Fast Takes

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Name: John McDowall
Location: Redwood City, California, US

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Search: Depth, breadth and trust

This Yahoo Search vs. Google and Technorati: Link Counts and Analysis (by Jeremy Zawodny) prompted some thoughts about how search engines are going beyond a nice to have to a critical part of business and personal lives. With that comes a host of issues and makes that deciding on which search engine to use based on the number of pages it indexes and how fast it re-indexes them a secondary metric.

The most important metrics are going to become who can I trust most and who is less prone to manipulation either by inside advertisters or through extranal manipulation by sophisticated (and some not so sophisticated) linking schemes. How trust is propogated through a search engine is going to become the key differentiator (IMHO) over the next several years not the index size or refresh rate.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Tools and Artisans

This from Doug Tidwell: "They're afraid that if they open up their business processes, their customers will realize just how little value they add" via Mark Baker.

My feeling is that many organizations confuse have cool tools/software with having people that know how to use the output effectively. The goal of business processes is to deliver information to decision makers. The difference between a great artisan and the rest of us is not the tools they use it is in their native and acquired skills. The same is true in any organization - great people succeed no matter what - good tools merely help make their life easier.

and to Doug's other point - no The Specials were the coolest ;-)

Monday, June 20, 2005

Interesting technique for predicating trends

This from Tim O'Reilly via Tim Bray ongoing - The Java + Open Source Sweet Spot. When books were the primary vehicle for knowledge transfer I used to measure success/adoption by shelf inches at Stacy's (Great Technical bookstore in San Francisco). Tim O'Reilly now has a more scientific approach - and please increase the graph size, I need a magnifying glass to read the data.

However I am not sure this now tells the full story. I have noticed a substantial drop in my book buying habit, much to the relief of my wife who has had to navigate the piles around the house. It is not that I read less but rather the internet is more the source of up to date information rather than a book. I have mixed feelings about this, as I enjoy reading information from a book, especially sitting out on a warm sunny day. Laptops just do not cut it for reading outside or on the train etc. While the information junkie in me loves the immediacy of the internet and ability to research any problem quickly and easily. Hopefully tablet machines will get to the point where they are readable in all environments.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005


I did a podcast last week with John Furrier of PodTech - fun way of having a live discussion InfoTalk? : A Podcasting Radio Show - "Fresh voices of Silicon Valley, Technology, and Media" He is looking for other CTOs for his series - so drop him a line.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Loosely coupled the simpler the better

Matthew Adams makes a great clear case for not prescribing the end point technology. I would further interpret this as by keeping the definition of the end point to the minimum. Not prescribing the end point keeps the service loosely coupled, which is the objective yes?

Monday, June 13, 2005

Peer to peer or client server

Reading a little on Ruby over the weekend I was struck by how artificial we have made that boundary between client and servers (Note: I have very limited knowledge of Ruby so excuse an inaccuracies). Ruby has a built in http server as part of the language. This seemed very sensible - most other language environments make http servers/interfaces a different part of the system.

This blurring of the lines between client and server seems to be the right direction. In this I would include AJAX both the client and server can send and receive events the only real difference is who is in control (machine or human) - does there need to any other difference's? It should be all about breaking down the barriers!

Monday, June 06, 2005

The power of the web

The simple power of the web was brought home to me this week by my six year old. He had figured out Google Image search with a friend and proceeded to announce that Google was his new favorite toy. We spent all weekend helping him spell words to type into Google - he even helped his younger sister find Barbie pictures. It is so easy a six year old can use it - I wish all technology was that easy!

The amount of raw power in the hands of a six year old is something to consider. How will their brains develop when they have access to limitless information and what new skills will they need to develop to process it and determine fact from fiction?

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Economics for inside and outside

The drivers for using services and whether they should be inside the enterprise or outside the enterprise are partially rooted in the economics of fixed and variable costs. The fixed costs we all have are for our workstation, this cost has reduced dramatically from when it was a significant portion of an employees annual salary to the point where it is less than some monthly health insurance payments. Every employee now needs a workstation, an operating system, office software, and a communications suite - these are fixed costs ( this also includes in support and training). Whether you use Linux or Windows for large companies the costs are about the same as the biggest variable is usually support and training. A hard working CFO/CIO can shave maybe a few percent off these costs but in general they follow a fairly fix price model.

Enterprise software and services on the other hand have both potential for significant cost and for significant competitive advantage. The ability to turn these from fixed capital costs to variable utility model changes the way a company spends money. It shifts the capital expenses to the service provider and reduces large multi-year projects to simple connections. This has been touched on by Stefan Tilkov in The Same for Both Worlds and Tim Ewald looking at why inside and outside are different. I do not think they should be the fact they are largely different today is that the inside has not caught up with the fast evolution of the outside. The internet is much more loosely coupled than the enterprise and hence evolves faster. The goal of CIO's should be to move the internet model in house such that the enterprise becomes truly loosely coupled and can take advantage of services.

The other is the the wall between the enterprise and the internet is becoming increasingly porous and more irrelevant as services are delivered faster and better than enterprise software. It is no longer a competitive advantage to have enterprise software installed and managed internally it is both an unnecessary capital cost and an impediment to flexibility and moving the enterprise architecture to a variable cost model that tracks with the corporate performance.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Desktop software and services

In Dictatorship of the Minorities Ulrich Drepper argues the point about the distractions caused b y porting to minority platforms. In some ways this mirrors my argument in Open Source - Software or services. However after thinking about the issue for a while I see there being two primary classes of software, software that runs on my desktop and services that run else where. The else where is becoming the major change agent as I do not (and should not) be concerned where the services are run providing they have an acceptable SLA (this includes security, latency, scalability, availability, etc.) for a reasonable cost.

While I am not sure the "dictatorship of the minorities" should or will be solved on the desktop it can certainly be solved by services as they only need to run on a single platform. Putting it another way - the value of desktop software (and I include server software in this group) is measured by the breadth of platform support and deployed seats, and how much it costs the owner of these seats to manage and support them while the value of services are measured by their SLA and it is someone elses problem to manage and support them.

Open source software has tremendous opportunity in the service model as there is no "Dictatorship of the Minorities" and the goals of writing great software can be supported by an economic model based on SLA not supporting software. In a recent article The Open Source Heretic Larry McVoy has a great quote:

"One problem with the services model is that it is based on the idea that you are giving customers crap--because if you give them software that works, what is the point of service?"

Infrastructure is necessary but does not differentiate a company, whether they run Linux or Windows will not materially impact there profitability as they need to have a certain amount of desktops and servers to run their business.

However using subscribing to and using innovative services wisely can transform a company in terms of significant cost reductions, dramatic increases in agility and the ability to quickly adopt innovative technologies that will differentiate them.