29 Sep

Integration News from the RSS Front

This is all good. However, though I’m not even going to try to predict when we’ll be able to combine all those services using just a Visio-like visual front-end, at some point web service integration will have to cross the chasm to non-developers.

28 Sep

My Yahoo! Comes Full Circle

Rael Dornfest points to the Netscape roots of the new My Yahoo. I can’t believe it took so long to implement the personalized open portal promise of sites such as OnePage or Octopus (at the time based on screen scraping), two companies which in the meantime have disappeared within AskJeeves and Sybase respectively.
I wrote on October 12, 2000:

"Now, as far as Yahoo! goes, here’s my theory. They might portray themselves as a media because most of their revenue is based on advertising, however their added value is not in the content itself but in its integration. MyYahoo is a lot more powerful than other customized portals.
Yahoo! tricked AOL into buying TW, followed by Vivendi diving into Universal (fast follower to the loser). What Yahoo! really wants is to become the biggest web app worldwide."

Well, in the meantime it looks like they went through a lot of soul searching, and I’m not sure they’re completely through that “let’s be Disney or Microsoft?” phase. It’s about time Yahoo, so don’t take another four years to expose your services through programming interfaces. If you want to be a platform player, you have to go all the way down to it, you can’t stop at the rendering layer.
08/24/05 update: Protopage.

23 Sep

Quick Web Dev Link Dump Drifting into Media Center Plans

Yes, yes, I’ll eventually get to use del.icio.us and integrate it with my weblog. In the meantime, here’s a quickie:

Is this space getting busier or what?
Anyway, younger people might want to contrast the 5GB of storage space provided for free by Furl with the 10 grands paid for a 10GB hard drive to get Excite started a decade ago. Which reminds me, I have less than 80GB of free space left out of 600GB spread across 4 drives, which means I’ll have to add another drive within the next six months or so (hmm, ok, there’s probably 50GB or so still free on my girlfriend’s PC which will cut me some slack for another quarter).
But what I really see coming is a dedicated mini PC connected to my Roland TD8 edrums and to a yet-to-be purchased projector (say, an Infocus X2 [*] or 4805?) and 5.1 sound system. The idea is to enjoy and produce audio and video, as well as play games, in one place. I’d like to remove games and video codecs and whatnot from my work PC to guarantee its responsiveness (the only media I’d still play on that PC would be music since I pretty much listen to music all day long).
One nagging issue is fan noise since PCs (even the small form factors) and projectors (at least in the entry level price range I’m willing to pay for) tend to be noisy. I’d also need a keyboard that can glow in the dark since projectors don’t have enough contrast to be used in daylight, and I’ll buy another PC remote. Since the cheapest projectors only do 800×600, I need to investigate whether they can be used as a secondary monitor in dual screen mode. Finally, is Windows Media Center 2005 going to be available to people who assemble their PCs themselves? There’s no way I’m going to buy an overpriced piece of crap from HP (or another brand name for that matter).
[*] Look at this fun feature at Amazon: "What similar items do customers ultimately buy after viewing this item?". Some vendors aren’t going to like this, though the feature doesn’t work for all products.

15 Sep

Plaxo Enabling the Rest of the World (A Case of Inflated Self Perception)

Joseph Smarr:

"We announced today that five partners have already signed up to Plaxo-enable their Web sites and applications using our SOAP API: ColSpace, Global Systems, Greenlight Wireless, ModoMail, and Trekmail. This means that our members can access their Plaxo address book, calendar, tasks, and notes from within these services. While we’ve focused so far on integrating with Outlook and Outlook Express, our goal is that your up-to-date Plaxo information should be available to you in all of your favorite apps. […]
For security, all API calls are made over SSL so the user’s password and data are encrypted during transport. We authenticate both the partner and the Plaxo member, so no one can touch your account without your permission."

Apparently there’s no public documentation about this API which was released back in May, I guess the people at Plaxo are too busy writing crap such as "The Plaxo Network is fast becoming an important new layer of the Internet, like e-mail, instant messaging and Web browsing."
Ludicrous PR claims aside (what next, comparing a walkie talkie toy with the ability to place intercontinental phone calls?), I’ll cut them some slack since the API came before a yet-to-come developer program. It’s interesting to see an encrypted service that is nonetheless interoperable (unlike, notes Jon Udell, the big VOIP vendors).
One thing I’m curious about is proper performance under SSL. Maybe there’s hardware acceleration going on on Plaxo’s side (Westbridge?). Besides they use SSL on their web site and with Outlook anyway, so they must have sized their infrastructure to handle the extra processing load, but what’s the impact for their partners? All I’m saying is, SSL + SOAP doesn’t sound like a recipe for speed. This pdf file mentions running web services over https but doesn’t even touch performance questions, while these articles list the limitations of SSL in a web service context.
Aside from the operational questions that only outline my crass lack of knowledge, this discussion about how to implement FOAF support in a way that respects privacy raises another scalability issue, this time human. How do you move private data around (the purpose of FOAF) without drowning people under authorization requests? (Note to self: find the question I posted about that point on Marc Canter’s blog a couple of days ago. Also, gotta keep an eye on Clink.) I’d also like to know how the Plaxo partnerships announced today work from a business perspective. Are these revenue-sharing deals to push Plaxo VIP, or is this a way to get more people to use the free service and Plaxo will worry about converting them on its own? (Guys, can’t you come up with better than technical support to justify the paid product?)
Taking a step back to the bigger picture, I don’t know much about the whole SOA hoopla. I need to educate myself in order to come up with a unifying theory about how this is relevant to the internet at large, not just corporate IT. Another question: is Moore’s Law going to allow every online application to be encrypted by default with no noticable performance cost? Discuss the ramifications. (Oh wait, aren’t Moore’s Law and distributed computing eventually leading to the end of encryption?)

13 Sep

Now I Understand the Buzz I Hear About Jetblue

This long interview with David Neeleman, JetBlue Airways’ founder and CEO, is a refreshing must-read and leaves me wanting to know more about the guy and his company. Here’s what a couple queries fetch:

12/15/05 update: The Steady, Strategic Ascent of JetBlue Airways.

10 Sep

Distributed Data Key to Wall Street Disaster Plans


"Wall Street firms became motivated buyers of surplus data centers from bankrupt telcos and web hosts. Chapter 11 filings by WorldCom, Exodus, Metromedia Fiber Network and Global Crossing flooded the market with surplus data centers and telecom assets. Financial firms that bought or leased data centers outside New York in the past two years include the Bank of New York, Wachovia, Deutsche Bank, MBNA Corp., New York Life, MasterCard and Goldman Sachs. Dallas, Kansas City and St. Louis became the hottest markets for mission-critical facilities. […]
One challenge was real-time mirroring technology, which historically has limited the distance between primary and secondary data centers to about 60 miles. Software advances have helped overcome these distance limitations, improving the speed of mirroring technology and recovery times."

10 Sep

Paypal Previews New Home Page

Here’s what Paypal is going to look like. The feature-based lead ("send money", "request money") is replaced by a focus on audiences that gives a prominent place to eBay sellers. Fraud is acknowledged as an issue, both from the seller and buyer perspectives, which makes sense considering all the email phishing going on. It’s good that Paypal chooses to address this upfront; some companies would display a smiling child holding blue and yellow balloons while trying to sweep the whole thing under the carpet.
I have to ask though, was the smiling guy with a double chin tested with actual people, or is this the result of a creative brief supposed to convey trust for "people just like you" but gone a little astray in its execution?
Anyway, this new home page is clear and readable and its visual structure helps do more than the current barebone page which doesn’t use white space very effectively. Notice the top navbar remains the same so that millions of people don’t have to relearn how to use the site. What’s surprising though is that, despite the preview, Paypal doesn’t really ask for feedback, so it doesn’t seem they intend to tweak it further before launch.

Read More

06 Sep

Towards Seamless Distributed Discussions?

In this thread other people and I ponder the idea of implementing trackbacks back and forth between Flickr and blogs. Post a photo on your blog, ping the relevant Flickr pages. Comment a picture on Flickr, ping the blog pages that embedded it. That way Flickr and the blog are two facets of the same thing, Flickr being focused on managing pictures while the blog does the same for text. Each has their own community and the trackbacks expose what’s happening on the other side seamlessly. (This reminds me I still have to write the post where I detail how Organizr could become a great blogging client.)
Closer integration would also be welcome in terms of settings, for instance to post to draft if that’s the blog’s default. Oh, and while we’re at it, how about a taxonomy repository to synchronize your Flickr, del.icio.us and MT categories/tags. Hmm, make it a collaborative distributed taxonomy to get a headache.
(No need to mention I didn’t even enable trackbacks yet on this blog, I’m aware of it.)
09/10/04 update: Jeremy Zawodny, Jon Udell, Gary Murphy.
12/29/04 update: Clay Shirky: Notes from ITP: Flickr-as-web-services edition.

04 Sep

eBay: Sold on Grid

Eweek has a long interview with Marty Abbott, SVP of technology at eBay, who walks us through their online operations. Among other things, he explains how the backend databases evolved over the last five years:

"We went from one huge back-end system and four or five very large search databases. Search used to update in 6 to 12 hours from the time frame in which someone would place a bid or an item for sale. Today, updates are usually less than 90 seconds. The front end in October ’99 was a two-tiered system with [Microsoft Corp.] IIS [Internet Information Services] and ISAPI [Internet Server API]. The front ends were about 60 [Windows] NT servers. Fast-forward to today. We have 200 back-end databases, all of them in the 6- to 12-processor range, as opposed to having tens of processors before. Not all those are necessary to run the site. We have that many for disaster recovery purposes and for data replication."