Current Events

Google’s Real Market – Small Business

Keen observation by Phil Sim on Squash – follow the money trail and you’ll see that Google’s real customers are the small business clients that are buying advertising, not the millions of users running searches. This puts them in direct competition with Microsoft who sees their fastest growing market in the SMBs.

People have questioned why Google needed to acquire Measure Map. To me, this is the obvious answer. Analytics will be at the heart of Google’s SMB offering. Let’s remember what Google’s core business is. It’s selling advertising. Who is it’s core customer base. SMB’s for whom contextual advertising finally represents a cost-effective marketing mechanism. How much penetration do you reckon Google has into this market. Bugger all. How can Google most effectively increase it’s core revenue. By getting more SMBs to do more contextual advertising. How can they do this? By helping SMBs to understand the effectiveness of electronic sales and marketing. How can they do this? By offering SMBs free CRM and marketing analytics.

If you follow that, then look for Microsoft to go shopping for an analytics package (it looks like they have a basic one already) to plug into their Office Live suite and look for Google to buy up a Netsuite or to plug into their Ad Sense portal.


Calendars, the new frontier


Lots of activity in the shared calendar space which has blossomed most recently with the impending launch of 30 Boxes which, by all accounts, is beautiful and fantastic. I’m sorry I missed the show & tell up in San Francisco (other plans) but I’m signed up for the beta and am looking forward to taking it for a test drive.

There’s been a lot of good work around shared calendar to build upon. The first example that really opened my eyes was Apple’s work on iCal as part of their .mac online suite which is now in version 6. Tim Berners-Lee used it as a way to describe the future of the web and showed how he could share events with his wife, friends, and secretary and was looking forward to the day when he could give different levels of read/write access to different types of events. In his example, he should be able to grant temporary edit rights to his travel agent for his flight details while his secretary could update his work week, while only his wife could edit his weekends.

More recent work has been done been done (with all the requisite AJAX stuff) by companies such as Kiko and Spongecell. I just checked in with Brian Dear’s old evdb URL and see that it redirects to a service called Eventful. Someone pointed out that resolves so you can expect that something will come out of there soon. Yahoo has had a nice calendar sharing service (Yahoo ID required) but it’s long overdue for an update which is on the way and is going to involve more than just rounding out the corners! Finally, is now under the Y! umbrella so you can be sure there will be some integration and innovation around event management. I recently saw a hack using the APIs which integrate maps and bluetooth that is very clever.

Rounding out the big three, Microsoft recently posted a peak at Vista’s Calendar app (pictures above from Furrygoat). Their writeup is light on detail but there is a publish and subscribe mechanism and it shares the iCalendar format so there will be some interoperability with Apple’s iCal.

I’ve asked this in the past and will ask it again. Do you think the open standards of RSS and iCalendar will replace the closed system of Microsoft Exchange? Will the benefits of lightweight ubiquity outweigh the profit motive of vendor lock-in? Can an entrenched leader such as Microsoft risk taking this leap and how will they sell this opportuntiy to their shareholders?


Google Reader API

Niall Kennedy rolled up his sleeves and reverse engineered the Google Reader product to document the API that runs it. After posting his findings, Google let him know that they are planning on opening access to the API. Cool!

In other news, Microsoft has let it be known that the next version of Outlook will include the ability to read RSS feeds which includes the ability to drag a copy of a post into your mail folders. This feature, which is available today to anyone using the Yahoo! Mail Beta, completes the folding of RSS into the mail client where it will be indexed alongside all your email messages, further blurring the distinction between RSS and HTML email.

This is all good news in the march towards universal adoption of “feeds” as a distribution channel but spells trouble for the companies out there making their dime off a pure aggregation play. If this was a couple of years ago, I would have figured that the product that figures out how to deal with offline use and synchronization would end up the winner. Now, with over 50% of households using an always-on broadband connection, many of them equipped to handle wireless, I’m not so sure that offline is such a, “must have.” I started out using FeedDemon because it supported offline use but with the links being such an integral part of the experience of reading a feed, I rarely read my feeds unless I’m connected.

Look for Newsgator, Bloglines, and the others to differentiate themselves with innovative new features to keep themselves ahead of the pack.

UPDATE: Scoble uses this news to build his case for Microsoft to buy Newsgator. 

Current Events

RSS for Data Synchronization

Exciting news out of Redmond. Ray Ozzie is bringing his experience and approach to synchronization that he applied to his earlier products Lotus Notes and Groove to Microsoft’s implementation of RSS. We can look for future products such as their hosted Live products suite to include these synchronization features and Ray has published a post which points to an FAQ of these new extensions that Microsoft is proposing. Simple Sharing Extensions will add to the RSS specification to use it to do multi-directional synchronization of data sources. From the FAQ:

What kinds of scenarios does SSE enable?

Just as RSS enables the aggregation of information from a variety of data sources, SSE enables the replication of information across a variety of data sources. Data sources that implement SSE will be able to exchange data with any other data source that also implements SSE.

From the user’s perspective, this means that you will be able to share your data (such as calendar appointments, contact lists, and favorites) across all of your devices and with anyone else that you choose, regardless of infrastructure or organization.

SSE is particularly useful for scenarios in which there are multiple masters and/or asynchronous updates. For example, SSE could be used to share your work calendar with your spouse—either of you could enter new appointments, even if not currently connected. Similarly, SSE could be used to replicate a set of calendar entries among a group of people, each working in a different company and using different infrastructure.

To do this SSE, “introduces concepts such as per-item change history (to manage item versions and update conflicts) and tombstones (to propagate deletions, and un-deletions).” Microsoft is clearly taking the lead of embracing and extending the functionality of RSS. I saw a little of this back in June when they demonstrated a hacked version of an RSS reader that added sorting widgets to an RSS feed. I believe Microsoft is actively looking to RSS as the proxy for Exchange in the open and standards-based world of Web 2.0.

But the best part is that these extensions are going to be released under a Creative Commons license so that their initial work can be expanded by third parties and avoid vendor lock-in.


Are we there yet?

So if Microsoft and Yahoo are cross-linking their two IM networks and now AOL and Microsoft are set to announce a link up on Monday, does that mean that someone with Microsoft Messenger may be able to see both the AOL and Yahoo IM networks?

We’ll have to wait for the conference call on Monday.

“Hosted Office. Hosted Everything.”

Richard MacManus hones in on the key quote in an Information Week article about Microsoft’s direction with SharePoint. At a conference scheduled to take place in San Francisco next week, Microsoft is due to announce it’s plans for software-as-a-service and it appears that this will mean more than just hosted SharePoint servers.

How much would you pay for a hosted Office service? What other services would you like to see bundled into the service?

Current Events

Microsoft, Google & Cross Dressing

Whew! Take a week off and all hell breaks loose.

First the rumored Google Secure WiFi service looks to be a reality. Danny Sullivan does the rundown of motives but still wonders why Google would go to such extremes to maintain an infrastructure so far outside of their core expertise when they already have so much information coming in from the millions of installed Google Toolbars out in the wild phoning home. Like the Web Accelerator before it, as an infrastructure improvement coming from a services company, it seems oddly out of place.

Next, Microsoft announces a major reorg that puts the main Windows architect, Jim Allchin, out to pasture following the release of Vista and marries the Windows group with their more nimble MSN brethren. This is the strongest signal yet that MSFT is taking the "software as a hosted service" mantra seriously and is looking to better enable it’s client software to play nicely with internet standards.

Google, the services company is shipping software.
Microsoft, the software company is enabling software as a service.

We live in interesting times.

MSN to compete with Gawker & Weblogs Inc.

Now we know why Microsoft was seen on the job boards looking to hire bloggers. MSN’s new service, Filter, aims to take the best of the blog posts and highlight them for their readers. Slate (now owned by the Washington Post Company) was Microsoft’s last big effort at content creation and for that effort they brought in Michael Kinsey from US News & World Report to get things off the ground and give it an editorial vision.

Filter currently has microsites on Lifestyle, Sports, Music, Technology, and Television. I don’t recognize any of the names behind the Filter sites but they have written professionally in the past. Over time, it will be interesting to see if these sites get any kind of centeral editorial voice or if they evolve on their own.

Microsoft, Longhorn, and RSS

Lots of buzz around Microsoft’s announcement that they are going to bake RSS into the next generation of Windows, Longhorn. If you’ve got the time, I highly recommend you sit through the MSDN Channel 9 video interview with the Longhorn/RSS team taken the day before their announcement at Gnomedex. You can feel the energy and excitement coming out of Redmond.

The video includes a demo of IE 7 and a hacked version of RSS Bandit on Longhorn that shows:

  • autodiscovery (no need to hunt for the little orange chicklet)
  • adding a feed populates a common list of feeds that can be shared by all Longhorn apps
  • Calendar support for RSS feeds of events (click to subscribe to events in Outlook)
  • <treat as> and <sort by> collaboration with Amazon to handle lists
  • adding feed of photoblogs to make a screensaver

More details and pointers on MSDN. RSS Everywhere!

Current Events

Microsoft RSS Reader,

I first heard about this from Richard MacManus’ Read/Write Web and only now am getting a chance to play around with it. The server-based reader is part of Microsoft’s experimental sandbox area and there are two versions posted. One is a web-based RSS reader and the other is an online bookmarks list. Unless I’m missing something, there’s nothing to earth shattering here. The reader doesn’t let you search or profile against any of the feeds and the bookmarks, once you upload them (via an ActiveX control), are there to stay.

I’m sure all this stuff will get worked out so when you try things like overwriting your bookmarks by uploading another version the browser won’t crash. It’s still the sandbox. What is more interesting is that this is the clearest indication yet that Microsoft views RSS as an integral part of any portal. It’s right there next to the Search tab so it’s only a matter of time before they extend Search to RSS feeds. Likewise with the bookmarks, the next logical step is to extend what’s on the page out to others in the MSN network as is done in

I smile when I see that it’s called these efforts two flavors of a Start Page. I have a bit of a history with this moniker as I spent many long hours debating what to call a revolutionary new section of the product and we ended up calling it the very same thing, the Start Page.