Unraveling Obfuscation

ob fus cate – 1. to confuse, bewilder, or stupefy 2. to make obscure or unclear

Archive for the ‘Tech’ Category

Gaping (twitter) Void

Posted by Todd McKinney on April 10, 2008

Hugh deleted his twitter account. Is the world coming to an end? Oh wait, maybe it’s not so bad.

I had to nod in agreement when I read Frederic’s take on the situation, which was a nice follow up to my laughing out loud just at the title of Steven Hodson’s analysis. The obliteration of twitter might even have been part of the equation when Hugh recently drew this:

enrich - simplify

It seems the reasoning behind it was simple. The way I parse his post is that it (twitter) is a time sink, and was getting in the way. Clearing the decks and focusing on what is truly important is a really useful exercise. I suspect this kind of cost/benefit analysis will become increasingly common and also increasingly important to each of us as the social aspects of the internet are becoming more abundant and easier to participate in with each passing day.

Not long ago, I was working on a blog post and my wife asked me “so what do you expect to get out of doing that?”. Pretty good question, and one that applies to just about everything. It’s ok if the answer is simply “personal enjoyment”, life isn’t just about making a buck. It is important for me to answer the question, however, if I’m going to have any clear sense of priorities. We’ve only got so many hours to spend. It’s certainly worth questioning the value of our purchases every once in a while.


photo (drawering) credit: Hugh


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Subdomain hijacked? Standard practice for NetworkSolutions

Posted by Todd McKinney on April 8, 2008

At the risk of this really becoming a pet peeve of mine, I just can’t keep my mouth shut about the ways that Network Solutions is pushing the edge of the envelope. This company is not content to sit back and copy what someone else is doing – not a chance. They’re innovating. It just so happens that they’re finding innovative new ways to profit at other people’s expense. Most often, it’s their own customers they take advantage of. Here’s the story on TechCrunch, I won’t bother rehashing the whole thing here.

The good news is that the grief seems to be limited to NetSol hosting customers from my limited testing so far.


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A world market for about 5 computers

Posted by Todd McKinney on April 8, 2008


The old quote commonly attributed to Thomas Watson, which he probably never made, just looks more and more relevant with every day that goes by. Pendulum swings are nothing new in technology and we seem to be on a tear towards consolidation of anything and everything into massive services in the cloud.

500 lb Gorrilas

The news about Google’s entry into this market seems pretty predictable – it’s not like you need to be the amazing Kreskin to imagine that they think cloud computing is significant. The news is also flying all over today, so it’s kind of unavoidable. If you heard there were 10,000 free signups available, they were gone pretty much immediately. There is a wait list, so if you like that sort of thing, go here.

Probably the most interesting thing to me about this development is what does it mean for developers. I really enjoyed the early perspective by Bob Warfield on the SmoothSpan blog. In response to people complaining that it’s Python only, he offers this:

…it doesn’t take Google very many languages before there are few complainers left.  Add Ruby on Rails and PHP, for example, and most of the Web 2.0 world is now in your camp.  Add Java and what’s really left?  Microsoft will be more isolated than ever on their .NET platform.

I think that is a really significant point, and it’s one that hi-lights what is really at stake here. In essence, it’s shaping up to be a platform war. The barriers to entry for platform wars of the past were creating a modern, robust operating system and gaining enough users to make the environment interesting then providing tools and an ecosystem for developers to be productive and make money. Today, it also looks like you need to build multi-billions of dollars worth of datacenter infrastructure too.

What’s in it for me?

In typical Google fashion, they have changed the game quite a bit here. It seems kind of simple, but the strategy of “free ’til you get big” is very powerful. I’ve personally been very aware of Amazon’s cloud platform and following with great interest. I’ve also not built anything using it because it would require me to commit to paying for storage and bandwidth bills. Even though it’s supposedly cheap at low volumes, I’ve not been compelled to take on that kind of commitment just to play around with something that I could maybe find useful someday. Better just to wait until I really need it to figure it out. With the Google model, there’s no hurdle. Sign me up. It might even be fun doing a little Python coding for a change.

What Microsoft will end up doing with this remains to be seen. They are undoubtedly heading for the same turf, it’s just too important to ignore. There is probably lots of really interesting cloud strategy tied up in the Yahoo acquisition. This latest development from Google definitely raises the bar. I really think that’s a good thing. Agree, disagree or think that’s all just obvious? Let me know in the comments, or over on FriendFeed.


photo (drawing?) credit Ethan Hein

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The Evil Still Lurks

Posted by Todd McKinney on February 16, 2008

I really thought that something was going to get solved in the whole controversy over Network Solutions frontrunning domain names when someone queries on them. Sadly, no. As I remember the controversy from a month or so ago, there was an uproar over the way network solutions was reserving domain names whenever a query was performed. They were called out, publicly ridiculed, and essentially flogged in the town square over the issue. As with most people, I figured this would be enough to get them to change their behavior. I was wrong.

This evening, I happened across a post by Robert Scoble, calling for a community effort to document obsolete skills. I thought it was an interesting enough topic, and Robert mentioned that he would like to see someone set up a wiki. He queried for the domain name, and it’s open, but I’m assuming he doesn’t have the time to deal with it. Thinking I could do my good deed for the day, I headed over to godaddy to see if it was still open season. According to my query, someone had beat me to it. Being somewhat curious, I thought I’d see what enterprising person got the domain and maybe send ’em and email and offer some encouragement or something. This is what I got from the whois…


Hmm, that’s a little fishy looking, so I went an took a look at network solutions. Here’s what came back:


So, it turns out that the domain is quite available (or was when I queried just a bit ago) but ONLY if you register with Network Solutions. I could go on and on about my feelings on this one, but I’ll just say this – over my dead body.

edit: replaced the word dustup, because I seem to use it on almost every post. “Controversy” is the term that I now plan to overuse.

Posted in General, Tech | 8 Comments »


Posted by Todd McKinney on January 22, 2008

A pretty interesting datapoint showed up in my feed reader today. Andrew Chen posted a graph of his subscriber numbers, and it’s a pretty dramatic curve. It seems that the primary driver of the recent spike is attributed to a link from Scoble. This didn’t strike me as strange. I remember reading more than once that Robert is specifically oriented towards participants instead of passive readers.

I want participants, not audience. Why? Well, in 2008 you’ll see that participants are who advertisers and sponsors REALLY want to reach.

Patrick, the first commenter on the post so far, offered the opinion that the link was accompanied by a glowing recommendation (my words, but pretty accurate) and that counts for a lot. Interestingly, it also is correlated with Robert discovering Andrew’s feed through Google Reader shared items. When I was looking back through the Scoble archives for the audience engagement posts, I came across a really interesting one from the middle of last year titled Google Readers are Engaged!

The other thing this demonstrates is that the most engaged audiences are now using Google Reader. What do I mean by “engaged?” People who are willing to do something. Click a link. Leave a comment. Buy. Etc.

Now, that was from June, and no doubt some of the action bias is due to the early adopter swarm rolling through the latest shiny new thing. It would be really nice to figure out some way to measure this engagement level over the long haul. The longer a tool like Google Reader is around, and the more mainstream it becomes, potentially the behavior could trend towards more casual involvement. I’m betting against it, however.

I believe there is potential for increasing involvement as time goes by for Google Reader users. One reason I think this could happen is a simple one. Sharing, or using Reader to create a link blog, is a killer feature. For one thing, with the current state of implementation, you end up deeply committed to the reader because it’s also your only avenue to publishing on the link blog. More importantly, some third party services are showing off a bit of the potential for this sharing activity to bubble up interesting and popular items. It becomes both a system that allows you to “vote” on a post kind of like Digg, as well as an ambient engine that collects user actions and surfaces patterns in the data.

Those attributes are all factors that should lead to increasing use of sharing over time, especially as Google adds features and/or the 3rd party services grow in popularity. The best thing of all about all of this sharing, though, is the ease with which it enables action. I think this is truly where the beauty of the system is. With a simple keystroke, you can take the thing you’ve just read and indicate “hey, that was worthwhile to me”. It takes no time, and can very easily move someone from a passive reading mode to an active publishing mode. Friction free publishing. It doesn’t get much easier.

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MS bashing may be fashionable

Posted by Todd McKinney on January 20, 2008

…but it’s not always right. I’m reading about all the dustup with Mashable not doing such a great job with attribution, and overall I’m thinking yes, something should change. It’s just sleazy to see the proliferation of internal links and content thievery among the commercial a-list in the blogosphere. These guys should be setting the standard here, not competing in a race to the gutter with MSM and sensationalism.

Then, I don’t know, maybe Louis Gray is throwing them a bone or something, kind of an olive branch, by sharing out this one-sided drivel from Mashable on his uber cool linkblog. The headline is certainly intriguing and it implies that I’m going to read some fascinating story about MSFT beating up on the web 2.0 ecosystem. My first thought is how does this play with the new accelerated acquisition kick they’re on, and how are things working out. Is that what I get? No.

The article parrots a Fortune piece that is whining about MSFT stopping people from scraping address book data. This is nearly the same song as the Scoblegate/Facebook storm that was raging a couple of weeks ago. From what I recall, that was kind of a 50/50 split among the crowd, with a lot of “Facebook was right” and “Scoble was right” depending on who was talking. In all the noise, one of the most sane and insightful discussions came from Dare.

Typing in credentials for another service is absolutely the wrong thing to be training users to do. It’s an insidious problem that raises the vulnerability of the mainstream user to phishing and identity theft. As an industry, and as individuals who are designing and building these systems we should be ashamed. Blaming Microsoft for saying this design is wrong might feel like a good idea, but it seems to me in this case that the artist formerly known as “Borg” is fighting the prevailing wisdom for a pretty good reason.

Posted in msft, Tech | 2 Comments »

Challenge Indeed

Posted by Todd McKinney on January 16, 2008

Over at the Twitter blog, Biz (which I would guess isn’t really someone’s real name, but who am I to judge) has a post up that addresses the burning question of Why We Are Focused on Engineering and Operations. Not in so many words, what Biz said is “because we crash and burn too often”. I’m thinking most people knew the answer as soon as they heard the question.

I would offer that the interesting bits here are:
  1. It’s reported to be a good problem to have, too much traffic/demand/opportunity/scale.
  2. They’ve got no revenue, so it’s not completely surprising that the whole app has the performance characteristics of an intricate pile of wet spaghetti, duct tape, and the occasional bit of baling wire.

Now, I’m not trying to insinuate that they’ve gone cheap on this thing – there is a stellar bunch on the VC side of the equation and if you read the Fred Wilson post I linked to, they’re laser focused on getting to scale. Nor am I poking a stick at the developers/architects/geniuses who though it up, coded it and have to keep it running. I’m sure they’re doing a fine job. It does, however, seem to be a simple conclusion that the tradeoffs you make when you have a goose-egg in the revenue column look a bit different than what you build if you’re IBM or Google (or walmart or whoever). Even if you’ve got deep pockets making big bets.

It’s just different to be spending VC money than to be funding the development of a product out of funds that you’ve collected from customers, advertisers, or whomever in exchange for an established product or service. I’m starting to think that the difference is that the math is just easier if you’ve got revenue. Based on what people are historically willing to pay, you can pretty easily come up with your budget cap to spend on development, maintenance, etc. If you don’t know what people are willing to pay (or what the business model is and by implication how much cash you can bring in) then you have to guess. The one thing you know for sure is that the more you spend building it, the less there is to go around when it’s time to cash in. Or, depending on what your variable is in the equation, the quicker we run out of runway.

To me, this current bit of Twitter noise looks a lot like a pendulum swing in progress. Stability is now a strategic imperative, and “maybe we were a little too stingy a while back when it wasn’t important” – now go fix it. Been there. This business of free stuff making people rich is a complicated game.

Disclaimer: I know almost nothing about Twitter or the intricate workings of Venture Capital beyond all of the indisputable facts I’ve read on the internet. Mostly this is me thinking out loud.

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Just to prove they don’t like customers…

Posted by Todd McKinney on December 15, 2007

…it seems that TMobile has decided blocking twitter would be a good idea. Now, this doesn’t directly affect me since I’m not a customer of theirs. It’s also not yet 100% obvious to me that it’s true, since they haven’t exactly fessed up to the nefarious behaviour as far as I can tell. The one thing that bothers me enough to post about it is that the customer service letter reads just like the attitude that the mobile telecom companies that I’ve dealt with in the past have had.

The companies that make up that industry are so short-sighted and evil it nearly makes me ill. Building resentment in large populations of people is not a winning long-term strategy. So many businesses seem to be at war with the public nowadays, intent only on extracting a revenue stream at all costs. I’m keeping track. I will enjoy the opportunity to dance on their graves.

update: While it almost seems like I just overreacted and posted on speculation that confirmed what I already believed, I think there’s still a big issue with how this thing was handled. Not a peep from TMobile. BibleBoy, who was kinda in the middle of the whole mess, still thinks they’ve got some ‘splaining to do.

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On the impending implosion

Posted by Todd McKinney on October 7, 2007

Is it just me, or did pmarc seem a bit sarcastic discussing “bubble 2.0” here?

Pretty funny. My favorite part?

“Everyone knows that you shouldn’t need to raise more than $5.37 in loose change to start a new web business. I mean, c’mon.”

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Posted by Todd McKinney on June 13, 2007

T wo worlds collide. A Mac browser sprouts up in windows land, and everyone is poking at the strange thing to see if it’s software, or an alien life form.

Initial reports seem to peg this browser as a “software-like” alien life form. In what may not be any kind of coincidence, Marc Andreessen is blogging and getting rave reviews.

The convergence of a browser invasion coupled with a thought-leader re-emergence in the form of Andreessen’s public soapbox are a sure sign of the “end times” in software. This is also known as the “everything old is new again” phenomenon. The only thing necessary to bring the cycle to completion is a major software product announcement following the retro naming scheme of x-Gold, x-Pro, or Advanced x.

Enough of the dumb jokes, but haven’t we seen this before? This topic nearly dates back to the beginning of the PC. As I recall, the Mac crowd led the way in desktop publishing and the WYSIWYG paradigm. As I’m following this discussion of philosophical conflict between pixel grids and native font design, it seems they are still leading the way in DTP and WYSIWYG. At least if WYG is output on some high resolution device that does printing/typesetting.

That’s where the interesting conundrum comes into play. Is that really what you want? Or would you rather have your text render optimally on the device you’re working on? What if the text never gets printed? What if it does? To me, this seems like another case of Microsoft doing what’s right for the vast majority of people. Fonts render so that you can read them best on the screen, and then they “look better” when you print them. It’s not strictly WYSIWYG, it’s more of a What You See Is What You See approach. Works for me. The beauty of this tactic is that once we do get high resolution displays, it’s pretty easy to just use the correct fonts and be done with it. In the meantime, making text more readable on a (admittedly crummy) screen just seems like a good thing to do.

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