February 28, 2006

Edgeio Thoughts

I'm way behind on stuff I'd planned to write (and read) and am also now partially sleep deprived thanks to weird schedule gyrations, SES New York, and The Fire Alarm From Hell at the Sheraton (a story for later). So take this with a grain of salt or two.


Anyway, Edgeio recently launched and there's been a bunch of commentary on it, most of which I won't bother to re-hash. However, I noticed that Joe Hunkins titled a recent blog post Edgeio is brilliant ... and will fail. That got my attention for a few reasons.

First and foremost, I'm an advisor to Edgeio. Within minutes of first being told of their plans, I was sold on the idea.

Why? For a while, I had been thinking about the growing trends in self-publishing and the value that can be created by intelligently mining, aggregating, and indexing that data--wherever it lives. Look no further than web search, since it's the ultimate horizontal example of this.

So the more I thought about where the on-line world is moving, the more I convinced myself that services that take this approach will be a natural outgrowth.

It wasn't too long after that I wrote Publishing on the Edge will Change the Game. I said then and it's still the case today:

I really, really, really believe that few companies have begun to grasp how this new reality changes the landscape they're used to controlling.

I saw Edgeio as one of the first companies to get this.

But Joe raises an important objection:

This is a company made in Silicon Valley by Silicon Valley for Silicon Valley and it simply won't play in Peoria or even NYC.

In other words, it's too hard. Most people are not bloggers and don't get tagging.

Agreed! Most new technology is too hard, not ready for mainstream, etc.

But I see a future in which the tools of today look like something from the stone age. Content publishing (blogging, if we still call it that), tagging, and including more rich/structured data will all be dramatically easier. I also envision existing hosed publishing platforms (TypePad, Y! 360, WordPress) building in support for more services like Edgeio as part of the inevitable bootstrapping process.

In other words, a lot of this will happen automatically or merely require the click of a checkbox.

Do they have the right business model? I have no idea. I consider myself far more of a technology person than a business person. But I really think they're following (and trying to get ahead of) some of the right technology trends.

Okay, now I'm going to attempt sleeping before getting on an early flight back to the Bay Area. That's my quick 2 cents on Edgeio.

Posted by jzawodn at 11:24 PM

Ranting Against Press Releases

I read with some amusement (and agreement) Tom Foremski's rant titled Die! Press release! Die! Die! Die!. I believe it's safe to say that his main beefs are laid out in this excerpt:

Press releases are nearly useless. They typically start with a tremendous amount of top-spin, they contain pat-on-the-back phrases and meaningless quotes. Often they will contain quotes from C-level executives praising their customer focus. They often contain praise from analysts, (who are almost always paid or have a customer relationship.) And so on...
Press releases are created by committees, edited by lawyers, and then sent out at great expense through Businesswire or PRnewswire to reach the digital and physical trash bins of tens of thousands of journalists.
This madness has to end. It is wasted time and effort by hundreds of thousands of professionals.

He goes on to propose a solution that involves assembling and tagging the raw materials that usually go into making a press release. It all sounds a bit odd to me, but I'm not usually the primary target of most press releases. Of course, that doesn't seem to stop them from ending up in my inbox.

I think the real solution is for journalists to do their homework on announcements. Rather than trying to be "first" with a story (which rarely happens on big announcements unless you break the embargo), be most informative. Be the one who sees news for what it is, not what the company says it is.

Would that behavior actually be rewarded by editors and readers?

I have no idea. History suggests otherwise. More on that (and my new favorite book) later.

Posted by jzawodn at 10:35 PM

February 27, 2006

Social Software is like a Good Bar

It's a been a while since OpenBusiness published an interview on The Value of Attention with Esther Dyson.

In that piece, I found her "bar analogy" for social software to be simple yet compelling:

You could think of it like your favourite bar. The social function is similar. You don’t go there because the beer tastes different than from in the bar next door, but because of the people who are there. The value of any bar is in its clientele – usually dependent on the owner/manager and the bartenders, whose job is it to care for his guests. Then you can charge for the beer, or if you sell coffee, the coffee... Some retailers sell clothes, for example, and give free coffee. Both are good business models and can work... or they can be done badly, and fail.

People who aren't already caught up in an on-line community often fail to understand the allure. They seem to think that the virtual nature of the community somehow structures the interaction in a way that precludes the sort of intangible things we're used to in face to face communities.

One of the stories I'll have to tell in more detail after my service at Yahoo is complete (and likely just a footnote in someone's book) is about the Flickr acquisition.

During one of the final internal "sales pitches" for the purchase, I had finished demonstrating Flickr to some important Yahoo's that weren't as familiar with it. One of the technical leaders in the room suggested, politely, that it was a waste of money and that "we could build this in six months."

I honestly don't remember if I responded to his assertion in that meeting or not (I think I did), but to me he was wrong and missing the point. Yes, we could have replicated the technology in six months. Heck, we probably would have improved it quite a bit. But we didn't have the experience to replicate the "feel" of the early Flickr community.

It was a lot like suggesting that you could build another bar across the street from the famous Cheers and expect it to be just as successful.

As for being simply wrong, our ability to build it in a few months didn't matter since nobody was working on it and there were no plans to do so. (Insert rant about how the seldom the "build" option is really exercised after the "build vs. buy" debate concludes that we should not buy.)

Like Flickr, del.icio.us has its own character. Much of that comes from its creator(s). The same is true of MetaFilter (and Ask MetaFilter), Slashdot, Kuro5hin, Upcoming.org, and so many other community driven sites.

But it's hard to see this from the outside. Esther's bar analogy is helpful in bridging that gap.

Posted by jzawodn at 11:03 PM

Ask.com copying Google?

Before heading off to SES New York (I still need to pack), I took a minute to try out the new Ask.com (formerly Ask Jeeves):


And noticed some striking similarities to Google:


Common colors for sponsored links (though the ones on Ask.com don't "work" if you click in the bluespace that has no text under it), navigation at the top and bottom, color bar, and so on.


Posted by jzawodn at 11:09 AM

February 26, 2006

Yahoo's Bozo Score: 4

After reading Guy Kawasaki's How to Prevent a Bozo Explosion, I decided to compute Yahoo's Bozo Score. For every question I answer "yes" to, we get a point. Every "no" is worth a zero.

1. The two most popular words in your company are “partner” and “strategic.”

No. The two most popular words at Yahoo seem to be "so" and "google." I think "value" is likely the runner up.

2. Management has two-day offsites at places like the Ritz Carlton to foster communication and to craft a company mission statement.

Yes. I'm almost tempted to take a bonus point because we've used the Half Moon Bay Ritz in the past.

3. The aforementioned company mission statement contains more than twenty words--two of which are “partner” and “strategic.”


4. Your CEO's admin has an admin.

Yes. But I suspect he'd be less useful without one.

5. Your parking lot's “biorhythm” looks like this...

No. I see the German cars there pretty early too. But they're never outnumbered by the Japanese cars.

6. Your HR department requires an MBA degree for any position; it also requires five to ten years work experience in an industry that is only four years old.

No. Our HR department is rather clueful most of the time.

7. Time is now considered more important than money so you have a company cafeteria, health club, and pet grooming service.

We have a cafeteria and a gym. No pet grooming service. I'll take a point on this even though I disagree that it has anything to do with a company being "bozo."

8. Someone whose music sells in the iTunes music store performs at the company Christmas party.

Yes. We had Earth, Wind & Fire last time.

9. An employee is paid to do nothing but write a blog.

No. We have several who blog as part of their jobs. For at least one it's even their primary function. But that's not the sole job.

10. The success of a competitor upsets you more than the loss of a customer.

It depends on the competitor and the customer, so I can't really score this one. And this one is pretty difficult to generalize to "the company" as a whole.

Posted by jzawodn at 02:02 PM

Where Almost Doesn't Matter

It's such a simple question. Does "where" matter anymore?

In some cases it doesn't. For months now I've been amazed by Bradley's ability to "live out of a bag" at work and still be very much in contact and productive. While he's rarely at his desk, through the magic of wireless networking, a cell phone, laptop, and Treo, he's in touch and able to work from the cafeteria, home, the Berkeley office, Hong Kong, or nearly anywhere.

I've noticed Chad doing this more and more as well. He'll often gather up his stuff and say something like "I'll be living out of my bag for the rest of the day."

I've made an effort to work remotely (from home or the Berkeley office) one day a week, but it's still challenging. Conference calls and meetings tend to be the sticking points. It's rarely the technology that gets in the way. Instead it's the human factors.

When we interviewed Andrei Broder (the interview will be posted next week, I hope) he talked about this too. He noted that at IBM they made conference calls completely virtual. In no case would you have 5 people in a conference room and 2 calling in remotely. That's because the 5 who are face to face forget that they can't have 2 conversations going on at once, can't rely on hand gestures and whiteboard drawings, etc.

I've noticed that when we have our weekly team meetings, Bradley often speaks directly into the speaker phone so that our London-based coworkers get a clear shot at hearing him. But most folks at Yahoo don't grok that yet. It's quite frustrating to be one of the few people "calling in" to a room full of people. You're generally a second class citizen.

Until we solve that problem, location will still matter.

Posted by jzawodn at 07:30 AM

Data belongs to those that create it

I was reading over Thinking in Web 2.0 and found myself agreeing with many of the points enumerated by Dion Hinchcliffe. However, the one that most struck me was this: Data belongs to those that create it.

Yes, you heard me. Everything a user creates, contributes, or shares is theirs, unless they have given away the right explicitly and by free choice. Any information they contribute to the Web should be editable, deleteable, unshareable by the contributor whenever they feel like it. This also means indirect data like their attention records, log entries, navigation history, site trails, or anything else that might be tracked. And all Web sites must clearly and simply state what information a user is creating and give them a way to stop creating it and even clean up.

The single most frustrating thing about many services is the lack of any good way to get my data out--either for backup purposes or to import it elsewhere.

Posted by jzawodn at 07:12 AM

February 24, 2006

Broken Elevator Design

Broken Elevator Design
Originally uploaded by jzawodn.

A few months back, I ventured up to San Francisco to the offices of Stone Yamashita Partners for an all-day meeting. (Beware: their website seems to endlessly animate.)

After parking in the garage, I entered the elevator and was faced with the controls that you see in the photo at the right. I didn't think much of it, since it was early and my brain doesn't work well early in the day. I just pushed "1" and headed up.

But at the end of the day, I happened to have my camera handy and a bit more brain power to tap. I quickly realized what was wrong: there are too many buttons!

No matter which of the two floors I'm on when entering the elevator, there's only logical button to push. Why must I choose a floor at all?

I tried pushing the "close doors" button to see how smart it was. But the elevator remained there, waiting for me to push "G" as if there was another option.


Posted by jzawodn at 10:01 AM

Today's Fan Mail

One of the unintended consequences of writing regularly on a public web site is all the "fan mail" you accumulate.

This just arrived a few moments ago:

I can FU-- with the best of them, but a public forum isn't the place for it. I accidentally stumbled on your so called web site, and find it to be very sophomoric! The little shit with the big mouth MUST BE HEARD I guess. I grew up during the Depression in South Buffalo, and we had people like you for lunch!
Wade Starbuck

I really have no idea how to respond to that.

Do I invite him over for lunch?

Posted by jzawodn at 08:10 AM

Discriminating Trust and Corporate Leaders

Over on the Church of the Customer Blog I read the following:

According to a survey of nearly 2,000 opinion leaders in 11 countries, it's "a person like me," meaning a friend or colleague. "A person like me" has dramatically surpassed previous answers of "doctors" and "academic experts" for the first time, according to the seventh-annual Edelman Trust Barometer.
In the U.S., trust in "a person like me" increased from 20% in 2003 to the current figure of 68%. Wow! And in what's sure to be a blow to some egos, the 2,000 respondents in the survey consider rank-and-file employees more credible than corporate CEOs.

When I first read this, I couldn't help but to think "Duh! Is anyone actually surprised by this?" And I still think that.

The situation has only been made worse by recent corporate scandals (Enron, WorldCom, etc). In every case, those high up in the company speak as if nothing is wrong, but their well hidden actions spoke far more loudly.

Of course, it's hard to argue that trust is an important part of friendship. So you're more apt to trust your friends (or people like them) than someone who probably wouldn't give you the time of day.

The lesson is that credibility must be earned. It doesn't come free with a fancy title and a big salary.

Posted by jzawodn at 07:51 AM

February 23, 2006

Upcoming Conferences: SES NYC, ETech, MIX06

Looking at my little paper calendar (yeah, I'm old school like that), I see that March is going to be a busy, busy month. Here's a quick list of places I'm gonna be.

If you're going to be there too, drop me a line or leave a comment here. Maybe we can meet up, grab a drink, or you can just make fun of me.

Search Engine Strategies (SES)

New York City
Tuesday, February 28th

I'll be on two panels at SES NYC:

Pundits on Search along with Matt Cutts, Robert Scoble, David Vise, and Zia Daniell Wigder. Sadly, John Battelle backed out, so we'll have to make fun of him.

A chance to hear directly from representatives who operate major blog and feed (RSS/Atom) search engines about how they operate. Plenty of time to ask questions after short presentation.

Meet The Blog & Feed Search Engines along with Adam Hertz (Technorati), Mark Fletcher (Bloglines), Chris Redlitz (Feedster), and Chris Tolles (Topix.net)

What do some big voices in search have to say on some big issues about search? Offload what you've been wondering about in this session and put it to our panel of analysts and search watchers.

I'll also be hanging out at the Yahoo! booth a bit.

O'Reilly Emerging Technology (ETech)

Monday March 6 – Thursday March 9th
San Diego, CA

I'm not presenting anything this year (woohoo!) but others Yahoos certainly are (Bill Scott, Jeffrey McManus, Bradley Horowitz). I'll be there to catch up with friends I only seem to see at conferences, figure out what's new and interesting, recruit, and enjoy the weather. :-)

Microsoft MIX06

Las Vegas, NV
Monday, March 20th

I'll be on a panel titled "Web 2.0: Show Me The Money" but there appears not to be a good permalink for it (yo! Scoble...). Here's the blurb:

Mashups, gadget platforms, user-generated content and syndication technologies all put existing industries and business models at risk. Join the discussion with a panel of industry luminaries and find out where people are making money in the midst of these disruptions.

I'll share the stage with Michael Arrington (TechCrunch) and Adam Trachtenberg (eBay/PayPal). I have no idea what I'll be saying yet

Posted by jzawodn at 01:11 PM

February 22, 2006

Military Aircraft Maintenance Costs

I was reading this article about the last combat flight of an F-14 Tomcat and was shocked to discover these maintenance figures:

The decision to incorporate the Super Hornet and decommission the F-14 is mainly due to high amount of maintenance required to keep the Tomcats operational. On average, an F-14 requires nearly 50 maintenance hours for every flight hour, while the Super Hornet requires five to 10 maintenance hours for every flight hour.

Holy crap! 50 to 1?! That ratio is completely insane!

f-14 at sunset

I can't imagine what general aviation would be like if we had to deal with such obscene costs. Actually, I can. General aviation simply wouldn't exist.

A typical rate for an aircraft mechanic in a decent maintenance facility is $60/hour. If you flew your 4 seat $75,000 Maule or Cessna 50 hours per year, that'd be $150,000 in maintenance costs every year. At that point, you might as well just buy a new plane each time it was due for an inspection.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:39 PM

Anderson Powerpole Connectors Rock

I'm addicted to Anderson Powerpole Connectors for low-voltage DC wiring projects. In case, like me, you've missed the revolution and the religion that is Powerpole, a picture is worth a thousand words:

anderson powerpoles

Powerpole connectors are either "clever" or "genius", depending on your point of view. I think they're a little of both. They're little snap together electrical connectors that can be used in a ton of DIY projects.

The pure simplicity of a few bits of plastic and properly shaped metal makes me happy.

Anderson Powerpole cutaway picture

You see, my skills with the soldiering iron never got beyond the "dripping hot metal all over things phase", so I was pretty excited to discover that PowerPole connectors almost completely eliminate the need for me to bust out the iron.

Instead, I can use these little wonders (along with a crimp tool and wire stripper) to make whatever I need.

Anderson Powerpole connectors

They're apparently all the rage in the Ham Radio and RC Plane communities. And now they're the backbone of the solar charging rig for my glider as well.

If you're looking to buy some, I highly recommend PowerWerx.com. They've got connectors, cable, pre-made cables, crimp tools, and more. And if you want a bit more hands-on info, Fly RC Magazine published an article called Using Anderson Powerpole Connectors that's quite helpful as an introduction.

Posted by jzawodn at 02:28 PM

Yahoo! Developer Network's PHP Development Center

Woohoo! The PHP Development Center is now live on the Yahoo! Developer Network. It's full of useful code samples, advice, and HOWTO documents for plugging into our growing army of Web Services using the world's most popular server-side web scripting language: PHP.

It's hard to believe that it was only a year ago that we launched our developer network. (Back then we called it YSDN for Yahoo! Search Developer Network, but it wasn't long before we outgrew that name.)

Posted by jzawodn at 02:02 PM

February 21, 2006

How to give Oral Sex to Bloggers in Return for PR Favors

[This is a brief rant. Go elsewhere if you don't like rants. Thanks.]

I'm becoming more and more sickened by the increasing number of articles and blog posts I've seen in the last few months that are self-proclaimed "HOWTOs" on making your company, PR folks, or Marketing Department blogger friendly.

After all, there's nothing like a few excited bloggers to kick off a good viral marketing campaign, right?! Who cares if your product is lame. Just get some bloggers to talk about it!

No offense to Guy Kawasaki, but his How to Suck Up to a Blogger is the latest of these to cross my aggregator. At least he's using a more honest title. You're kidding yourself if you think this is not about sucking up from a corporate point of view. And, like many others, he's feeding into the frenzy.

At this rate, it shouldn't be long before the suggestions get more and more, uhm... "interesting." So I decided to follow this to its natural conclusion: sexual favors.

There. That was easy.

How long can it be before some new Web 2.0 startup (old maybe a desperate Old Media company) offers up the chance to "win a date with a supermodel" for anyone who blogs about their newest product. What after that?

Can't we just tell people to act like themselves and not the companies they represent? It seems like the better advice to me.

[Part of me already mumbles a subconscious "blow me" every time I get a non-sequitur PR pitch via e-mail [1], so the title of the post makes that bit of my brain happy in a strange way. I shudder to think how much of this Michael Arrington must deal with.]

Posted by jzawodn at 12:00 PM

February 17, 2006

The Boss is Blogging

Bradley Horowitz, who manages the Technology Development Group at Yahoo, has been bitten by the blogging bug.

the pyramid

Not only do you get pictures of Rashi, his amazingly cute dog, but you get to learn about the Creators, Synthesizers, and Consumers pyramid that makes so much social software actually work.

Now we have almost the entire team blogging.

Posted by jzawodn at 06:47 AM

February 16, 2006

Tom's Future of Web Apps, Translated for Product Managers

I've had a tab open in my browser pointing at Tom's Native to a Web of Data slide for a few days now. It's been nagging me. I needed to do something with the ideas encapsulated in that one slide, and tonight it struck me while I was doing something completely unrelated.

Though I wasn't at his presentation and haven't talked with Tom about this, I've decided to annotate (some may say "translate") them for the benefit of the typical MBA laden, non-engineering focused Product Manager that you might find at a large Internet company... or anyone else who cares, really. :-)

Look to add value to the Aggregate Web of data

As a company with infrastructure that can scale to scan, retrieve, and analyze a significant portion of all the public on-line information in the world, think about how you can use those capabilities to improve the world. What can you do that someone looking at a much smaller set of the data cannot? What patterns can be found? What connections can be made? What can you simplify for people?

Build for normal users, developers, and machines

Make whatever you build easy to use, easy to hack, and make it emit useful data in a structured form. That means you need a usability geek, an API geek, and probably an XML/RSS/JSON geek.

Start designing with data, not pages

Figure out what data is important, how it will be stored, represented, and transferred. Think about the generic services that one can build on top of that repository. Only then should you get the wireframe geeks and/or the photshop geeks involved.

This is scary, because you won't have a mock-up right away. Your PowerPoint presentations will look as if they're missing something. But that's okay. This is about doing some engineering style design before product design and interface mocks.

Identify your first order objects and make them addressable

Figure out what your service is fundamentally about. If it's a social shopping application, you're probably dealing with people, items, and lists of items. Nail those before going farther. And make sure there's a way to access each object type from the outside world. That means there's a URL for fetching information about an item, a list, etc.

These are the building blocks that you'll use to make more complex things later on. Hopefully others will too.

Use readable, reliable, and hackable URLs

If the URL is hard to read over the phone or wraps in email, you're not there yet. Simplicity and predictability rule here. Consider something like http://socialshopping.com/item/12345. You can guess what that URL does, can't you?

You may not grasp how important this is, but don't let that stop you from worry about it. This stuff really does matter. Look at how most URLs in del.icio.us are guessable and simple. Mimic that.

Correlate with external identifier schemes

Don't go inventing complete new ways to represent and/or structure things if there's already an established mechanism that'd work. Not only is such effort wasteful, it significantly lowers the chance that others will adopt it and help to strengthen the platform you're building.

You are building a platform, whether you believe it or not.

Build list views and batch manipulation interfaces

Make it easy to see all items of a given type and make it possible to edit them as a group. Flickr does this when you upload a batch of photos. Search, in its many forms, is the classic example of a "list view."

Create parallel data services using standards

Developers (and the code they write) will want to consume your data. Do not make this an afterthought. Get your engineers thinking about how they might use the data, and make sure they design the product to support those fantasies. Again, always default to using an existing standard or extending one when necessary. Look at how flexible RSS and Atom are.

Don't re-invent the wheel.

Make your data as discoverable as possible

The names and attributes you use should be descriptive to users and developers, not merely a byproduct of the proprietary internal system upon which they're built. This means thinking like an outsider and doing a bit of extra work.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:14 PM

MicroFiber Cloth Towels for Great Cleaning

I must have missed the microfiber revolution. The other day I mentioned my visit to Costco looking for some micofiber towels that proved to clean a glider canopy exceptionally well (compared to the towels I used to use). Well, I'm happy to report that they work very well for cleaning flat panel LCD monitors, TVs, windows, and basically everything else I've tried.

microfiber auto towels I can't wait to try them out on the inside of my car. It desperately needs cleaning on the windows and dashboard.

So if you're looking for some most excellent cleaning towels cheap, Costco has these Ultra-Soft MicroFiber Auto Cloths. The picture at the right is a snapshot of the bag. I nearly walked past them twice, so keep an eye out for the yellow towels in the blue bag. IIRC, they're $9.99 for a 20 pack.

I also snapped a picture of the flip side and have larger versions of the front and back available as well. Overkill, yes, but what the hell.

I never thought I'd get this excited about cleaning supplies. But then again, I also really like my Dyson DC14 Animal too. :-)

Now, here' what I'm wondering. Had I completely missed the boat on this? Or are these towels actually a well kept secret?

Posted by jzawodn at 07:16 AM

February 15, 2006

Password Insanity

The other day I had my third encounter with the most annoying password changing requirements I've ever seen. The company (ADP) that we outsource our online Payroll accounting work to requires that I change my password now and then.

That's reasonable, but the sheer complexity and anal retentive nature of their system could drive one to drink. Heavily.

password insanity

Click for the full image that contains even more rules!

Let me summarize the rules, as I now understand them.

Passwords must:

  • contain a number
  • contain an uppercase letter
  • contain a lowercase letter
  • be at least 8 characters in length
  • be fewer than 15 characters in length
  • contain a "special" character
  • not be recycled (though this is not explicitly listed, it's true)
  • not contain more than 3 repeating characters ("zzz", "aaa", etc.)
  • not contain more than 3 incremented or decremented numeric strings ("123", "876", etc.)
  • not contains more than 3 incremented or decremented alphabetic strings ("abc", "zyx", "mno", etc.)

Got all that?

Last time I changed passwords, it took seven tries to come up with something that satisfied all their requirements.

Sheesh. My online banking and brokerage accounts aren't half this difficult.

I really wonder why they don't offer to generate a new password for me. With all those rules, it's unlikely that I'll be able to create a memorable one anyway--at least without more mental effort than it's worth.

What's the worst set of password requirements you've seen?

Posted by jzawodn at 12:43 PM

Oracle Acquisitions are not about MySQL

I've been thinking about this for the last day or so and have come to the conclusion that Oracle's acquisition of Sleepycat Software (and Berkeley DB) is not about MySQL. Even when combined with their previous purchase of Innobase Oy (and InnoDB), it's not about MySQL.

With all due respect to Phil Windley (and Gadgetopia), you're wrong. Oracle is thinking much bigger and more strategically than "put the squeeze on MySQL."

Trying to put MySQL out of business would be a fairly short-term tactical move. I think Oracle is looking 5 years down the road and seeing what the world looks like as the commoditization of enterprise scale infrastructure software components continues. They're seeing that they "own" a progressively smaller piece of that pie unless they act soon. The rumors of Oracle eyeing JBoss and others are completely in line with this thinking.

If Oracle can become a one-stop shop for folks building the next generation of big business applications, whether or not they use "traditional" Oracle software, the company manages to stay relevant in the new world--and that includes their lucrative consulting services.

Is this reminiscent of IBM's approach to Linux circa 2001? It sure is.

Think bigger guys. Oracle's not just a database company and hasn't been for years.

Now, they could still end up putting the squeeze on MySQL along the way. But I suspect that'd be a happy byproduct of larger moves they're making.

What do you think?

Posted by jzawodn at 07:22 AM

February 14, 2006

Costco Reconnaissance

After living in California for over 6 years, I finally broke down and got myself a Costco membership tonight. It's not terribly new to me, since we had Sam's Club back in Ohio and I'd occasionally go there with my Mom to, uh, "help" her shop. (Ooh! We need some of this, right?!)

Why did I wait so long? I have no idea.

Why did I finally get the membership? One of my flying buddies mentioned that he got some great micro fiber towels there for cleaning aircraft canopies. I used one over the weekend and decided that I needed some of my own. And he was actually the third pilot who told me of something useful he bought at Costco cheaply in the last year.

As the say, the third time's a charm. So I headed over there tonight, got the membership, and walked the whole store without a shopping cart. I wanted to resist the temptation to buy more than I can carry out on my first visit. This was a reconnaissance mission.

That exercise was quite useful, since I now have a very good idea what I shouldn't buy at the local grocery store anymore. Next time I hit Costco, I'll stock up on those items.

As a bonus, my local Costco shares a parking lot with the nearest Trader Joe's. I end up going there once a month anyway.

Got any favorite Costco deals?

Posted by jzawodn at 09:31 PM

Seatbelts on the Starship Enterprise?

Why doesn't the bridge crew on the starship Enterprise (you know, from Star Trek) wear seatbelts? I'm not talking about some fancy 4 or 5 point Hooker Harness, just a simple seatbelt. Something to keep them from flying all over the place during a crash landing or encounter with .

Given that Stormtroopers Have Very Poor Aim, I guess we shouldn't be surprised that Starfleet engineers have such amazing disregard for safety.

I'm really not sure why I though of this just now, but it's been bugging me for years (apparently).

Posted by jzawodn at 04:44 PM

Oracle Buys Berkeley DB, Sleepycat Software

Wow, the rumors were true. Oracle is snapping up Open Source Database companies now. First it was Innobase (see Oracle buys Innobase. MySQL between rock and hard place?) and now it's Sleepycat Software.

The purchase of Sleepycat, which has been rumored for weeks, gives Oracle another open-source product to complement its proprietary database offerings. At an investor conference last week, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison reiterated the company's strategy to generate revenue from a combination of open-source and proprietary software.

They produce and support the famed Berkeley DB embedded database engine and have radically improved it's features since the version 1.x days. Nowadays you get a small, fast, transactional database engine with industrial grade reliability and replication.

It's interesting to note that MySQL's first transactional storage engine (BDB) was created on top of Berkeley DB. Their more popular transactional storage engine (InnoDB) is built on top of technology produced by Innobase, which Oracle bought last year.

This leads to the obvious question: What is Oracle up to? Are they trying to do to Open Source Databases what Yahoo appears to be doing to Web 2.0 companies?

There's been speculation of a master plan at Oracle that involves buying up various bits of the Open Source infrastructure used in building applications. Is JBoss next, as some have suggested?

We'll see.

Posted by jzawodn at 07:50 AM

Hey TailRank! Flickr just called...

And they want their error message back!

tailrank massage

(Inspired by Kevin Burton's "Hey Yahoo..." rant.)

Seriously, you couldn't come up with your own downtime message? Flickr gets a massage, Bloglines has a plumber, etc.

Posted by jzawodn at 07:23 AM

February 13, 2006

Yahoo! UI and Design Patterns Released

As noted over on WeBreakStuff:

Yahoo! keeps showing the world how much they get web 2.0. This time, they’ve done the unexpected and opened the sources to the UI library (that includes visual effects, connection handlers - think ajax -, dom handlers, and drag-and-drop controls) under a BSD license. Also, they’re now sharing their design patterns under a Creative Commons license.


Over on the Yahoo! Developer Network, you'll find the Design Pattern Library and the Yahoo! User Interface Library.

The Yahoo! User Interface Library is a set of utilities and controls, written in JavaScript, for building richly interactive web applications using techniques such as DOM scripting, HTML and AJAX. The UI Library Utilities facilitate the implementation of rich client-side features by enhancing and normalizing the developer's interface to important elements of the browser infrastructure (such as events, in-page HTTP requests and the DOM).

This is some seriously cool shit if you're a web developer.

If that's not enough, the Yahoo! User Interface Blog is where you can hear from some of our UI experts first hand (and talk to them, of course).

Posted by jzawodn at 10:00 PM

The Yahoo! Music Blog Rocks

I've recently realized that the Yahoo! Music Blog is my new favorite Yahoo blog--official or not. As noted by DJ Alchemy:

This isn't the way we are used to billion-dollar corporations talking to their customers. In these and other examples, Yahoo embraces and embodies what David Weinberger calls the authentic voice — a concept he applies to corporations at greater length in his book, Small Pieces Loosely Joined.
So, well done to Yahoo for the attitude, for 'getting it', for being less stilted, and for recognising the value of conversation.


Ian and crew are kicking butt over there.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:54 PM

Removing Distractions at Work

I've done a few things recently that have greatly reduced the perceived strain on my little brain during the work day:

  1. I rarely run instant messaging clients anymore. Just as I realized after giving up television, this is something that was far more distracting and I first realized.
  2. Change mailing list subscriptions. We have an internal news server (news as in NNTP or Usenet) at Yahoo that gets a subset of our high-volume internal mailing lists. I changed my subscription preferences so that I get them as a daily digest that'll still be searchable locally. As for actively reading them, I do that once or twice a day with Thunderbird. This resulted in a lot less context switching too.
  3. Wake up at the same time every day. Not having to change my alarm clock setting means not worrying as much about what's going on tomorrow. It's a stupid but simple trick that really does help.

Have you tried cutting stuff from your daily work routine recently? Did it help?

Posted by jzawodn at 05:44 PM

Another plane runs out of gas in San Jose

It seems like just weeks ago I wrote Bay Area Plane Lands on Highway. And today I awoke to find that we've had yet another episode of poor judgement on behalf of a local pilot.

According to the Merc:

A pilot and two passengers in a small plane emerged unscathed Sunday after an emergency landing near Reid-Hillview Airport.

Ack. Reid-Hillview is not an airport where you want to come up short. On final approach when landing to the north, you fly over a good sized field (okay to land on if you're careful), then a mall (one pilot landed on the roof there a few years back), Tully Road (very hard to land on), and then the airport fence (ouch!). See for yourself.

The plane, a Beechcraft, ran out of gas, forcing the pilot to land on Tully Road several hundred feet short of Reid-Hillview's runway, according to Bruce Nelson, an official with the Federal Aviation Administration. The plane, which missed some cars, wound up in a field near Tully, officials said.

That leads me to believe that he ran out of gas on his downwind leg (see Airfield Traffic Pattern), turned base abeam Tully, and then decided to ditch on the road after he lost too much altitude.

landing pattern

Hmm. Did anyone get hurt?

The pilot and two passengers were not injured, but the plane was severely damaged in the incident, which occurred shortly before 3 p.m. The pilot ran out of gas because he did not properly switch gas tanks, officials said.

Okay, there are two things I can conclude from that accident cause:

  1. Planes that require tank switching are more dangerous. The last accident was also the result of a pilot having sufficient fuel but not switching tanks. Why don't more planes have fuel cross-feed systems?
  2. If the passengers weren't hurt but the plane was severely damaged, he probably ran off the road and plowed into a fence at fairly high speed (depending on the exact model Beechcraft, it likely had a reasonably high landing speed). If that's not the case, he may have clipped the wings on the utility poles on either side of the road.

On Saturday I performed seven landings on the runway this pilot missed. The difference is that my instructors teach us to fly a pattern close enough to the airport that you can make the runway even if your engine dies. I'm not sure why everyone doesn't learn that method. Coming from the background of flying gliders, it makes a hell of a lot of sense.

Posted by jzawodn at 07:28 AM

February 09, 2006

Trust People and They'll Surprise You

Amazing things happen when you give people a bit of trust and authority to do things according to their own judgment. I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I stumbled upon a Fast Company article called Engines of Democracy. It describes a revolutionary jet engine plant in Durham, North Carolina that produces some of General Electric's most important engines: the GE90, the CF6, and the CFM56.

I'm going to quote from it heavily, but you really should read the whole article.

GE/Durham has more than 170 employees but just one boss: the plant manager. Everyone in the place reports to her. Which means that on a day-to-day basis, the people who work here have no boss. They essentially run themselves.

How does that possibly scale? Self-managed teams.

The jet engines are produced by nine teams of people -- teams that are given just one basic directive: the day that their next engine must be loaded onto a truck. All other decisions -- who does what work; how to balance training, vacations, overtime against work flow; how to make the manufacturing process more efficient; how to handle teammates who slack off -- all of that stays within the team.

Not only are the teams self-managing, they have unprecedented authority and transparency.

Everyone knows how much money everyone else makes, because employees are paid according to his or her skill... This plant has no time clock. Workers leave to go to their kids' band concerts and Little League games.

The results are pretty compelling:

When it all comes together, GE/Durham can accomplish things that are almost unheard of -- even in the world of sophisticated manufacturing.
Although comparisons between GE plants are difficult--no two plants do exactly the same kind of work, with exactly the same kind of overhead to support it--Bob McEwan, who has authority over GE/Durham says simply, "They are the best in the GE Aircraft Engines division."
The most interesting measure may be one that the people at GE/Durham talk about themselves. They don't really think that their main job it so make jet engines. They think that their main job is to make jet engines better.


But you don't have to be a highly skilled worker making jet engines to see this at work. Anyone flying on Southwest Airlines has seen this too. Scott Gatz, in Trusting a community to get it right, observed the following:

You might think that the SWA gates would be a madhouse, but in fact they are very orderly. People arrive and begin to lineup into three lines (A, B and C) in a quite orderly fashion. People in each row are cordial to each other asking “is this the line for B to san diego?” and exchanging niceties and often that question allows people to break into a friendly conversation. If you were to look at the gate area from above, you’d see what looks like three branches on a tree, they curve around the furniture and the walls, but they are a line.

He goes on to compare it with America West:

A throng of people surrounded the doorway to their gate, each trying to push past each each other so they could get to their seat earlier (even though they know they are guaranteed to sit in the same seat no matter how quickly they board).

And he connected the dots:

It struck me that this is a lot like community on the web, if you give people a little guidance and a benefit, they’ll actually organize themselves just fine. On SWA, the benefit of being orderly is a smoother travel experience and a good seat and the guidance is telling people where they stand — those that are in line C know that no amount of pushing will get them good seats and those in A know that they are gonna be in a seat they like no matter what. On AW, they don’t ask anything of the traveller, they don’t trust the travellers to line up, they treat travel as a solitary experience “every man for themselves”. And it shows.

Duh, right?

Well, maybe.

On the web, we’ve seen some really interesting communities grow: flickr, delicious, craigslist. All of them give benefits to people in the community (tags make it easier to find stuff, the tools allow you to connect with friends or meet new people or sell stuff, etc) and all give a simple amount of guidance “to get those benefits, we’d like you to tag, post, rate, report bad stuff, etc”. And you know, the community organizes itself. Those communities police themselves a bit. There’s abuse (”people cutting line”), but its buried deep down in the site because the community won’t rate it or will report it. Those communities help me find where the good stuff is, because, that’s what they’d want someone to do for them. And the sites actually ask people to do it and reward people for doing it right. Really quite simple.

To summarize: give people some trust and authority. They deserve it. You'll be amazed at what they can do without you supervising their every move. It works for employees and customers.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:57 PM

Loyalty Programs for Search

A number of folks have commented on the survey that some Yahoo! Mail users received about search incentives. I don't know a lot about it, but I'm a bit surprised by the reactions to this hardly new idea. (A9 has had something similar for a while with Amazon.com)

Incentives won’t make Yahoo or MSN #1 search:

On the heels of saying they were not going to focus on being #1 search and then taking that back, Yahoo is now flirting around with an incentive plan for users who switch to their search. What a cliche this “incentives to do XYZ thing” is and for them it’s a sign of desperation to me.

That's a pretty cynical view of the situation. Let's look at it in light of other incentive programs. The airlines have been doing this for years. You fly with American Airlines and they'll give you "mileage points" that you can accumulated and redeem for free travel and such. Discover Card offers cash back at the end of the year.

Why do they do this?

Because when you're in a commodity business, you need to offer people a reason to choose you and stick with your service. They need something that helps to break the tie in their head. Choosing between two or more nearly indistinguishable services is always hard.

You might not think that web search is a commodity service, but I've seen public and private data that suggests we're headed that way. It was only a matter of time, right?

Does that mean there won't be other differentiating features? Of course not. But the core services are pretty darn similar today, aren't they?

Some people fly American because they offer more room in coach. But those frequent flier miles don't hurt either.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:00 PM

Earn Your Traffic

Seth answers the question "how can I get more traffic?" by questioning the word "get" in the question.

People never say, "how can I earn more traffic?" or "How can I rethink the core of what I'm offering so that it organically attracts people who want to see it?"
Getting traffic is a little like getting a date. You can probably manipulate the system for a little while (I had a roommate in college who was great at it) but self-reinvention is a markedly better long-term strategy.

Part of me wants to say "well, duh!"

But on the other hand, I've heard the question asked so often that a lot of folks really must not understand.

Posted by jzawodn at 08:07 PM

Search, Privacy, and Human Rights: It's gonna get worse before it gets better

Is it just me or is this starting to seem like the year in which the privacy shit hits the fan for search companies?

We're barely into 2006 stuff is coming at us (Yahoo and the other big players) from all directions: the Department of Justice, Big Media, irate bloggers, China, etc. I don't know what's next, but I really believe that it's going to get worse before it gets better. Maybe a lot worse.

When John Battelle visited Yahoo late last year, he talked a bit about this in this "database of intentions" worst case privacy scenario.

Who KNEW that we we so exposed?! Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc. are FLOODED with requests about their privacy policies: What information do you have about me? How can I see it? What do you use if for? Come on, tell me EVERYTHING! Who else has access to it? How can I edit it? Protect it? Delete it? Manage it?

I, for one, am not looking forward to this.

But it's all part of shaking out how this new technology is really going to work in and with our governments, laws, and values. It's too bad we can't discuss it before things start blowing up...

Posted by jzawodn at 06:18 PM

February 08, 2006

Greg Boser Says Big Companies Should Spam Search Engines

It's not the first time I've heard this logic, but Greg's done a better job than most by putting it in simple terms:

We’ll be allowed to take cuts because search engines want our sites to show up. They want them to show up because their users expect to see them. And those users don’t give a shit about what’s contained in the source code. All they care about is whether or not they land on a page that matches their search.
Until that fact changes, there will be virtually no risk associated with aggressive SEO for big brands. And as long as the risks are low, managers of big brands would be foolish not to explore potential strategies that will ultimately improve the visibility of their brands simply because a search engine has said they disapprove.

Is he right? Are the big brands (IBM, BMW, Apple, Toyota, Playboy, etc.) so important to search engines (or their users), that they should "optimize" first and worry about being discovered later?

Put another way, what if every one of the Fortune 500 decided to follow BMW's lead and spam Google? Who win?

Sure, it's an extreme case. But most fun thought experiments are. :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 09:21 PM

Thinking Out Loud

Irina pinged me the other day to let me know I was listed over on Top Ten Sources in the thinking bloggers section.

The subtitle on that particular part of the site is "Thinking Out Loud" and I think it describes the main reason I got into this blogging thing several years back. I think of it as being able to think about things in public by posting what are essentially draft ideas and then get feedback from lots of smart people.

That got me thinking. It's been a long time since I had a blogroll on my site. I subscribe to far too many feeds anymore. It'd be difficult list them all here. But if I had to pick my "top ten sources", who might they be?

I'll have to think on that one for a while...

Posted by jzawodn at 08:48 PM

Blog and Feed Tool Vendors: Ripe for Consolidation

In the past year or so, there have been a few aggregator-centric acquisitions. But that's really just the tip of the iceberg. As Mike Manuel notes, there are completely separate tools to:

Holy crap! And that small sampling doesn't even count the numerous hosting options.

Most of the stuff on that list comes from small companies that are likely to find themselves competing against much larger companies or simply bought out.

It's gonna be really fun to see how 2006 works out. Who will be left standing?

Posted by jzawodn at 08:33 PM

February 07, 2006

When Committees Suck the Life Out of Great Ideas

A few days ago, I saw a nice graphic on the Creating Passionate Users blog which was intended to illustrate Death by risk-aversion:

death by risk aversion

I contend that you can make a very similar graphic to illustrate what happens when too many people get involved in designing a product. Often this takes the form of a cross-functional team of representatives from different parts of a large business. The result is the same: an underwhelming product that excites very few people, including those who worked on it!

Perhaps someday when I leave, I'll follow in the Xoogler's tradition and write about some of the things I've experienced in my years at Yahoo. You'd be shocked by some of the no-brainers I've seen long, stupid arguments over. Luckily I have some pretty excellent stories to balance out those.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:27 PM

Connecting People Via Search

Ken Norton makes a very interesting observation about "people search":

Somehow, subconsciously, LinkedIn has become my people search engine of choice. Interesting.

Interesting indeed.

I, too, have used LinkedIn to find people a few times. When it works, it works pretty well. But in my limited experience, it only solves half the problem. LinkedIn works well for finding someone when you already know their name. But if you're looking for someone in your network of connections who can help with a woodworking project or has a special skill, it's a different story.

I think there's a big opportunity there.

It's also amusing that the old Yahoo! People Search seems to do neither of those terribly well. It's more of a "white pages for the Internet" that's useful in a stalking sort of way. ;-)

Posted by jzawodn at 07:56 PM

February 06, 2006

Google vs. BMW, a sanity check

Okay, I'm officially puzzled by those who are complaining about Google's treatment of BMW's SEO techniques. Like anyone else who violates their guidelines, BMW is subject to the consequences.

Take, for example, the Google Orwellian story on Publishing 2.0:

It’s one thing for Google to tweak its algorithms to lower the search ranking of sites they perceive to be "gaming the system" (although even this is Big-Brotherish) — it’s quite another to summarily reduce a company’s page rank to zero.
You could argue that Google has searchers best interest in mind, but when you smell the stench of "orthodoxy," you have to ask yourself — is Google’s unchecked power really serving its users well, or is it being blinded by its own definition of "right" and "wrong" in the struggle to get noticed online.

Oh, cry me a river!

Google is not some public utility or government service. They can do whatever they want with their search index: make it better, make it worse, censor it, randomize it, or sell printed copies on a street corner.


Because it's their index.

The thought that there's some "unchecked" power is the most amusing of all. The ultimate checks and balances are at work in Google's case. If its users start to dislike the results they get, they'll seek out alternatives. Google's power will diminsh.

Is Publishing 2.0 at risk for this display of dissent? How far down the slippery slip does Google have to slide before they start Stalinistically stamping out dissent?

Put down the tin foil hat, man.

Posted by jzawodn at 08:57 PM

Dear Loud Woman in the Terminal

Please shut the hell up. Your husband is trying to read the newspaper and you keep interrupting him with annoying comments. Now that you're talking on the phone, everyone within 150 feet can hear you explain how the Super Bowl should have been played.

You're incredibly loud and it's not even 7:30am local time. How can you not realize that? Are you missing the "how to be discrete in public" bit of your brain?

And why are you pacing so close to me? I'm so tempted to take your picture and post it here.


I'm waiting in Chicago for an early flight back to San Jose. I spent the night here after finally flying out of Detroit. We had multiple equipment delays (3+ hours) and pretty much everyone on our flight missed their connections. So instead of being back at home last night, I'm getting back mid-day while my head is still mostly on eastern time.

What fun!

Posted by jzawodn at 05:29 AM

February 03, 2006

Helen Zawodny: 1922 - 2006

As printed in the Toledo Blade:

Helen Zawodny, age 83, passed away on January 30, 2006, at the Franciscan Care Center. She was born June 10, 1922, to Vincent and Josephine (Osinski) Pisarski. Helen was one of 15 siblings, 7 brothers and 7 sisters, all of which preceded her in death except for her youngest sister, Leona Fiser. Helen was a homemaker, and in her earlier life, she was a devoted crossword puzzle maven and a St. Hyacinth's Mom & Pop league bowler. She prided herself on her silky coffeecakes and cherry nut cakes. In her later years, Helen became reclusive, seeking solace in her reading, devouring literally hundreds of books. Helen was preceded in death by her loving husband, Daniel T. Zawodny. She will be dearly missed by sons, David (Dorothy), Thomas (Charlotte) of Xenia, OH and Joseph (Dana Forrest) Zawodny of Poquoson, VA; grandchildren, Jeremy Zawodny, April (Brian) Neff, Jason Zawodny, Loren Zawodny, Sarah Zawodny, Maria Zawodny and Eva Zawodny; great-grandchildren, Gabriella and Daniel Zawodny.
Family and friends may visit at the W.K. Sujkowski & Son Funeral Home, 3838 Airport Hwy., on Thursday from 2-8 p.m. with a recitation of the Rosary at 4 p.m. Funeral Services will be held on Friday, February 3, 2006 at 9:30 a.m. followed by Mass of Christian Burial at St. Hyacinth Church at 10 a.m. Entombment to follow at Resurrection Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, the family request donations may be made to the Franciscan Care Center (4111 N. Holland-Sylvania Rd.) or Hospice of Northwest Ohio.
The family extends a very special thanks to the tireless caretakers at the Franciscan Care Center (Sylvania, OH) where Helen spent her final months.

Grandma was interred earlier today.

Posted by jzawodn at 08:46 PM