Tonight on the Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert mentioned his previous Wikiality prank wherein he got his viewers to modify the article on elephants to say that the population of elephants had tripled due to his efforts. This time, he challenged his audience to modify the article on reality to say that "reality has become a commodity." This time the Wikipedians were ready for him, protecting the page within seconds of the broadcast:
David Carr at Ziff Davis' Baseline has a very useful article, Inside MySpace.com about how MySpace faced the problems of scaling to their current size of 40 billion page views and 26 million users. Some of the more interesting observations:
The thorniest problem as they scaled was the database. Once their original, single database couldn't handle the load, they tried various methods of partitioning (in order): separating update and retrieval, having different databases for different parts of the web site and, finally, splitting the users among different databases. There were further refinements to virualize the SAN, add a caching layer and move to 64-bit SQL Server.
Unlike most large sites which are built on some variety of LAMP, MySpace is built on Microsoft ASP.NET and SQL Server. This may be the largest such site, and it appears that Microsoft is powerfully motivated to make it a success. I will say from our own experience at Convoq that this platform does do a lot for the programmer and scales quite well.
The reliability problems that MySpace's users experienced as the site went through its growing pains did not seem to hurt the business. Users complain but they don't leave the service and, unlike a bank, no money is misplaced. In some cases MySpace consciously chooses performance over reliability, for example extending the time between database checkpoints.
The decision to allow users to use HTML tags and CSS was "kind of a mistake" when the developer neglected to strip them out. Although this results in messy looking pages and costlier performance, giving the end user such freedom is now credited with much of the site's success as a place where users go to express themselves.
Mike Arrington has pushed the otherwise obscure issue of Intercarrier Compensation into the mainstream with his inquiry into the business model of AllFreeCalls, a company that will let you call almost anywhere in the world for the cost of a long-distance call to Iowa. As many of the comments pointed out, this is the same hack used by the several free conference calling companies. It turns out that it is no coincidence that all of the number you dial for these companies is usually in a sparsely populated part of the country where the compensation paid by the long distance carrier to the local exchange carrier is much higher than average - sometimes as much as $0.10 instead of one tenth that amount. Since the long distance carriers usually charge a flat rate to their retail customers, they are effectively subsidizing these free calling companies by paying the inflated termination fees. These fees were initially intended to make up for the higher cost of serving rural communities, but now some of the local exchange carriers are obviously sharing them with the free calling companies. Everyone wins except the long distance carriers, who may not be so complacent if these businesses take off.
Tom Evslin did a good write-up here and here. And Alec Saunders has a good explanation on his blog. If you want to see why changing the compensation scheme would be complicated, take a look at Ed Rosenberg's presentation here.
In an interview Steven Levy reported in Newsweek, Steve Jobs said:
You don’t want your phone to be an open platform,” meaning that anyone
can write applications for it and potentially gum up the provider's
network. You need it to work when you need it to work.
Cingular doesn’t want to see their West Coast network go down because
some application messed up.
Either he's never heard of the Palm Treo which has supported independently-developed software applications for years without gumming up anyone's network, or the iPhone is peculiarly vulnerable to malware.
John Markoff in the New York Times observed that Jobs may have forgotten that a similar attitude about keeping the Macintosh closed led to his ouster from Apple in 1985:
Indeed, when the Macintosh Computer — which, like the iPhone, was
designed by a small group shrouded in secrecy — was introduced in
January 1984, it was received with the same kind of wild hyperbole that
greeted the iPhone this week. But a year later, the shortcomings of the
first-generation Macintosh cost Mr. Jobs his job at the company he had
founded with his high school friend Stephen Wozniak nine years earlier.
light of the iPhone’s closed, appliance-style design, it is worth
recounting the Mac’s early history because of the potential parallel
pitfalls that Mr. Jobs and his company may face.
high price of $2,495, the Macintosh initially sold briskly. But Mr.
Jobs’s early predictions of huge sales (on Tuesday, in a similar
fashion, he set a goal for the iPhone 1 percent of the world’s cellular
phone market, or 10 million phones a year, by the end of 2008) failed
The Mac’s stumble was in part because of
pricing and in part because Mr. Jobs had intentionally restricted its
expandability. Despite his assertion that a slow data connection would
be sufficient, the gamble failed when Apple’s business stalled and Mr.
Jobs was forced out of the company by the chief executive he had
brought in, John Sculley.
Of course, Apple did open up the Mac. With the addition of a hard-drive (something Jobs had fought against) and software from Microsoft (notably Excel) the Mac became a huge success.
One can hope that a similarly enlightened approach will obtain with the iPhone.
In High-End Realm,
Handset Must Court
The Affluent Tech-Set
By LI YUAN and CASSELL BRYAN-LOW January 11, 2007; Page B4
With a price tag starting at $499, the sleek new Apple Inc. iPhone may seem prohibitively expensive to some, but Apple is counting on demand from consumers like Chuck Digate.
"Do the math," says the Boston-based software
entrepreneur. Mr. Digate says he paid $350 for a video iPod last month
and $300 for a smartphone from T-Mobile with a two-year contract. The
iPhone "has all the things I'm using, and I can consolidate two devices
The recent Apple iPhone announcement highlighted the wide variation in performance of the wireless data offerings in the USA The problem is compounded by the tendency of some carriers, especially Verizon, to substitute proprietary brands, such as Broadband Access, for the industry-standard terms such as EV-DO. So here is the wireless data decoder ring:
The top tech news story of the week is, of course, the long-awaited Apple iPhone. The headline that summed it up for me was Good Morning Silicon Valley'sKeyboards across country shorted out by "iPhone drool." The device will have the innovative user interface we have come to expect from Apple, but several open issues remain before it can be considered a breakthrough. Tom Evslin and his readers cover a lot of them. My main concerns:
How open is the platform? It is based on OS X, but Apple has been silent on whether it will allow independent software developers to provide applications. Will it be open like the Palm and Windows Mobile or a walled garden like Verizon's Get It Now? This will be especially important to people wanting connectiviy to Microsoft applications such as Exchange.
When will Apple provide provide 21st century data service via HSDPA rather than the pokey EDGE technology they announced this week?
How usable is the touch screen? It looks great in the videos, but as David Pogue has pointed out “Typing is difficult. The letter keys are just pictures on the glass screen, so of course there’s no tactile feedback.” How easy will it be to make a call while driving a car?
How long will the exclusive arrangement with Cingular be in place and/or when will an unlocked version be available?
In my opinion that the success of the iPod was due to three factors:
innovative UI and excellent industrial design
a powerful brand which enabled a higher price point and thus a new threshold of functionality
market momentum which motivated hitherto intransigent partners to cooperate
My hope is that Apple will take advantage of being one of the few players who can step out of the traditional role of providing a restricted set of features via a restricted set of carriers and turn loose a new wave of creativity for mobile applications.