Cloud Burst

Warranted or not, the great delicious.com shutdown scare of December 2010 teaches us all an important lesson about the sustainability of cloud services.

If you’re not paying for a product, you are the product.

This quote paraphrased from blue_beetle on metafilter is very apt. Companies that offer free services to their users do so in the hopes they make a return on their investment to run a service. If you’re not paying for a subscription to use a service then you’re paying with your perceived attention through advertising. Let’s ignore the fact that there are multiple ways that Yahoo could have used the delicious corpus of annotated links to increase value across their network. The fact is nothing comes for free and if the owner can’t figure out how, they are within their rights to pull the plug. We all need to be aware of this fact in the same way that we need to read the fine print on any free checking or 0% financing deal we get in the mail.
The old adage still applies. Make sure that everything you put in you can take back out. Delicious has an export feature built into their API so that if you every get twitchy, you can grab your data and take it elsewhere. I would never put my blog onto a platform, hosted or not, that wouldn’t let me pull it back out. Beware of one-way streets.

So all this moving about and looking for a new home for your stuff brings up an old debate. Should you host your own data?

In the past this was not a realistic option for most. The costs and complexity of setting up your own domain and software was far to difficult and expensive. But it’s worth revisiting. The cost of hosting your own server has come down dramatically. Maybe it’s time has come when we can push things to the edge. Stephen Hay challenges us to ask why not:

What if we flipped this all on its head? What if we hosted our own data, and provided APIs for all these webapps so that they can use our data? … So instead of having our own websites aggregate our own data from other people’s websites, we’ll let other people use the data from our own websites. Photos, meaningfully tagged, can be pulled in by Flickr via our own personal API, if you will. We provide the structured data, Flickr provides the functionality. The sharing. The social. Why not?

Imagine a world where I pay $100/year to host all my stuff (blog posts, bookmarks, status updates, photos, videos, etc) which can offset that by services paying me for access to that content. Each service can “pay” me by providing a service that plays to their strength:

  • Yahoo pays me for access to my hosted photos with the collective photo tagging and geo-location tools on flickr.
  • Google pays me for access to my blog by sending me traffic and offering ad rev share.
  • Facebook pays me for access to a feed of my posts and likes by offering a social layer of my friends.
  • Twitter pays me for access to a feed of my status updates with distribution.

For the cost of a single month’s cable TV bill I now can pick and chose which service I use and turn off and on each one at will without fear of migration. Today I “host” my money at a bank and point all my monthly bills to that bank, why can’t I do the same with my digital savings? Bundling blog software with a hosting account was a business I helped set up at Six Apart. Adding email, photos, videos, and bookmarks and putting a nice user-friendly front end onto it could be a real opportunity for an clever hosting provider.

One final thought. If each of us hosts our own data, companies would be much more likely to standardize how they integrate with our data and make it easier to mix and match datasets. It’ll be in their interest to offer the best tools for data to flow in and services to flow out. With users and data aggregating into just a handful of large players, it is not in a company’s interest to offer these tools, it’s better for them to lock users and data up to prevent loss of audience and attention used to monetize those users.

That’s a topic for the next another post (which is posted here)

200-year old Champagne Preserved by Icy Baltic

Earlier this year it was reported that several cases of champagne were discovered in a shipwreck 55 meters under the Baltic Sea, off the small island of Åland near Finland. After tasting it, a local champagne expert suspected that the bottles were from Veuve Cliquot, the famous French maker established in 1772. Out of a total cargo of 172 bottles, 168 were recovered intact and in November, more experts were invited to Åland to recork several bottles and, in the process, confirm their identity. Jean-Hervé Chiquet, visiting in November is quoted in the New York Times today

He was “overcome with emotion,” he said, when he first tasted the Champagne at the recorking in November.

“There was a powerful but agreeable aroma, notes of dried fruit and tobacco, and a striking acidity,” Mr. Chiquet said by telephone. The oldest Champagne in Jacquesson’s inventory is from 1915, he said.

The Champagne was probably en route to the court of Czar Alexander II in St. Petersburg when the wooden cargo vessel sank. Though the exact age of the Champagne is not yet known, it goes up against tough competition in the oldest Champagne category.

The Champagne house Perrier-Jouët claims that its vintage of 1825 is the oldest recorded Champagne in existence. Mr. Hautekeur said Veuve Clicquot’s oldest drinkable bottle was from 1904.

It’s not clear how old these bottles are but markings on the cork, the shape of the bottles, and plates also found on the wreck puts them in the early 1800’s. Most of the champagne survived and is quite drinkable with the tiny bubbles still visible and the taste, “compared favorably to some of the best Champagnes today.” The total darkness of frigid waters off of Finland served as the perfect wine cellar.

Longevity

I was just cleaning up some old blog posts and noticed that the link to a Honda viral video made over seven years ago is not only still live, but still generating comments. The video is hosted at albinoblacksheep.com, not affiliated with Honda in any way. Is it a wasted opportunity not to have this video archived over on honda.com?

While working at Yahoo, I recall many sites that built up huge, actively engaged communities around specific advertising campaigns only to be shut down and 404’d when the campaign is over. Sometimes they are redirected (i.e. yahoo.com/starwars redirects to starwars.com) but often times the community is forced to disband and all momentum is lost.

Which brand-supported communities do you think should have been maintained?

Captain Haddock

Captain Haddock in Tintin in Tibet

I jumped on the latest Facebook meme and changed my profile picture to a comic character from my childhood. My father, whenever he went on a business trip, would buy me a new Tintin book. After awhile, I had every single issue and would read them from cover-to-cover, over and over again. Funny now when I leaf back through my old copies to see that Captain Haddock, my favorite character, was basically an alcoholic. Not a role model that would pass muster today but we live in different times.

Captain Haddock was famous for his colorful insults (Billions of Blistering Blue Barnacles and a Thundering Typhoon!!). You can experience them for yourself on the wonderful Captain Haddock Insult Generator.

$335k For Virtual Property, What Bubble?

Club Neverdie

Yes we all may laugh at people spending real money on virtual goods but for some it makes economic sense. Club Neverdie in Entropia is a “turnkey” business that runs itself. Set up as a place of entertainment, it generates cash that more that covers the initial cost of investment and has now attracted investors, one who paid $335,000 for a portion of the club.

Yan Panasjuk couldn’t take out a mortgage for this property so he funded this investment from his own pocket. Yet, when questioned by Forbes as to why he had faith in getting a return, his response was quite optimistic and telling:

“When motion pictures were first invented there were a lot of critics saying that it is a novelty act and it would never amount to anything nor will be able  to make any real money once the novelty wears off – last time i checked Avatar has grossed 2.7 billion dollars world wide. Most recent example is MTV and Internet but then you know those stories well enough. Virtual Universe is the next logical step in world entertainment and although there are a lot of critics and people shaking heads it is here to stay and take its ranks among the greats.

According to the Forbes profile of Mr. Panasjuk, he is a 35 year old software engineer living in Boston who was born in the former Soviet Union.

Using Wordle to Visualize Keyword Traffic

On Avinash’s excellent Ten Steps to Love & Success post on Web Data Analysis he writes about using the keyword tag cloud visualization tool Wordle to visualize search terms used to reach your site. Below is a visualization that I made in representing the top 500 phrases which were used to discover this site over the past three years.

Click for full size image

It took me only a few minutes to make this image. All you need is Google Analytics running on your site, Excel or other spreadsheet software, a text editor, and access to wordle.net. Here’s what you do:

  1. In Google Analytics, take a look at the Traffic Sources > Keywords report. By default it will show you the top 10 search terms from the past month. Change this to the top 500 and extend the date range to the maximum history of your blog.
  2. Click Export up top and export the data as a CSV file. If you have Excel, use it to strip out the extra columns and rows. You only need the Keywords and number of times used. Strip away everything else. Save what’s left as a csv file that you can open in your text editor (*.txt).
  3. Open the file you just saved in your text editor and replace the “,” on each row with a colon “:”
  4. Open your browser to the advanced tab on wordle.net.
  5. Copy the keyword rows from your text editor and paste them into the weighted words or phrases box on the wordle.net site (the first box).
  6. Click Go and visualize

You can fiddle around with the fonts, color and layout until you get an image you like. Share in the comments links to your own creations.

The Next Opportunity in Publishing

Much to the chagrin of my wife, I took over the remote on our internet-enabled TV (old macbook hooked up via HD cable to the back of our flatscreen) to catch highlights from the Web 2 Summit taking place this week in San Francisco.

Steven Berlin-Johnson’s “high order bit” on the early history of book “technology” and lessons it provides for opportunities for e-book publishers today was most compelling. The Kindle represents the most advanced form of electronic packaging of ideas today. Kindle books ship with a full index, mp3 sound files of the book being read, instant download and connections to related data via the web.

What’s missing? Deep links to ideas within the book so that it can be used as a reference. The internet didn’t really  take off until (1) The World Wide Web made it easy to link to other sites and pages and, (2) Google figured out by ranking the number of links to a page and the keywords used, they could calculate PageRank.

I wrote about two concept videos which suggested one possible Future of Print. If someone isn’t working on this now, they should.

Amazon, are you listening?

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Oulu Open Hack

I spent a couple days last week in Oulu (a city in Northern Finland) helping out on a hackfest. For more on the what, who and why, check out my previous post (Why we Hack). This post is to thank the sponsors and share how it went.

What always amazes me with these type of self-organizing events is the quality of the output. There were only four people volunteering in our spare time to put this together but we managed to pull it off. All the entries were good quality and I’m pretty sure everyone had fun.

Things kicked off with Kristian and I giving a brief overview of the ground rules and history of hack. We then stepped away to give the floor to Ivan Kuznetsov from HeiaHeia who came in on a night train from down south to join us and help get people inspired about their API. HeiaHeia is a cool concept. Kind of like a Foursquare for health where you check-in your workouts and receive praise (or jeers) from your friends.

Next, the UBI-Oulu guys showed us their platform which connects to 40+ interactive monitors around town. Each monitor has a bluetooth and gps sensor as well as a camera and they all talk to the UBI Platform which can read data from the web. With two huge projectors also running all night (nights are long during the Winter too) throwing images up on the side of the opera house in Oulu Harbor, you can let your imagination run wild on what you can build. If you think you have a good idea, I’d encourage you to submit it to their challenge by the end of November because the folks at UBI are granting 7000 – 10,000 EUR to the winning proposal.

Things hummed along and teams quickly settled into their groove. The one thing, in retrospect that I regret, is that we skipped over a round of introductions to get some cross team communication going. People did eventually chat with each other but, as a chatty American, I sometimes forget that it’s helpful to break the ice a bit to get things going.

The one highlight of the night (for me at least) was when I stepped outside to get some fresh air to wake me up a bit. I had an electronic key for the front door that I had been using all day but, unbeknown to me, this key no longer worked past midnight. All the people for whom I had a phone number had left so when I discovered that my key no longer worked, I tried to figure out what I could do. I tweeted using the #ouluopenhack hashtag to see if I could get the attention of anyone upstairs but, of course, they were all busy hacking.

So let me paint the picture. Oulu is North of Iceland, North of Fairbanks, Alaska, basically way the hell up there. In November it’s getting dark at around 3pm. By midnight, the time I’m standing there figuring out what I’m going to do, it’s pitch dark and very, very cold. It wasn’t quite life or death, I was dressed for the weather and I could have called a cab back to the hotel but I’m sure everyone upstairs would have been like, “What the hell happened to Kennedy?” so I resolved to figure out how to get back in but time was ticking.

Snow was on the ground but I luckily found one pebble and took at look up at the windows up on the second floor, the only ones lit, and and tried to imagine the room layout. I picked the one 2 feet x 2 feet window that I remember was next to a table with some guys working and threw the pebble, my single chance to get some attention. I lucked out and hit the window and two scruffy guys peered into the darkness to see me waving frantically and shortly afterwards padded down in their socks to pop open the door.

All the world’s technology at my disposal and I had to resort to communication technology made famous by Shakespere’s Romeo. Those that know what I’ve been working on at Nokia now know that my prototype now has a real-life use case!

I went back to playing with some Nokia APIs before moving on and fiddling around with the Twilio API to make a hack that, would allow someone to leave a message that would get transcribed by Google Voice and emailed to the Oulu Open Hack mailing list (just in case I got locked out again). I think I finally finished up and headed back to my hotel around 2am.

Prizes, we had three

One for the best app using Qt or QML, one for the best UBI hack, and the overall favorite by popular vote.

Alexander Savin won the Nokia C7 with a cool QML app which connected to HeiaHeia to visualize your workouts and automatically upload them to the service.

Ville Alatalo and Jyrki Laurila won the UBI hack prize with their 4squbi app that used the Foursquare API to show you tips from around each UBI screen and who was checked in nearby.

Jason Brower won the overall with his very ambitious hack which sensed the rhythm you shook your phone to a playing song and played it back to you via the phones vibration engine. The final application is so that people could share vibration-enhanced ringtones.

All the hacks along with videos are listed on the Oulu Open Hack wiki.

Shout Outs

Kristian Luoma (CasCard) managed to score a high-quality venue with free bandwidth and good lighting (and a zen rock garden to boot!) from the University of Oulu’s Center for Internet Excellence. I can’t think of a better place to host a hackfest and we all thank them for bearing with our 24-hours of streaming random tunes from our Spotify channel and the use of their staff kitchen refrigerator where we chilled our cans of energy drink.

Thanks go to Jyrki’s company Codemate who paid for the t-shirts and very professional badges and lanyards for everyone.

Also, thank you Forum Nokia for paying for the pizza and drinks (I’ll be sending you my receipts!) and tossing in a C7 phone as the prize for the best QML hack.

Ville did an amazing job on the designs for the shirts, website, and posters. I think in all Kristian, Jyrki, Ville, and I put no more than 10-15 hours total work towards organizing the hackfest but it was due to Ville’s artwork that we managed to look more professional than we actually were! Ville also captured the video on a hacked up N8 and spliced up all the demo videos and created a highlight reel below.

Why We Hack

Reposted (with modifications) from ouluopenhack where I’ll be tomorrow.

It all starts with an itch. Something that bugs you. It’s some kind of “pattern” that you identify. A manual task that you find yourself doing over and over again that you want to automate. Why is the color  printer always default to printing in black & white? How can I patch the OS on my phone so that it pauses the music player when the headphones slip out of the audio jack? Software engineers are inherently lazy and are always looking for ways to optimize the world around them, automate menial tasks. This itch is motivation to hack.

To back up, “hack” is not, what Hollywood tells you. It’s not about breaking into a mainframe to steal data or wreak havoc. No, the modern term for “hack” is the software equivalent of duct taping some things together to try out an idea. You know that site There, I Fixed It – it’s kind of like that but with software. Definitely not ready for prime time but it gets you thinking of what’s possible.

Why Oulu. Why November. Who’s behind this anyway?

This all started when I  joined Nokia and found myself in Helsinki posting to an internal mailing list about this thing called Hack Day that was a fun thing they did at Yahoo to let off steam and try out new ideas. Kristian Luoma bit and he and I worked together to put on the first, internal Nokia hack event in Oulu which we called a “Hackfest” in November of 2009.

A follow-up event was held in Helsinki the following year and then Kristian left Nokia to work at his start-up and I got busy with other projects. With the gentle nudge of Ville Alatalo, Jyrki Laurila and others from the original Hackfest in Oulu, the project was brought back and because 11-11-10 is a nice pattern falling conveniently on a Thursday, Ville, Jyrki, Kristian, and I set the date for the 2nd Annual Oulu Hackfest and got to work.

Slideshare presentation of previous Nokia Hackfests

In order to involve the greater Oulu community (why keep all the fun to ourselves?), we decided to open up the event to non-Nokia people for a greater exchange of ideas. While no one knows really what to expect at these events, like any good dinner party, we all look forward to making it come together as we go along and making sure everyone has fun. Who knows what ideas will be dreamed up and tried out? What problems will the group tackle? What is broken in our world? How can we make things better?

The fun starts on November 11th at 11am on the Center for Internet Excellence campus in Oulu and find out. If you just want to drop by at Noon for the final demo presentations, join us at Noon on November 12th. For all the details, follow the links at ouluopenhack.org. or tune into twitter at #ouluopenhack.