Archive for the 'trends' Category

Monday, June 9th, 2008

The comedy stylings of the Windows Vista Blog

For instance, The Business Value of Windows Vista. Seriously, Vista for “speed and security”? Or mobile? The comments on this post alone are worth the click. -m

Sunday, May 4th, 2008

Weekend Project: save $75/month with Ooma

New gear, an Ooma VOIP box. I plan to post more technical details soon, but the short story is that you get a sleek little box that goes between your dsl or cable modem and your router, and you get unlimited local and long distance calling. For free. For life (or 3 years, according to the TOS). Check out the Flickr set of the unboxing experience.

WIth this, I plan to turn off my landline, to the tune of about $35 a month, and by not using our mobile phones for so much long distance, reduce the calling plan for another $40 a month. The one-time cost for the box set me back about $231, so I will be even in just over 3 months. (Only recently, these things were retailing for $599.)

How do these guys stay in business? I’ll write more about this too, but the short story is that bandwidth is really, really cheap, monopolistic efforts of telecom companies notwithstanding.

So far I’m really happy with it. The online Ooma Lounge isn’t as good as Vonage’s system–for one thing, you can only see voicemails, not any kind of call logs. But the features that are there Just Work. The documentation is short and simple but thorough. Setup was a breeze.

Have you tried Ooma? Comment below. -m

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

Is there an inverse to the Innovator’s Dilemma?

Roughly speaking, the innovator’s dilemma happens when a product progressively gets more and more advanced features, to the point that it misses out (by listening to customers) on an entire new opportunity. At that point, a simpler, competing product can come into play and make large gains.

But what happens when a company is generally aware of the Innovator’s Dilemma and tries to compensate? It seems like second order effects might come into their own. A product widely known for being (and remaining) minimalist is exposed to attacks from deliberate enhancements and related complexificaiton of competitive products. As the market gets more mature, the steadfastly-simple market leader gets left behind. In a sense, it’s a role reversal from what Clayton Christensen describes. But can it work out the same in the end? Please comment. -m

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

Deadlines and connections

I’m not involved in the the corporate wrangling about Microsoft and Yahoo! talks. Which leaves me relatively free to comment on it. [Disclosure: I am, not too surprisingly, a Yahoo! shareholder.]

Lots of things have been happening lately. A deadline of, well, today. Talks of Google adsense trials. And all kinds of merger speculation involving Rupert Murdoch in some fashion, or else AOL.

But I haven’t seen anyone point out this connection: Google owns 5% of AOL, having invested a billion bucks and taken over search there a couple of years ago. So if Yahoo! and AOL merged, there would already be a Google advertising connection in place. Running pre-trials now is just due dilligence on something that might happen anyway.

Having both an in-house advertising network and an outsourced one has some advantages too, namely in the form of “knobs” that can be adjusted to tune margins as conditions warrant. And maintaining the in-house system keeps Google honest and makes sure that relatively good deals can be negotiated in the future.

Lots of pundits talk about regulatory scrutiny, but honestly, it’s been years since any antitrust machinery in this country has been effective. And the recent spectrum auctions showcased Google’s skill at turning regulatory tables in their favor. If it came down to it, the smart people on both sides of the table shouldn’t have a problem crafting an agreement in a way that meets muster, even in the stricter EU.

Summary: based solely on public reports, it seems like the AOL connection might be a credible threat to Microsoft’s appetite. The ball is firmly in Steve’s court now. We’ll see what he does.

Friday, April 11th, 2008

Google App Engine dwarfed

Thanks to chromatic for the link. Largely hidden,  largest app clusters of this particular platform can:

Control over a million computers and can deliver over a hundred billion advertisements per day.

However, “don’t be evil” is not a part of this particular platform’s strategy… -m

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

US Census == paper technology

Never let anyone say that forms are easy. What seems like a boring, tedious topic on the surface is surprisingly deep and challenging. As evidence, the multi-billion-dollar plan to modernize the US census in 2010 has fallen back to paper technology. Sadly their plans didn’t involve XForms.

Highly-critical applications, like say voting, are even more difficult to get right. Possibly the government will get it in shape be 2020 or 2030. -m

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

The (lowercase) semantic web goes mainstream

So today Yahoo! announced a major facet of what I’ve been working on lately: making the web more meaningful. Lots of fantastic coverage, including TechCrunch and ReadWriteWeb (and others, please link in the comments), and supportive responses and blog posts across the board. It’s been a while since I’ve felt this good about being a Yahoo.

So what exactly is it?

A few months ago I went through the pages on this very blog and added hAtom markup. As a result of this change…well, nothing happened. I had a good experience learning about exactly what is involved in retrofitting an existing site with microformats, but I didn’t get any tangible benefit. With the “SearchMonkey” platform, any site using microformats, or RDFa or eRDF, is exposed to developers who can enhance search results. An enhanced result won’t directly make my my site rank higher in search, it it most certainly make it prone to more clicks, and ultimately more readership, more inlinks, and better organic ranking.

How about some questions and answers:

Q: Is this Tim Berners-Lee‘s vision of the Semantic Web finally getting fulfilled?

A: No.

Q: Does this presuppose everybody rushing to change their sites to include microformats, RDF, etc?

A: No. After all, there is a developer platform. Naturally, developers will have an easier time with sites that use official and community standards for structuring data, but there is no obligation for any site to make changes in order to participate and benefit.

Q: Why would a site want to expose all its precious data in an easily-extractable way?

A: Because within a healthy ecosystem it results in a measurable increase in traffic and customer satisfaction. Data on the public web is already extractable, given enough eyeballs. An openness strategy pays off (of which SearchMonkey is an existence proof).

Q: What about metacrap? We can never trust sites to provide honest metadata.

A: The system does have significant spam deterrents built in, of which I won’t say more. But perhaps more importantly, the plugin nature of the platform uses the power of the community to shape itself. A spammy plugin won’t get installed by users. A site that mixes in fraudulent RDFa metadata with real content will get exposed as fraudulent, and users will abandon ship.

Q: Didn’t prove that having a better user interface doesn’t help gain search market share?

A: Perhaps. But this isn’t about user interface–it’s about data (which enables a much better interface.)

Q: Won’t (Google|Microsoft|some startup) just immediately clone this idea and take advantage of all the new metadata out there?

A: I’m sure these guys will have some kind of response, and it’s true that a rising tide lifts all boats. But I don’t see anyone else cloning this exactly. The way it’s implemented has a distinctly Yahoo! appeal to it. Nobody has cloned Yahoo! Answers yet, either. In some ways, this is a return to roots, since Yahoo! started off as a human-guided directory. SearchMonkey is similar, except a much broader group of people can now participate. And there are some specific human, technical and financial reasons why as well, but I suggest inviting me out for beers if you want specifics. :-)

Disclaimer: as always, I’m not speaking for my employer. See the standard disclaimer. -m

Update: more Q and A

Q: How is SearchMonkey related to the recently announced Yahoo! Microsearch?

A: In brief, Microsearch is a research project (and a very cool one) with far-reaching goals, while SearchMonkey is targeted as imminently shipping software. I frequently talk to and compare notes with Peter Mika, the lead researcher for Microsearch.

Monday, March 10th, 2008

Dear readers…

You are awesome. Just sayin’. -m

Monday, March 10th, 2008

Getting what you asked for

Some time ago, Doug Crockford’s excellent blog pointed me to this page on “excessive DTD traffic” at the W3C. Go ahead and follow that link, I’ll wait…

All the standard templates that show how to construct a basic XHTML page include a public identifier of and often a namespace name of As the blog points out, these are not actually hyperlinks, they only play them on TV. Huge quantities of software are requesting these URLs 24×7, putting a load on their servers. Often times this results from unfortunate defaults in off-the-shelf XML components such as parsers.

But what did you expect?

This is the web equivalent of having a front-desk receptionist hand out a stacks of self-addressed, stamped postcards, then complaining about how much mail the company gets from all around the world.

HTTP URLs are great for identifiers on a technical basis: they are based on DNS names and have the important qualities of uniqueness and persistence. But as far as human factors go, they are a terrible choice (though with a great deal of inertia at this point). -m

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

Yahoo! Announces Open Search Platform

As spotted on TechCrunch, full article. This is a game-changer folks. Check out the comments attached to the article. -m

Friday, December 21st, 2007

XML 2007 buzz: XForms 1.1

One whole evening of the program was devoted to XForms, focused around the new 1.1 Candidate Recommendation. I admit that some of the early 1.1 drafts gave me pause, but these guys did a good job cleaning up some of the dim corners and adding the right features in the right places. This is worth a careful look. -m

Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

Reducing my online profile

Due to some unauthorized activities on my webspace, I’m trimming my online profile, notably the Brain Attic sites. These were my home base for consulting, which I haven’t been doing for 2+ years. Less surface area exposed means less exposure to the bad guys. This site, and XForms Institute are staying up for now, as should be the email address you are currently using. There will be a few broken links that will take some time to eradicate.

If you notice anything amiss, any unseemly references to ‘viagra’ in my pages etc., email me at “mdubinko” in the reversed “” domain. -m

Update: whoops, looks like I cut a little too deep. Turns out that all my mail was routing through one of the domains I chopped. For several hours overnight email sent to me was bouncing. If you ran into that, please re-sent. -m

Monday, November 19th, 2007

Kindle my disappointment

Where’s Project Gutenberg? One difficulty in launching an ebook platform is the lack of available titles. I keep hearing about 80,000+ titles, but expressed as a percentage of Amazon’s book catalog, it’s minuscule. There should be all kind of public domain titles ready to go on day one. And where’s the Creative Commons books?
There’s some public domain books to be found, but none are free. Take, for example, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, a book (in paper form) sitting just out of arm’s reach as I write this, waiting to be read. If I had it on a device, particularly one with a good screen, I’d be more inclined to keep it, and dozens others, on hand in my backback and be ready to read at a moment’s notice. But no.

The problem is the the “we take care of the wireless delivery” part, called Whispernet(tm). It’s not really free, nor bundled in the service price. It’s bundled in to the cost of every media access. Is it fair to pay $9.99 for a New York Times bestseller? Sure. But it sucks to pay $1 for an A-list blog that’s free everywhere else, or to get literally nickeled and dimed for the privelege of “converting” and delivering your own content to your own device.

By the way, who gets the money paid for accessing, say, a CreativeCommons non-commercial licensed blog via the Kindle? Somebody should look into that.

I applaud Amazon for pushing to innovate in a space that badly needs it, but the financial model behind the wireless access encourages the wrong kind of things. Exceptions, like unlimited Wikipedia access (be still my heart!) still need to be hand approved by the gatekeeper. Information wants to be free, it doesn’t want to be a service, though that’s hard to see when the dollar signs get in your eyes.

Many folks are comparing this to the original iPod launch–remember, the huge klunky one with a tiny capacity, black and white screen, and a mechanical click-wheel? There’s some strong points of similarity, but stronger differences. For one, anyone with an iPod can easily rip their existing CDs, not to mention obtain MP3s from other methods (so I hear). There’s nothing like that yet for books.
Where’s the documentation for the new, proprietary ebook format? I don’t care about the DRM crap. I care about being able to create new content, or repackage existing content for which I have the rights, and for that, I’m having trouble coming up with a rationale for an entire new format. I would love to do some cool things with this platform. Perhaps I will some day, though my enthusiasm is somewhat lessened by the difficulties I would face getting anything cool onto the devices. -m

Monday, October 15th, 2007

Stephen Colbert…

…should write more opinion columns. :-) -m

Monday, October 15th, 2007

XForms evening at XML 2007

Depending on who’s asking and who’s answering, W3C technologies take 5 to 10 years to get a strong foothold. Well, we’re now in the home stretch for the 5th anniversary of XForms Essentials, which was published in 2003. In past conferences, XForms coverage has been maybe a low-key tutorial, a few day sessions, and hallway conversation. I’m pleased to see it reach new heights this year.

XForms evening is on Monday December 3 at the XML 2007 conference, and runs from 7:30 until 9:00 plus however ERH takes on his keynote. :) The scheduled talks are shorter and punchier, and feature a lot of familiar faces, and a few new ones (at least to me). I’m looking forward to it–see you there! -m

Thursday, October 11th, 2007

Hacking Facebook

I didn’t get to do much for Yahoo Hack Day, but I did get to help a coworker a teeny bit with an implementation of Y! Search for social web sites, including Facebook. There could be some interesting repercussions from that, so I won’t say more now. But what did surprise me is how many Yahoos are active on Facebook.

Myself–I’m still a Facebook curmudgeon. But mostly I simply haven’t had the time to check it out, or figure out the value proposition of accepting an invitation. -m

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

Unsubbed: Rocketboom

Speaking of podcasts, last week I unsubbed from Rocketboom, the show having officially become unbearably advertising-swamped. It feels good (but not as good as getting that hour-per-week of my life back from Diggnation).

Possibly coming soon: unsub from Security Now, instead of fast-forwarding through half of it at present. -m

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

On the closing of Yahoo! Podcasts

A strange note at the top of the web site that appeared in the last couple of days:

Yahoo! apologizes deeply, but we will be closing down the Podcasts site on Oct. 31, 2007

It’s underlined to look like a link, but in fact is just styled that way. Some further observations and questions:

  • The writing style is out of sync with the rest of the site, clearly done by someone else, likely not a marketing person nor designer
  • View-source shows the markup was jammed in there without regard to the CSS/structure on the rest of the site (look for style=”color:#fff;text-decoration:underline;padding:6px;margin:4px;”)
  • Is this a case of the original folks who wrote the site having moved on, and the new owners find it easier to shut down?
  • Is this a part of “finding focus in hollywood”? (linked earlier)
  • Is it a good idea for Yahoo! Podcasts to exist? If there’s even a Y! site for Wii, why not podcasts?
  • Is this a case of not being able to automate things down enough?
  • Why doesn’t Yahoo! produce any podcasts?


(Note: I wasn’t involved in Y! Podcasts nor in the apparent decision to shut it down)

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

Recruitment picking up?

In the last few weeks, I’ve been getting more recruitment pitches, including from the well known person ________ who is now at _______, for a think-tank position with _______, multiple LinkedIn requests from Web 2.0 company ________ and even ________.

So, is this a sign that the general industry is picking up? -m

P.S. I’m not looking. :)

Sunday, August 26th, 2007

The biggest gift

It’s too easy to get absorbed in all the terrible things happening on the news. But not everything is like that. Take 7 minutes and watch this. -m

Thursday, August 16th, 2007

XForms Essentials at…Target?

Yeah, it’s for real. You save 27%! Sure, it’s powered by Amazon, but it’s still a little weird to see this come up in search results… -m

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

New W3C Validator

Go check it out. It even has a Tidy option to clean up the markup. But they missed an important feature: it should include an option to run Tidy on the markup first then validate. This is becoming the defacto bar for web page validity anyway… -m

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

What does ‘continuing education’ mean to you?

I just finished an online version of SICP, the famous computer science text Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs (link to full and official text online). What do I mean by “finished”? Well, there are online video lectures (link to iTunes-ready RSS video feed), expertly delivered by SICP authors Sussman and Abelson themselves in 1986. Beyond just watching the lectures, I took careful notes so I have something to refer back to later. I didn’t get the full intense college-class experience–no pop quizzes for instance–but it’s still helpful. Recent Python and XSLT I’ve written has been influenced for the better.

It’s interesting to peruse the reviews for this book on Amazon. They seem to mainly fall into gushing 5-star reviews, or else ‘yecccch, I’ll never use this stuff’. Both are correct. As Harold Abelson says to start of the first lecture, computer science is neither about computers nor science. The point of this endeavor isn’t about “programming”. You won’t find many Scheme jobs on LinkedIn, for instance. It’s all too easy to get pulled into the world of trench warfare programming, so it’s good to be able to step back and survey broader theoretical issues.

My views toward Lisp/Scheme have shifted as well. Before, and for about the first half of the lectures, I would have talked vaguely about how Lisp has an elegant purity but unusable syntax. Lots of Irritating Superfluous Parentheses, and so on. By the end, I have a lot more respect for the language. I admit I was rather floored by the metacircular evaluator lesson, where a suitably fezzed Gerald Sussman writes an entire Scheme interpreter–writes in Scheme–on a blackboard.
Prior to that, I went through an MIT course on differential equations by the engaging Arthur Mattuck, picking up where my electronics left off. Prior to that, a book called Problem Frames, about fully analyzing problems before diving into solution space.

So I’ve been keeping busy. It seems like these sorts of things run in cycles for me, with a full cycle taking around two years. So I’m really curious: how do others manage “continuing education”? What have you learned lately? How do you learn best? What should I look in to next? Comment below. -m

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

More iPhone details leaked

America’s Finest News Source has the scoop. -m

Wednesday, April 11th, 2007

James Clark blog: do you read the web or feed version?

James Clark is blogging. A few zillion people have already mentioned this.

A slightly tangent observation: I had trouble reading through an entire article in web form, but had no problems returning later to the atom feed. At first I chalked it up to early morning grogginess, but it seems to be a repeatable phenomenon at all hours, at least for me.

So a double thanks to James for publishing a full feed.

How about you: do you have an easier time reading long form articles in a feed reader vs. a browser?  Do you prefer feed reader vs. browser for this blog? Comment below. -m

Monday, April 2nd, 2007

My simple comment moderation policy

I don’t remember ever spelling this out, so:

  • Any posting that adds to the discussion shall be accepted
  • Any posting by a spammer/robot/pay-per-post flunkie shall be rejected
  • Any posting that would offend my grandma shall be rejected
  • Any posting that takes too long for me to categorize per above MAY be rejected

These aren’t hard-and-fast rules. It’s getting increasingly difficult to discern postings that come from actual personalities. As a general rule, you should include a link back to your personal site, which should present itself in a way that makes it obvious that it’s not put together by some toxic SEO-gaming, advert-farming, internet-poisoning aggregation program.

But that’s just good advice no matter which blogs you comment on. -m

Monday, March 19th, 2007

Yahoo oneSearch launches on mobile web

Today Yahoo! launched oneSearch on their other front page, OneSearch has been available for a while, but only from within Yahoo! Go. Now it’s available to millions of mobile devices equipped with a data connection and XHTML browser.

The basic premise behind oneSearch is to replace the tri-modal search box, where you have to say whether you are searching the web, local, or images, with a single all-knowing search box. Available context information, such as your zip code, is used to guide the search. Internally, the application is smart about figuring out what kind of things you might be looking for. For example, someone searching for “pizza” in a mobile context is probably more interested in a list of restaurants (with reviews) than in a list of hyperlinks. Behind the simplicity of a single search box, there is a great deal of work going on to make your life easier.
Ever since Yahoo! Go betas (and gammas) started coming out, folks have been asking me how else they could get access to this application. Now it’s easy.

Not too long ago, the front page relaunched simultaneously in 19 countries. The new design was simple, and based on a new platform called Sushi, as mentioned in published sources. OneSearch shows off the power of this approach, even though this launch didn’t cover 19 countries…yet. (Getting access to local data for movies, restaurants, sporting events, and so on is no small feat.)

As I said before, this is only a small part of an overall strategy that has been years in the making. Much more to come. Watch this space. -m

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007

Entertaining phone review

Go read it for yourself. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking is all too widespread in the industry. -m

Monday, March 5th, 2007

Personal Everest vs. Finishing What You Start vs. The Infinitely Growing Backlog

Last week I did something pretty foolish: I placed an order with Amazon. A few days later six new books arrived–two on math, two on brewing, Dreaming in Code, and one on guitar playing. All of these went directly to my toread list, a huge library of books that probably wouldn’t remain standing if I put them in one pile.

If you look at the sidebar on my site, you can see my “What I’m Reading” list. It hasn’t been updated in a while,  but sadly it’s mostly accurate. And not because I’ve stopped reading–I still read small amounts every day. It’s just that I haven’t been finishing many.

The author of the music book likes to use the phrase “Personal Everest” to refer to a goal set too high. But this isn’t an Everest situation. More like a personal peanut butter manefesto. -m

Tuesday, February 13th, 2007

changes the architecture of the house, not just the color of the paint

ERH’s comments on XForms, as part of his predictions for 2007. Worth a read. -m