xbox) also built by Microsoft. In all these cases, relationships of trust must be established independently between product groups or divisions.  The same holds true here as well.   It’s hard to understand unless you’re inside Microsoft but these groups have separate P&Ls (Profit/Loss metrics) and that sometimes means trying different strategies.

I've seen a bunch of negative speculation about Zune and PlaysForSure both from technology news articles such as C|Net's Swan song for Microsoft's music allies? and blog posts such as Magic 8-Ball Answers Your Questions Regarding Microsoft’s ‘Zune’. I'm glad to see Sean offering his perspective as someone who works on the Windows digital media team on PlaysForSure.

The cool thing about blogging is that if people are talking about you and your product, you can just join in the conversation.


Categories: Technology

July 25, 2006
@ 03:32 AM

Over the past couple of weeks I've been trying to introduce my girlfriend's kids to the cartoons from my childhood. I have volume 1 of Pinky & The Brain on order and it should arrive sometime this week. Even though it technically isn't from my childhood, it definitely is a show I loved back when it was still on. I also purchased Season 3 and Season 4 of Transformers (Generation 1). However once I tried to watch it, I was struck by how bad the show was and couldn't bring myself to watch more than two episodes let alone share the experience with others.

On the other hand, I thought I'd struck gold when I picked up He-Man and the Masters of the Universe - Season One, Volume 1 until the following exchange between my girlfriend's son and me.

Me:  Come check this out, it's a show I used to watch when I was around your age.
Girlfriend's Son: I don't wanna watch this.
Me: Why Not?
Girlfriend's Son: That guy is wearing pink, I'm not watching a show with a guy that wears pink.
Me: That's Prince Adam, he's really He-Man in disguise.
Girlfriend's Son: I don't wanna watch it. Can we watch the midget movie instead? [Editors Note: Midget move == R. Kelly's Trapped in the Closet Chapters 1-12]

Prince Adam of Eternia

After this exchange I've declared defeat and thus have given up on introducing them to cartoons from my childhood. I guess I'll be watching my Pinky & The Brain DVD by myself. :)

Categories: Personal

Windows Live Gallery is now live. This site is the one stop shop for a variety of Windows Live plugins and gadgets. There is also a video about the site on On10 in the entry entitled Windows Live Gallery: the one-stop shop for all your Windows Live customization needs which has the following blurb

Your Windows Live homepage looking a bit drab? Sure your shiny new inbox shows up and you've certainly got your 10 feeds plugged in as well, but it's still missing something isn't it? Well fear not, for Windows Live is getting a friend called Windows Live Gallery and we're giving you the scoop.

Windows Live Gallery will provide you an axis for every possible bit of Windows Live customization. Not only that, but if you fight sleep every night in order to build an über-gadget of your very own, then your masterpiece can be easily listed on the site.

The site currently has categories for Windows Live gadgets, Windows Live Toolbar plugins, Windows Desktop Search IFilters, Windows Live Messenger Bots & Activity plugins, and Windows Live Search macros. This site has been something we've needed for a while and it is good to see a unified site being built that focuses on customizing the Windows Live experience. Mad props to Chris Butler, Bubba, Heather Friedland and all the other folks that have been working to make the site a reality.

Some might wonder how this site relates to It's pretty straightforward, Windows Live Gallery is targeted at end users while is more of a developer community site.


Categories: Windows Live

The New York Times has an article entitled In the Race With Google, It’s Consistency vs. 'Wow' which talks about competition between the big four online services (Google/Yahoo/Microsoft/AOL). The article dismisses Microsoft and AOL as also rans, then primarily focuses on competition between Yahoo! and Google. Below are some excerpts from the article

Google is continuing to extend its lead in users and revenue from Web search, while Yahoo’s attempt to compete is foundering. Last week, Yahoo reported weak search revenue and said it would delay a critical search advertising system, sending its shares down 22 percent to a two-year low.

With AOL and MSN from Microsoft losing share and plagued by strategic confusion, Yahoo is in a position to further solidify its lead as the Web’s most popular full-service Internet portal, so any incursions by Google into areas like e-mail and maps are a threat.

“There is a tradeoff between integration and speed,” Mr. Eustace said. “We are living and dying by being an innovative, fast-moving company.” Sometimes this penchant for speed and innovation can cause Google to zoom past the basics. When asked about the lack of an address book in Google Maps in an interview last fall, Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president for search products and user experience, said it was a gap in the product. She said it was much easier to get the company’s engineers to spend time developing pioneering new technology than a much more prosaic address storage system.

There are risks in each approach. Google tends to introduce a lot of new products and then watch to see what works. This has the potential to alienate users if there are too many half-baked ideas or false starts. At the same time, Yahoo risks being seen as irrelevant if it tries to put so many features into each product that it is always months late to market with any good idea.

“Yahoo has lost its appetite for experimentation,” said Toni Schneider, a former product development executive at Yahoo who is now chief executive of Automattic, a blogging software company. “They used to be a lot more like Google, where someone would come up with a cool idea and run with it.” While Yahoo’s processes have become too bureaucratic, it is still attracting an audience, Mr. Schneider said. “Google’s products may be more innovative, but at the end of the day, Yahoo is pretty good at nailing what the user really wants.”

So far, outside of the Web search business, neither company appears to be able to make a significant dent in the position of the other. Both companies are gaining users as AOL and MSN decline.

Despite the spin on the article, the chart provided seems to show that Microsoft is in the running for the top spots among the various key online services although I'm quite surprised that neither MSN Maps nor Windows Live Local show up in the list of popular mapping sites. In addition, the demographics are different for worldwide usage versus the United States. I believe MSN Spaces and MSN/Windows Live Messenger are at the top of their categories world wide according to comScore.

It is good to see more people pointing out that all the so-called innovation in the world is a waste of time if you don't handle basic user scenarios. It's more important that I don't have to type my address every time I use a mapping website I visit regularly than that it uses AJAX extensively.

It's also interesting to see complaints of bureaucracy at Yahoo! from Toni Schneider (formerly of Oddpost which was acquired by Yahoo) which echo the same comments made by Jeffrey Veen (formerly of MeasureMap acquired by Google) about bureaucracy at Google. I guess that highlights the difference between working at a startup versus working at a big company like Yahoo! or Google. 

I think the framing of the competition between online serves as being about consistency vs. 'Wow' factor may be a straw man. I think it is more about integrated services versus siloed applications. After all, a portal can consistently use AJAX or Flash and still fail to gain traction with users because it doesn't satisfy basic scenarios. On the other hand, when applications allow users to do multiple things at once from a single application then goodness ensues. MySpace is a good example of this, it integrates social networking, photo sharing, blogging, music sharing and more into a single highly successful application. MSN Spaces does the same and is also highly successful. On the flip side, Google has three or four different overlapping websites to do the same thing. That costs you in the long run. Another good example, is Google search in that it provides a single search box yet provides a whole lot more than website search from that box. Depending on your search, it also does music search, map search, currency conversion, metric unit conversions, stock quotes, news search, image search and more.

As Google search and MySpace have shown there's more of a 'Wow' factor when an application takes a well integrated, multi-disciplinary approach than from merely being AJAXy.


Om Malik has a blog post entitled Microsoft Partners, You Been Zunked which talks about what the recent Zune announcement means for Microsoft's partners in the digital media business. He writes

So Microsoft is going to get into the music device business - imitating the same “integrated experience” philosophy as Apple has successfully deployed to carve itself a big share of the portable music player and online music business.
More on that some other day, but the real and perhaps the only story in the news is that Microsoft’s partners - from device makers to music services - just got double crossed by the company they choose to believe in. I like to call it Zun-ked (a tiny take off on Punked.)

Let me break this down: Zune - the devices, the platform, and the store/service - will compete with everyone from Apple (of course) to Creative Technologies, iRiver, Samsung, Archos, Rhapsody, Napster, Yahoo Music and anyone dumb enough to buy into Microsoft’s visions of Urge, Media Player, PlayForSure etc.

Microsoft could argue that Zune would be unique and those others can still do business. But it is also a classic example of why Microsoft is lumbering bureaucratic morass wrapped in a can of conflicts. A modern day version of medieval fiefdoms, perhaps? Take for instance, Urge which is built into Windows Vista, and is what I guess you could call an almost integrated experience. What happens to consumers when faced with the choice of Zune or Urge!!! Answer - iPod.

This thought popped into my head as well and I'm sure there are folks at Microsoft who have answers to the questions Om asked. We already have Microsoft employees like Richard Winn and Cesar Menendez blogging about Zune which means that Microsoft is definitely participating in the conversation. It'll be interesting to hear what they have to say about how Zune relates to Urge, PlaysForSure and a number of other questions that have been asked in various stories about the announcement. 


Categories: Technology

Michael Gartenberg of Jupiter Research has a blog post entitled Zune is Real and Here's What it Means - First Take Analysis where he writes

If you have the current issue of Billboard, there's an article in there as well.

First, this is an acknowledgement that Microsoft is clearly not happy with Apple's dominance in digital music. I don't think it is concern about new growth scenarios. It's more a concern that Apple controls a key endpoint in the digital home and that Apple bits flow only to other Apple controlled bits or devices. That scenario doesn't bode well for Microsoft's larger ambitions Second, even though Microsoft still talks about the diversity of the Windows platform as an overall advantage, let's face it, the platform argument is dead and licensees will have to deal with it. On one hand, no one has ever successful created a business where you license technology to licensees and simultaneously compete with them on the device side. On the other hand, it's not like there's a lot of other places for licensees to go to get technology.

So what's the challenge? Essentially there are three things.

  • Creating a technically competent challenger...
  • Creating a lifestyle device...
  • Creating a platform...
Early market share, however, isn't likely to come from disgruntled iPod users looking to switch. The real losers in the short term are likely to be the likes of Creative, iRiver and other former partners that have failed to deliver to market share from Apple and will now find themselves not only competing with Apple but with their former partners from Redmond.

Interesting. As someone who's bought 5 iPods over the past few years (2 for me, 1 for my mom, 1 for my girlfriend and 1 for her daughter) I'm quite the fan of Apple's devices and often walk the hallways at work looking like one of those silhouettes from the iPod ads. I'll definitely take one out for a test drive when I'm shopping for my next music player.  So far nothing has compared to the iPod experience but Microsoft's work with XBox/XBox Live shows the company can compete when it comes to hardware/online service combos.

PS: Isn't it weird how different the results are for vs.


Categories: Technology

July 22, 2006
@ 12:42 AM

It's been one of those weeks where it feels like I spent more time sitting in meetings or composing meeting notes than actually doing productive work. Wonder what it's like? Read the post Fireside Chat with Khoi Vinh and Jeffrey Veen: “In-house vs. on your own” on the 37 Signals blog which is excerpted below

About the chatters
Khoi Vinh is Design Director at the NY Times and creator of Previously, he was a founding partner at Behavior. Jeffrey Veen is Product Director for Measure Map, now owned by Google. Previously, he was a founding partner at Adaptive Path.

Matt and Jason from 37signals moderated.

Matt L.
Khoi, what’s the biggest difference between your typical work day now versus when you were at Behavior? And Jeff, what’s been the biggest change since your shift from Adaptive Path to Google? What do you like better about your new job? What do you miss about your old one?
Jeffrey V.
Khoi V.
Meetings is right.
Jeffrey V.
At a large orgainzation, communication is different than in a small team.
Khoi V.
There are a lot of meetings for me — sometimes that’s about 60% of my week.
Jeffrey V.
Yeah, that sounds like my schedule.
Matt L.
What % of these meetings are necessary/productive?
Jeffrey V.
Hmmm… I’m not sure I could quantify that.
Khoi V.
I’d say about 90% of the meetings I attend are necessary and productive. There are very few time wasters.

In a way, I’ve come to see meetings as central to the success of the design group I lead. They’re my opportunity to articulate the hows and whys of the design process.
Jeffrey V.
Meetings are a byproduct of scale,

For example, when we were working on Measure Map, we could come to a conclusion with five people very quickly, and launch something new.
Jeffrey V.
But at Google, there are far more dependencies.

What I miss from my old days on the XML team at Microsoft is that I often would take a day off from meetings and either shut myself in the office to get work done or work from home. Somewhere along the line I lost that habit and now every day I spend most of the day either in meetings or killing time between meetings.


Categories: Life in the B0rg Cube

Some of our users have pointed out that the domain which houses information about the RSS Bandit project including documentation and support forums is down. This is due to the fact that our hosting provider has taken down the site because it "uses 100% of CPU and slows down the other websites on that server" and it will not be reinstated until we fix whatever is causing this issue.

Torsten and I are trying to get this fixed as soon as possible. Thanks for your patience.

Update: The site is back up.

Categories: RSS Bandit

Microsoft is the only company I've worked for us a full time employee which means that sometimes I wonder how different my perspective of inter-office interaction is from that of the average software developer with a wider range of experiences. For example, one thing I've noticed about internal mailing lists is that there are always people who seem to assume that they are smarter and more knowledgeable about a product or technology than the people who actually work on the product. You can tell these people by the way they point out obvious features that are missing in the product and berate the team for not having them (e.g. why isn't there podcasting support in Windows Media Player or social bookmarking in Windows Live Favorites or support for RELAX NG in System.Xml, etc). I've seen critics both internal and external to Microsoft raise these questions probably because every one of these questions seems like it points to a bad decision on the part of the product team. However things are never so cut and dried.

A couple of weeks ago, I read a blog entry on Robert Scoble's blog where he mentioned that one of the most surprising things about working at Microsoft was that practically every time he criticized a product team for a decision they made there was a good reason behind it. Just this week, I was reading posts by Joshua Allen and Mini-Microsoft that criticized the disappearance of Microsoft Private Folders 1.0 due to "concerns around manageability, data recovery and encryption". Neither of them considered whether these concerns could be valid as pointed out by a comment in the Mini-Microsoft blog which is excerpted below

So what makes you think, even for a New York Minute, that we haven't already been on the firing line because some "gotta have the shiny thing" senior middle mgmt bozo installed this My Private Folder "cool tool" and immediately forget the password that was "securing" the files for a $250,000 project?

I'm here in Redmond, Mini, working IT for a company with 4000 people internationally, 1000 in the US. Some of our staff has been in MS advertisements - there's no dearth of Kool-Aid here. But you want to blame the IT lords? No.

Blame the users to whom your company gave a loaded gun.

It's always interesting to see the other side of the story. Of course, I'm guilty of such criticism of product teams myself. Just this week, I walked over to Jay Fluegel's office to rant about the fact that MSN Spaces hasn't done much in providing users with cool widgets for their space or fixing the bugs in existing widgets in recent months. He not only agreed with me, he also showed me what they have planned to address my issues (i.e. Windows Live Gadgets) and I was blown away.

On the other hand, just because a product team thinks it has a good reason doesn't always make it one. For example, given the predictable amount of negative press about adCenter not supporting Firefox, Safari or IE 7 I would have made the call to not ship whatever features that depend on AJAX/ActiveX/whatever that depend on IE 6 than tell ~10% of the people on the Web that we don't want their advertising dollars. I have no insight into why they made this decision but I'm sure there is a good reason behind it. ;)


Categories: Life in the B0rg Cube

I recently stumbled on YouOS and was struck by how bad an idea I thought it was. I don't even have to write down why, because Jon Udell has already beaten me to the punch with his article Application UI goes back to basics where he writes

Consider the effects of the graphical user interface. At hospital admitting desks, in accountants’ offices, and at video retail stores, I watch people perform tasks for which the desktop metaphor — with its cluttered surface and overlapping resizable windows — is at best a distraction and at worst an impediment.

Although YouOS is an interesting bit of technical wizardry, it seems like a step back when it comes to providing value to end users. The fact that there are multiple, tailored interfaces to my data on the Web (e.g. for my links, My Yahoo! for my digital dashboard, MSN Spaces for my photos and social network, etc) all accessible from a different tab in my browser is a lot more powerful than the classic WIMP interface that drives desktop computing. Trying to port the desktop metaphor to the Web is like working on how to fuel your car with hay because that is what horses eat.

Last year at the Web 2.0 conference, both Ray Ozzie and Sergey Brin said similar things when asked about Web-based office suites. Of course, since then Google purchased Writely and shipped Google Spreadsheets which is somewhat contradictory. :)


Categories: Technology

Brian Jones has a blog post entitled Politics behind standardization where he writes

We ultimately need to prioritize our standardization efforts, and as the Ecma Office Open XML spec is clearly further along in meeting the goal of full interoperability with the existing set of billions of Office documents, that is where our focus is. The Ecma spec is only a few months away from completion, while the OASIS committee has stated they believe they have at least another year before they are even able to define spreadsheet formulas. If the OASIS Open Document committee is having trouble meeting the goal of compatibility with the existing set of Office documents, then they should be able to leverage the work done by Ecma as the draft released back in the spring is already very detailed and the final draft should be published later this year.

To be clear, we have taken a 'hands off' approach to the OASIS technical committees because:  a) we have our hands full finishing a great product (Office 2007) and contributing to Ecma TC45, and b) we do not want in any way to be perceived as slowing down or working against ODF.  We have made this clear during the ISO consideration process as well.  The ODF and Open XML projects have legitimate differences of architecture, customer requirements and purpose.  This Translator project and others will prove that the formats can coexist with a certain tolerance, despite the differences and gaps.

No matter how well-intentioned our involvement might be with ODF, it would be perceived to be self-serving or detrimental to ODF and might come from a different perception of requirements.   We have nothing against the different ODF committees' work, but just recognize that our presence and input would tend to be misinterpreted and an inefficient use of valuable resources.  The Translator project we feel is a good productive 'middle ground' for practical interoperability concerns to be worked out in a transparent way for everyone, rather than attempting to swing one technical approach and set of customer requirements over to the other.

As someone who's watched standards committees from the Microsoft perspective while working on the XML team, I agree with everything Brian writes in his post. Trying to merge a bunch of contradictory requirements often results in a complex technology that causes more problems than it solves (e.g. W3C XML Schema). In addition, Microsoft showing up and trying to change the direction of the project to supports its primary requirement (an XML file format compatible with the legacy Microsoft Office file formats) would not be well received.

Unfortunately, the ODF discussion has seemed to be more political than technical which often obscures the truth. Microsoft is making moves to ensure that Microsoft Office not only provides the best features for its customers but ensures that they can exchange documents in a variety of document formats from those owned by Microsoft to PDF and ODF. I've seen a lot of customers acknowledge this truth and commend the company for it. At the end of the day, that matters a lot more than what competitors and detractors say. Making our customers happy is job #1. 


Categories: XML

July 18, 2006
@ 05:12 PM

Yesterday, I spent way too much time trying to figure out how to import an OPML feed list into Bloglines from the UI before giving up and performing a Web search to find out the how to do it. Below is a screenshot of the key choices one has for managing ones feeds in Bloglines.

And this is what the Bloglines FAQ has in response to the question How Can I Import An Existing List of Subscriptions?

Once you have registered with Bloglines and replied to the confirmation email, click on the My Feeds tab at the top of the screen. Then, click on the Edit link. At the bottom of the left panel will be a link to import subscriptions. The subscription list must be in OPML format.
Why is importing a feed list an 'Edit' operation and not an 'Add'? Who designs this crud?


Given the amount of time I now spend working on features for Windows Live Messenger I've started reading blogs about the IM/VOIP industry such as Skype Journal and GigaOm. I now find news stories that I'd traditionally miss, such as the Skype Journal blog post entitled "We have no interest in cracking, replicating, reverse engineering or pirating Skype's software."which links to a blog entry entitled not rumors about the recent news that the Skype protocol had been reverse engineered. The linked blog post is excerpted below.

Well, rumors are not rumors :) But things are not going like the ways people think, as they are disclosed a little without many further explainations, anecdotes breeds especially when sensitively relating with a big hot biz and politics.

As a long-term friend with this Chinese team, but an outsider in Skype, VOIP or P2P tech and biz, I observed the whole process of that shock and wondered why they did not give a word to declare their status. Because I once heard the beautiful prospect in their minds and know it is not what some people talked about in the Internet. But even then I was confused with blooming gossips. I thought that they just did not realize how a small stone could stir big waves. So I quoted some interesting, constructive (well, I like the open source ideas most), exaggerating and offensive comments and wrote an email to them.

This morning, I received a call from China and then followed an email. In the call, I urgently asked them about that rumors, they did not deny but said they also bothered with endless calls and emails for all purposes - interviews, verifications, legal affairs, biz talks... which disturbed their main aim and daily work- research, and in email they wrote

    "We have no interest in cracking, replicating, reverse engineering or pirating Skype's software. We just want to invent a better one. Having learned from and inspired by Skype, we are going to create a P2P Internet platform where all social groups can enjoy efficient, secure and free communication. This network platform will be better than SkypeNet that we are using today."

Then we chatted about some broad issues to fulfill my curiosity, which mainly related to the (potential) reaction of Skype Corp. They said they are just kids standing on the shoulders of giants.

If this blog post is accurate then it looks like the various pundits claiming that this will lead to a plethora of 3rd party desktop clients using the Skype network are out of luck. Of course, this could still happen if the research team publishes their findings but if they truly are fans of the Skype team they may not want to raise their ire. Either way, it'll be interesting to see what they end up building based on their knowledge of the Skype protocol. 


Larry Hryb (aka Major Nelson) has a blog post entitled It's back: Xbox Live Friends list on Messenger where he writes can check your Xbox Live Friends list from messenger!

After a 14–month hiatus, it’s back! You can now check your Xbox Live friends list from MSN Windows Live Messenger*. Don’t have Messenger yet? Download it here. If you already have messenger, click on the Xbox tab and you’ll see your friends list. Plus, you can even click a friend to go to their profile page. Nope…no word on when/if we’ll combine the Messenger and Xbox Live friends lists, but at least we've got this back.

*Note this is for US and Japan passport accounts only. Other regions may have this function, but it is purely up to the regional Windows Live Messenger teams if they want an Xbox tab...the Xbox team does not make this decision.

 Edit: Having trouble signing in? Arne360 posts some help.

It's been a good month for Windows Live Messenger users. First, we get interoperability with Yahoo! Messenger users and now this. Sweet.


Categories: Windows Live

July 15, 2006
@ 10:25 PM

Nathan Torkington has a blog post entitled A Week in the Valley: GData on the O'Reilly Radar blog that talks about the growth of the usage of GData & the Atom Publishing Protocol within Google as well as Marc Lukovsky's take on how this compared to his time at Microsoft working on Hailstorm. Nat writes

They're building APIs to your Google-stored data via GData, and it's all very reminiscent of HailStorm. Mark, of course, was the architect of that. So why's he coming up with more strategies to the same ends? I figure he's hoping Google won't screw it up by being greedy, the way Microsoft did...The reaction to the GData APIs for Calendar have been very positive. This is in contrast to HailStorm, of course, which was distrusted and eventually morphed its way through different product names into oblivion. Noting that Mark's trying again with the idea of open APIs to your personal data, I joked that GData should really be "GStorm". Mark deadpanned, " I wanted to call it ShitStorm but it didn't fly with marketing".

Providing APIs to access and manipulate data owned by your users is a good thing. It extends the utility of the data outside that of the Web applications that may be the primary consumer of the data and it creates an ecosystem of applications that harness the data. This is beneficial to customers as can be seen by looking around today at the success of APIs such as the MetaWeblog API, Flickr API or API.

Five years ago, while interning at Microsoft, I saw a demo about Hailstorm in which a user visiting an online CD retailer was showed an ad for a concert they'd be interested in based on their music preferences in Hailstorm. The thinking here was that it would be win-win because (i) all the user's data is entered and stored in one place which is convenient for the user (ii) the CD retailer can access the user's preferences from Hailstorm and cut a deal with the concert ticket provider to show their ads based on user preferences and (iii) the concert ticket provider gets their ads shown in a very relevant context.

The big problem with Hailstorm is that it assumed that potential Hailstorm partners such as retailers and other businesses would give up their customer data to Microsoft. As expected most of them told Microsoft to take a long walk of a short pier. 

Unfortunately Microsoft didn't take the step of opening up these APIs to its online services such as Hotmail and MSN Messenger but instead quietly canned the project. Fast forward a few years later and the company is now playing catchup to ideas it helped foster. Amusingly, people like Mark Lucovsky and Vic Gundotra who were influential during the Hailstorm days at Microsoft are now at Google rebuilding the same thing.

I've taken a look at GData and have begun to question the wisdom of using Atom/RSS as the baseline for information interchange on the Web. Specifically, I have the same issues as Steven Ickman raised in a comment on DeWitt Clinton's blog where he wrote

From a search perspective I’d argue that the use of either format, RSS or Atom, is pretty much a hack. I think OpenSearch is awesome and I understand the motivators driving the format choices but it still feels like a hack to me.

Just like you I want to see rich structured results returned for queries but both formats basically limit you to results of a single type and contain a few known fields (i.e. link, title, subject, author, date, & enclosure) that are expected to be common across all items.

Where do we put the 100+ Outlook defined contact fields and how do we know that a result is a contact and not an appointment or auction? Vista has almost 1000 properties defined in its schema so how do we convey that much metadata in a loseless way? Embedded Microformats are a great sugestion for how to deal with richer content but it sort of feels like a hack on top of a hack to me? What’s the Microformat for an auction? Do I have to wait a year for some committee to arrive at joint aggreement on what attributes define an auction before I can return structured auction results?

When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. It seems Steven Ickman and I reviewed OpenSearch/GData/Atom with the same critical lens and came away with the same list of issues. The only thing I'd change in his criticism is the claim that both formats (RSS & Atom) limit you to results of a single type, that isn't the case. Nothing stops a feed from containing data of wildly varying types. For example, a typical MSN Spaces RSS feed contains items that represent blog posts, photo albums, music lists, and book lists which are all very different types.

The inability to represent hierarchical data in a natural manner is a big failing of both formats. I've seen the Atom Threading Extensions but that seems to be a very un-XML way for an XML format to represent hierarchy. Especially given how complicated message threading algorithms can be for clients to implement.

It'll be interesting to see how Google tackles these issues in GData.


July 14, 2006
@ 06:15 PM

Microsoft has stated that the recently announced interop between Yahoo! Messenger and Windows Live Messenger has created the world's largest IM network. Exactly how big is it compared to the others? Check out the table below which contains ComScore numbers from May 2006. The excerpt is from the Silicon Valley Sleuth blog post entitled Google Talk fails to find an audience

Google's instant messaging service ranks at the bottom of the overall ranking, which is dominated by MSN Messenger/Windows Live Messenger (204m subscribers), Yahoo! Messenger (78m), AIM (34m) and ICQ (33.9m).

ICQ actually grew by more than 10 per cent year-over-year, the data indicated. The network is owned by AOL and is considered the first mainstream instant messaging application.

Another interesting factoid from the data is that E-buddy (formerly known as E-messenger) rules the unified messenger category ahead of Trillian, claiming 3.9m vs. 1.3m unique visitors.

E-buddy offers on online unified messenger for MSN, AOL and Yahoo – no installation required. The great benefit is that it allows users on bolted down corporate networks to connect to instant messaging services without any intervention from the IT department.


Interestingly enough, when I read geek blogs I tend to see people assume that Trillian, Meebo and AOL Instant Messenger are the dominant applications in their category. People often state anecdotally that "All my friends are using it so it must be #1", given that IM buddy lists are really social networks it's unsurprising when everyone you know uses the same IM application in much the same way that is unsurprising that everyone you know hangs out at the same bar or coffee shop. However one doesn't extrapolate the popularity of a bar or coffee shop just because everyone you know likes it. The same applies to online hangouts whether they be instant messaging applications, social networking sites, or even photo sharing sites.


Categories: Social Software

The Google Adwords API team has a blog post entitled Version 3 Shutdown Today which states

Please take note… per our announcement on May 12, we will shutdown Version 3 of the API today.

Please make sure you have migrated your applications to Version 4 in order to ensure uninterrupted service. You can find more information about Version 4 (including the release notes) at

-- Rohit Dhawan, Product Manager

This is in compliance with the Adwords API versioning policy which states that once a new version of the WSDL for the Adwords API Web service is shipped, the old Web service end point stops being supported 2 months later. That's gangsta.

Thanks to Mark Baker for the link.


From the press release entitled Yahoo! and Microsoft Bridge Global Instant Messaging Communities we learn

SUNNYVALE, Calif., and REDMOND, Wash. — July 12, 2006 — Yahoo! Inc. (Nasdaq: “YHOO”) and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: “MSFT”) today will begin limited public beta testing of interoperability between their instant messaging (IM) services that enable users of Windows Live® Messenger, the next generation of MSN® Messenger, and Yahoo!® Messenger with Voice to connect with each other. This interoperability — the first of its kind between two distinct, global consumer IM providers — will form the world’s largest consumer IM community, approaching 350 million accounts.1

Consumers worldwide from Microsoft and Yahoo! will be able to take advantage of IM interoperability and join the limited public beta program. They will be among the first to exchange instant messages across the free services as well as see their friends’ online presence, view personal status messages, share select emoticons, view offline messages and add new contacts from either service at no cost.2 Yahoo! and Microsoft plan to make the interoperability between their respective IM services broadly available to consumers in the coming months.

The Windows Live Messenger team also has a blog post about this on their team blog entitled Talk to your Yahoo! friends from Windows Live Messenge which points out that Windows Live Messenger users can sign up to participate in the beta at Once accepted in the beta, Windows Live Messenger users can add people on the Yahoo! IM network to theor Windows Live Messenger buddy list simply by adding new contacts (i.e. add 'Yahoo ID' + to our IM contact list). Windows Live Messenger users don't need a Yahoo! account to talk to users of Yahoo! Messenger and vice versa. That is how it should be.

Where it gets even cooler is how we handle Windows Live Messenger users that utilize an "" email address as their Passport account Windows Live ID (e.g. yours truly). If you add such a user to your IM contact list, you get the following dialog

You then get two buddies added for that person, one buddy represents that contact on the Yahoo! IM network and the other is the same buddy on the Windows Live IM network. This is a lot different from what happens when Windows Live Messenger interops with a corporation that uses Microsoft Office Live Communication Server because people are forced to change their Passport account Windows Live ID to an address to resolve the ambiguity of using one email address on two IM networks. I much prefer the solution we use for Yahoo! IM interop.


Categories: Windows Live

Last month Clemens Vasters wrote a blog post entitled Autonomy isn't Autonomy - and a few words about Caching where he talks about "autonomous" services and data caching. He wrote

A question that is raised quite often in the context of "SOA" is that of how to deal with data.  Specifically, people are increasingly interested in (and concerned about) appropriate caching strategies
By autonomous computing principles the left shape of the service is "correct". The service is fully autonomous and protects its state. That’s a model that’s strictly following the Fiefdoms/Emissaries idea that Pat Helland formulated a few years back. Very many applications look like the shape on the right. There are a number of services sticking up that share a common backend store. That’s not following autonomous computing principles. However, if you look across the top, you'll see that the endpoints (different colors, different contracts) look precisely alike from the outside for both pillars. That’s the split: Autonomous computing talks very much about how things are supposed to look behind your service boundary (which is not and should not be anyone’s business but yours) and service orientation really talks about you being able to hide any kind of such architectural decision between a loosely coupled network edge. The two ideas compose well, but they are not the same, at all.

However, I digress. Coming back to the data management issue, it’s clear that a stringent autonomous computing design introduces quite a few challenges in terms of data management. Data consolidation across separate stores for the purposes of reporting requires quite a bit of special consideration and so does caching of data. When the data for a system is dispersed across a variety of stores and comes together only through service channels without the ability to freely query across the data stores and those services are potentially “far” away in terms of bandwidth and latency, data management becomes considerably more difficult than in a monolithic app with a single store. However, this added complexity is a function of choosing to make the service architecture follow autonomous computing principles, not one of how to shape the service edge and whether you use service orientation principles to implement it.
Generally, my advice with respect to data management in distributed systems is to handle all data explicitly as part of the application code and not hide data management in some obscure interception layer. There are a lot of approaches that attempt to hide complex caching scenarios away from application programmers by introducing caching magic on the call/message path. That is a reasonable thing to do, if the goal is to optimize message traffic and the granularity that that gives you is acceptable. I had a scenario where that was a just the right fit in one of my last newtelligence projects. Be that as it may, proper data management, caching included, is somewhat like the holy grail of distributed computing and unless people know what they’re doing, it’s dangerous to try to hide it away.

That said, I believe that it is worth a thought to make caching a first-class consideration in any distributed system where data flows across boundaries. If it’s known at the data source that a particular record or set of records won’t be updated until 1200h tomorrow (many banks, for instance, still do accounting batch runs just once or twice daily) then it is helpful to flow that information alongside the data to allow any receiver determine the caching strategy for the particular data item(s).

Service autonomy is one topic where I still have difficulty in striking the right balance. In an ideal SOA world, you have a mesh of interconnected services which depend on each other to perform their set tasks. The problem with this SOA ideal is that it introduces dependencies. If you are building an online service, dependencies mean that sometimes you'll be woken up by your pager at 3AM in the morning and it's somebody else's fault not yours. This may encourage people who build services to shun dependencies and build self-contained web applications which reinvent the wheel instead of utilizing external services. I'm still trying to decide if this is a bad thing or not.

As for Clemens' comments on caching and services, I find it interesting how even WS-* gurus inadvertently end up articulating the virtues of HTTP's design and the REST architectural style when talking about best practices for building services. I wonder if we will one day see WS-* equivalents of ETags and If-Modified-Since. WS-Caching anyone? :)


Categories: XML Web Services

I was chatting with Kurt Weber yesterday and asked when Windows Live Expo would be getting out of beta. He asked me to check out the team blog later in the day and when I did I saw his blog post entitled Official U.S. Launch of Windows Live Expo. It turns out that yesterday was launch day and below is an excerpt of his blog post describing some of the new features for the launch

 Some of the new features for our latest release include:
  • New Look - A brand new look & feel for the site which includes the official Windows Live look and integration, accessibility, scaling, and easier to use.
  • Comments on a listing – Similar to comments on a blog; this feature will allow users to discuss issues in the soapbox area or ask the seller for more details about an item.
  • APIs – Developers can now access all of our listings using a variety of parameters in order to create cool mash-ups (such as Full details about the API are available at
  • Driving directions – Users can now easily get driving directions to whatever listing they are viewing (courtesy of our friends at Live Local) by simply clicking a button.

For those keeping score, Expo is the fourth fifth Windows Live service to come out of beta.

Update: Thanks to Szajd for reminding me that there have been five Windows Live services to come out of beta; (Windows Live OneCare, Windows Live Favorites, Windows Live Messenger, Windows Live Custom Domains and Windows Live Expo).

Categories: Windows Live

Now that a bunch of Windows Live services are coming out of beta (e.g. Windows Live Messenger, Windows Live Favorites) and a couple more MSN properties are about to make the switch (e.g. MSN Spaces to Windows Live Space) there has begun to be a bit more marketing effort being done around Windows Live. The marketing teams have created a number of websites that explain the value proposition of Windows Live and take you behind the scenes. Check them out

  1. This website gives a preview of Windows Live Spaces including some new features such as the Friends list.

  2. Interviews with members of Windows Live product teams like Leah PearlMan (Windows Live Messenger) and Reeves Little. (Windows Live Mail).

  3. An aggregation of news stories, blog posts and message board postings about Windows Live. Think of it as Microsoft Presspass on crack.

  4. This site aggregates the above sites and has place holders for a couple of other upcoming promotional sites about Windows Live.
This is pretty hot, for once I have to say our marketing guys are kicking ass.

Categories: Windows Live

Tim O'Reilly has a blog post entitled Operations: The New Secret Sauce where he summarizes an interview he had with Debra Chrapaty, the VP of Operations for Windows Live. He writes

People talk about "cloud storage" but Debra points out that that means servers somewhere, hundreds of thousands of them, with good access to power, cooling, and bandwidth. She describes how her "strategic locations group" has a "heatmap" rating locations by their access to all these key limiting factors, and how they are locking up key locations and favorable power and bandwidth deals. And as in other areas of real estate, getting the good locations first can matter a lot. She points out, for example, that her cost of power at her Quincy, WA data center, soon to go online, is 1.9 cents per kwh, versus about 8 cents in CA. And she says, "I've learned that when you multiply a small number by a big number, the small number turns into a big number." Once Web 2.0 becomes the norm, the current demands are only a small foretaste of what's to come. For that matter, even server procurement is "not pretty" and there will be economies of scale that accrue to the big players. Her belief is that there's going to be a tipping point in Web 2.0 where the operational environment will be a key differentiator
Internet-scale applications are really the ones that push the envelope with regard not only to performance but also to deployment and management tools. And the Windows Live team works closely with the Windows Server group to take their bleeding edge learning back into the enterprise products. By contrast, one might ask, where is the similar feedback loop from sites like Google and Yahoo! back into Linux or FreeBSD?

This is one of those topics I've been wanting to blog about for a while. I think somewhere along the line at MSN Windows Live we realized there was more bang for the buck optimizing some of our operations characteristics such as power consumption per server, increasing the number of servers per data center, reducing cost per server, etc than whatever improvements we could make in code or via database optimizations. Additionally, it's also been quite eye opening how much stuff we had to roll on our own which isn't just standard parts of a "platform". I remember talking to a coworker about all the changes we were making so that MSN Spaces could be deployed in multiple data centers and he asked why we didn't get this for free from "the platform". I jokingly responded "It isn't like the .NET Framework has a RouteThisUserToTheRightDataCenterBasedOnTheirGeographicalLocation() API does it?".

I now also give mad props to some of our competitors for what used to seem like quirkiness that now is clearly a great deal of operational savviness. There is a reason why Google builds their own servers, when I read things like "One-third of the electricity running through a typical power supply leaks out as heat" I get quite upset and now see it as totally reasonable to build your own power supplies to get around such waste. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a lot of knowledge out there about the building and managing a large scale, globally distributed server infrastructure. However we are feeding a lot of our learnings back to the folks building enterprise products at Microsoft (e.g. our team now collaborates a lot with the Windows Communication Foundation team) as Debra states which is great for developers building on Microsoft platforms. 


About two weeks ago, Greg Reinacker wrote about NewsGator's past, present and future in two blog posts entitled NewsGator platform roadmap - Part I (a look back) and NewsGator platform roadmap - Part II (a look forward). The blog posts are a good look at the achievements of a company that has gone from a one-man shop building an RSS reading plugin for Outlook into being the dominant syndication platform company on almost any platform from Windows & Mac to the Web & mobile phones. If you are interested in XML syndication, then Greg's posts are bookmark-worthy since they describe the future plans of a company that probably has the best minds building RSS/Atom applications working there today. Below are some excerpts from his posts in my areas of interest

NewsGator Online

As I said 16 months ago, the proposed feature list is long and distinguished - and it still is.  There is so much to do here...some of the short-term planned additions range from more interactive feed discovery mechanisms (based on the larger community of users and their subscriptions), to completely different user interface paradigms (where a user could potentially select from different options, each catering to a different kind of user).

A larger initiative is around the whole paradigm. Techies aside, users don't want to think about feeds, and subscriptions, and searching for content...Given all that, we're really rethinking the way we present information to the user, and the way users discover new information.  We're designing ways for people to participate in a larger community if they wish, and get more value out of the content they consume, at the point they discover it.  While we all have our own set of feeds, and we all participate to some extent in the larger ecosystem, there is a lot of potential in linking people with similar interests to each other.  Some users will continue to use our system as they always have - and others will use it in completely different ways.  We're testing a couple of approaches on this right now - I think it's truly a game-changer.

NewsGator Inbox, FeedDemon, NetNewsWire

As I mentioned before, the enthusiasm around these products has continued to grow - people obviously see the value in a rich, synchronized, offline-capable user experience for consuming content.  Moving forward, online integration will get tighter, and more complete - ranging from the low hanging fruit like FeedDemon "News Bins" becoming Clippings (and thus synchronize with the entire platform), to more involved features like analytics-related features (recommendations, interest-based surfacing, etc.) and community-related features.
NewsGator core platform

This is the heart of our entire product line (with the exception of NewsGator Enterprise Server).  Moving forward, we're investing a lot in the platform.  We're building out more support for deep analytics (which we can use to deliver different kinds of user experience), and building out a much deeper metadata engine (which means if a client retrieves content from our system, they'll get much richer data than they otherwise would).  We'll have other ways to "slice" our data to get what you need, without having to subscribe to hundreds of feeds.

The API has been very successful, and we process millions of API calls per day from client applications, web services, and private label clients.  This traffic actually makes up a large percentage of our overall system traffic - which I think is a testament to the popularity and utility of the API.  Moving forward here, we're obviously very committed to the API story, and we'll continue to enhance it as we add platform capabilities.

There's lots of good stuff here. The first thing that pops out at me is that while a bunch of startups these days tend to proclaim the death of desktop software, NewsGator is actually seeing the best of both worlds and improving the quality of the desktop experience by harnessing a Web-based platform. It's not Web-based software replacing desktop software, it's desktop software becoming better by working in tandem with APIs and applications on the Web. When Ray Ozzie talks about "live software", NewsGator is the company that leaps most readily to my mind.

I like the idea of making discovery of new content more of a social experience. It'd be interesting to see what would happen if NewsGator Online had a interface for browsing and subscribing to people's feeds. I notice that Gordon Weakliem who works on the NewsGator API recently wrote a post entitled Needles in Haystacks where he talks about serendipitous discovery of new websites by browsing bookmarks of people with similar interests to him in I'm sure it's just a matter of time before NewsGator adds these features to their platform.

I also like the idea of exposing richer metadata in the NewsGator API especially if it relates to the social features that they plan to unveil in the next couple of months. Unfortunately, I've never been able to get the NewsGator API to work quite right with RSS Bandit but I'll be revisiting that code later in the summer.


Since my girlfriend has kids, I spend a lot more time around kids than I expected to at this age. One of the things I've realized is that I'll probably end up as one of those dads that shows strangers his baby pictures. Since I don't have baby pictures to show y'all, you get the next best thing

  1. Scene: On Our Way To Dinner

    Kids: What Does Your Shirt Say?

    Me: I Only Date Crack Whores [see the T-shirt here]

    Kids: Mommy Isn't A Crack Whore.

    Me: I'll Go Change My Shirt

    This explains why my girlfriend made me throw out my I don't have a girlfriend. But I do know a woman who'd be mad at me for saying that T-shirt. I'm guessing she forgot about this one.

  2. Scene: Playing Video Games with one of Their Friends

    Me: I'm too old to play games with you guys

    Kids: You're not old, you're only 28.

    Kids Friend: You're 28? My mom is 28 and she likes black guys. You should marry my mom.

    Me to girlfriend: Should I tell her mom she said that?

    My Girlfriend: No. Dummy!


Categories: Personal

Greg Linden has a blog post entitled Yahoo building a Google FS clone? where he writes

The Hadoop open source project is building a clone of the powerful Google cluster tools Google File System and MapReduce.

I was curious to see how much Yahoo appears to be involved in Hadoop. Doug Cutting, the primary developer of Lucene, Nutch, and Hadoop, is now working for Yahoo but, at the time, that hiring was described as supporting an independent open source project.

Digging further, it seems Yahoo's role is more complicated. Browsing through the Hadoop developers mailing list, I can see that more than a dozen people from Yahoo appear to be involved in Hadoop. In some cases, the involvement is deep. One of the Yahoo developers, Konstantin Shvachko, produced a detailed requirement document for Hadoop. The document appears to lay out what Yahoo needs from Hadoop, including such tidbits as handling 10k+ nodes, 100k simultaneous clients, and 10 petabytes in a cluster.

Also noteworthy is Eric Baldeschwieler, a director of software development at Yahoo, who recently talked about direct support from Yahoo for Hadoop. Eric said, "How we are going to establish a testing / validation regime that will support innovation ... We'll be happy to help staff / fund such a testing policy."

I find this effort by Yahoo! to be rather interesting given that platform pieces like GFS, BigTable, MapReduce and Sawzall give Google quite the edge in building mega-scale services and in Greg Linden's words are 'major force multipliers' that enable them to pump out new online services at a rapid pace. I'd expect Google's competitors to build similar systems and keep them close to their chest not give them away. I suspect that the reason Yahoo! is going this route is that they don't have enough folks to build this in-house and have thus collaborated with Hadoop project to get some help. This could potentially backfire since there is nothing stopping small or large competitors from reusing their efforts especially if it uses a traditional Open Source license.

On a related note, Greg also posted a link to an article by David F. Carr entitled How Google Works which has the following interesting quote

Google has a split personality when it comes to questions about its back-end systems. To the media, its answer is, "Sorry, we don't talk about our infrastructure."

Yet, Google engineers crack the door open wider when addressing computer science audiences, such as rooms full of graduate students whom it is interested in recruiting.

As a result, sources for this story included technical presentations available from the University of Washington Web site, as well as other technical conference presentations, and papers published by Google's research arm, Google Labs.

I do think it is cool that Google developers publish so much about the stuff they are working on. One of the things I miss from being on the XML team at Microsoft is being around people with a culture of publishing research like Erik Meijer and Michael Rys. I even got a research paper on XML query languages published while on the team. I'd definitely would like to publish research quality papers on some of the stuff I'm working on now. I've done MSDN articles and a ThinkWeek paper in the past few years, it's probably about time I start thinking about writing a research paper again. 

PS: If you work on online services and you don't read Greg Linden's blog, you are missing out. Subscribed. 


Over the weekend, I had a few hours to spend and finally added comment watching to RSS Bandit. The feature is pretty straightforward, users have the ability to mark an item as 'Watched'. Once in this state, an indication is made when there are new comments for that item. Determining whether there are new comments uses a number of mechanisms including polling the comment feed and checking the values of RSS/Atom extensions such as slash:comments and thr:count. I'm already getting a lot of use out of the feature to passively notify me of new comments to my blog

The only issue now is that there is a disagreement between Torsten and I as to what the menu interaction should be for the feature. I've currently implemented the menu option a submenu where you can select 'Watch Comments->On' or 'Watch Comments->Off' depending on whether comments are currently being watched for that item or not. See the screenshot below.

Torsten would prefer a menu option more like what Outlook Express where the menu option is a checkbox as shown in the OE screenshot below.

If you're an RSS Bandit user can you chime in with your opinion?


Categories: RSS Bandit

The Office team continues to impress me how savvy they are about the changing software landscape. In his blog post entitled Open XML Translator project announced (ODF support for Office) Brian Jones writes

Today we are announcing the creation of the Open XML Translator project that will help translate between the Office Open XML formats and the OpenDocument format. We've talked a lot about the value the Open XML formats bring, and one of them of course is the ability to filter it down into other formats. While we still aren't seeing a strong demand for ODF support from our corporate or consumer customers, it's now a bit different with governments. We've had some governments request that we help build solutions so that can use ODF for certain situations, so that's why we are creating the Open XML Translator project. I think it's going to be really beneficial to a number of folks and for a number of reasons.

There has been a push in Microsoft for better interoperability and this is another great step in that direction. We already have the PDF and XPS support for Office 2007 users that unfortunately had to be separated out of the product and instead offered as a free download. There will be a menu item in the Office applications that will point people to the downloads for XPS, PDF, and now ODF. So you'll have the ability to save to and open ODF files directly within Office (just like any other format).

For me, one of the really cool parts of this project is that it will be open source and located up on SourceForge, which means everyone will have the ability to see how to leverage the open architectures of both the Office Open XML formats and ODF. We're developing the tools with the help of Clever Age (based in France) and a few other folks like Aztecsoft (based in India) and Dialogika (based in Germany). There should actually be a prototype of the first translator (for Word 2007) posted up on SourceForge later on today ( It's going to be made available under the BSD license, and anyone can provide feedback, submit bugs, and of course directly contribute to the project. The Word tool should be available by the end of this year, with the Excel and PPT versions following in 2007.

This announcement is cool on so many levels. The coolest being that the projects will not only be Open Source but will be hosted on SourceForge. That is sweet. It is interesting to note that it is government customers and not businesses that are interested in ODF support in Office. I guess that makes sense if you consider which parties have been expressing interest in Open Office.

There already some great analyst responses to this move such as Stephen O'Grady of Redmonk who in his post Microsoft Office to Support ODF: The Q&A has some great insights. My favorite insight is excerpted below

Q: How about Microsoft's competitors?
A: Well, this is a bittersweet moment for them. For those like Corel that have eschewed ODF support, it's a matter of minor importance - at least until Microsoft is able to compete in public sector markets that mandate ODF and they are not.

But for those vendors that have touted ODF support as a diffentiator, this is a good news/bad news deal. The good news is that they can and almost certainly will point to Microsoft's support as validation of further ODF traction and momentum, they will now be competing - at least in theory, remember the limitation - with an Office suite that is frankly the most capable on the market. I've said for years that packages like are more than good enough for the majority of users, and that's been validated by our own usage of the product over the past few years; but Microsoft's suite is better than good enough. I'm interested to see if there's any fallout from the UI overhaul, but for now Office remains the undisputed champ of the Office arena. This means that commercial packages like StarOffice and Workplace, not to mention open source projects such as Abiword, KOffice, and will have to compete more on features and innovation and less on their support for formats such as ODF or PDF.

It'll be good to see the debate migrate away from support for file formats back to exactly which product's features provides the best value for customers. Everybody wins. Mad props to the Office team for making this decision. Rock on.


Categories: XML

Dave Winer has a blog post where he responds to a post entitled SOAP, REST and XML-RPC by Randy Charles Morin. He writes

I wonder if it's be possible for me to disagree with Randy Morin without getting flamed. I never said XML-RPC is better than SOAP or REST, or more perfect or pure, or better documented. I don't care if the others have better websites, or more advocates posting on mail lists. The reason I advise would-be platform developers to support XML-RPC is because at least for some developers (including me) it's so much faster to implement, so we spend less time creating glue and get to building applications sooner. I've learned that the sooner developers get to the fun part, the more likely they are to deploy. And if that's the goal, why not support it? BTW, I never said they shouldn't support SOAP or REST, in fact I often provide multiple interfaces to my would-be platforms, because I've learned that if you want uptake for new ideas, you shouldn't argue over small things like this, you should say yes whenever you can.

I agree 100% with Dave Winer. If you are building a service on the Web, then you shouldn't discriminate against any platform, application or device. This means you can't pick one approach or one technology for building your service because different platforms have different levels of support for various approaches. A developer using Visual Studio will find using SOAP easier then REST or XML-RPC while on the flip side a developer using Python or Perl is likely more at home dealing with XML-RPC than using SOAP. Choosing one technology over the other is choosing to discriminate against one platform or set of developers over the other.

In some cases this is necessary to keep maintenance costs down by supporting a small set of protocols but in general if you are building a service on the Web, you want it to be inclusive not exclusive. Arguments of technological superiority be damned.


Categories: XML Web Services

The past few days seem to have been quite interesting in the comments section of the the Mini-Microsoft blog. Ex-Microsoft employee, Robert Scoble jumped into some comment threads where some of his former bosses were being criticized (start here) and it quickly devolved into a flame war. In the aftermath of that flame war, Mini posted an entry entitled Bad Mini, Scoble's Exit, and Truthiness - Links which also led to another series of interesting comments from Robert. The most interesting of which seems not to have been posted but is instead referenced in this excerpted comment by Who da'Punk (aka Mini-Microsoft)

Okay, okay, hold on... things are getting heated again. I've got about six posts in the queue, including Mr. Scoble's "Goodbye I won't ever be commenting here again," comment. So, please hold on to your "Grr, Scoble!" comments because he won't be following up, let alone perhaps reading them. You'd be much better served submitting your comments to his blog or writing your own blog entries and linking appropriately.
In the meantime, I'm certainly thinking about Scoble's parting strategic comments:

* The Mini-Microsoft blog's impact has come, been done, and is past.

* The blog serves now to harm Microsoft more than help it.

* The blog is, specifically, being used by the anti-Microsoft crowd and competitors to harm Microsoft.

All good points, and some, worth putting up a pivotal post about.

But not today. Go have fun.

I find it hard to disagree with Robert's above points. The Mini-Microsoft blog has served as a place for Microsoft employees to discuss what riles them about the company in an anonymous setting that is free of recrimination. From my perspective, this has been both good and bad. It has been good to have a forum where people can discuss some aspects of the culture that have been taken for granted but were actually harmful such as The Curve without fear of being attacked for questioning the status quo. Although, it would have been better for this discussion to happen internally there are a number of social and technological reasons why this is difficult.

On the flip side, the Mini-Microsoft blog is a forum where disgruntled employees pour out their bile on the fellow employees and the company as a whole. I've seen character assassination, racism, sexism, fear mongering, unfounded allegations of sexual misconduct, information leaking, and more in the comments section of the Mini-Microsoft blog. However you slice it, it reflects badly on Microsoft that the people posting these comments appear to be Microsoft employees. What is even more interesting is when you consider Robert Scoble's allegation below

Anonymous bloggers are never as credible as ones who stick their names on things.

Why does it bother me? Cause Mini is being used by non-Microsoft employees to hurt Microsoft. I've learned that a lot of the posts here that you're reading aren't done by Microsoft employees.

Yet you are taking it on face value that everyone is being straight up with you here. They are not.

I didn't realize this until after I had left Microsoft (it's funny how people tell you stuff when you aren't a Microsoft employee anymore). I'm not willing to expose my source, though. But I believe him.

That competitors would astroturf the Mini-Microsoft blog or use it as a recruiting tool when competing against Microsoft for a candidate doesn't surprise me. The surprise is that both Mini-Microsoft and Robert Scoble seem to be taken aback by this. I guess I'm more cynical than most.

The bottom line is that I agree with Robert that in its current incarnation Mini-Microsoft does more harm to Microsoft than good. If anything, it does point out the need for a better internal forums for frank and open discussion but I definitely think it's time is past.   


Categories: Life in the B0rg Cube

Mike Arrington of TechCrunch fame has a blog post entitled where he lays out the demographics of the various RSS readers used to subscribe to his feed. Below is an excerpt of his post and a partial screenshot of his FeedBurner statistics showing the top fourteen feed readers used to access the TechCrunch feed

Firefox (including Flock) accounts for 20% of feed readers. Bloglines is in second place with 13%, followed by NewsGator at 12%, Rojo at 8%, FeedReader at 7%, and Netvibes at 7%. Other notables include Pageflakes, Pluck and Attensa. If you add NetNewsWire to the core NewsGator stats, NewsGator is actually bigger than bloglines.

The feed reader statistics are surprising to me both for the feed readers that show up in the list and for those that don't. For example, I'm surprised to see FeedReader at #5 yet not see FeedDemon in the top 14. Similarly, the popularity of AJAX home pages like Pageflakes and Netvibes over those from the big 3 (Google/Yahoo/Microsoft) is also unexpected. Of course, these statistics might be skewed because TechCrunch is one of the default feeds in Netvibes. A final surprise is that NewsGator Online is almost as popular as Bloglines among readers of TechCrunch.This seems to mean that the latter is finally getting a lot of cred among the early adopter crowd especially since the former has been slow to update in the past year.

For a completely different set of demographics, here are the top 14 feed readers used to access my RSS feed according to FeedBurner.

I wonder what conclusion you draw from how different the distribution of feed readers is in the above screenshots. For example, I think the fact that a bunch of Microsoft employees and developers on Microsoft's platfoms read my blog explains why there are multiple instances of feed readers based on the .NET Framework in the above list. In addition, I suspect this also explains why there is an entry for the Windows RSS platform in the top 10 applications hitting my feed. 

On the flip side, I have no explanation for why it seems that NewsGator Online is half as popular as Bloglines among the readers of my blog.


Richard MacManus has a blog post entitled Netscape Community Backlash where he writes

I've been tracking the release of the new Digg-style community news site, because there is a lot of backlash within the Netscape community about it. A story called Netscape's Blunder!!! was number 1 on for a while and the latest post on the homepage is entitled A Request by the Netscape Community to Bring Back Our There's another Netscape story currently on the homepage called Netscape Reborn: Why? Why? Why?. The backlash has presumably led to this message currently on the right of the homepage, from the Netscape team:

"Attention Netscape users Your Netscape mail hasn't gone anywhere, you can find it right here! Also, My.Netscape and your Stock Quotes are still online as well."

There appears to be a genuine feeling of betrayal by the (very large) set of users who have had as their homepage for some time. Indeed I've been getting comments on my own posts and even emails from Netscape users, upset about the change to the Digg style.

All of this shows how passionate people can get about their Web homepage - and they're just as much a 'community' as the users are. It's just that they like the old-school Web homepage, not the new Digg style. Also what this tells me is that while a lot of us geeks and 2.0 types are addicted to our own technology (and our own voices, to be honest), it's pretty darn obvious that A LOT of people want to stick with the status quo.

This is one of those reasons why I believe that Danah Boyd's essays should be required reading for anyone interested in building social software. I disagree with Richard MacManus that the problem is that a lot of people want to stick with the status quo. I agree that it plays a part but the real problem is that AOL made a drastic change to software that was an integral part of their users lives in such a draconian manner.

People grow attached to the software they use and the online community that exists around that software. Heck, I've been using My Yahoo! for the past five or six years and have only partially switched to even though I made a conscious decision to switch*. I'd personally be pretty irritated if one day Yahoo! radically switched things around in a desperate attempt to jump on the Web 2.0 bandwagon and I'm a tech geek.

AOL should have engaged with their community of users before launching the revamped Digg-like version of Netscape. At the very least, the company should have considered using an alternate URL for the site and not the valuable domain or done some A/B testing to see if users liked the switch over or not. It may be that the people complaining are a vocal minority but something tells me that they aren't given how drastic the change to the site has been. Perhaps making and separate sites wasn't such a bad idea after all. :)

* I use at work and My Yahoo! at home.


Categories: Social Software

July 2, 2006
@ 06:29 AM

Last week I attended the Kenny Chesney concert with my girlfriend and we even took some photos before the concert. A couple of coworkers answered my call for country duds and I got some hats, shirts and a pair of cowboy boots contributed to the cause. I probably should write a review of the concert but its hard for me to judge the musical quality of a concert that had people singing songs like She Thinks My Tractor is Sexy and Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy. However here are a few observations from the concert
  • There were supposedly over 40,000 tickets sold and it looked like there were tens of thousands of people there. However the crowd wasn't very diverse, it was almost all white guys and white gals. I was the only black person I saw the entire 5.5 hours we were there.

  • Besides Kenny Chesney there was also Gretchen Wilson, Dierks Bentley's, Big & Rich, and a surprise appearance by Uncle Kracker. The crowd seemed to get into all the performances although it was hard for me to since I didn't know most of the songs.

  • I think I saw someone with the worst job in America. One of the concert goers vomited and it seems there were no safety cones available so one of the stadium employees stood over the vomit so that concert goers wouldn't step on it.

  • Unlike hip hop concerts this one started on time. We got there at 5:30PM and we had already missed half of Dierks Bentley's set. Not only did it start early, it ran until 11 PM which means we got our money's worth.

  • This was the largest gathering of people wearing cowboy hats I'd ever seen. This was doubly a surprise given how rarely one encounters cowboy hats in Seattle.


Categories: Personal